The Burning Question: Why I Went from Vegan to {Mostly} Paleo.

by Katelyn Block on August 5, 2012 · 29 comments

I recently got an email from a reader, which addressed a question I’ve been getting a lot lately: Why did you switch from vegan to paleo? Her e-mail:

Hey lady! I love your blog :)

I was just wondering why you switched from veganism to paleo? I’m always interested in people’s reasons because I was vegan for 7 years and am now a vegetarian, maybe headed toward pescetarian. It’s really, really hard to have a rational conversation about food choices with other vegans/vegetarians, they tend to get a little scary when you mention that you aren’t feeling that great. Ie. “YOU MUST NOT BE EATING ENOUGH OF (INSERT FOOD HERE)” Anyway, if this question is too personal or rubs you the wrong way, no worries! Ignore it. :)

Knowing that it would be of interest to a lot of you, I’m posting my response for you guys. Enjoy!

Hi S*****!

First, thank you for your email, and thank you for being so kind and sensitive!! I have no issue answering you :) I was vegan for about a year and half (give or take), and felt really great the first few or six months. During this time, I also wasn’t exercising much. I would run in the mornings for a mile or two (give or take), and then that would be it. I would eat, but I was never truly satisfied. Enter: I begin to train for a 5K, determined to run anything, and increase my food intake. This was fine, but my muscle recovery time was poor.

Around the time of my Half Marathon, I began experimenting with having bites of fish, and found out how satisfying it was. I began to eat more fish, and for a couple of weeks was eating it twice a day, every day. Then I began to level out and would have it a few times a week. I was running and doing cardio, only.

Last summer, a friend of mine introduced me to a book called Deep Nutrition, which talked about how our ancestors ate, and focused a lot on eating as close to the earth as possible, including: butter and cheese from grass-fed organic cows, goat // sheep’s milk, and organic, grass-fed and pasture-raised meat and eggs. I began to incorporate these foods, and felt awesome. Around this time I left for school and continued to eat meat, yogurt, whole eggs, and cheese.

A little bit into college, I began eating in vegan // vegetarian manner again, but this didn’t last very long because my body loved protein. So I began eating Chobani with fruit and nuts a few times a day while I was out on campus. I was still in great shape at this time.

Once I was nearing the end of the year, I stopped eating all animal products and was following a vegan lifestyle once again. I continued this for a month or so and then my body started craaaving protein again. I added fish back into my diet, but was mostly eating tons of quinoa, seeds, and Vega protein powder.

A couple of months ago, I started doing CrossFit style workouts. At the gym, in my backyard, and in my hotels, I starting doing tabatas and body-weight WODs. Not only did I feel great, I was getting stronger. I started eating seafood at both lunch and dinner, with protein powder at breakfast.

Within the last month, I began adding eggs, chicken, turkey, and beef back into my life. I amped up the protein (trying to make it as natural as possible — not solely from protein powder, as I had been doing before), and increased my fat intake. I stopped being scared of oil on my salads, and the amount of almond butter in my bowl. After doing this for a few days, I began feeling satisfied after dinner, rather than feeling like I was “full”, but with room for more. I wasn’t thinking about food. My stomach was silenced.

After a week, I added in more protein sources and amped up my workouts. I have been training at a CrossFit affiliate Box for a couple of weeks now, and to say that I am happy would be an understatement. As my love for CrossFit grows, so does the aggression of my workouts. I’m training harder, and my muscles are recovering faster. I attest this to my increased animal protein and plant fat intake. Not only am I training harder, I am more well-rested after the same amount of sleep. I have been able to cut down my coffee intake to 2 cups a day, versus the previous 4-5 cups (eek!).

Although I haven’t completely overhauled my diet to be strict paleo (I still eat occasional peanut butter or vegan protein, which is typically grain and legume-based, as well as whey proteins), I am feeling straight-up awesome. While fruit is still a staple in my diet, adding in animal proteins (grass-fed and free range, when possible) as well as more plant fats (avocados and almond butter up the wazoo) has greatly improved my ability to train hard and do the things that are most important to me in life: do the work I am passionate about, and spend time with those I love.

I hope this (suuuuuper long!) answer finds you well, and I’m so glad that you asked. I’ve been getting this question a lot, and will probably (read: definitely) posting my response to you on the bloggy. Thank you so much for taking the time to read!!

x’s and o’s for EVA,

Katelyn

For some reading regarding the flexibility of the Paleo diet and general debate, check out:

Talk to you soon! Still in New Hampshire until Wednesday.

Thoughts on the “paleo debate”?

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Danielle @ Clean Food Creative Fitness August 5, 2012 at 9:05 AM

Love this post Katelyn! I think I’ve linked Juli’s description of flexible Paleo on my blog too cause I just love it so much! I used to be a vegetarian for years and for the longest time never ever felt satisfied and full from my meals. I was tired a lot and ended up finding out I was anemic. I slowly started adding meat back into my life and felt so much better. I am now “paleo with dairy” but hate to label it! I just feel my best when I focus on getting my protein from lean meats and eggs, lots of healthy fats, and my carbs from mainly fruits and veggies! Such a great post and thank you for sharing your story :)

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Dannii @ Hungry Healthy Happy August 5, 2012 at 10:21 AM

Brilliant post! I was a vegetarian for 8 years and I started eating meat again last year. I feel so much healthier for it. Everyone has to make a decision that is best for them.

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Lisa August 5, 2012 at 10:29 AM

Great re-cap KB.
You know I’m all about the Deep Nutrition :-)

When you’re home, give me a shout—we have limited time left before we part ways!!!!

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Sam @ Better With Sprinkles August 5, 2012 at 11:14 AM

Awesome post!

I was never vegetarian or vegan, but last year I drastically reduced the amount of animal products/meats in my diet. I had the same issue – even when I felt ‘full’ I didn’t feel completely satisfied.

When I started focusing on heavy lifting, I realized that I needed more protein and the easiest/quickest way to do so was to add more animal proteins. Once I did, I noticed I felt stronger, faster, and my recovery time/injuries drastically improved.

I know some people feel awesome on a vegetarian/vegan diet, and if that works for them, awesome.
Same for paleo – I know it works great for some people but I know I would struggle with it (the no-grains thing puts me off). So really, whatever works for you. :-)

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Jody - Fit at 54 August 5, 2012 at 12:38 PM

Great post – I think we all have to find what works best for us. I heard Bob Harper tell an audience that although he had been vegan for years, he went back to eating meat again because he was not feeling strong in his workouts & he feels much stronger now that he is eating meat protein. I understand that many want to be vegan & fine with that but we have to find what works for us.

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Julianna @ Julianna Bananna August 5, 2012 at 1:38 PM

i loved reading this post because i was wondering that too! although i don’t eat a ton of meat (mostly just chicken and turkey with the occasional beef burger thrown in) i know that i would have a hard time following any eating ‘philosophy’! i like to eat what i want without having anything off-limits ;) because this girl cannot live without froyo. or bread. or cheese. hahahah :)

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Meredith @ DareYouTo August 5, 2012 at 2:09 PM

Wonderful – thank you for sharing! Having been going through a similar sitation myself this past half-year switching over to mostly paleo, I was intrigued when I noticed you got all grass-fed beef on us. It made me happy! I was pescetarian for a long time and found that protein at my meals made a HUGE difference in my satiety and energy. I’m now toying with properly raised and fed meats, slowly re-integrating them and hoping for similar results to yours.

Congrats on finding what works for you and getting stronger in the process!

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lindsay August 5, 2012 at 2:37 PM

our bodies are constantly changing and so we often have to adjust our food choices too. You did what’s best for YOU! way to go Katelyn!

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Kareen August 5, 2012 at 3:34 PM

You have to eat what’s right for you! Not every eating plan works for everyone all the time. I tried paleo-style eating for a bit and it wasn’t for me. I find I thrive on a mostly raw vegan diet but I still enjoy pizza every now and then :) In the end, I think we rely on labels too much and I’m working hard to move away from them but it is tough. Avocados rock!!

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jenna August 5, 2012 at 3:39 PM

thanks for sharing this and explaining! it makes a lot of sense and shows how important balance is to a healthy lifestyle!!! SPAlove!

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Brandy August 5, 2012 at 3:48 PM

I eat pretty strictly paleo and I absolutely love it. It just makes the most sense!!!

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Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table August 5, 2012 at 3:54 PM

Awesome, thoughtful post. I have done something very similar – I toyed with veganism for a while. loved how clean I felt, but once I started training harder I needed more. Tried just vegetarian, but I was relying too much on dair for protein which was making my face break out and I still wasn’t getting the energy/recovery quality I needed. So now I’m incorporating seafood. since doing that about a month ago, I’ve made some great gains in the gym and feel just as good as I did before!

Bottom line for me is to listen to your body. Everyone has different needs.

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Lisa (Mom to Marathon) August 5, 2012 at 4:24 PM

I enjoyed this post. I know I need to pay more attention to my diet as I train. I love learning from experiences of others.

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Elisabeth @ CHAARG August 5, 2012 at 4:44 PM

Great post! For me, I think paleo would be a lot easier lifestyle than being vegan because I love my CHICKEN! I don’t think I could do it 100% though because I love my CARBS. Since my cleanse, I’ve been doing paleo once a week and making sure I’m eating raw veggies with every meal. I love how I’m feeling and my skin looks awesome!

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Amanda @ Might as Well Dance August 5, 2012 at 5:09 PM

I love this post! I went through a transition (junk food to paleo) a little over a year ago and a lot of people were questioning me as well. Like everyone else…I agree that you have to find what works for YOU. Every single one of us are unique so can we expect a one size diet to fit? No way. Try different things out that align with your knowledge and beliefs and see what works. I love that you are switching and think you’ll see a lot of gains in crossfit!

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Lauren @The Homeostatic Mindset August 5, 2012 at 7:25 PM

LOVE this post! And the reader’s question- so sweet the way she worded it! :) I eat ~70%-90% paleo depending on the day! Since I’m in recovery from anorexia, I find sticking to anything too strictly is a big trigger, so I allow myself to have quinoa, greek yogurt and oats sometimes. This works for me. Some days I feel best eating 99% paleo and some days I know that I just need some grains. Thanks for the awesome post, as always :)

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Laura August 5, 2012 at 11:56 PM

I was wondering this as well! Great explanation, and good on you for listening to your body.

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christy August 6, 2012 at 5:52 AM

I tried paleo with no meat. Didn’t work for me.

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Jay August 6, 2012 at 9:06 AM

So where does your love for animals come in? Because if I recall correctly, you claimed to be vegan for ethical reasons as well.

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Meagan August 6, 2012 at 4:33 PM

Love this post! I JUST started doing CrossFit (thanks for the inspiration!), and have been thinking about if I’ll change up my diet at all. I’m vegetarian, and have eaten vegan in the past. I still don’t drink cow’s milk or eat eggs (but I eat food that includes these). I would like to start eating more protein, so I’ve thought about bringing eggs and fish back.

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Kathleen @ KatsHealthCorner August 6, 2012 at 9:21 PM

This is such an amazing post, Katelyn — thanks so much for taking the time to share it. :)

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Irina @ Chocolatea Time August 6, 2012 at 11:41 PM

Great post! I definitely believe that veganism and vegetarianism is not for everyone. The human body can definitely survive well and thrive on those diets but at an individual level some people may struggle more than others. I remember when I was vegetarian (primarily vegan) for a short time – it didn’t suit me as my body felt fatigued and deprived regardless of how much I tried to balance out my diet. It’s all about figuring out what works for YOU! And it looks like you’re well on your way to doing so :)

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Charissa August 7, 2012 at 1:08 AM

I LOVE this – still learning about the Paleo thing – very interested in it!

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Amy August 7, 2012 at 3:24 PM

Love this post. And glad that CHO helped you ease your way into the paleo lifestyle! :)

Amy
Chobani

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Katelyn Block August 7, 2012 at 7:40 PM

;) you know me! CHO lova for life.

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Molly August 11, 2012 at 5:31 PM

Amen! The paleo word is being spread. It’s wonderful that eating this way is helping your health, performance, and satisfaction–congrats!

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Hungry hungry hippie August 17, 2012 at 7:07 PM

I’ve found my muscle recovery and endurance to have increased immensely when I switched to vegetarian 6 months ago, and even another slight boost after switching to vegan/gluten free 3 weeks ago. We’ll see how it goes over the next few months as I keep triathlon training. I also eat almost all day long, and eat 60-90 grams of protein a day, and only get about 30 of them from protein shakes. Nuts, peanut butter, whole grains, legumes, and the occasional soy. Oh, and lots and lots of dark leafy greens.

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Bee November 6, 2012 at 9:57 PM

It sorta makes me sad how many vegans are turning paleo. I tried the whole paleo thing (because I felt it might help me build muscle and all) and it didnt do my body well at all. My liver/kidney enzymes were insanely high, my cholesterol was thru the roof, I had horrible candida and major dysbiosis (i ate no fruits too!), my WBCs were critically low…and my digestive issues morphed into Ulcerative Colitis. I couldnt digest ANY meats/fats without taking fistfuls of digestive enzymes. My B12 was insanely low, even with thrice weekly B12 shots. And, I had no energy, the food sat like a rock in my stomach, I refluxed my food, and I developed hypothyroidism….I also lost a ton of weight unintentionally.

So, I decided to go back to being vegan (I became veg at a young age due to my love of animals..i guess as a child, i intuitively knew that meat + me = disaster!)….and, after 1 year, my labs are perfect, my health issues are reversing, my UC is healing up nicely, my thyroid is back in shape, most of my dysbiosis is normalized, and my B12 is better than 99% of the population! My weight is still low due to the damage done and my pancreas might not ever function properly without enzymes for nonfruit meals, but I feel much better sans meat and loads of fat.

I still need to tweak my diet a bit, as I am doing a modified version of 80-10-10 (a good diet for endurance athletes and those whom live in warm climates!), but I eventually want to adopt a more well-rounded vegan diet, sort of like a version of Dr Fuhrman’s Nutritarian Diet. His research makes the most sense….the whole “paleo” diet is not actually backed by any science, whereas Dr Fuhrman has spent his life dedicated to this. (Plus, u dont have to be vegan on his way of eating…but significantly limit the animal products to 10% or less of the diet).

Even the “real paleos” didnt eat as much meat as the modern Paleos do. They never had access to meat/eggs/dairy 3+ times a day. They lived more on plant-based foods.

It’s all about balance. I see people fall onto the latest diet fad, which now happens to be Paleo. Before it was Zone, atkins, macrobiotic, etc….

Dr Fuhrman has it right:
Lots of raw and cooked veggies (goal 1# each)
Lots of fruits (at least 4)
Lots of legumes (at least 1c and soy is NOT the devil!)
Some starches (grains, starchy veg…1c or more if active)
some nuts/seeds (at least 1oz) and/or avo (at least 2oz)
1-2TB chia/flax daily
Optional: 10% of cals in animal protein (1-2 eggs, 2-4oz fish/poultry)

Everyone is free to experiment with their diet and I hope u find what helps u. Just be careful with the Crossfit crowd…they tend to impose their beliefs on their clients. My Chiro follows the Dr F theories and he does crossfit, runs marathons, and weight lifts—and is the strongest, fittest guy I know.

Just my 2 cents

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