When’s the last time you experienced an existential or identity crisis?
First off, I’m a little nervous to post this article. I feel like I’m exposing myself to the possibility of some hate. But I can’t tiptoe around this issue anymore.
I also apologize for my absence from Guts Need Love for the past couple of weeks. With everything that I’ve been learning, I’m now experiencing a completely new ideological shift around health.
Everything I was sure of has been turned upside down!
My body has been showing me that I have been wrong about so much when I thought I had (mostly) figured out this whole health thing.
Where do I even begin?
There’s some guilt and shame I’ve had to shed so I can finally accept my truth. I need to confess that because of what I know now, I can never become what I thought was moral and right.
It turns out that I was wrong.
Can I allow this new possibility?
Am I able to stop forcing what clearly doesn’t work for me?
Can I admit that thinking “someday I’ll be able to go back,” is a fantasy?
Am I finally able to admit to myself that I’m just another ex-vegan?
My Budding Vegan Journey
Some of you may know that I had been vegetarian for a short while in high school when I ran into PETA while researching on the internet. I was so excited and inspired by the knowledge I could gain about the world through the internet when it first was introduced in our house as I was growing up.
This was in the previous century by the way 😉
I’ve been in research mode ever since!
I was always trying to delve into unquestioned beliefs, traditions, religions, norms, and oppressive institutions of our seemingly backward society. At a young age I wasn’t satisfied with the answers I was given.
I was always in love with the earth. I was the “weird” kid hanging out in the woods alone or picking up trash in the neighborhood.
It was inevitable that I’d come down this vegan path.
Anyway, my vegetarianism was short-lived because you have very little control over your food choices when your a kid living in your parent’s house. After some struggles with not ever feeling satisfied or satiated, I reluctantly went back to eating meat sparingly.
Failed vegan attempt #1!
Several years later in 2005, I was reminded of the issues I cared so deeply about after watching a new documentary called Earthlings.
You can never unsee Earthlings.
It was a brutal look at factory farming and animal exploitation that I had to watch in 20-minute segments because it was so traumatizing to witness.
Right after seeing that film, I dove fiercely into veganism.
No meat, dairy, eggs, honey, leather, gelatin, or other animal products of any kind in any products I used or consumed whatsoever.
I bought tons of books. I learned about the environmental impacts of factory farming and industrial agriculture. This reinvigorated the earth and nature lover in me that had always been there as a child.
Every single consumer decision I made I now looked at through my new vegan eyes.
I was making a difference.
Finally, my life had purpose!
Nutrition And Health
I was also learning all about the health benefits of eating a clean vegan diet (whole foods plant-based wasn’t really in the mainstream vocabulary at the time).
I didn’t really feel that different when I changed my diet. I was very happy though!
I was learning new things, trying new foods, exploring new ideas, living according to my values, and making a positive impact with my choices every day. That feels good!
However, after a few months, I wasn’t feeling so great. I was becoming really tired, cold all the time, and depressed. I was also getting acne!
And my digestion was very, very not good.
I was really confused because I thought that I was eating perfectly. I was eating my vegetables, tofu, oatmeal, and keeping junk food to a bare minimum.
What made me the most upset was my cravings for my mom’s meatballs!
This had never happened to me before. I was never a big meat eater and red meat was not something I was ever a big fan of. But my body was telling me that I was deficient in something. I suspected iron so I went heavier on the dark leafy greens and lentils to no avail.
In 2006, after struggling for several months I gave in and ate a meatball.
Despite my defeat and confusion, I felt physically better almost immediately.
Failed attempt #2
I Failed Again. And Again.
Over the next couple of years, I ate meat a couple of times a week. I was still eating a lot of vegetables and not much processed food at all.
My acne had gotten so out of control that it was causing me physical pain as well as a tremendous amount of stress and low self-esteem. I didn’t want to show my face anywhere. It was bumpy very red and I’d try covering it up with makeup but my skin was always peeling and bleeding.
It was miserable.
In 2008, I discovered raw food veganism.
I thought the raw food diet could help because it was touted as being so pure and there were doctors talking about how it was the cure to all diseases.
I gave it a shot for over 4 months.
After the detox effects, I felt amazing. I had so much energy and didn’t need to sleep as much. I no longer felt the need to crack my knuckles and my back and knee pain were better.
However, I feel that these issues cleared up because I was super hydrated from all the water content in the fruit, and I was always high on the sugar in the fruit.
I was constantly eating.
But I never felt satisfied.
Around month 4 my teeth started to hurt and my acne had gotten worse!
I went back to cooked foods and eventually back to eating small amounts of animal products…
Failed attempt #3
Around 2010 my acne had gotten a little better. I had also learned a lot more about the best supplements to take. I tried veganism again and again over the course of 5 years.
I was having problems with the insulin rollercoaster ride.
If I didn’t eat every 2 hours, I’d feel nauseous and weak.
I was still feeling tired, depressed, and anxious.
I’d fix one problem, and another would pop up!!
There was another strong attempt in 2013 where I was obsessed with all the supplements and superfoods like spirulina and healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, flax, nuts, etc.
But I was still having digestive issues like constipation, bloating, nightly indigestion that would wake me up in the middle of the night, and skin problems that were affecting daily life.
I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong.
I felt awful.
I didn’t want to think about it anymore and just continued to eat meat a couple of times a week.
That became my normal.
Failed attempt #4 and the resulting mess I made of my health.
I Can’t Be Vegan And Be Healthy
Even though I wasn’t really part of the vegan community I still always felt like I was kinda like a secret vegan sinner.
Or a future vegan!
A temporarily embarrassed and omnivorous vegan!
I was vegan on the inside! Or…in my heart?
That label was hard to brush off. It wasn’t always at the forefront of my mind but meeting other vegans would make me feel like a failure. Like all of the world’s problems were my fault because I couldn’t live up to my values.
That’s a lot of weight to carry!
I’m skipping over a lot but I’ll try to bring it around to today.
I met someone recently who has been a hardcore vegan for 5 years and is very active within that community. And I found myself thinking maybe I could do it again.
My voice of reason piped up:
“Nicole, what the hell are you thinking!?”
“You’re still healing from 20 years of on and off veganism and high-carb, low-fat eating. Your insulin receptors can’t handle this. You’re still healing your gut. Your digestive issues are disappearing. Your energy is back! Your anxiety is gone! Your face is finally losing the chicken skin look. You’re finally absorbing vitamins and minerals again. You can’t do this to yourself anymore.”
Years ago, I’m ashamed to say that I was one of those people in the comment section trying to save the world and self-righteously kept trying to persuade others by saying, “Everyone can go vegan!”
It’s been an approximately 20-year journey through veganism and back and I’m lucky I didn’t damage my body permanently.
Maybe veganism can work for some people – although I’m having my doubts now – but it doesn’t work for me.
That’s something I just had to come to terms with.
I’ve been eating a diet higher in nourishing fats and animal products and I’m feeling better than ever.
I’m removing myself from contributing to factory farming as well as industrial agriculture by buying local grass-fed beef and supporting my local CSA for my veggies.
I’m learning more and more about true traditional and ancestral diets.
I’m learning about the beginning of the demonization of fat in the previous century to get people to buy industrial seed oils and vegetable oils and sugar.
We need healthy fats in order to absorb nutrients. Our brains are largely made up of fat!
I was starving myself as it seems I am one of those people who is much less efficient at converting plant sources of vitamins such as vitamin A into something my body can use. I suspect I had a lot of vitamin deficiencies just because my body couldn’t use or convert the forms of nutrients I was giving to it.
*That’s just one example. I’m not looking to debate all my specific issues.
You are not what you eat, you are what you can digest and absorb.
I accept that I am an ex-vegan.
I’m not trying to convince you to eat a certain way. Just to encourage you to listen to your body and to be understanding of the situation of others.
Not all nonvegans are uncaring, ignorant people.
I’m learning and I’m imperfect.
I used to judge others for their “immoral” diets and consumer choices.
But I’ve been humbled by the experience of my own body.
I can see that veganism is not accessible to everyone.
I’m now opening myself to research I never wanted to acknowledge or look at before because I was so convinced veganism was the right way to live and the path to environmental restoration.
I can see now that veganism relies heavily on industrial agriculture which is enormously destructive to our ecosystems. It drains and kills our rivers that used to be full of fish and other living beings. It interrupts natural cycles. It props up Monsanto and the production of pesticides. Monocultures kill the soil which gives all of us life.
I could go on.
We can’t be perfect.
We have to accept that life and death are connected. We can make the most local choices from smaller farms and support regenerative agriculture and permaculture practices as we are able. All of this according to our own nutrient requirements and our geographical location.
Why not figure out how to remove some of your support from BOTH factory farming AND industrial agriculture by eating mostly local? Try researching CSAs (community-supported agriculture) and grass-fed, grass-finished beef and pastured eggs in your area.
The most humane and sustainable choices will vary and depend on each person’s unique situation.
In order for us to live, other things will die. It’s a fact of life. Someday our own time will come and we will feed the plants.
I don’t see this as morbid.
I see it as a constant beautiful flow that makes us all one.
We are made of the same particles.
Have you tried veganism? Or are you plant-based? Paleo? Keto? Ancestral? What kind of diet do you eat? I’m so fascinated by the variety of diets that work for different people!
Have you ever tried a CSA program? What about a regenerative farm? Let me know in the comments 🙂
*Make sure to really check your local farms out to see what kinds of regenerative/holistic/sustainable practices they use. For example, what are the chemicals and fertilizers they use, how do they treat animals, do the animals get lots of acres of land, are eating their natural diet, are they free of hormones, and are they only given antibiotics sparingly when they are truly needed?
Hi, you sure have been hard on yourself. Sounds like you are finally accepting that you are where you need to be. I was a hardcore lactovegetarian for about 30 years. I know there is no such thing as hardcore lactovegetarian but it sounds good. It also sounds like you have come through your long and tortured journey to accept that it is all about what your body can absorb and some of our bodies do that differently than others. For example, I have never had any craving for red meat of any kind. I will occasionally eat chicken, maybe once a week, and fish once or twice a week. I have had to cut dairy way down because of a not-so-good cholesterol level. But I guess my point is that I am more or less comfortable where I am. Yes, I know that 8 billion people on the planet mother earth would perish in clouds of methane if everyone ate steak every day. Some people don’t want to hear it but the solution is to allow the population to reduce. There are ways to do that but it requires a much higher degree of international cooperation and collaboration than we currently have. Anyway, good luck and don’t beat yourself up so much!
You’re right, Andy. My perfectionism and self-criticism sometimes get out of hand. I have high standards for myself but it seems I’m always very understanding of others lol. I need to give myself a break. And I’m glad that you’ve come to a comfortable place with your diet too. Thanks for the kind words!
Wonderful article. I’m 100% with you on the part that It is a brutal look at factory farming and animal exploitation, the way they’re treated and all the bad food animals eat, factory farming and industrial agriculture, etc. Sorry to hear about your entire experience but I’m very proud of you. We also have the GMO problem when comes to vegetables these days, and local farming is the way to go. After so many battles, I ended up moving to the country myself, growing my own organic and free-range chicken and Turkey these days. Buy as much food as possible from local markets and farms in the area hoping to have access to quality food. Thank You for sharing.
Thank you, Akim! Industrial agriculture and factory farming are terrible and it’s always best to move away from both. The food industry is just too large and out of control. I think it’s great that you’re able to raise your own chickens and turkeys! That’s amazing! We do need to start getting back to basics again so thank you for being part of the solution.
What a breath of fresh air it was to read your very honest article. I think you are a trooper trying the vegan diet for so long and I’m pleased that you have made peace with yourself about the way you need to eat to be healthy. Over my lifetime I have eaten sensibly and it has been great but once I passed menopause all hell broke loose. I gained 10 kilos in one month of eating my normal diet and was so shocked.
I went on a journey of discovery and finally found that the Keto diet really works for me. I’m an O blood type (a true carnivore 😉 and I really enjoy eating all meats, egg, cheese, and full-fat milk. I enjoy finding nice recipes that I can eat and feed to my family with the potatoes, pasta, and bread that they love.
What I have noticed is that I can easily drop about 2 kilos in weight a week, I feel fitter and have great energy and my skin looks terrific. I refuse to feel guilty about eating this way for my health but I do source local produce to support our planet. My body is so touchy that one biscuit can throw me off keto and it takes 4 days of strict eating to get back to burning ketones but when it is working right I don’t crave sweets, cakes, or feel hungry all the time, which is fantastic. My insulin levels are nice and stable and my mind is nice and clear.
I think we all need to accept what works for us and still support efforts to sustain our beautiful world. We all have to live in harmony. Enjoy your journey and great health to you!
Thank you, Lily! I love that you found keto and that it’s working well for you. I attempted it a few weeks ago and while I did feel the keto flu coming on (it was starting to work)… I started feeling very restricted by the diet. So I just adjusted it a bit and I’m eating an “ancestral” diet.
Definitely feeling more satisfied with more meat, eggs, and all kinds of fats. I wish I knew this information before! It would have saved me a lot of struggle. Still no processed food of course 😉 I feel great because like you mentioned, my insulin levels and blood sugar has stabilized. I’m enjoying the calmness and peace I feel. And no cravings!
I wish you continued health on your journey! Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I always love hearing from you:)