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The Best Years in Life
Editor's note: Following is the story of a former hardcore vegan who quit and went back to eating meat. Veganism, it turned out, was killing her physically, and it led to an epiphany for her – humans are supposed to eat meat. She decided that veganism was a direct contradiction of her being human. It is perhaps a sad commentary on the radicalism in the vegan movement that this person received tons of hate messages as a result of telling her story, including threats against her and her family.
A Vegan No More - The Story of a Recovering Vegan
as posted by Tasha at http://voraciouseats.com/
(The Best Years in Life) Many of you know that I have recently been struggling for the first time in my life with health problems. When I discovered that my problems were a direct result of my vegan diet I was devastated. 2 months ago, after learning the hard way that not everyone is capable of maintaining their health as a vegan, I made one of the most difficult decisions of my life and gave up veganism and returned to eating an omnivorous diet. My health immediately returned. This experience has been humbling, eye-opening, and profoundly transformative. To hear the whole story, just keep reading.
Part 1 – Health Shock
When the doctor first told me that I
had numerous vitamin and mineral
deficiencies, that I was almost
anemic, and my B12 was so low she
wanted to give me an injection
immediately, I refused to believe
her. I actually asked her to show me
the blood test results because I
thought there had to be some sort of
mistake. But there was no mistake,
it was right there in black and
white; deficiencies and
abnormalities across the board.
She told me that while there are people who can be quite healthy on a vegan, or predominantly vegan, diet, there were many people who simply could not. After all, every human is biologically and physiologically different, she explained. I listened patiently, refuting her claims with the knowledge I’ve gleaned over the years. After all, I wasn’t just a regular vegan, I was a hardcore, self-righteous and oh so judgmental vegangelical. I never passed up an opportunity for some preaching. She was prepared. Just as patiently she explained how many of the ‘facts’ I was quoting were just plain wrong, or had been presented in a way that distorted the truth. It was horrifying and I almost passed out in her office because I was so worked up.
She respected the fact that I was committed to staying vegan and worked with me for over an hour to figure out how I could maximize the nutrients in my already superbly healthy vegan diet. According to her, I was already doing everything right. Along with the minor dietary suggestions, she also recommended a variety of supplements in addition to the ones I already took everyday, including iron tablets.
I remained silent when she gave me the B vitamin injection, I tried not to cry as I waited in line at the pharmacy for my iron tablets, and when I arrived back home I hid the papers and the box of pills in the back of my bedside table. I didn’t tell anyone for days, not even Cody. I had failed and it would be my dirty little secret.
For a week I took the iron pills dutifully, somehow ignoring the fact that they weren’t vegan. I had felt a small measure of improvement immediately from the B vitamin injection, and was hoping for the same affect from the iron pills. Unfortunately, it was obvious after only a few days that they were making me ill. I couldn’t keep food down, I was spending hours a day in the bathroom, alternately hunched over or perched on top of the toilet. I was losing weight and feeling worse than ever.
I went back to the doctor and, just as patient as ever, she said that I was obviously not handling the pills well. I’m sensitive to just about all medication, even Advil has been known to make me sick, so this was no surprise. She asked me if I would consider adding a few eggs to my diet every day. I shook my head, a few eggs couldn’t really be that important. She explained that yes, they really were. But I still said no. Absolutely not. After another lengthy counseling session she wrote another prescription for another kind of iron supplement. Once again I tried to fight back tears at the pharmacy.
The new round of pills was even worse. I would rather feel weak, dizzy, and depressed, than this violently ill. After 2 weeks I threw the pills in the trash and returned to the doctor again.
She spoke to me for a long time, explaining again in great detail exactly how and why a vegan diet was damaging my body. Nutrition is a shockingly inexact science; no one completely understands the complicated dance of vitamins and minerals, much less the synergy of whole foods and their role in our health. But she tried to give me as comprehensive a breakdown as I would understand. She discussed heme iron, the lack of specific nutrients that lead directly to depression and anxiety, she talked at length about vitamin A, taurine, retinol, beta carotene, vitamin D, omega fatty acids, as well as B12 and the disastrous and irreversible results that occur when the body finally depletes its last stores of that crucial ingredient for health, and much more.
She explained how the health problems we are plagued with in the Western world are not caused by animal products, far from it. Humans have been consuming animals (in much greater quantities than we do now) for millions of years without ill effect, and historically there has never been a single vegan culture. We need to look at the recent additions to our diet to uncover the causes of our sudden modern plagues: refined sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oils, trans fats, refined flours, chemical toxicity and the industrialized denaturing of all forms of food. According to her, avoiding healthy, organic animal products was not only unnecessary for good health, but in most cases positively detrimental to our well being.
“You see,” she concluded, “for many, if not most, people a totally plant based diet is not a good thing. It obviously is not working for you and that is nothing to be ashamed of. The body has evolved to utilize meat efficiently and healthfully, not tablets or pills. You’ve been taking B12 supplements for years, and you’ve been trying to take iron supplements for weeks, and they haven’t been utilized by your body at all. Supplements are a very poor substitute for whole foods. Taking medication is not the best option and it is not necessary; you could almost certainly regain your health on a balanced diet. It is my recommendation that you try that.” I shook my head in silence.
“I’m sorry, I just can’t. I won’t.” I said to her for the millionth time, wiping the tears that were flowing down my face. “It just isn’t going to happen. I don’t care how sick I am. It’s wrong to eat animals!”
She leaned forward on her desk and made one more plea for me to think more carefully about my health and well being. “Natasha, you are hurting yourself. You are very, very sick. Your hair is falling out, your depression is back, and you are making yourself ill. You cannot go on like this.”
I stared at her for several long seconds, then got up and left the room.
I returned on schedule for my follow up B vitamin shot (and several visits with several other kinds of doctors including a cardiologist – more on that later), but I was only going through the motions, I always stopped myself from dwelling on the serious health problems I was having, it was just too painful.
I kept eating healthfully, as I always have. An entire head of greens every morning in my fruit smoothie, beans almost every day, tons of citrus fruits in my lunch snack plates, tofu, soaked nut pates, whole grains, sprouted grains, and roasted veggies, and of course my daily vitamins, all of the delicious, beautiful food that I loved. This diet was supposed to make me healthy in addition to saving the world, not make me ill. Everything I had ever been told by vegans had said that this was the optimum way for humans to eat.
I wanted desperately for it to be right, for my ethics to outweigh my physiology.
Of course, I never questioned why I was constantly hungry. Why 2 veggie burgers, a giant raw vegetable salad, and a bowl of nuts, couldn’t keep me full longer than 2 hours. It was exhausting, physically painful, and tedious trying to keep myself fed, but I figured it was worth it. I was healthy. Or at least, that’s what I thought until it was proven otherwise. I’m still not sure why I accepted for so long that fatigue, exhaustion, and growing depression were a normal part of life that was to be expected as one grew older. After all, I am only 28 and I’ve never in my life suffered from ill-health. But the fact is: I wanted veganism to work. I wanted desperately for it to be right, for my ethics to outweigh my physiology.
I delicately broached the topic of my ill-health with several vegan friends. I even made comments on other blogs and on twitter highlighting my struggles. The response was nothing short of shocking. In the span of just a few days I received an outpouring of emails from fellow ‘vegan’ bloggers, who told me in confidence that they weren’t really vegan ‘behind the scenes’. They ate eggs, or the occasional fish, or piece of meat, all to keep themselves healthy, but were too scared to admit to it on their blogs. I even received emails from two very prominent and well respected members of the vegan AR community. One a published and much loved vegan cook book author, the other a noted animal rights blogger, their emails detailed their health struggles and eventual unpublicized return to eating meat. Many people sent me links to other vegans who had struggled with veganism related health problems and had been forced to return to eating animals and animal products, or had decided to stop following a vegan diet, such as: Raw Model, Debbie Does Raw, Daniel Vitalis, Sweetly Raw, Chicken Tender, The Non-Practicing Vegan, and PaleoSister, to name just a few. It was refreshing to know I wasn’t the only one suffering from this problem, and the more I heard, the more it seemed I wasn’t even in the minority.
Unfortunately, there were also masses of people who contacted me to offer unsolicited and often insultingly patronizing advice. They made sure to let me know that I was only sick because I was ‘doing veganism wrong’. ‘Have you tried more greens/beans/tofu/nuts?’ the questions were relentless. I was baffled by the suggestions to eat imported goji berries, use maca powder in my smoothies, or eat more spirulina. All these exotic recommendations were supposedly needed to make me healthy on a diet that is heralded as natural and ideal; it absolutely did not make sense.
Many more vegans just rolled their eyes, blatantly skeptical that I was feeling ill in the first place. The realization that people I had previously considered friends were now flat our refusing to believe in the veracity of my health problems was shocking. Could they honestly think that I would give up on veganism right away? Did they truly believe I hadn’t tried everything in my power to make this work? ‘Spend 1 day in my body barely able to walk from exhaustion, feeling dizzy, cold, and depressed, and then judge me!’ I wanted to scream at them. But I didn’t. I just stopped talking about it.
As a feminist, this body hating rhetoric infuriated me.
After that, I soldiered on in silence for many months. I lied to myself, to my readers, to the world saying I felt healthy and fine, when in reality I felt worse than ever. During this time I saw doctor after doctor and tried every suggestion and recommendation, desperately hoping for a cure. I was determined to make veganism work; I was always convinced that just around the next corner I would find the solution. I tried to skirt the issue of my health problems with fellow vegans, cringing as they insisted that anyone who couldn’t be healthy on a vegan diet obviously ‘wasn’t doing it right’. I wanted to scream, but instead I kept my mouth shut, and listened to their arrogant and ignorant opinions on why so many people ‘failed’ at veganism. Some people even suggested that those of us who couldn’t remain healthy as vegans should willingly sacrifice our health for the cause. As a feminist, this body-hating rhetoric infuriated me. The willing participation in the denial and degradation of my bodily needs smacked of misogyny, patriarchal control and violence against the female body, and everything that I fight against. But still, I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t know what else to do.
For 3 years I built my entire life on the premise of veganism. It was my life’s passion, my guiding light. Being a vegan was everything to me. I believed my actions made me an animal rights crusader; I was saving lives, and changing the world Now, I know otherwise, but it took a very long time to realize that. For months I was consumed with my self-induced illness, but I still couldn’t abandon veganism; I couldn’t stop fighting for what I believed in. Even if it was hurting me.
Part 2 –