The food I used to eat was, in my opinion, absolutely disgusting: takeaways, pizzas, almost pure saturated fat. I ate loads of meat—at least a couple of times a day—and always felt bloated and horrible afterwards.
I was 30 stone in 2018 and I tried all sorts of stuff to lose weight. I had some veggie meals, along with meat and dairy, but I couldn’t shift my weight, even though I was on a calorie deficit. It was really hard.
I was depressed and had no motivation or energy. Even if I was doing something exciting, I would be fatigued. I had a lot of anxiety, and I used to get migraines every day.
My sleeping was absolutely disgraceful, too. I would have sleepless nights, where I would only sleep for an hour or so before having to get up.
Learning about veganism
In 2019, after about six months of insomnia, I went to see a doctor where I live in Cheshire, England. They asked if I had been drinking alcohol or smoking, and I said, “No, nothing like that.”
They did a urine test, and checked my blood pressure, but everything came back fine. Then they asked, “How’s your diet?” I told them about the kind of food I was eating.
The doctor recommended I cut down on meat, cut out takeaways, and start having a balanced diet. I told them I had been eating some vegetarian stuff, but I hadn’t gone “full vegan mode.” They said, “You should try it. You might like it.”
At first I thought it was funny, the idea of eating rabbit food. I thought it was something that people just did for the environment, and I’ve never really been big on that: I’m not an activist against eating animals or anything.
But I read up on all the health benefits, and my personal trainer at the time recommended it, too. He’s a vegan, and he said plant-based food is better for your body. He also said it helped him with his mental health. So I decided to do it.
Changing my diet
When I first started eating more plant-based food, there weren’t many vegetarian or vegan options out there, so it was hard when I went to restaurants. But in the past two years, there have been more and more options on the menu at every restaurant.
You can get good and bad vegan food, but I eat clean food that has been steamed or grilled, not fried.
My diet is now about 80 percent plant-based, 20 percent meat. I start my day with a pea protein shake; for lunch I might have something like a meat-free spaghetti bolognese, and then at night I might have my one meat meal a day, like chicken and vegetables.
Alternatively, I might have chicken wraps, pretend bacon wraps, vegan burger patties or Quorn—which I jokingly call “plastic mince” when I go to the shop, but it’s actually all right. I have coconut milk in my tea and I don’t really notice a difference.
I could happily be a full-time vegan. The only thing really stopping me is that I like a filet steak!
How a part-time plant-based diet has changed my life
When I switched to more vegan food, the weight literally dropped off me: I lost almost 100 pounds in two years, which I find crazy.
But I also feel so much better within myself. Within three months, I felt lighter and more alert. When I used to eat meat, I felt heavy afterwards. But, after changing my diet, I had more energy and felt less fatigued. It might sound mad, but I felt human. When I breathed in the air, it felt cleaner.
I’ve found that eating well has been better for my mental health. I used to have a bad temper but I don’t rage anymore. I’m the most calm and placid I have ever been, and I think it’s linked to what I’ve been eating.
I don’t eat cheese anymore—not even the vegan stuff. I did an experiment on how I would feel, and I feel much better, mentally, without eating it.
I sleep better, too. I have no issues anymore, which has definitely been an added bonus. About a month after I changed my diet, my headaches started subsiding, as well, and now they are minimal.
Why I recommend being a “part-time vegan”
I think my “part-time vegan” approach is better than being a full-time vegan because you’re not depriving yourself. You’ve got a balance and you’re not being prescriptive. I think it’s great to be flexible.
That being said, I reckon I could go fully vegan. Habits take 30 days to form—if you don’t have something for 30 days, you usually don’t miss it. I’ve not had cheese or chocolate for two years, and I don’t miss them.
My advice to anyone who wants more of a plant-based diet is to make sure you get all your vitamins in. I take multivitamins, vitamins C and B12 and omega 3 because you lose those when you don’t have real meat.
I’d never go back to eating meat full-time because it made me feel terrible. I absolutely love the food I eat now, and I’ve noticed a real link between what I eat and how I feel.
John Junior, 34, is a mental health advocate who lives in Cheshire, England.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
As told to Newsweek’s My Turn section deputy editor, Katie Russell.