Things have changed in my life recently, and I want to share what’s going on.
But first, it is important that I say I’m reporting this based on my own experiences. What follows is not a prescription for you. You’re on your own journey and I respect that. Please, do what you want for yourself. I’m sharing this because I feel it’s important, and so much has changed.
The big news: My family is no longer eating a vegan diet.
As many of my readers know from my blog and books, I’ve been a hardcore, ethical vegan (some might even say militant) for almost a decade. To sum it up… well, there’s really no summing it up. The transformation has been too consuming and complex. But I’ll try…
My head has gone through so much thinking, researching, meditating, analyzing, soul searching, and emotion over the past four months that I can’t cover everything here in one post. Consider this the first of many posts as I continue this evolution. I’m still in the “researching” and “experimental” phases, and I hadn’t actually planned on attempting to tell this story until I was farther along. But I began to realize that A) people might want or need to know, and B), if I had waited too long, I would have forgotten some of the details. Perhaps by jumping into the story mid-stream and sharing now, it will help me share more of it in better detail.
For starters, we still eat some vegan meals, but we don’t eat vegan at every meal.
It’s worth repeating: We are all different in how we respond to foods and what we want for our families. Food is a weirdly emotional subject for people and it’s hard to say anything about the subject that won’t ruffle somebody’s feathers… times a million when it comes to veganism vs. omnivorism. I don’t claim to have all the answers even for myself, and I can’t recommend what you should do for you or your family. All I can do is share what we went through, the changes we’ve made, the thinking behind it, and the results we’ve experienced.
So, why the change? It all started with our toddler, Kamea. I began having doubts about our vegan diet when she became strangely sick in the early fall. Wait. Back up… actually, when I think about it. I’d been dreaming of eggs for about three years. I ignored them though. Then, Kamea had a strange illness of sporadic vomiting, having trouble walking for a couple of days, and overall I was feeling instinctively like perhaps being vegan was not right for her. She consumed plenty of breastmilk over the years, thankfully, but her solids were nothing that made me feel like she was getting all she needed. Too often I was stressed about her diet. (I later became convinced that my maternal instincts had been correct.) That began the research. That, and I kept hearing and thinking about the word “balance.” That word kept popping up in my mind and what always followed it was the thought that my vegan diet was anything but balanced, because simply… a vegan diet is not balanced. It’s on the far end of the dietary spectrum.
So, it started with dreams of eggs, then raising Kamea during these critical developmental periods (particularly neurological development), that got me thinking about things. And then there’s the fact that I wasn’t without my own health issues. Me? Health issues? Now that I look back at it with the clarity of hindsight, yes. The problem was that I wasn’t making the diet connection. I figured it was “something else.” I had thought I was eating and living the ideal lifestyle so, despite making constant tweaks and adjustments (superfoods, fancy juicers, superherbs, tonic herbs, prepping foods various ways to optimize nutrients, following rules for combining or not combining certain foods like having vitamin c with iron rich plants – just to name a few), never in a million years would I have entertained the idea of making such a radical change. But, that’s exactly what happened.
As this journey started, I found myself asking questions like…
These are just a handful of the hundreds of questions that would run through my head almost every day. I couldn’t help but ponder such issues, and time and again, I was moved by many of the answers I was opening my eyes to see. Truthfully, my world was about to get seriously rocked. Turned upside down. What started as a troubling little nag in my mind started peeling layers back until I was in nothing short of a full-scale identity crisis… what if I’ve been wrong… ALL THESE YEARS? Even worse, what if I’ve harmed my child? I can assure you, these are issues that nobody wants to face, but I owed it to myself and to my family to seek out the best available information — regardless of the source — that was available anywhere to be found.
“Meat-curious vegan” seeks answers.
The first thing I discovered was, wow, there are a lot of us. Since switching back to an omnivore diet, I’ve learned there are legions of people with nearly identical stories to tell, including more than a few esteemed nutrition and health experts. The common thread: We were vegan, some quite smugly, thinking it was the human ideal of a smart-n-healthy diet, but then, only after several years, started to experience health problems, and then switched back to omnivore, and the health problems disappeared. That is a pattern that I heard over and over. But there was an interesting second pattern…
What we also have in common — made somewhat easy no doubt due to having adapted to a strict (vegan) diet for many years — are the strict kinds of omnivore foods we eat now vs what we were eating pre-vegan. I’m speaking about high quality. Even more so for former raw fooders, whose restrictions (such as avoiding grains) make some vegans’ diets look like junk food. So the strange irony is that hard-core vegans and raw fooders actually have more in common with, say, a hard-core paleo diet than the population at large. In short, we’re all accustomed to reading labels, grilling restaurant staff, ordering hard-to-find ingredients online, preparing food ourselves to ensure its purity, and eating plenty of vegetables.
For those of you who don’t know, I originally went vegan for ethical reasons. With health benefits an added big bonus for this nutrient-minded gal, the vegan diet seemed like a no-brainer. I remember over the years when people would go vegan and then stop because they didn’t feel well on it, I used to think to myself, “Well, they’re simply not doing it right.” Some people complained of lack of libido, lack of iron, lack of energy, etc. I now realize, quite humbled, that many of those problems may have been valid, even if they were doing a vegan diet “right.” Perhaps it took longer for the vegan diet to take a toll on my health than others. More likely I just couldn’t admit it to myself because my beliefs were so strong, constantly reaffirmed by my full-time immersion in the understandably self-reinforcing vegan culture (minorities do need to stick together and support each other, so this culture is understandable).
But after taking a careful look at Kamea’s vegan diet and what a growing child needs, and starting to recognize some cracks in our own adult vegan diet, I started to feel differently about it all. I’m now confident that these cracks started some years ago, but I wasn’t seeing a possible dietary connection. But then added on top of these deficiencies came pregnancy and breastfeeding — which is depleting on any mom — and the cracks became gorges that were impossible to ignore. But I tried to, or I tried to explain them away. I rationalized that maybe I was sleep deprived and messed up hormonally from breastfeeding. But, seeing Kamea on a vegan diet pointed out things I hadn’t previously thought about (and I’m convinced MommaBear instinct is quite a bit more powerful than cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias). I started looking to the future when Kamea would wean and I wondered if her vegan diet would be nutritionally adequate. My mind started to spin and I was questioning all of my previous assumptions, and at the same time I was getting more and more frustrated (and quite distraught) from having been vegan so long and wondering what implications that had for my family. I personally concluded that I was not willing to experiment with my child’s or family’s health.
What were my specific health issues from being a vegan so long?
Fertility. Well, you all know we struggled with fertility. It’s still a big “what if,” but I feel in my core that we were not nourished enough to conceive on our own. I now know that, despite superfoods and supplements up the wazoo, we lacked some essential fertility-supporting nutrients… stuff you just can’t get in a pill or any bizarre exotic mix of daily goji berries and maca. I could go on at length about just this one issue, but it deserves an entire post which perhaps I’ll write at some point, with all the gory technical details.
Skin issues. Over the years, sometimes I had an amazing glow, especially in the beginning of being vegan and raw. But as the years passed, time and pregnancy took their toll, and with extended breastfeeding… well, my skin started to suffer. I had some horrible breakouts that lasted long and didn’t heal quickly. I started to notice that I had pale, grayish looking skin, and dark circles under my eyes. Of course, I’m a mama to a toddler and constantly sleep deprived so I thought this must all be par for the motherhood course. But then there was the rash I had on my finger since before I was pregnant with Kamea. It would get irritated (and frighteningly worse) with water and too much dish washing, and it would itch, get red, etc. It would come and go, but mostly come for over three years. I kept hearing in my mind what my mom always said, “Your skin manifests problems happening within.” So, I wondered. My diet is awesome, right? Why do I have this rash? Surely my insides are glowing and beautiful. This rash couldn’t mean anything about my food choices. Well, I now have some ideas as to why my vegan diet resulted in skin problems.
My teeth. Since pregnancy and through breastfeeding I’ve had two teeth break plus some other issues. Again, I didn’t think anything of it because I thought my diet was pretty perfect; in hindsight, I was missing important nutrients.
My butt was sagging. I’m 36 years old and, despite regular exercise, my butt was starting to sag. I was embarrassed. I started looking at pictures of when I was younger, maybe 8 years ago and I had a full face, olive skin, and although I was younger back then, I certainly didn’t anticipate a freakin’ saggy soft ass at the tender age of only 36! Oh, and the skin on my knees was sagging. I was like, “Seriously? My knees?… WTF, am I suddenly 80?” Overall, I was looking way too old for my age. I kept wondering how that was possible when my family history didn’t support that (both sides aged with good skin), plus, HELLO(!), I was eating such an antioxidant-rich vegan diet… so what was wrong with me?
Nausea. And, the bloating. I can’t tell you how many times I complained to Greg about feeling nauseous after eating or saying “I feel so fat” from the bloat I had even though I was only weighing 117. Again, I never dreamed it was my diet. In hindsight, I wonder if being a long term vegan contributed to low stomach acid which could explain these things. Or, perhaps it was the vegan food such as grains and legumes, which can be hard to digest.
Lastly, my cupboard was becoming a pharmacy of supplements as I tried to keep my family’s intake of nutrients balanced, but which probably was even more unbalanced as I took many supplements in isolation. I became increasingly leery of this because I knew intuitively that the best nutrients are found in real whole foods… not isolated in supplements. Not to mention, it had become a monthly line item on the household budget comparable to a car payment.
Clearly, something wasn’t right.
There was a lot going on that I didn’t realize … until I opened my mind to the possibility that something was not right in my diet. Humbled, but nevertheless intrigued, I pushed on. (At least as a non-vegan, I can now eat crow! Ar ar ar.)
At first, it seemed more than just a little weird to end the vegan chapter of my life… as I said, it was more like an identity crisis. These labels carry so much meaning and weight with them. Fortunately, now just a few months later, it actually doesn’t seem like a big deal. At some point, a switch in my brain just flipped, and that was that. It was about my family’s health, not a philosophical crusade. It boils down to the fact that my family was missing nutrients, and now we’re not.
Here are a few things that concerned me about our vegan diet, but I didn’t realize it until a few months ago:
How did I make the transition?
At first I was learning about vegan foods that might not be that great for you, such as wheat and gluten. Then I learned how grains and legumes in general are just not so good. Now, as a raw fooder, I was already aware of many of grains’ problems. But the problem is that if I’m not eating anything from animals, and then I decide to cut back on nuts due to their poor fatty acid profile, and fruit has too much sugar to be a large part of my diet … pretty soon I start running out of things to eat. Then, add breastfeeding to the daily caloric requirements, and my weight started to drop precipitously. I had to get more calories, so I had started consuming more grains and legumes despite their disadvantages. But once I learned more about why they’re bad and started revisiting my options, the whole equation changed, because it became much easier to get high quality calories from animal products.
So I began by eliminating grains and legumes from our diet. It’s been 4 months since I’ve had either and I don’t miss them a bit. I am committed to a 85/15 flexibility rule where I don’t freak about a meal here and there that might have grains or legumes (hold the gluten though), but I’ve not felt the need to implement that much “cheating” yet.
We eliminated all soy. We reduced carbs overall (including cutting down on fruit) because I think we were eating too many. When you take out all of those aforementioned foods, that takes out a lot of food. Then, as I learned more and more the importance of nutrients we were missing or not getting enough of, or not getting them in an easily assimilable form, I was drawn to foods for those missing key players. Enter: high quality animal foods. So, it was a process of cutting out certain low-quality vegan foods and then adding in certain high-quality animal foods. It was a process and it didn’t all happen overnight. I plan to detail the specifics in a future blog post.
What about my hardcore ethics? Once I had committed to making a change for my family’s health, I was afraid I’d enter omnivore-land begrudgingly, crestfallen, and with a heavy heart. And at times it felt completely foreign. Yet my old distant memories made the idea of eating certain foods familiar at the same time; after all, I was an omnivore for decades before going vegan. Additionally, I actually, naturally, started seeing my food differently. I considered evolution, my ancestry, biochemistry, health, how animals are raised and processed, and the ecological web of life on earth.
Above, I listed a lot of health challenges I experienced while being vegan for so long. So, what happened when we introduced animal products?
Night and day is what happened.
All of these changes happened immediately and it was proof for me that we were going in the right direction.
It’s true that there were many times I felt great as a vegan, especially in the beginning years. Perhaps there was a cleansing element to it; or perhaps it was mind-over-matter, a placebo, because I was on a serious animal ethics mission so I didn’t think my issues were food related. I am only now recognizing this for what it was. I now suspect I was in a constant state of denial because I thought I was doing the best one could do. There were periods when I went all raw and it was heavenly. But, I never stayed all raw because it felt too unbalanced. Add to that a pregnancy and extended breastfeeding. I simply became depleted and my body showed the signs, and it’s during the past year or so that it hit me the hardest. I was forced to open my mind and consider that my diet had shortcomings. I’m so glad I did. “When I knew better I did better.”
I have to admit that looking back, I have deep regrets. I was vegan for too long, and it was not in my best interest during my pregnancy and especially having Kamea being vegan as a growing child. Ugh, better late than never though.
So what do we eat? Well, I think this post is long enough, so I will happily share the details of our meals in upcoming posts. It’s very interesting, and comical at times, and I’ll give a little hint to pique your interest: When I do things, I do them BIG.
I’ll say that much. I am on a steep learning curve and feel like a total noob in the kitchen at times, like I’m starting all over from square one. In a future post, I’ll also share the various people, books, websites, and other resources I’ve been studying that supported this transition.
PS. I had my blood work done after having been eating this way for a couple of months and the results? Stellar.