That one time I was an ex-vegan
It seems there are a breadth of vegan bloggers who have made their way to the ex-vegan blogger category lately, due to the fact that they equate their vegan diet with anorexia, orthorexia, or other forms of unhealthy restriction. As is to be expected, a discourse is taking place -some of which is healthy and supportive (Thanks, Sayward!), and some of it, as you can imagine, is not so much.
Veganism and ex-veganism are topics that are near and dear to my heart. I am vegan. I have struggled with orthorexia, anorexia, bulimia, and compulsive exercise myself. I too, at a time, was an ex-vegan.
I was a freshmen in high school when I saw my first “Why Vegan?” pamphlet, and the pictures contained within would not erase themselves from my brain. I had already been vegetarian for about a year, and decided that it was only logical to set a date to go vegan. (October 30, 1998 for the record!) I was 14 at the time, and this was long before unhealthy food behaviors entered my stratosphere. (that didn’t happen until age 24.)
I remained vegan through the worst of my eating disorder. I remained vegan through the beginning of my recovery, despite the recommendations of my doctor, my therapist, and various support group members. I knew that, without a shadow of a doubt, one could have a positive relationship with food on a vegan diet, that it wasn’t all about juice cleanses and water fasts. (Hell, at this point you could replicate the standard american diet while remaining vegan- not that I recommend this!) My veganism didn’t shake through getting an eating disorder, nor did it shake through obtaining a healthy weight for my body size. My veganism shook when my stomach seemed to stop working.
I have written before about my struggles with IBS, and my regimen to take care of my ever-sensitive guts. Things are good with my belly, now- great in fact. But I want to tell you that at a time, I felt completely hopeless.
When one is drastically underweight, and does the work to get healthy, it is a total mind trip. Your body changes and feels totally foreign. Additionally, digestion tends to be tough. This is true for a lot of people and for me, it was no different. In my recovery, I was absolutely plagued with intense bloating (to the point where I was asked if I was pregnant ALL THE TIME. ) Every time I ate something it was like it attacked me from the inside out. Bloating was just the beginning, and it only got worse from there.
Although I had been in recovery for about four years, I was starting to fear food in an entirely different way. Beans became off limits, and grains too- both because every time I ate them I had instant pain at best, and diarrhea at worst. I started looking into a raw vegan diet because I had heard from many different sources that it was wonderful for digestion. I tried it, and it was even worse than a cooked vegan diet full of grains and beans was. I had a multitude of tests done to determine my problem, and when I was diagnosed with IBS, I was almost disappointed. IBS seemed like no big deal, so why was it ruining my life?
I started to feel like everything I ate needed to be incredibly cooked and pureed in order for me to properly digest it, and even when I did that, I sometimes STILL had flare ups. I became anxious and withdrawn, embarrassed to go out with constant stomach trouble, and was downright lonely. For all my healthy eating advocacy, I sure wasn’t feeling very good.
In September of 2012, I joined my crossfit gym, and of course, was introduced to the idea of eating Paleo (although to my coaches credit, they ALWAYS supported my choices, and were never dogmatic about eating Paleo or anything else). Despite this, one of the (many) health claims about a Paleo diet is that it just so happens to be awesome for digestion, so it piqued my interest. I knew I wouldn’t be willing to eat meat, but I became intrigued about the idea of adding eggs to my diet and going Paleo as a vegetarian.
After an intense amount of research, I decided that I would add pasture raised eggs to my diet, and only after I was SURE that the hens had a good life. (I used this egg score card to determine which companies I might call to ask questions to). Sadly, I told my friends I wasn’t vegan anymore. Everyone I knew had seen me slowly subtracting foods from my diet in an effort to feel better, and most were just happy that I was adding something back in.
The true and honest real talk is that I *did* feel better once I added eggs to my diet. My digestion improved drastically, not because of the eggs, per se, but because I was eating less fiber. Let me say that again: I did not feel better because the eggs worked some miracle, they just replaced other protein sources that were irritating to my guts.
In the nine months that I ate eggs I learned a ton about fermenting, soaking, sprouting, and cooking with kombu to make grains and beans more digestible. I wasn’t paralyzed by stress and fear of eating (which totally messes up my stomach) and was able to get into a healthier mind set around food. At some point, I got a “weird” egg from my farmers market (it was too gross to go into detail about here) and I was just done. I realized I had gathered the tools to get a vegan diet to be more digestible for me, and that even if I didn’t eat meat and dairy, and even if I was getting the most compassionate eggs possible, they were still an animal product, and I am grossed out by consuming things produced by animals. My slide back into veganism was easy, and it felt like home.
What didn’t feel like home, was the backlash I got from (some of) the vegan community while I was gone. People assumed I was eating fully Paleo, that I had gotten sucked into the “Crossfit dogma” and was “one of them” now (C’mon guys, really? us vs. them? Not cool.) My face was put on a website called exvegans.com (which started as a database of ex-vegans and quickly turned to graphic carnage shots of factory farming- I have not linked to the site because I don’t really recommend anyone support the people who made it). The description of me simply read “Lacy Davis- ex vegan. Now has a weird obsession with eggs.” I heard through the grapevine that many people thought of me as disingenuous and a traitor because I was no longer vegan. Ouch.
As I said, I did come back to veganism and I am all the happier for it. My digestion continues to remain strong with just a little extra effort, and a good chunk of my work with Super Strength Health is helping people go and stay vegan. While I remain dismayed at the poor treatment I received from parts of the vegan community, I am super clear that those people were not and will never be my people, and that ultimately, it is incredibly important for our compassion to of course include animals, but also humans. Some of them are struggling, and for all the righteousness that moral outrage may produce when it comes to ex-vegans, it simply doesn’t help.
I have been, and will continue to be, vegan for the love. My lapse taught me that more than anything, my diet has to feel safe and healthy for me, while remaining compassionate. It is completely and totally possible to remain vegan THROUGH various illnesses, but it might take some tweaking, trial and error, and even a break.
I choose to be one of the vegans that will be here if and when an ex-vegan decides to come back.