I have always been one for putting myself in other people’s shoes, and I believe that exposing oneself to different ways of thinking builds character. For these among other reasons, I decided to try a vegan diet for one month. I did a lot of research and reading before embarking on this month-long journey to make sure I was well-informed, and I came across some helpful recommendations and thought-provoking perspectives that made me even more excited to see what it was all about. At the risk of sounding cliché, the experience opened my eyes to the world and values of veganism.

While I didn’t necessarily intend to continue with the diet after the month was over, I have found myself embracing vegan values and changing my eating habits, even if not strictly. Here are five of the biggest things I learned in my month of eating a strictly plant-based diet.

1. I Felt Less Bloated

Julia Gilman

There are countless reasons to “go vegan” and endless benefits of a vegan diet. In addition to combating animal cruelty, water allocation, and food scarcity, I experienced some overwhelmingly positive physical effects. My body reacted to a plant-based diet with less bloating, clear skin, and increased energy. It was clear that my body was thanking me, and the decreased stress from digesting dairy and meat proved beneficial for my body.

A decrease in consumption of processed foods went hand-in-hand with an increase in vitamins and minerals, and my body got a huge nutritional boost. Additionally, because of the higher fiber content and lower calorie density in the foods I was eating, I found myself fuller sooner and overall consuming less food.

2. I Spent Less Money on Food

Julia Gilman

These days, fruits and vegetables seem to get a bad reputation for how expensive they are—and for good reason. It is true that produce can be expensive; in my month of eating vegan, the most expensive item I purchased was a butternut squash. There seems to be a common misconception, however, that a vegan diet consists entirely of "rabbit food," aka produce. Instead, a vegan diet focuses on staples such as grains, beans, and legumes, which are much more affordable than meat and cheese. Thus, a diet focused on these food groups is much less expensive than an omnivore diet.

Some people claim that a vegan diet is more expensive, and this can be true depending on what you buy. Vegan meat and cheese replacements can run up to double the cost of their non-vegan counterparts. However, eating a vegan diet is about more than just finding the perfect meat and cheese replacement; it is an avenue of food discovery, dietary changes, and experimentation. So yes, it can be more expensive if you buy replacement foods, but if you open yourself and your diet up to new staples and bases of meals like grains and legumes, it becomes much more affordable.

3. Desserts Were Actually Better

Julia Gilman

On my first supermarket trip on my vegan endeavor, I was so inspired by colorful produce and eating healthier than I didn’t give desserts a second thought. Heck, I even bought whole wheat pasta. Inevitably, however, I ended up missing ice cream, so when I found out about Ben and Jerry’s vegan ice cream, I was thrilled. The flavors were so much more dynamic and rich than regular ice cream. Even better, I didn’t get the post-ice cream tummy troubles that usually accompany my dairy consumption.

Vegan cookie dough was also a wonderful discovery. Growing up, my mom always warned me about getting sick if I ate raw cookie dough. Well Mom, jokes on you because not only does vegan cookie dough have no eggs, but the flour is also typically toasted to prevent bacterial growth. Guilt-free cookie dough for so many reasons!

4. It Made Me A Less Picky Eater

Julia Gilman

While I don’t necessarily consider myself a picky eater, I have always had my fair share of picky food habits. Before my month of eating vegan, I wouldn’t touch seafood, eggs, mushrooms, and avocado. I still won’t touch seafood or eggs (don’t hold your breath on these ones, Mom and Dad), but following a plant-based diet got me thinking: if everything I was eating was from plants and grew out of the ground, how bad could it really be?

I began conquering my pickiness slowly, trying guacamole for the first time in my veggie burrito bowl and then ordering a portobello-quinoa burger. While I still won’t go out of my way to consume mushrooms, I am on my way to becoming a guacamole connoisseur.

Additionally, before my vegan journey, I generally had a routine for purchasing fruits and vegetables. However, I felt so inspired by fresh produce on a vegan diet that I branched out and started buying and cooking vegetables I hadn’t previously experimented with in the kitchen. I’m looking at you, beets and brussels sprouts.

5. Tofu Isn’t Just For Vegetarians

Julia Gilman

Before trying a vegan diet, I had dabbled with vegetarianism. I had tried tofu “back in the day,” but I left it exclusively in my vegetarian days. It was a means to an end of getting protein without eating meat. In my vegan endeavors, I again started to dabble with tofu. I found that cooking it provided me with a lot more freedom and opportunity for experimentation and taste than when I had just scooped it onto a plate in the cafeteria. I could marinate, fry, or bake it. I could crumble, cube, or slice it. To make it crispy, I could coat it in cornstarch.

The possibilities of cooking with tofu were and are endless, and even if I continue to occasionally eat meat, I am inspired by tofu for its ability to be manipulated into any flavor and to be used in any cuisine. I have crumbled it with taco seasoning, marinated it in plum and teriyaki sauce, and even baked it with tahini. It soaked up the flavor of whatever I wanted it to. As an added bonus, it doesn’t need to be cooked as meticulously as meat. No more meat thermometers or salmonella!

Julia Gilman

My month of trying a vegan diet is now over, and while I am no longer following it strictly, I am continuing to buy and cook primarily vegan foods. My body still feels great, even if I do have a piece of pizza occasionally. If you are curious about a vegan diet or want to try to eat healthier, I urge you to try it first-hand, whether it be for a day, a week, a month, or a year.