My decision to go vegan was based partly on the belief that moving away from a diet based on animal food products, to one based on plants, would be good for my health.
I also accepted the idea, promoted by a book called Diet for a Small Planet, that it was also the best way to protect the environment.
In addition, I felt a kinship with animals and was uncomfortable with the notion of eating them (even if a large number of animals spend most of their time eating other animals). Wouldn’t eating plants be a better and more ethical alternative?
So I started a vegan diet, and continued it for almost three years.
For the first few months, it did feel like a good decision. I lost some weight, and felt more energetic. I felt clear-headed and “light.” I felt like good things were happening in my body.
But within a few months, I was going downhill. By the end of my first year, I started gaining, not losing weight. (I had started out at 170 pounds; dropped down initially to 165; but weighed in at 230 pounds by the end of my vegan experiment.)
My health started deteriorating as the months went by. As I continued eating a “well-balanced” vegan diet:
- My teeth started hurting.
- My bones and joints were aching aching.
- My skin became sallow
- My allergies started flaring up.
- My eyesight went downhill. I became unable to read fine print.
- My mood became volatile: unpredictable highs and lows, and irritability.
- Meals left me exhausted, not energized.
I didn’t initially attribute these problems to veganism, and was defensive when I read articles questioning the wisdom of eating a vegan diet. It was such a “moral” diet, and so well-balanced; something else must be going wrong.
But eventually I had to face that these issues might be related to how I was eating. The only way to find out for sure was to take a break from veganism and see what happened.
So, after trying a number of “fixes” that stayed within a vegan approach, I took the step of adding some eggs, then some fish, then some dairy, then some actual meat back into my diet.
I avoided meat from factory farms, instead buying it from small family farms in which the animals were treated well, allowed to graze on organic grasslands, and slaughtered humanely at the end of their lives.
Adding (natural, grass-fed, organic) animal-based foods back into my diet quickly restored my health. With a few days, my mood problems were gone. Within a couple of weeks:
- My teeth stopped hurting.
- My bones and joints felt better.
- My skin regained its color and resilience.
- My wrinkles stopped deepening, and started going away.
- My memory got better.
- My mood was back to normal. The mood swings were completely gone.
- Literally every health problem I had been experiencing started improving when I added animal-based foods back into my diet.
When I stopped being vegan, I tried talking to some people in the vegan community about my reasons for stopping. Some understood, and told me that they had also quietly stopped being vegan a while ago. Some were still eating mostly vegan (which I know is an oxymoron), but were quietly also eating some cheese, fish and eggs.
But the most common answer I got was that if veganism had not worked for me, I must not have been “doing it right.” The vegan diet was fine; it was perfect; it was the path to perfect physical, spiritual and emotional health. I had just been doing it wrong. Their version(s) of “doing it right” turned out to be nonsensical and contradictory, i.e.:
- “You should have been eating more soy. You needed more protein.”
- “Obviously, you were eating too much soy. Protein kills. We can live on sunshine, doing our own photosynthesis. No one really needs more than a few grams of protein.”
- “You should have been taking more supplements!”
- “You were taking too many supplements.”
- “You were eating too much fruit.”
- “You’re eating too many veggies, you need more fruit.”
- “You need more corn oil and soy oil.”
- “You should stop all oil, fat is harmful to the metabolism.”
- “We can live on fruit alone. Be like the banana girl! She only eats bananas, and she’s not really crazy. She’s just acting a little wacky for her fans. If she can do it, so can you.”
If you’re on a vegan diet and it’s working well for you, that’s great. More power to you. I would encourage you, though, to keep an eye open for health problems, and if a tiny part of you suspects they may be related to your vegan dietary choices, don’t force that thought out of your mind. You are not obligated to stay vegan forever (or follow any other diet forever) just because you tried it once.
In my own case, I had to face the fact that eating a diet lacking in animal fats and other nutrients found only in an animal-based diet had been a major blow to both my physical health and mental health. The longer I was vegan, the more I veered in the direction of obesity, depression, skin problems, vision problems, and other health problems. The shift back to renewed health was obvious once I added meat back into my diet.
I should mention that I sometimes still do vegan days. (And also sometimes do fasting days in which I eat nothing, and carnivore days in which I eat only meat.) Now and then I’ll eat vegan for several days at a time, because the very low protein typical of vegan diets promotes autophagy, which can be beneficial to support the body in cleaning accumulated debris out of our cells. Skipping meat for a few days is a form of fasting-mimicking diet, uber-low in protein, and does have some benefits; it can be done safely several times a year.
So I’m not down on plant-based foods. I could be wrong, but I suspect that we do actually need some plants in our diets. But — in my opinion — we also need high quality fats and proteins, and they needs to come from animal food sources.
These opinions came partly from the experiences recounted above, but partly out of some recent research clarifying the benefits of eating meat, saturated fats and cholesterol.
So meat, eggs, fish, and other animal based foods are now back to being an integral part of my diet.
As a side note, the friends of mine who were still vegan, and thought my health problems were due to my “doing veganism wrong,” almost all eventually moved away from veganism. For some, it was because they either got obese or rail thin. For others, it was digestive problems, skin problems or mood problems. For one friend, it was because her hair was falling out. One friend who did not quit succumbed to early onset Alzheimer’s in his late fifties, which may be possibly be related to his consumption of a large amount of tofu, which has been implicated as a possible trigger.
Are Vegan Diets Good for Some People?
Very possibly. I know several people who are on vegan diets who appear to be in good health. My main point in writing this is that while they may work for some people, that doesn’t mean they’re good for everyone. If you’re on a vegan diet,
If you’re on any diet and it’s not working for you, remember that it is the diet’s job to work. It’s not up to you to “try to find some way to make it work.” If you’re feeling worse and your health is declining as time goes by, don’t worry about a hundred people online telling you it “should” work or that you must be “doing it wrong” – trust your perceptions that it’s not for you and look for a different diet.