New Veg Eats Healthy But Is Hungry & Depleted

Vegetarian 4 months, feeling hungry a lot of the time, body feels depleted, brain function seems slower!


Hello, I need some advice about my diet I have been a vegetarian for about 4 months now. Over the last few weeks I have found myself feeling hungry a lot of the time. My body simply feels depleted and brain function seems slower!

I can not understand what I am doing wrong as I seem to be following all of the proper guidelines. I have a pretty comprehensive diet. In a typical day I will have:
Breakfast: Oats, Barley, Buckwheat, Wheatgerm, sesame seeds, banana, currants and soya milk

mid morning: snack bar, two pieces of fruit, yoghurt and rice cakes

Lunch: Salad with tomoato, cucumber, lettuce, celery, beetroot, sunflower seed, pepper, tofu, selection of cheeses, potato salad and wheat bread.

Afternoon: fruit or a scone

Dinner: Brown rice or potato or spelt pasta with couscous or quinoa, vegetables including carrots, parsnips, mushrooms, sea weed, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, squash, sweet potato, rocket, with a sauce of some sort.

At night I have some more fruit or toast or cereal.

I am supplementing my diet with Iron and B12, and yet I still feel tired and am losing weight. Am I taking on too much Iron? I have been eating meat for about 24 years, Is this just a normal side effect?

Thanks for taking the time to look at my questions – B.J.

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You are getting plenty of variety in your vegetarian diet, and eating fresh whole foods, which is excellent! However, a few things pop out at me when I look at your diet. Here are some suggestions, which I hope will help.

I don’t see much fat in your diet, besides a bit of cheese. That would be fine if you were trying to lose weight, which I assume you’re not. Make sure that you’re eating a Tbsp or so of olive oil a day, plus add flax oil and-or ground flax seed to your diet, for the essential fatty acids (brain food).

Eat more fatty foods such as avocados, nuts & seeds, (almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. You don’t need a lot: half an avocado is good, or a handful or two of nuts & seeds a day.

You may not be getting enough calories or protein in your diet either. Nuts and seeds will help. But also, you may need larger servings of grains, and you could add more beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, and seitan to your diet, which along with the grains, will up your calories and protein.

You don’t mention eggs, so I assume you’re not eating them. If you feel to do that, and can find fresh, local, organic eggs, they’re a good source of protein and iron.

You could have hummus, bean dip, or nut butter also with snacks or meals.

Depending on your age, your activity level, and your diet, you probably should supplement with B12, at least a few times a week, in addition to what you’re getting from foods enriched with B12. I’m not so sure about iron supplementation – unless you have iron deficiency anemia, you might not need it. There is a lot of iron in the foods you’re eating, and you’ll get more if you add more legumes. Iron availability from plant foods is enhanced with the addition of Vit. C. so you should eat something with lots of Vit C at your meals. For me, it’s usually lemon or lime, or a piece of fruit. A lot of veggies have plenty of Vit C too, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

Another possibility is that your digestion isn’t coping well with your change of diet. Probiotics, more water, herbal teas, and physical activity such as walking, yoga, or swimming will help your digestion.

There are always physical changes associated with a change of diet, and going vegetarian is a pretty radical change for most people. There may be some detox symptoms, or initial weight loss, but feeling hungry and depleted all the time, with slower brain functioning doesn’t sound typical or desirable! Please consider getting some blood tests done for nutritional deficiencies.

Also, buy the vegetarian nutrition bible: Becoming Vegetarian by Melina and Davis, read it cover to cover, then use it as a reference.

Here are some helpful veg nutrition articles to read too:

Quinoa Recipe Ebook

Iron and Vegetarian Diet
Omega 3s for Vegetarians & Vegans
Plant Based Protein Food Chart
Protein Sample Menus For Vegetarian or Vegan Diet
How To Get Enough Protein In Your Vegetarian or Vegan Diet
Vegetarians, Are You Getting Enough Vit. B12?

One last thing: Not everybody agrees with me on this, and you should honor your own feelings – but try to think long term. From my experience, there’s no advantage in straining to go vegetarian, and no harm in relaxing, or back-tracking a bit if necessary for your well-being. I’m not saying “eat meat”, just cut yourself some slack, give your body time and space to adjust.

You have the rest of your life to get it right. And the next lifetime or two as well, if it comes to that!

All the best, Judith Kingsbury, Savvy Vegetarian

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