From Vegan To Paleo

Written by Jenna Scott:

I originally went vegetarian for Lent. Yes, Lent. Vegetarianism was something I had dabbled in my entire life, and now I had a justifiable reason to remove meat from my diet for a specified amount of time.

In the first few months as a vegetarian, I started to develop major digestion problems (mostly pain and bloating). I let this go on, along with my diet that consisted of mostly fruit and whole grains, second to eggs and veggies, for around one year.

There was a point where I realized I was bloated and in pain after every meal. I was obsessed with the cleanliness of anything I put into my body. I eliminated all processed foods, dairy, meat, eggs, most grains, sugar, and alcohol. On top of this, I regularly drank a psyllium and apple cider vinegar concoction every morning.

I vowed never to touch any animal products again. My diet consisted mostly of vegetables and fruit (usually blended into green smoothies), nuts, dried fruit, legumes and beans. Like any good vegan, I soon learned of the raw vegan lifestyle, and gripped over the nutrients in my food. I began only eating raw (nothing cooked above 118 degrees) in an effort to absorb as many nutrients as possible in their purest form. This turned into a week on/week off cycle as I could not eat ANYWHERE except my own kitchen (can you believe no one wanted to spiralize zucchini for me, or dehydrate some flax bread?).

I was not a junk food vegan at this point. But I was a sick one. For almost a year I held onto the belief that I was doing something wrong. Maybe I was missing a supplement? Was I not eating enough greens? Maybe I needed more grains to balance out the fiber I was getting from the veggies I was eating? Maybe I needed more fat (this one’s funny looking back – I ate around 6 cups of nuts per day)? I constantly searched forums and blogs, desperate for an answer to my host of symptoms. I was completely exhausted – mentally, physically and emotionally. My symptoms included:

-Constipation/Digestion Problems
I really struggled with this one. I tried absolutely everything to help: psylium husk, herbal laxative teas, herbal colon cleanses, salt water flushes, and even enemas. After every meal my stomach looked like a beach ball.
-Concentration/Memory Problems
“Brain Fog” is a phrase ex-vegans often use to describe how they feel near the end, and it’s pretty accurate. I would walk into a room and forget why I was there. I could no longer concentrate long enough to read a book. This was terrifying for me.

After thinking about it for months (and reading The Paleo Solution), with the support of my friends and coaches (and of course, my doctor who had been urging me to eat animal protein for months) I started to incorporate meat back into my diet, and began to follow the Paleo diet. I started off slowly, with just fresh wild fish and free-range eggs, but moved onto wild game and grass-fed beef. The changes I have noticed in my health, performance and body are incredible. The digestion problems I had been suffering with for over a year (and after half a dozen visits to the ER, my doctor, and a gastrointestinal specialist) were completely gone. My energy levels are consistent throughout the day, and the brain fog is gone! My strength gains have also seen a major improvement.

Since then, I’ve helped some of my family by introducing them to the Paleo diet. My mother has lost over 20 pounds and seen a significant improvement in the host of auto-immune deficiencies she deals with (including arthritis).

I firmly believe that following the diet of our paleolithic ancestors has healed me, and saved myself and my family from a host of disorders and diseases.


  1. Liz says

    Wow, this is so similar to my own experience. I alternated between vegetarian and vegan for 6 years. At first, it was an improvement in my diet and how I felt… but it’s not that hard to improve upon deep-fried dorm food if it means you start eating at the salad bar instead. The longer I did it, the worse I started to feel, despite all the supplementation.

    The “brain fog” as you describe it is what finally scared me enough that I knew I had to change something. I was in grad school and could barely do my assignments for lack of concentration. Somehow I made it through, and started eating fish after I graduated. I stumbled upon a few paleo blogs and decided to give it a try, since I couldn’t think of anything else I hadn’t tried. I started eating meat again reluctantly, but the immediate improvement I felt in my concentration got rid of my doubts! I actually started reading again! And the more adherent I got, the better I felt. So happy I gave it a try :)

      • Ray says

        “…what we are designed for…”

        Check your facts.
        We are “designed” to be herbivores. Look at your teeth, your nails. Your long intestines built to digest leaves. Your chewing. Your inability to eat rotting meat. Just google it.

        If you guys want to eat meat, eat meat, but the science isn’t there.

        • Diane says

          No. We are not “designed” to be herbivores. We are, and always have been omnivores. If we were designed to be herbivores, we would be able to digest cellulose, which in fact we cannot. That is the fiber that gets passed through our systems.

  2. Dave says

    I have heard paleo being harshly criticized as just another fad diet bandwagon, but I see that raw thing as a fad based on assumptions and no real evidence. I don’t see it difficult to argue that humans have been cooking for a long long time.

  3. says

    “I have heard paleo being harshly criticized as just another fad diet bandwagon”.

    I hear this all of the time as well. My response is that this “fad” diet has been eaten by humans for millions of years, whereas the grain-based diet today has only been for 10K years or so.

    Which is the fad?…

    My wife has two vegetarian friends. Both have what I call “vegetarian eye sockets”. They have droopy, tired looking eyes. They both have menstruation problems, one has developed fainting spells. They won’t give it up though. They’re too proud and hippie and feel to good about themselves for not eating defenseless animals. The risk to their health is of no consequence if it means a cow lives.

    • Ray says

      There is no scientific finding that supports your claim that humans have been in existence for “millions of years”. Current science says it’s closer to 250 thousand years. Do your own fact-checking, good day.

  4. says

    I ate vegan (90+% raw) for seven years. I was a very active cyclist at about 200 miles a week and was doing fine but never could get the upper hand in a race. I was trying to heal a lot of health issues at the time.
    Over the past two years I progressed to removal of all starches, sugars, and processed/packaged everything. Only recently has my body been acting like there is something lacking for the energy I needed.
    I have begun the gradual change of reintroducing wild fish and a very small amount of pasture raised poultry and am feeling marvelous. My GI tract is still fighting it but overall, I see improvement. Now I eat about 80% veggies (raw & some cooked), 10% animal meats and 10% seeds/nuts & oils. My body still does not do well with sugars so fruit is a 1-2 times a month kind of item. At 53 I have to say, my physical performance is strong and I have never felt better!

  5. says

    An excellent example of the healing power of diet, and the triumph of experience over mainstream nutritional advice! While it is likely that some of us handle high-plant diets better than others, science tells us that the body digests and absorbs proteins, vitamins and minerals from animal sources far better than those from plant sources. My own personal experience is that a modified low-plant Paleo diet completely reversed all of the “IBS” symptoms I used to have. Grains, beans, nuts and seeds are all very difficult to digest due to the types of proteins and carbohydrates they contain, but even many vegetables, especially if eaten raw, can be challenging to digest as well, given their high fiber content. Meats are easiest on the GI tract, and fruits are a close second (for those that can tolerate fruit sugars and sugar alcohols). All other foods–dairy, veggies (especially crucifers), and seed foods–can be problematic for those with sensitive systems.

    • Ray says

      “science tells us that the body digests and absorbs proteins, vitamins and minerals from animal sources far better than those from plant sources”

      Science from the 50’s maybe. Current science says the opposite. Try reading “The China Study”.

      • Cidalia says

        Current science? The China Study is a book, not science. It was poorly researched. Plus, I have IBS and agree with the other poster. I know how grains and many vegetables make me feel (horrible, in pain). Never had digestive distress from animal products.

  6. GaryG says

    I do believe the paleo diet is much better but I can tell you exactly what caused your problems. Number 1 are those psyllium concoctions and other colon cleansers. Those have blown up my belly like a balloon and made me sick for 2 days at a time. Number 2 are all the nuts you ate. They are also a digestive disaster. You were eating way too many of those. That happens on a raw diet because you want to eat something to satisfy hunger.

  7. Jenny says

    As a school teacher of 20 years (high school science and food technology) I have watched dozens of students (usually girls) deteriorate cognitively and physically as they have ‘gone vegan/vegetarian’.

    I admire the passion of the vegans but am relieved that with all that ‘brain fog’ going on they ain’t going to be taking over the world!

    As for all the ‘listen to your body and we are all individuals’ nonsense!!!! No there is a hierarchy of quality of macro and micro nutrients and grains come out at the bottom everytime!! And we only have one stomach and we don’t just have molars! We need a varied omnivorous diet!

  8. Ashley says

    I’m currently thinking about making the same transition, it’s so refreshing to hear that it’s been done (successfully) before.

  9. says

    As with most modern issues, there are testimonials and countless examples backed by hard science on all sides of this argument. My mom, an MD and fairly outspoken vegan for 5 years, has devoted most of her adult life to finding answers to the questions raised by Jenna’s post. When I gave her the article to read (I like to challenge her views), she said ‘good for her!’, and meant it sincerely.
    I think it’s important to do your own research (The China Study – T. Colin Campbell) and experimentation, and tailor a unique solution that works best for YOU. If we hold stead-fast to our testimonials and our science, we’re doing ourselves a disservice.

  10. says

    May I simply just say what a relief to find someone
    that genuinely understands what they are discussing on the
    internet. You certainly realize how to bring a problem to light and make it
    important. More and more people ought to look at this and understand this side of the story.
    I can’t believe you’re not more popular since you definitely have the gift.

  11. Connie says

    I have been vegan for two years because of the abuses in our system in care and killing of animals. I find that I am now needing to eat animal products because my cholesterol went up to 203, first time in my life that its above 150. Only change made is cutting animal products. Can I respectfully and honestly ask what anyone has done to get past the abusive systems we have? My husband and I have found a market that has meat from small local farms and kills and processes all their meats. That’s the best I can think to do. Every meal is filled with thanksgiving now for the animal that gave its life for me. I can’t eat at restaurants or friends homes , meats that is, though.

  12. says

    I have been vegan for two years and haven’t had any of your experiences with bloating, constipation, brain fog… I stopped eating animal products because I couldn’t in good conscience take part in the abuse in our systems that care for and kill the animals. I now find that I have to start eating animal products for one reason, my cholesterol jumped from 150 to 203 in the short time I’ve been vegan. It’s never been above 150 in my life (54 yrs). My husband found a local place at has meats from local farms with humane policies for caring for and killing animals. That is working for me so far. But still certain things I haven’t eaten yet. Think fish may be easier to eat, we’ll see. I find I’m very thankful at each meal for the animal that gave its life for me. I would like to hear how other vegans overcame this aspect of the change to meat eating.

  13. Colin Miller says

    Is it possible, just possible, that there is so such thing as a one size fits all dietary solution? I believe that some folks thrive on a vegan diet, others are more carnivorous, and some folks seem to do well while breaking every rule of healthy eating. I say do what ever works for you, based on you own experience, and refrain from dogmatic thinking. And, please, do not preach. Share information, by all means, but I see no benefit to insulting others for their choices, or insisting that you choice is the only valid choice.

  14. Nadine says

    I was vegan for six years, then vegetarian for an additional 15 years. I started eating a little bit of meat in the late stages of pregnancy and now breastfeeding and every time I have meat I have a surge of vitality and contentment, like I am taking an amazingly good drug.
    Whilst I did not think I had “brain fog” before reading about this concept recently (after all, I have been vegan/vegetarian for so long, I don’t really know any different) – after eating meat and experiencing the vitality it brought, I realised I was functioning far below optimal.
    For a long time, I was happy to compromise my health to save the lives of animals, and as little as a year ago I could not have thought that I would ever eat meat. However, after experiencing panic attacks over past 18 months and having my eyesight deteriorate, I started to wonder whether I may have nutritional deficiency (I did not supplement with vitamin and mineral supplements but ate very well – that is, I paid attention to trying to get everything I needed from my vegetarian diet).
    Like an earlier poster, when I eat meat now, it is from animals where I know how they’re raised and killed and I am eternally grateful for the sacrifice made by them.
    Like another earlier poster, each person is different and may respond differently to different sorts of foods, flourishing where others may not, and we need to respect or try to understand each others choices.

  15. groen says

    I am a life long vegetarian and vegan for three years or so, but really think about going paleo or at least incorporate more meat into my diet because me to have experiencing insane brain fog !! It is creepy actually, at times I feel mentally retarted ( I am not btw or at least I hope not)
    Obviously, university is not going so well anymore and it is my last year; Weird, because I know quite some vegans who don’t suffer from brain fog or other health issues at all. Besides, some famous vegans/vegetarians lived well into their nineties (Isaac Bashevis Singer, Donald Watson, …)

    And if you look at supercentenarians or long living people none of them were paleo’s (I am not saying that they were vegetarians or vegans) but they did not avoid grains, so I don’t think you can say that grains or necessarily bad for humans. The blue zones site also states that areas with long-living inhabitants mostly eat a rather high carb diet (not nec. low fat or meat) but still definitely they don’t shy away from carbs or legumes for that matter; Anyway, I don’t think I will give up all grains and legumes.

    It seems rather that it really depends on person to person but all I know is that I am not doing that well on veganism

  16. Sue says

    I was on a low fat/high carb plant-based diet (McDougall) for health reasons (overweight and digestive issues). I really tried my best to eat that way and even lost weight. However I didn’t feel well. While eating that way I continued to have digestive issues and was frequently bloated. My feet and ankles were always swollen and painful. I stopped eating bread, rice and cereal and within a day, all the bloat and swelling disappeared. I knew then that low carb was the way to go.

  17. Jenna says

    I am having a very similar problem- namely with constipation. I was vegan fairly strictly for about a year, then I started to dabble in dairy again. For the past few months I have been struggling a lot with constipation and bloating. ironically, I feel better when I eat what I consider junk food- pizza, burgers, etc which I have been allowing once a week.

    As someone who never liked meat, it’s very difficult for me to incorporate it into my diet. I also felt pretty amazing my first year as a vegan and I’m wondering- did anyone else initially feel great but then develop these problems?

  18. Paul says

    I see a lot of confusion here, and I’d like to share my own experiences just to support people on not giving up veganism, or at least vegetarianism. I went to a plant-based diet because I felt better as I ate less meat and dairy. I only later became hip to the environmental issues which are huge as well as the humanitarian. Ironically, I’d like to say, just because something makes you feel better, doesn’t mean it’s better for you. I liken it to smoking meth: you feel perky and get a lot done initially, but over the long term bad things happen. That’s where I think a lot of this stuff goes off the rails (Paleo, Atkins, Sout Beach, Weston Price, etc), they focus on one system of the body and not the whole. Meat causes a lot of problem in the body, especially the cardiovascular system (see Caldwell Esselstynbooks/videos for instance) and the brain.

    I think a lot of people feel bad when they go vegan because: they don’t get enough exercise (or some too much), they don’t DRINK ENOUGH WATER (which causes huge problems especially in the gut, for those complaining of constipation), they eat TOO MUCH SUGAR (juice only low glycemic veggies (not beets or carrots!) and no fruit, and no refined carbs. Eat those whole so the fiber slows the sugar.), they eat too little greens (you have to eat like an elephant, get a juicer and drink as much greens and sprouts as you can stand because you can’t eat enough really without juicing), they’re not eating the right fats (a dissertation in itself, but lots of w3’s and as little of the others as possible because this is the source of inflammation in the CV system and brain), they eat processed fake meat garbage, and they eat too much soy (tempeh better than tofu and no more than once a week). There are LOTS of beans out there so eat a variety and cook them right (get a pressure cooker). Sprouts are another great food for so many reasons that takes a little work but has a great benefit.

    I don’t eat many grains because the nutrition to calorie ratio is too low, but some people want more calories so…You will have difficulty with grains if you don’t soak them first. The inhibiting components go away when soaked, because they are there to keep the seed from growing until it’s ready. The same is true for nuts (raw of course), so much better soaked (removing the skins from almonds makes them taste better and more digestible) and LOTS of variety so you don’t build up an allergy (like that guy in the thread who ate 6 cups a day might of had). This is KEY! You can give yourself an allergy if you eat the same thing too frequently. Also get tested if you’re feeling bad because you may have other allergies and intolerances which will cause inflammation (and give you brain fog!). For me it’s tomatoes (nightshades). You try to be a Sicilian-Irish-Polish American who avoids wheat tomatoes and cheese let alone meat. So much fun going home… ;^)

    You can see why teenagers look sick when they go veg, what I call “deep fried vegans” because they still eat a crappy diet. Veggie dogs and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They haven’t been taught how to eat so of course they look sick. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Anecdotal information is the curse of us all and so frequent with the internet now.

    EVERYBODY needs to supplement, just differently for vegans. The quality of supplements varies tremendously, and there are few that are of acceptable quality.

    The exercise thing is important. It seems to me a lot of people are trying to fix their sedentary lifestyle with there diet. So they eat things that make them feel good initially (because their blood sugar is all messed up) but it takes its toll in the long run. People like the testosterone boost as well, but it catches up with you over time.

    Remember, our paleo ancestors lived to 30 if they were lucky. I’m thinking you want to better than that. You want to burn the candle at the right rate for optimal longevity and quality of life. You want to take in as much nutrition with as little calorie as possible to reduce the toxic load (hence all the cleansing fads now, you don’t need to cleanse if you eat well). People have taken the current research misinterpreted it to inflate egregious health claims, and people eat it up because they want to justify their bad food addictions. The reason why things are fads is, people are looking for a change, they find something that makes them feel good in the short term, but over time it doesn’t deliver and they drop it.

    If you’re not feeling good, look at your lifestyle first. If the basics of health are not there nothing else will help you: sleep, water, exercise, whole food (i.e. nothing with a label), loving-supportive connections, and optimal-stress. I would make sure these are all in check before dumping your plant-based diet. I know people thriving on it and you can too.

    I have been eating a plant-based diet for 20 years now, and at 47, I wish I had done it my whole life. Be well.

    • says

      I think that’s great that you’ve found something that works well for you. I do have to point out though, there are many fallacies and misconceptions about eating meat in your comment.

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