Doctor Mikhail Varshavski, commonly known as Doctor Mike, is a social media entrepreneur, philanthropist, and physician with a purpose. He stresses the importance of medical literacy and battles misinformation before a massive audience of over 7 million social media subscribers. As a board-certified family medicine physician, Varshavski is uniquely equipped to inspire and motivate countless people all over the world to live happier and healthier lives.
In his video, “Doctor Mike Tries Vegan for 30 Days,” Varshavski takes us through his journey with the vegan diet. What are the healthy benefits to veganism? How does it impact digestion, and the body as a whole? With the help of Thrive Market, Varshavski successfully completes another diet challenge and share his top tips for going vegan.
Doctor Mike: It's officially official. Four weeks of going vegan are in the books and I'm so happy I met my goal. I have to thank you guys for challenging me on my 30 days of Keto video and we have to give a huge shout out again to Thrive Market for sponsoring this video. If you don't know what Thrive Market is, you really should. One of the biggest problems my patients have in eating healthy is that it's expensive. And with foods being 25% to 50% off on Thrive Market, they make it pretty reasonable to eat healthy. Whatever diet you're following, you can just click the category right there on their website and it preselects the foods for you so you don't have to check the ingredients list. And if you click the discount code below in my description box, you're gonna get 25% off your first order and a free 30-day trial. That's pretty awesome. If you're already a member, all you have to do is check your inbox or your Thrive Market homepage to see a special offer for you every single day. How cool is that?
Let's talk Vegan Diet. Just to clarify, there are many reasons why people follow a vegan diet, moral, ethical, environmental, but the information I'm gonna cover here is only what's related to nutrition and health. If you want me to talk about those other concepts, I'm happy to do so. Drop me a line below and I'll make a dedicated vegan video to just that. To cut to the chase, a vegan diet can be a very healthy diet, whether you're young, old, somewhere in between, pregnant, not pregnant, breastfeeding, not breastfeeding. Basically, it's applicable to all life stages. And I have to say it's not the only healthy diet out there. Some of the loudest voices in the vegan community are quick to say that veganism is the only healthy option. That's not the case. There are several other healthy diets out there. For example, the Mediterranean diet that I'm personally a fan of that are just as healthy, if not healthier than the vegan diet.
If you noticed in the beginning of my statement, I said vegan diet can be a healthy diet. The reason I put that word can in there, you can follow a vegan diet, eat vegan burgers with sugary sodas, with gummy candies, still be vegan and that's not really healthy, right? When patients ask me for a recommendation of a healthy diet, I have to be honest and admit that I don't generally recommend veganism as my first option. I do know that it's a restrictive diet and we know restrictive diets have high failure rates, plus the benefits of a vegan diet aren't that much better than some of the other alternatives that are simpler to follow.
When I recommend a diet, I'm trying to create the healthiest diet, but also one that's feasible and achievable for my patients to face without disrupting their lives. On the other hand, if one of my patients comes in and wants to follow a vegan diet, I'm totally in support of that. I just have to make sure that they're adequately planning their meals. They're supplementing when need be, checking their blood tests and ideally having some guidance either from myself or a nutritionist. The research behind health benefits of following a vegan diet are substantial and high quality. If you're following the standard American diet and then switch over to a vegan diet, you're gonna see improvement in chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, strokes, even an extension of life in some cases. And what's most interesting is when we add some animal products into the mix, those outcomes still hold true.
That's why what I recommend to my patients is a plant-focused diet, meaning that they should get the majority of their calories from plants, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, healthy fats, and a moderate amount of poultry and fish, with a minimal amount of red meat. In fact, that's the diet I follow and recommend to my own family. A little side note here, the field of nutrition research is ever changing and as we get more information, more quality studies, we doctors and nutritionists alike are gonna be able to give better recommendations when it comes to a vegan diet, a plant-focused diet, and all of this is susceptible to change, but it's important that we make the best decisions with the knowledge that we have on hand. The one thing that I can say with 100% certainty is there's no such thing as a miracle diet for everybody.
Starting the Vegan Diet
Time to catch you up on this four-week vegan journey. On day one, I was excited. I was like, if I could tackle keto, I can definitely do vegan. So when all this stuff from Thrive came in, I was unboxing, I was popping out the food. It looked delicious. The first point at which I had a little bit of hesitation of whether or not I was gonna stick with the vegan diet for the full four weeks was when I ordered my first at home delivery.
I just ordered my very first vegan meal. Buffalo cauliflower bites with some kind of not real mayo. And this is a wrap with vegan cheese and unchicken. What is unchicken?
Even when it was a few days into going vegan, I was having second thoughts and that's not like me. If I set a goal for myself, I'm gonna do everything in my power to meet that goal. But for some reason when sticking to this vegan diet, I was concerned about so many things. The following week I was leaving to MIT for the leadership conference. I was worried if they're gonna have vegan options available for me. I was then traveling to Miami for a few days. All of these worries started bubbling in my head and I was really wondering, can I stick to vegan this entire month?
Eating Out on the Vegan Diet
Doctor Mike: When I arrived at MIT for the leadership conference, where, by the way, I met the most amazing human beings. I used them to my advantage. As soon as I arrived at MIT, I told everyone around me, "Hey, I'm going vegan." Just having that social pressure on me meant it was way less likely that I would cheat. One of the first obstacles I ran into on the vegan diet was under eating calories. Now, I'm partially to blame here because I didn't prep well and even at the opening of this video I said the healthy way to follow a vegan diet is to adequately plan your meals. Being someone who skips breakfast normally, and as a fan of intermittent fasting, I'm only eating lunch and dinner and some snacks in between, so I have to really make sure the foods that I eat are calorie dense.
For the first two weeks, I have to be honest, I didn't have much of an appetite. I'm not a huge fan of just eating vegetables, and rice, and beans, so I didn't have tremendous portions and because of that I was calorie deficient. I actually noticed some weight loss. And here's an interesting story. I was working out in the gym doing a little bit of circuit training, nothing too complicated, and as soon as I walked out, I got really lightheaded, dizzy, almost. I had to sit down and drink something sweet. That's never really happened to me. I don't want to blame it on going vegan, but I think the fact that I was vegan and under eating calories, that was a true stress to my system. In fact, after that, I went out to my local vitamin store and purchased B12, vitamin D, and a multivitamin to make sure I wasn't becoming deficient in any of those.
What helped me tremendously to make up this calorie deficit is eating some of these snacks that Thrive sent over. If I didn't have these snacks, I'd be under eating calories the majority of the time.
Long days in the hospital, but I got my Simple Mills. These crackers get me through some rough days.
One of the biggest problems I ran into it, this is really embarrassing to say on camera.
The whole plane ride, I'm sitting next to a doctor and my stomach has gone... I had to stand up like three, four times. It's crazy man. This vegan thing is wrecking havoc.
From day one, up until the last day of the diet, I was having tremendous gas and bloating. It's so embarrassing to say, I mean, think about this. I fly on planes. I interact with patients for long periods of time. I sit in conferences. I can't just be sitting there flatulent. I did try and isolate some ingredients to see which ones were causing this gas and bloating combination for me, but I couldn't find out what it was because I normally eat brown rice. I normally eat vegetables and fruits and beans. I guess just the amounts I was eating or maybe the Tofu, but what's crazy is I'd expect them to go away after four weeks, but no, they stuck around. This is probably the biggest obstacle and barrier I faced on the vegan diet and the reason why I would have to say that the vegan diet probably won't work for me long term.
I just can't sit there with my stomach going...and me wanting to pass gas the entire time. God, that's embarrassing. What I didn't know about veganism is that there are a ton of up and coming options for those who aren't used to eating vegan. There are specialty restaurants that just offer vegan foods with no animal products that remind you of foods that you may have eaten when you ate animal products. And I thought that was really cool. On top that a lot of these restaurants and even some of the products I got from Thrive tasted delicious because of the sauces. Vegan sources are on point.
I'm not gonna lie, vegan food is a little bland. Like, I'm loving these blue chips, but without some, like, sauce, like, I'm really digging this primal kitchen, classic barbecue sauce. These chips just aren't cutting it, you know. Barbecue sauce, fire.
As I said earlier, a vegan diet is a very restrictive diet and it's one where you can develop nutritional deficiencies, so on, so forth. But I think the difficulty with following a restrictive diet is that it takes a toll on your willpower. I've talked about on this channel of decision fatigue. Because you're constantly making decisions and you're using your willpower, it's actually a finite resource. What I noticed while I was following the vegan diet was that I lost the drive to go to the gym. My work ethic actually suffered because I was putting such a strong emphasis on sticking to vegan when there were so many temptations and there were things I wanted to eat that my workouts actually suffered. I didn't want to hop on my spin bike in my bedroom. I didn't want to go to the gym with my friends.
Working Out and Gym Time
This is really unlike me and it's an obstacle I didn't actually expect to face. When I went to the gym, I lifted fine, but getting to the gym was the actual struggle. At the time I least expected it, disaster struck. I got sick, I started coughing, I got a sore throat, I got a low-grade fever and I actually panicked in this moment. I thought that, "Man, do I have to stop the vegan challenge because I'm so sick?" I went to see the doctor. I weighed the pros and cons of starting antibiotics, of stopping the vegan diet, and in the end, I decided to stick with conservative treatment and treat it like a viral illness. One of my favorite hacks to treat viral illnesses, well, actually the symptoms of the viral illnesses is green tea with Manuka honey. Here's the deal breaker, which I didn't know. Apparently, honey is not vegan. What? I mean, I guess honey is an animal product, but man, I didn't force the bees to make the honey. They make it on their own. We didn't have to milk them for it. If you want to disqualify my four-week vegan challenge because I ate honey, so be it. It helped control my nighttime cough. It soothed my sore throat and it actually got me back on my feet and allowed me to stick with the vegan diet in good form.
I got to say, at this point, I was rolling. I was starting getting into the vegan vibe. I was trying out new restaurants. I was sampling all the delicious foods that I got from Thrive and I was excited. I was getting close to the finish line. But I will say one of the hardest things with the vegan diet is peer pressure. I mean, when I went out to you with my friends, they were annoyed to say the least, that we had to choose the restaurant based on my eating preferences, but I did do a decent job at trying to pick out vegan options in not so vegan places.
Look at this dedication. Greek salad, no feta, asparagus, fries. While I got this next to me. While he is eating this.
Doctor Mike: The vegan struggle's real.
Despite the peer pressure and all that, I made it past week four. Honestly, I was really proud of myself and it's nice every now and then to take a challenge like this and learn something new about yourself. In fact, I want to tell you five things that I learned not only about the vegan diet, but also about myself during this process. However, it's important to note that this is what happened to me on the vegan diet and it doesn't mean that it's gonna happen to you as well. This is not scientific research. This is anecdotal. This is just what happened to me. So take all of this with a grain of salt or sugar depending on which one you like.
Five Things to Know about the Vegan Diet
One, when I didn't plan well, I ate very unhealthy. When I was at MIT for breakfast, I ate cinnamon toast crunch with almond milk and a banana every morning. That's not healthy even though it's vegan. Two, I didn't notice a major change in my energy level like I thought I would. I mean, maybe I had a slightly decreased energy level, but we have to remember that I was sick, in the beginning I was under eating calories, so I don't feel it's fair to blame vegan for that. Three, surprisingly, I didn't get weaker on vegan. I was lifting strong and I felt good, but what did suffer was getting to the gym. I really noticed a lack of willpower when I was following this restrictive diet. Four, when it comes to my body, I lost three pounds. I dropped from 203 to 200 pounds, so there was some weight loss probably from under eating calories. But despite losing weight, I didn't feel as lean, probably due to the fact that I was overeating carbs. I mean, all those sauces, all the rice that I ate, pasta, that contributed to the carb load and probably made me feel a little bit purgier than usual. Five, this is the big one. The real difficulty was my GI system, I mean, it was a mess. The amount of gas, and flatulence, and bloating that came, it's like gross even talking about, but it was really bad. If you have that with any diet, there's no way you're sticking with it. And I tried taking some over the counter supplements for this and it did absolutely nothing.
If you're curious or interested in starting a vegan diet, I don't want to dissuade you. In fact, I want to encourage you, go talk to a dietician, nutritionist, physician, someone who's well versed with vegan diets. That way you could do with the healthy, happy, safe way, without hurting yourself in the process. And please, reduce the amount of refined carbs and processed foods that you're eating because as more research comes out, that's the stuff that causes diseases and shortens your lifespan. Now, if you want to check out a really cool playlist, check out my nutrition playlist right here for some goodies. Click here and stay happy and healthy.