I’ve been procrastinating writing this post for the past two months because I have a lot to say about this topic and I still don’t really have my thoughts in order yet. This isn’t going to be a very coherent post, but more of a ramble/stream of consciousness. It took me a long time to actually wrap my head around changes I was experiencing physically and mentally in the past year, and it was only recently that I decided to actually look at my diet as the possible culprit. I’ve done an egregious amount of research in the past couple of months on ex-vegans and what led them to start incorporating animal products again. You can probably see where I’m going with this…
In a nutshell: I’m no longer subscribing to the “vegan” label. Or any diet label for that matter. Paleo, keto, high-carb, low-fat, vegetarian, pescatarian, carnivore–there are an endless number of “labels” that exist because of the $66 billion dollar diet industry. What ever happened to just eating real food and not putting so much emphasis on a particular macro-nutrient or excluding food groups? I admit, I’m a total hypocrite because for the past 4.5 years I’ve fallen prey to the ideology that is veganism, and have done my fair share of experimenting with various iterations of veganism to find the “right” way of eating for optimal health while bearing in mind the environmental and animal welfare aspects.
I felt awesome the first three years as a vegan. I lost weight, felt energetic, and my relationship with food was the best it’d been since I was a teenager. However, in the past year and a half or so, I experienced a significant downturn in my overall health: some of the symptoms I’ve experienced are: major hair-shedding, sensitive teeth, brain fog, poor short-term memory, heightened anxiety despite making major lifestyle changes, lack of satiation after meals, digestive upset, joint pain, hormonal issues, slow recovery from workouts (even light ones), amenorrhea–the list goes on. Additionally, I became increasingly disconnected from and tired of the food I was consuming because I felt as though I wasn’t absorbing the nutrients properly, or was missing some nutrients and minerals despite supplementing. I ignored these issues my body and mind were experiencing because I wanted so desperately to cling on to veganism. It had become such an integral part of my identity, which is actually pretty frightening. I’m not saying all of these are due to veganism, but I can certainly say since incorporating animal products back into my diet again (which I never thought I would), I feel much better.
It’s taken me a long time to really “wake up” and realize my body was not thriving on a vegan diet, and I also feel terrible for cajoling others who expressed interest, despite not knowing if it’d really be suitable for their bodies. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in eating many of the foods I used to consume while I was vegan. I know that eating fruits, cooked veggies, and certain sprouted grains work well for me, and I will continue to eat them. I also know that I was in dire need of quality, readily absorbable omega-3’s from eggs (from cage-free, pasture raised hens) and salmon. My body absorbed the nutrients like a sponge. No joke, it was basically a religious experience.
I don’t want to slam veganism because throughout my journey I’ve become so much more aware of one’s individual impact on the world, and I truly do appreciate the lessons I’ve learned along the way. I will say that I found myself increasingly disenchanted by the illogical arguments, misinformation, and pseudoscience many would use on social media as “vegan propaganda”, but I digress. Many vegans do tend to group all animal products in the same category as Standard American Diet, factory-farmed foodstuffs. I disagree. I still maintain that I love animals, but frankly I’m not going to let my health decline because I refuse to eat food that contains highly bio-available critical nutrients and vitamins, such as vitamin K, B12, DHA, D3, heme iron, zinc, selenium, etc. I’m not going to be a martyr for the animals. And I definitely don’t think that having so supplement so heavily and making so many dietary “tweaks” to get veganism right makes it the most “natural” diet there is. Hence why there are so many “ex-vegans” and a very small percentage of the entire world population who adhere to a strict vegan diet.
I’ll admit, it’s been a challenge to make the “moral transition” and unlearn all of the deeply-embedded, “spiritual” vegan dogma. However, after all the research I’ve done, I now believe we truly are omnivores built to eat both plants and animals, and that pasture-raised animal products are truly ‘brain foods’ which support cognitive function and balanced hormones. Of course, I’m still very opposed to factory farming and I find it deplorable that low-quality, grain and corn-fed meat and highly processed dairy products are still so widely available. I hate that it’s difficult for most people to afford “real food” (even most fruits and vegetables are genetically modified and far from their natural state)–we can only do our best. I believe in being a conscious consumer, and that if you have the means you can support local farms by shopping at farmer’s markets, which is a hell of a lot more environmentally friendly than everyone purchasing loads of exotic fruits, veggies and other plant-based superfood from around the globe. I believe you can still love animals, and be truly grateful for the nourishment they provide to humans. In fact, I feel more connected to the food on my plate and appreciate my meals even more than when I was eating vegan. I still center my meals around plant foods, but I no longer feel that how I eat needs to come with a title or label. I just eat. Ultimately, everyone has the right to eat in a way that makes their body feel and perform at its best, and I’ve finally figured out what works for me at this stage in my life.
Part of me wishes a vegan diet would have worked for me for remainder of my life, as I still feel it’s ideal from a sustainability standpoint, but I would by lying if I said I felt nourished, satiated, and truly thrived on that lifestyle long-term. I’ve made an important realization that while I’m attracted to extremes, what works best for my individual microbiome and overall health is a little thing called balance–something I’ve sought to achieve for many years and I’m finally learning to embrace.