My Next Productivity Experiment: Going Vegetarian for 60 Days

I’ve posted an update about this experiment: The amazing connection between food and productivity.

Takeaway: Going vegetarian is probably worth it for the health and energy benefits alone, but it’s difficult to do right. I’ll be eating vegetarian for the next 60 days as a productivity experiment, and then writing about everything I learn.

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes, 40s.

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Over the last year and bit I’ve conducted countless productivity experiments on myself—here are a few of the larger ones—and to date I have failed, or partially-failed, at just two.

Coincidentally, both of the experiments involved food; for the first I tried to eat only “soylent” for a week, and for the second I aimed to lower my body fat from 17% to 10%, while gaining 10 pounds of lean muscle. (I succeeded at gaining 10 pounds of muscle, but my body fat is currently 18%—expect an update on this experiment in the next few weeks!)

I think there is a very simple reason I failed at both of the experiments: I enjoy food too much. I’m forever thinking about what I’m going to eat for my next meal, and no joke, I vividly remember pretty much every meal I’ve ever eaten out. I have no idea what my now-girlfriend was wearing on our first date a couple of years ago, but I remember that I ate a half-chicken meal with a side of rice and mixed vegetables at the Richtree Market Restaurant at the bottom of the Rideau Centre in Ottawa. I also remember that the chicken was a tad dry, and that the rice was delicious.

Needless to day, it’s with a bit of trepidation that I’m going vegetarian for 60 days, but I’m pretty excited to see how the experiment turns out.

The productivity connection

The connection between your diet and productivity is relatively straightforward, but incredibly profound: what you eat and drink directly impacts how much energy you have, and energy is the fuel that you burn over the course of the day to be productive. The more energy you have, the more potential you have to get stuff done, and vice-versa. With the possible exception of sleep and exercise, nothing affects your energy levels as much as what you eat and drink.

People become vegetarian for a number of reasons—like for their health, religion, budget, or because of their respect for animals—but I’m becoming vegetarian mainly in the name of productivity.1 When food so strongly affects how much energy you have, I would be remiss if I didn’t give this experiment a shot, particularly when the benefits of going vegetarian can be so great.

The perks of being a vegetarian

There are a crazy number of benefits to going vegetarian—but only if you do it right, which can be difficult.

Without proper planning, it can be difficult to get enough protein and other nutrients like iron while eating a vegetarian diet, and many people also find it frustrating that they have fewer food options at restaurants and family celebrations. It sucks to be “that guy” or “that girl” with the weird food requirement when someone else is cooking you a nice meal.

But it appears, at least on the surface, that investing the time, energy, and willpower into becoming a vegetarian is well worth the effort. A number of separate studies have found that vegetarians:

  • Have “a 12% lower risk of death compared with nonvegetarians”, and are much less likely to be overweight2
  • Have better moods than people who eat all kinds of meat, and people who eat just fish3
  • Have lower blood pressure, and a significantly lower risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes4

I’m definitely not a doctor or a nutritionist, but the research seems to suggest that going vegetarian will give you more energy than eating meat—provided you do it right.

My Plan

Over the next 60 days my plan is to eat a predominately whole-food, plant-based diet that will consist mostly of:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Starchy vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Beans and legumes

My diet also will not consist of:

  • Meat, poultry, or seafood
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products
  • Highly-refined foods, like bleached flour, refined sugar, and oil

My new eating regimen is similar to my pre-vegetarian diet, only I will replace meat with alternate protein sources, and minimize how many refined snacks I eat.

Over the last several weeks I’ve been slowly transitioning away from obtaining protein from meat, poultry, and eggs, to obtaining more and more protein from beans, legumes, grains, and nuts, and just yesterday I made the jump to eating no meat or dairy.

To help me stick to the eating plan over the next two months, I’m going to:

  • Team up with my girlfriend, who will do the challenge with me. Over (at least) the next 60 days, my girlfriend is also going vegetarian, and our plan is to prepare all of our dishes together. This will not only cut down on how much time we take to prep and cook our meals; it will also help us carve out time to spend together, let us compare notes on where we can improve, and anticipate any obstacles that might come up.
  • Prepare the tastiest meals possible. I know that I simply won’t stick to my eating plan if the food isn’t delicious, so I’ve bought, borrowed, and downloaded a ton of vegetarian recipes that look incredible. (By the way, if you have any favorite veg recipes, please send them my way! I’ll be sure to cook them up for the experiment and share how they went.)
  • Cook a bunch of dishes in advance to have as snacks. Technically a diet that consists solely of Doritos and Mountain Dew could be considered vegetarian, so I’m also going to cook vegetarian snacks in advance for when cravings inevitably arise.
  • Supplement protein from grains, beans, and legumes with vegetarian protein powder. I’ll still be working out most days of the experiment, so I plan on consuming additional protein (especially after workouts) through a vegetarian, pea-based protein powder.
  • Have a bi-weekly weigh-in, and social penalties as extra motivation. For extra motivation, every two weeks I will weigh-in, and at the end of the experiment post a graph of how my body fat and body measurements changed. I’ll also tweet every time I stray from the diet.

This experiment will be a tough one for me to say the least, and I have no clue how it will turn out—though my fingers are crossed that it will turn out better than my last two food experiments! I can’t wait to share everything I learn over the course of it with you.

 


  1. I’m also trying out vegetarianism partly because of my Buddhist beliefs, though that’s not my primary reason for conducting this experiment. 

  2. Source: http://healthland.time.com/2013/06/04/vegetarians-may-live-longer/?xid=rodale 

  3. Source: http://www.menshealth.com/nutrition/7-reasons-vegetarians-live-longer 

  4. Source: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/763435_2 

  • R R

    I wish you luck. Perhaps you could collect the most tasty and healthy recipes you find in a blog to help like minded people. It’s always good to have personal recommendations.

    • Great idea! I’ve found a few killer ones already!

  • Best of luck Chris, I am sure this will be a great challenge… and actually you’ve taken it a step further, it looks like you are going vegan. I look forward to seeing the results. Have you thought about also doing a pre and post cholesterol, blood pressure and vitamins/minerals profile?

    • I haven’t—what I’ll likely do is look at my energy levels and ability to focus subjectively, as well as my body measurements and composition. Will look into those tests, though; are they pretty widely available?

  • AJL

    I tried a similar challenge and ultimately compromised on a pescetarian diet. That was two years ago and it feels like a permanent change for me now.

    • Brilliant! I’m excited to see whether this will become permanent, or just a fun short-term experiment :-)

  • Good luck! A point of methodology though: have you considered that the results might be skewed simply because you are going to be preparing all your meals and will generally be more thoughtful of what you eat? I mean, if you eat meat 1-2 times per week, will that ruin your productivity somehow? You should have another 60 days with a mixed but thoughtful diet ;)

    • Thanks! And great point—I think that will influence the results a bit, and I can already see (just a couple of days in) that eating more deliberately is giving me a lot more energy, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing (it might even be one of the bigger lessons I learn from the experiment at the end, though it’s still pretty early). Good idea to have a mixed/thoughtful diet at the end! :-)

  • gregory reed

    I see you have already found The Happy Herbivore. Check out fatfreevegan.com for some great recipies. Also look up the Engine 2 diet, there’s a lot of good recipies there as well. Good Luck. Enjoy!

    • Thanks! And thanks for the recommendations :-)

  • Trisha Cupra

    Protein isn’t a big deal – it’s overrated. I’ve been a vegetarian from birth, and never had a protein problem. Tony Robbins talks about protein, I think it’s in Awaken the Giant Within. It’s the iron you need to watch – a daily spoonful of blackstrap molasses keeps my levels up (mixed into hot drink to disguise the taste). Also watch your B12 because you’re going vegan.

    • Picking up some B12 and iron supplements today. Will hopefully be able to obtain both through food, but I think it’ll be a good idea to get them from supplements for the time being :)

  • Rachel

    Come get your body composition done before, ½ way, and after! Bonus- Jenni will be doing it!

  • Haha, love the last image! :D
    I’m myself a vegetarian because of ethical reasons (the value of life, independent from species).

    The (German) National Geographic magazine of this months brought up an interesting point related to this:

    How we react to certain types of food is based on what our ancestors ate.
    European and American people have been farmers for a long time, so the body can make better use of grains and veggies.

    Inuit instead have solely eaten animals for centuries – nowadays they eat western food, too.
    The result is a lot of overweight Inuit, often with diabetes.

    So yeah, you’re doing a research for people with a similar cultural background in this case, but not for every human being.

    For western people it is seen to be healthy not to eat much “red meat”.

    • vincelee888

      isn’t Inuit obesity – and the majority of obesity across the world – down to western processed foods being cheaper than locally produced food, as opposed to eating mostly meat?

      • I wouldn’t say it’s cheaper, because they hunt the animals themselves.
        Maybe they just want to be “modern”.
        And eating mostly red meat as Western civilian is seen as unhealthy.
        What our ancestors ate, defines how we react to certain types of food.
        With the Western folk being farmers for a long time, their bodies react on wheat products etc. the best.

    • Interesting info! What issue of Nat Geo was the study from? Curious to look it up!

      • I think they have different magazines in different countries, but maybe the article was in your version as well. I read it in the September issue of the German National Geographic Magazine.

      • They have an online version of the article on their site:
        http://www.nationalgeographic.com/foodfeatures/evolution-of-diet/

        Very cool organization!

        • Wow, looks stunning! Picked up a paper copy of Nat Geo because I haven’t read the magazine in forever :-)

  • Scott

    If you or your GF are looking for some quick, informational inspiration over the next 60 days, Michael Greger’s nutritionfacts.org is a free site with 1500+ nutrition topics arranged in ~3 min videos. Transcripts and cited sources are below each video.

  • Scott

    Quinoa Curry Bowl by Cathy of StraightUpFood.com (like nutritionfacts.org, free and highly recommended):
    http://www.straightupfood.com/blog/2014/01/22/quinoa-curry-bowl/

    • Mmmmm that looks tasty! I’ll definitely give that one a shot, thanks!

  • Awesome Chris!

    I recently did 30 days of vegetarianism and found out quite a few things about myself…

    http://matt-he-wanders-on.com/vegetarianism-the-other-non-meat/

    It was easier than I thought, but I also learned I had plenty of misconceptions of what being a vegetarian means. I definitely should have tried to be healthier while doing it.

    The month prior, I tried being strictly paleo. I found that much more difficult.

    http://matt-he-wanders-on.com/a-month-of-paleo-nearly-turned-me-neanderthal/

    The vegetarian concept recently gained some momentum for me when I learned how much water it takes to produce the meat we eat. Being in a major drought in California, I have decided I need to eat less meat less frequently. It’s good for me, and for the planet.

    I really look forward to hearing how your 60 days go!

    • Thanks my friend! I’ll check out your articles on the topic, I’m excited to see what you discovered :-)

  • Zoë Hinis

    Hi Chris,

    Thank you for taking the time to share this journey with us! I am a vegetarian, have been for five years. And like any diet/lifestyle, if done right it will give you plenty of ethical energy :) Two of my favourite vegan/vegeterian blogs are http://www.nomeatathlete.com/ by Matt Frazier (which has a particular emphasis on vegetarianism/vegan diets for runners) and http://www.thugkitchen.com which is probably the most hilarious and wonderful vegetarian food blog out there. I find the No Meat Athlete cookbook invaluable for veggie snacks. All the best, and looking forward to reading about your findings :)

    • Haha, these blogs are brilliant! I especially love the No Meat Athlete cookbook; just ordered a copy of it on Amazon! Thanks for the links :-)

  • Amy Bills

    Hi Chris. I have been a vegetarian since 1985 and a vegan since January of this year. From what I read, you will be following a vegan diet (no eggs or dairy). I have (had) an unhealthy love of cheese, was gaining weight, and had constant pain in my elbow and wanted to see if getting rid of dairy helped. It certainly did. I dropped the weight I had been gaining, had a lot more energy, and my elbow has only flared up twice since January. I hope you have similarly positive experiences with your experiment.

    I signed up for the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine 21-Day Vegan Kickstart to help me switch to a vegan diet. http://www.pcrm.org/kickstartHome/ I did not make all of the meals exactly as presented on the daily emails, but I used them as a guide to help me make better food choices. I did find some yummy new recipes. You can also find good recipes here: http://www.forksoverknives.com/.

    Good luck!

  • Gijs Epping

    You will find some satisfying recipies in the Plenty http://goo.gl/nCzfCH

  • Mevans

    check out bulletproof executive website for more solid evidence based information on how diet affects health, energy and mental clarity. https://www.bulletproofexec.com/step-1-maintain-your-bodys-hardware-bulletproof-your-diet/

    • Marlon

      That guy is a joke

  • Kerrie

    Hey Chris, as a 10 year vegetarian myself, I am just crossing over into the no dairy world, so I really look forward to your updates :)

    I would say I am 100% more productive when doing my juicing so you may want to try that too.

    Good luck!

    Kerrie

  • It looks like you have all the recipes you could ever make, but Angela Liddon has some of the best tasting vegan recipes I have eaten! http://ohsheglows.com/

  • lindaprice91

    Sounds interested but, is this really possible? I guess I can do this if I can make vegetables recipes delicious and tasty to my taste buds. I am always wishing to become a vegetarian but I don’t know what to do and how to start.

    http://www.becomevegetarian.org/7-health-benefits-of-vegetarianism/

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