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Side effects while transitioning to a plant based whole food diet

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Side effects while transitioning to a plant based whole food diet

June 23, 2024, 4:24 PM IST 

Switching to a plant-based whole food (PBWF) diet, particularly one that incorporates green smoothies or juices, may lead to some stomach issues. These issues often depend on your previous diet and lifestyle. For instance, if your diet lacked fiber, you might notice changes in your bowel movements. Here are some signs and symptoms that might indicate you’re increasing your fiber intake too rapidly.

Constipation or diarrhea

Excess fiber can lead to constipation or diarrhea. Fiber acts as bulk that draws water into the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. If you’re not hydrated enough, this can cause the GI tract to dehydrate, making stools hard and difficult to pass—common with soluble fiber. Conversely, too much insoluble fiber can cause diarrhea and loose stools. It’s best to increase your fiber intake gradually to avoid these issues.


Rapidly increasing your fiber intake can cause bloating. This most often happens when you eat too much fiber too quickly because most of the fiber won’t be digested or broken down while moving through the GI tract. Bloating is also quite common when you consume smoothies as there is air finely mixed in the smoothies.

Gas problems

Increasing fiber feeds the microorganisms in your colon’s microbiota leading to gas production. This is more of a social issue than a health problem, as all mammals pass gas.

Abdominal pain

Excessive fiber can slow down digestion or even cause it to stop, leading to cramping along with changes in bowel movements, gas, and bloating.

Mineral deficiencies

Fiber can bind to some nutrients, preventing their absorption. This is especially true for minerals like iron, chromium, copper, zinc, and calcium. Consuming adequate amounts of vitamin C may help counteract this effect.

What to do?

Typically, the stomach stabilizes within a few days or weeks. If issues persist, you may be eating too much fiber, consuming it too quickly, consuming the wrong kind of fiber, or be in need of some extra vitamin C. Consider the following:

  • Identify and eliminate specific foods causing issues.
  • Gradually reduce and then slowly increase your intake of juice and other fibrous foods.
  • For constipation, increase your intake of insoluble fiber; for loose stools, switch to soluble fiber.
  •  Ensure you’re drinking enough water if constipated.

Skin issues

Losing a significant amount of fat can sometimes lead to skin issues like pimples. These typically resolve over time. The human body can hide away some toxins in fat. As the body burns fat for energy during ketosis, it may release stored toxins, which the skin then tries to eliminate.

Addictions & withdrawal symptoms

When our body and mind become accustomed to certain patterns of behavior, they resist sudden changes. Regular consumption of specific beverages and foods stimulates dopamine release, temporarily enhancing our mood. Once the effect wears off, the body returns to normal or experiences a low, creating a desire for more.

These foods and beverages are inherently addictive. Furthermore, every cell in our body contains a clock programmed to a set pattern of behavior. Consuming addictive substances at regular intervals can cause significant harm. A change in dietary habits and behavioral patterns is often resisted by the body, leading to what we refer to as withdrawal symptoms. While these are commonly recognized with substances like alcohol, tobacco, and drugs, they also apply to caffeine and certain common foods.

Caffeine is particularly addictive and can impair the ability to perform daily activities without it. Many regular consumers of tea or coffee develop a dependence, with headaches being the most common withdrawal symptom. Those who attempt intermittent fasting by delaying their morning meal until after 10:00 AM often experience this. The reason caffeine is so addictive is its integral role in our daily routines and social interactions. Caffeine increases the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which affects our attention level.

Food as an addiction

Apart from well-known addictive substances like caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco, certain foods can also be highly addictive. These include sugar, cheese, chocolate, potato chips, French fries, ice cream, breakfast cereals, pizzas, biscuits, and cakes. These addictions can surface during periods of fasting like Ekadashi and Navratri, highlighting our dependencies.


Regular caffeine consumption reduces cerebral blood flow due to the narrowing of blood vessels. Although blood flow initially increases after caffeine intake, it soon diminishes, and the expected circadian rhythm-associated boost at a specific time leads to headaches if caffeine is not consumed.

It happens within 1-4 hours of missing the regular dose of caffeine. It is usually most common among people who consume three or more cups of coffee/tea each day.


Those accustomed to starting their day with tea or coffee may experience constipation when they stop. Both caffeine and hot water stimulate bowel movements and therefore abruptly stopping caffeine intake can cause constipation. This is where the term “bed-tea“ originated.

Replacing coffee with warm water in the morning or herbal teas later in the day can help, especially for those practicing intermittent fasting.


Caffeine increases alertness by blocking adenosine receptors, a neurtotransmitter that induces feelings of tiredness. Without this stimulant, feelings of fatigue can occur. The habit of a late afternoon cup of coffee causes slow down an hour or two after lunch.

Brain fog

The release of dopamine from consuming caffeine and other addictive foods sharpens our attention. Without regular intake, our attention span may become foggy.


Low energy and headaches can lead to irritability. Techniques like deep breathing (Pranayama), stretching, or stepping outside can alleviate this symptom.

Anxiety & depression

Caffeine addiction can make some individuals feel jittery and anxious, and for some, stopping caffeine can produce similar effects. Additionally, because caffeine elevates mood, its absence can lead to depression.


Withdrawal from caffeine can disrupt the digestive system and sometimes causes nausea.


This comes as a surprise to many because we normally associate the inability to sleep with coffee consumption. But stopping a coffee habit abruptly can also cause insomnia


Some individuals may experience involuntary shaking, typically of the hands, as a withdrawal symptom.

How to overcome caffeine & food addictions?

For those struggling to quit, gradually reducing consumption over a week or substituting with healthier options like herbal teas, green or fresh fruits, can be effective. Here are some suggestions:

  • Drink a third or half a glass of green juice every time the urge hits you.
  • Enjoy herbal teas like ginger, cardamom, or cinnamon.
  • Try hibiscus tea, suitable for all-day consumption.
  • Snack on fresh fruits, cucumbers, or carrots.
  • Engage in physical activities like stretching, deep breathing, or taking short walks outdoors.

Our bodies operate on a circadian rhythm, learning from and adapting to our life patterns. Disturbing this rhythm is met with resistance, but research shows it takes about three weeks for the body to develop new habits or modify existing ones. Managing withdrawal symptoms during this period, or gradually introducing changes, can help ease the transition.

To Read this article on Times of India click here

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