Facing Failing Health As A Vegan

January 20th, 2013 - filed under: The Food » Food and Health



I have been trying to write this post for ages, and I do mean ages. I’ve spent enough hours staring at this blank page, blinking cursor, to have written it many times over and still been able to bake a gluten-free vegan cake. Okay maybe that’s not true, but you get my point.

You’d think it would be a relatively easy story to transcribe. It’s a linear progression of factual events, right? Well, sort of. There are actually a number of ways I can tell this story, is the thing. For example I could very simply lay out the series of events, the way I got sick and why, and how I got better (I did). But that would sort of miss the point.

Or, I could write a scathing assault on our modern medical system which refuses to look at holistic health or even to pause at the quiet insistence of a new mother saying “No really, something is wrong.” Yeah, I could definitely write that story.

Or I could muse about the fascinating interplay of mental and physical health, wax New Age-y about the mind-body connection; wonder which causes which and ponder where it all begins (though I don’t think I’m the girl to write that article, ‘cause I’m not all that New Age-y and it’s all just Ouroboros anyway.)

Obviously, this is going to be a long post, can you tell?

The truth is that there’s only one way it feels right tell this story, and that is to contextualize it in the exact way that the entire thing was contextualized in my own life. It’s a story you don’t hear much in public, but I sure have heard it over and over in confidence. And I feel like it’s a story that needs to be told.

So this is my story: the story of how my veganism, held in deepest conviction, hit the wall of health crisis, and cracked with doubt.

~~~

Before I begin I want to acknowledge that I leave some things vague, mostly when it comes to my blood tests/numbers and what led to my diagnosis. This is because, well, it’s in the past now and I’m just not up for debating the specifics of how or what I could have done differently. I know everyone on the Internet is an expert (hey, me too!) but please respect that I don’t wish to argue about what I did or didn’t do.

I can imagine about a million and one ways in which people might be offended by what I’m about to say. I can also imagine another million and one ways in which people might want to invalidate my experience (Psychosomatic! Placebo! Armchair RD!). And you know? That’s fine. I’m not here to defend myself. I can’t please everyone, eh? I’m just trying to speak my truth and tell my story, exactly as I experienced it. Here goes.

Breastfeeding in a farm field. You now, like you do.


So, everything started a few months after Waits was born. But it was hard to get a handle on at first, because I was a) dealing with postpartum anxiety [certainly intertwined with my health issues], and b) a first-time mother who was attachment parenting a colicky baby, and c) still trying to “do it all” [ie maintain my blog and speed-write a book while keeping on top of all of the mom/wife/house stuff]. Which is why it took me so long to figure out that something was really wrong.

It began with the fatigue, and I don’t just mean that new mom exhaustion that’s born of too many sleepless nights. This was different, so that on my “bad” mornings my limbs were like lead, and moving into my day felt like so much work, it almost seemed unbearable. Like I said, the physical and the mental stuff was all tied up together.

The fatigue was often accompanied by a splitting headache, and after that came the rashes. My skin was suddenly hyper-sensitive. I had to stop using all lotion and even coconut oil – everything caused me to break out in itchy little red bumps. But even without any stimulus, the rash would come. Often it would be a fatigue day followed by a fatigue + headache day, with the rash setting in a few days after that. Or sometimes the rash would just show up, unannounced.

All of this compelled me to talk to my doctors; first to a midwife and then to an MD.

The midwife said that it sounded like typical new mom stuff. That I should come back if it hadn’t cleared up in a few months. It felt like the brush off.

The MD suggested that I had picked up a virus, any one of the many (like fifths and that cohort) that are common among small children. I asked about the strange recurrence, almost like a cycle, and he said that it could happen with these viruses. Even when I spoke to him again, six months later and it was still happening at regular intervals, he said it was just a virus. I felt like he wasn’t hearing me.

There were other symptoms as well, things that at the time seemed like maybe they were “normal” (in that new-mom sort of way), but as the year wore on and they all got worse, a bigger-picture of the problem began to emerge. My skin was often itchy and dry. I had these extreme mood swings. EXTREME. Often they seemed related to food, which was part of what prompted The Great Grand Diet Trial of 2011. I would get hot flashes, too. Clammy skin. Intense sugar cravings. And of course, anxiety and depression. Lots of anxiety, lots of depression. And eventually by the end of it, complete self-loathing.

This continued through the second half of 2010, and on into 2011. It only got worse. But my symptoms would ebb and flow, enough so that over and over, I would think it maybe had passed. I would feel better for a spell, and I would begin to believe that it had ended. Then, one evening my skin would feel a bit dry, and my heart would sink. And sure enough, the next morning, I would wake up with that same extreme fatigue, feeling like I literally couldn’t get out of bed.

That was the worst part of it all – the over and over up and then down, hope and then despair. That roller coaster, it wears you away. Does damage to the psyche.

I would have done almost anything to feel better. Anything. And when you’re vegan, eventually you start to wonder if your diet is part of the problem. Or maybe, everyone else wonders for you. But I couldn’t help it – I wondered too. I talked to my father, who is a well-respected doctor of Chinese Medicine. He advised eating meat. My Qi was weak, he said. “Just a little bone broth?” or, “Maybe some fish?

No” I repeated over and over. “Dad, I can’t do that. I’m vegan.” It became a point of contention in our relationship. He saw his daughter suffering and he wouldn’t accept my refusal of his solution. I felt like I was suffering and he couldn’t step outside his narrow paradigm to try to help me. But I’ll admit, his words and the words of everyone else wiggled in, and I worried that they were right. Was I making myself sicker because I was stuck in this ideology?

In March of 2012, over a year and a half into this, I spoke again with the MD. He still maintained it was a virus. Or, “Sounds like typical new mom stuff to me.

I felt completely alone. I felt like I was screaming for help and nobody was listening. And I felt like I was living a lie, blogging about the good stuff in my life (trying to practice gratitude, trying to be positive), while omitting this enormous struggle. It felt disingenuous and contributed to my shriveling self esteem.

In February of 2011, I quit blogging. I needed to figure out how to get myself better. Because I was truly, completely, hopelessly miserable. And I’m having trouble walking the line as I write this now, not wanting to sound melodramatic, but needing to express just how horrible it was, and how much it affected me. Quality of life? I had none.



Finally, in April 2012, I made an appointment with a Naturopathic Doctor.

I’d held off for a lot of reasons, mainly because of money (insurance doesn’t cover most naturopaths) and also I don’t know, maybe a sort of prejudice? I mean, I’m a hippie girl at heart, raised that way and totally accepting of alternative modalities. But homeopathy is something I could never really get behind (it just DOESN’T make sense to my scientist’s brain) and since I have both an MD and a Chinese Medicine doctor in the family, I just never really looked into Naturopathy.

But this was different, because I wasn’t getting the help I needed and very simply put, I was desperate.

I found a list of naturopaths that were covered by my insurance, and cold-emailed the ones that sounded like a good fit. This is what my email said:

“Hello, I’m wondering if you are currently accepting new patients. I am
dealing with lots of weird health/mental health issues which have come
up following the birth of my son. He is 25 months and the problems
started around 5 months postpartum.

I am “medium crunchy”, which means I’m actually very crunchy and
prefer alternative medicine techniques, but I’m also very grounded by
traditional science. You sound like you have a similarly balanced
approach and I’m wondering if we could have a consult and see if we
“click”.

Thanks so much! Cheers,
~Sayward”



Dr. Lasse called me back within a few hours. She left me a message, laughing at my “medium crunchy” remark, and sounding so kind. I felt right away that she could help me.

My first appointment was at the end of April, and I wept as she did my intake. I cried A LOT in that first session. I just felt such relief at finally speaking to somebody who looked me in the eye, who said “Yes, you’re obviously sick, let’s figure out why.” I had hope, real hope, for the first time in ages.

I told her my story and she agreed with my suspicion that my hormones were the underlying issue. The cyclical nature of the symptoms – and the symptoms themselves – seemed to indicate a hormonal imbalance. She was alarmed to hear that I wasn’t menstruating, something I hadn’t paid much attention to. I assumed that since I was still nursing I was just experiencing lactation-induced amenorrhea. Also, I hadn’t had regular periods in years, since way before getting pregnant (and since before going vegan, in case you wondered). I wasn’t actually menstruating when I got pregnant with Waits.

But she felt strongly that I should be, and so this became a starting point in our initial treatment plan. I left her office that morning armed to the teeth with a battery of the crunchiest crunchiness you ever did see. Herbal tinctures. Bitters for digestion. 3 different homeopathic remedies. Castor oil. A “prescription” to eat certain seeds on a lunar cycle in order to induce menstruation. I know! And of course, orders for a whole battalion of blood tests.



Two weeks later my blood work was back. Let’s pause and take a moment now. Try to imagine the absolute worst, the most ridiculous, the most comically ironic diagnosis that a vegan could receive.


No, it wasn’t B12. My B12 and D were great.


However, my cholesterol was abysmally low. And on top of that, I had blood markers for protein depletion. Seriously.

Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a type of fat found only in animal foods. Vegans do not intake ANY dietary cholesterol. Human bodies do produce cholesterol, however, that’s only if the body is healthy. Cholesterol is produced in the liver. My liver had been abused by many years of drinking, smoking, caffeine, and then eventually, pregnancy.

Cholesterol is the precursor to all sex hormones (like estrogen, progesterone, etc). Without adequate cholesterol, the body cannot make hormones.

Protein Depletion
You’ve probably heard vegans (and pretty much every vegan “leader”) scoffing at the protein question. “The protein myth!” and “How many cases of Kwashiorkor have you seen this year?” they’ll quip sarcastically. Basically, “neener neener, duh” is the attitude towards people who question protein.

But you don’t have to develop complete protein deficiency to be protein-depleted. And I, living an active lifestyle, nursing, and eating a sometimes-high-raw, always-vegan diet, was protein depleted.


I was devastated. Devastated. I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. To hear “cholesterol” and “protein” as a vegan, well it just shook me to my very core. I was reeling.

My naturopath knew that I had some rescued hens, and she suggested that I start eating their eggs.

And maybe you’re thinking the same thing? It sure would solve all my problems, right? That’s a perfect little packet of pure protein and cholesterol, right there. In my very own backyard. Guaranteed cruelty-free.

The thing is though, it wasn’t about me. Because, sure, I could eat those very specific eggs that I don’t necessarily have an ethical objection to, and it would probably help me. Maybe even heal me. But then . . . what would that mean?

If I had to eat animal foods in order to get better, then that would mean I was not capable of being vegan. And if I was incapable of being vegan, then that would mean that the vegan ideology was fundamentally flawed. Because if I HAD to eat animals to be healthy, then eating animals could NOT be morally wrong.

So do you see? That this wasn’t just about me? Wasn’t just about my own health?

Veganism is the cornerstone of my life. It is my framework, it contextualizes my actions and informs my every decision. I believe in kindness and non-violence with the wholeness of my being. This is everything to me.


Those next few days, I was in a stupor. I cancelled a speaking engagement at the Mad City Vegan Fest, an event I’d been so looking forward to. How could I stand in front of a room and talk about veganism, when my own health was failing and my own faith was in crisis?

And then one night, just a few days after I received my diagnosis, I was making dinner and listening to a very popular vegan podcast. The host is one of my greatest mentors, and her discussions always calm and inspire me. This newest episode was all about talking to people who might misuse our words: people who call themselves vegetarian but eat fish, or people who call themselves vegan but eat occasional “humane” animal products, etc. And, there was a section on people who stop being vegan “for health reasons”. What a coinkidink.

One thing I’ve always loved about this speaker is the compassion that she seems to radiate in everything she does – it’s something I’ve worked hard to emulate. She’s just got a way with non-judgment, which was why it came as such a shock to hear the callous, almost mocking tone she took when speaking on this particular topic. She seemed to imply – no, she definitely said – that if someone gives up veganism for health reasons, it’s because “. . . they felt inconvenienced . . . ” and “. . . [they] didn’t really embrace it enough . . .”, ending with, “. . . and so the easy way out is an excuse that appears legitimate.”

This is, essentially, victim-blaming people during their most vulnerable time. And hearing this from someone that I so admire? Well that was just sort of my breaking point.

You don’t know!” I wanted to scream. “If you’ve never been sick you don’t understand! I would do practically ANYTHING to stop feeling like this!

So that’s the night I found my anger. And oh boy, was I angry. I resented everyone, everyone I’d trusted. All the vegan leaders and vegan doctors and vegan gurus who’d insisted over and over that I was eating the healthiest diet on the planet. They lied to me! FUCK THEM!

Well, that lasted about 12 hours. I’m not really one for anger and thus my self-righteous indignation didn’t make it past morning. The second I let myself remember why I was vegan in the first place, was the second my anger melted away (literally). Because, remember, it’s not about me.

I am vegan for the animals.

Period. I’m not vegan for the leaders and doctors and gurus, for the approval of my mentors or even for my own health. I’m vegan because I believe with all my heart and soul that it is wrong to inflict violence and suffering on innocent beings. Period.

So that was that. I’d uncovered my reserve strength. And now I had to find a way to get better while staying vegan. I mean, if anyone could possibly re-imagine, get creative, and think outside the box for a nontraditional solution, well I think that I’m just the girl for that job. I’m pretty freakin’ persistent.



I came to my next appointment with a renewed sense of purpose. “We have to make this work within the framework of veganism” I told my naturopath. She was supportive. We devised a plan.

I’m not going to go over every detail of my particular treatment, but in general it went something like this:

• Seeds. Within 3 weeks (seriously!) of starting the cycling seeds program for hormonal balance, I got my first period in over 3 years. I don’t even know what to say about this because it makes the scientist in me raise such a skeptic’s eyebrow, but listen. Dudes. It worked.

• Liver support. We wanted to help my liver efficiently make its own cholesterol. The regimen included castor oil packs, omitting alcohol, coffee, and black tea, and omitting refined sugar. I also cut out gluten because it very much exacerbated my most troublesome symptoms (fatigue and moodiness).

• Fat. Eating as much saturated fat (coconut products, cacao butter) as possible (SORRY NOT SORRY, DR. CAMPBELL) because saturated fat stimulates cholesterol production. Also, eating plenty of other healthy fats, like olive oil, nuts, and avocados (SORRY NOT SORRY, DR. ESSELSTYN). [Of course, I’m just being playful “apologizing” to these amazing doctors. I mean no disrespect – these are great men. But, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that although I believe a low-fat vegan diet is excellent for reversing and curing many chronic diseases, that does NOT mean that it’s the right diet for everyone. A diet for healing is different than a diet for maintenance, is different than a diet for building (pregnancy) and is certainly different than a diet for growth (children). I feel like a lot of vegans, and vegan leaders, overlook this important point. And in my own anecdotal experience, the vegans who most often get sick are of the low-fat and/or all-raw variety. Maybe this warrants it’s own post in the future, eh?]

• Protein. I made a conscious effort to include plenty of protein in my daily menus, with the aim of eating something protein-rich with every meal. During my intensive healing period, I was eating high-protein foods all day (beans, tofu, tempeh, quinoa, lentils, and more beans beans beans) and fixing myself a “protein & saturated fat” shake every morning and every night before bed.

• Additional emotional/physiological support, via herbal tinctures and homeopathic remedies. Because well why not?


And the results? Following this protocol, my progress was so immediate and so monumental, it felt like nothing short of a miracle. Within just a few weeks I felt like a different woman. I could hardly believe it.

And as the months passed, I only continued to improve. I was able to lay off some of the stricter guidelines (reintroduce black tea, drop the late night shake, etc). There was a lot of other very difficult stuff going on in my life back then, but my health remained strong and continued to gain strength, and that made all the difference in the world. Much of my anxiety and depression was relieved just by physically feeling better. So much.

When my blood was retested in September 2012, my cholesterol had moved up into the healthy range, and the markers for my protein depletion had mostly normalized (still room to improve, but much better). By the end of October I felt like both my physical and emotional health had made a complete recovery, and I scheduled my last session with my naturopath.

In some ways, I really feel like she saved my life. For those of you in the Portland area: Dr Raina Lasse, ND. I simply cannot recommend her highly enough.

~~~

These days I feel strong. I am healthy and I am happy. It’s actually not something I think about much anymore, which is more of a relief than you can probably understand. When you have your health, you just don’t realize how much you have to lose.

As for my current diet, I still eat coconut products (saturated fat) more often than most folks, but not every day. I’ve also retrained myself in the way I approach my meals, so that I always include some protein (it’s become second nature now). I do believe that every person requires a slightly different diet/macronutrient ratio, and that there’s no one set way that is a guarantee for good health. Some people only need very little fat, others don’t do well with carbs, and still others require lots and lots of protein. VIVE LE BEANS!

But all of these individual needs, I think, can be accomplished within the framework of a vegan diet. I do believe that now. Because I’m proof.

“I adore myself and everyone else.” Affirmation on the mirror at Cafe Gratitude, Hollywood.


If you are vegan and sick, please know that you are not alone. This is happening to others. This is even happening to leaders in our community. I know, because I’ve talked to them.

And you know what? It’s is a damn shame that there is such a stigma attached to this, that people feel the need to suffer in silence. I mean I get it, I do. As vegans we deal with enough skepticism from the “outside” world, and it can start to feel like you need to be a shining example of vegan health and perfection at every moment, or else you’re damaging the cause. But it’s a mistake, I think, that the leaders and bloggers and writers and others, are not sharing more of these sorts of struggles. Because we cannot fault people for giving in and going back, if they have no examples of how to persevere.

If nobody shares their stories, then everyone feels alone.

And if I, a deeply committed ethical vegan with a reputation and career on the line, living in freakin’ Portland Oregon, can actually consider going back . . . well, then I can’t blame isolated vegans in small towns who have no support system at all, for doing the same.

Losing your health is the scariest thing. When you’re sick, it consumes everything. But you don’t have to feel like hell just to stand by your beliefs, and you don’t have to stop being vegan in order to feel better. Find a medical practitioner – whichever type you prefer (I’m naturopath-for-life now!) – one that will actually listen and really wants to help. Get your blood tested! Don’t play guessing games, just pony up and pay to know what’s really going on. Then educate yourself, reach out to experts, reach out to the online community, find support, and work with your doctor to figure out a treatment plan that will fit your needs.

Once you’re better (and you will be), share. Leaders and bloggers and writers and everyone else, please share! We will never be able to figure out the whole puzzle, until we are looking at all the pieces. This is not a matter of veganism failing; this is simply a failure of information.

~~~

So that’s it. That’s the story of how I got sick, had a crisis of faith, found my strength, and fought my way back to health and happiness. My hope in telling this story is that it may inspire you to stand firm in your own convictions, whenever those convictions are rooted in love.

So with all my love,

*cheers*

To your health.



Edited to add: I am completely overwhelmed by the outpouring of support I have received today. Thank you all so much! It is downright scary to put yourself out there, but you have all reaffirmed my intuition that this was a story that needed to be told. And I am honored to have been able to share it.

As of now, tonight, this post has garnered almost 10,000 hits. Amazing! Please, keep sharing, because it’s obviously resonating with people out there. Again, I’m just so honored.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to respond to each comment individually, but please know I have read and appreciate every single one. Thank you so much again – it feels great to be back! ♥

  • stru

    the ideology of not eating something just because you do not want to hurt animals must be wrong. if you have your own hens and cows, what harm do you do to a hen when you eat its eggs? and what harm do you do to a cow when you milk it? none.. just because there are some factories that treat animals in a horrible way, it does not mean that eating an egg as such is wrong. the whole ideology is then flawed. hm?

  • Andrea@VibrantWellnessJournal

    As a long time chef and cooking teacher, I thought that I had this health thing under control. When my own health diagnosis came in as problematic, it was a panic not because I was sick but because I shouldn’t be sick. I teach people about HEALTH, and my lack of health feels like a failure. When all of this happened I came back to reread your article, which I love for its clarity and depth of feeling. Thank you for sharing.

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  • Belgian Vegan

    I can see where some people run into trouble because they either take a meat eating diet and just subtract the meat, or they eat vegan “meat replacers” that are very processed, etc. I’ve had nothing but good things happen to my health since going vegan 5 years ago, and I think that’s because I’m a bit of a food addict so I really dove in and had fun discovering all the beans, grains, seeds, nuts, and of course varieties of vegetables and fruits that I’d been ignoring for years. The problem is that the information of what’s out there and indeed what vegans should be eating isn’t readily available to everyone. Add to that the tsunami of misconceptions that the meat eating world at large has about the vegan diet, and I can see why some people get lost. I really think things are changing though. Anyway thank you for your honesty and thank you for working hard at finding a way to live compassionately. Good information like this spreads. :)

  • soliel67

    There was a time when I was very weak on a vegan diet. I was eating mostly a raw diet. It turned out I was simply too “yin”. I wasn’t eating enough vegan “building” foods as opposed to “cleansing” foods. Also most of my foods were simply too cold. Yes, I was cold, fatigued, loose teeth and was losing hair. The minute I took the remedy, more warming building foods (like soups and tempeh and grains, and warming herbs) I started feeling better and gained strength.

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  • Anna

    As a quite recent vegan (soon to be a year!), I was thrilled to discover this post! It is so refreshing to read someone talking freely about health issues related to this diet and so inspiring to see that you did not give up when advised to. It is indeed easy for vegans to get judgmental over other vegans struggling with health issues and being pushed by everyone to shift back, and it gets hard to know whether in these cases it is really necessary to switch or if it’s just prejudice. I wish if I encounter similar troubles that I can face them with the same strength and now I know I can always turn to this post :)

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  • Cf

    Thanks for taking the time to write this. I had been vegan for ten months up until two weeks ago because of some weird and scary health issues I was experiencing. Unfortunately I did go back to animal products in an attempt to see if my vegan diet was the culprit. I took it from all sides, vegans I knew judged me harshly and non vegan friends were smug and disturbingly satisfied by my return to meat. They all cared more about being right than my health. Fortunately, I never cared much about what people think about me, but I can see how troubling that would be for someone who does care and it is sad. You are so right when you say that you never know how much you have to lose when you are healthy and then suddenly are not. It is very scary. I just had the healthiest 10 months of my life and now I am popping xanax pills a couple times a week to deal with panic attacks related to my symptoms. The meat experiment did not improve anything, and I am back to my vegan diet once again. I think if the vegan society was more supportive and less judgemental, then it would be less fragmented and more accepted. It was not out of convenience that I returned to meat for two weeks, it was out of fear for my life and permanent disability. Everyone is so hell bent on being right when it comes to being pro or anti veganism, that I find myself not trusting anyone anymore.

  • Mom of 3

    thank you for sharing! Very useful to me :)

  • Mimi

    Thank you so much for this article. I’m a vegan and I admit that I am sick. After reading your article I realize that I have all of the symptoms that you were going through and more. I will try going to the naturopath because I too am vegan for the animals.

  • Deeda

    Thank you for writing this. I am on my own journey as a fairly new, and late in life, vegetarian and finding that my food combinations make all the difference.

  • Tatiana

    Hi! I saw you said you hadn’t gotten your period for a while. I am still nursing my son at almost 19 months and have not gotten my period back yet, but am wondering if that is why or if there is another issue. Were you still nursing? Thank you!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    I was still nursing. I’d say after 19 months I would be a bit concerned about not having gotten my period back, although all bodies are different. I got my period almost immediately after starting the seed cycling, so I do feel like my body was “off” in not menstruating, and just needed the help getting started again.

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  • Tatiana

    Thank you so much for responding so quick!

  • madisontm

    Thank you so much for having the courage to post this. I came across this as I myself am suffering from health issues, which I believe have resulted from my vegan diet. I stopped menstruating after transitioning from vegetarianism to veganism about three years ago and like you, didn’t think much of it or see a correlation right away. It wasn’t until I traveled to Spain this past fall, where I studied for three and a half months, that things changed. As veganism is a relatively foreign concept in a country where the smell of jamón lines the streets and huevos revueltos are eaten almost any meal of the day, I decided that it would be most practical to include eggs and dairy back into my diet, at the very least. After just three weeks with this “new” diet, I began to menstruate again and I felt great. I considered it a coincidence and refused to associate my change in health with the change in my diet. Once I returned to the US however, I naturally reverted back to my diet consisting of solely plant products and was disappointed to find my cycles taper down to nothing again. At this point I have not necessarily given up on veganism, at least for me (like you, I agree that each of our bodies have different nutritional and exercise requirements), but have rather taken a more flexible approach to veganism. Plant foods, as science has shown, are some of the healthiest foods on the planet, but does this necessarily mean that they should truly be our sole source of nutrition? So about five days ago, I began to re-introduce eggs into my diet. Just one egg a day and the rest of my diet has remained the same. And lo and behold I start menstruating again. After reading your blog, I am inspired that you were able to cure your health issues while keeping with your vegan diet and am specifically interested to hear if this also included the return of your menstrual cycles. If you prefer to respond via personal email, I would gladly accept that as well. Thank you again for this post and for having the courage to be honest.

  • BigBadErik

    Dear Sayward,

    Thank you for your heartfelt message.

    Reading this post, it makes me want to write a book even more. I have been consuming a completely vegan diet since 2005. I also train karate and CrossFit, and protein has always been an important part of my food intake.

    The one book that probably did the most for me was Dr. Sears’ “The Soy Zone”. Yes, I consume soy. I also use brown rice protein, pea protein, quinoa, lentils, beans, nut butters, and more.

    And my goal is always to bring balance. Balance. Balance the protein with the carbs with the fat. Change this. Modify that. Do what feels right for my body and see if I can keep avoiding animal products.

    For the animals.

    I, too, started getting sick a few years ago. I woke up every morning feeling like I had been hit by a truck. Horrible aching. I went to Eastern Medicine folks and my own internist. Nothing they gave me or recommended worked.

    Then I injured my foot in karate and was sidelined with bone spurs and arthritis in the joint. Painful like a railroad spike was lodged in the base joint of my big toe.

    Arthritis? At my age? Then I learned that stopping wheat could minimize arthritis. So I stopped wheat.

    And the pain went away. I started bounding out of bed in the morning. My foot feels better (although I still need foot surgery if I’m going to train karate again for hours at a time, barefoot on a hardwood floor).

    I have consumed wheat twice since I quit. Once on purpose, once by accident. That horrible aching came back and lasted for two days each time. And now I’m done with wheat.

    I will say that as a vegan, I’m keeping up with all the paleo, meat-eating, protein-pounding athletes in the circuit, and despite my age, I’m making constant and significant improvement every year.

    Veganism is a relatively new lifestyle in human history, and so far, there is no formula for everybody. Those converts who pound pasta and red sauce for three weeks and quit veganism because of health reasons aren’t really using their heads. And others become so orthodox that they may be missing something their particular body needs.

    I always say that if, heaven forbid, I have diet-induced health issues in the future, I will go back to whatever it takes to live a healthy life. In a game of them-or-me, it’s going to be me.

    But as someone who used to eat about a chicken a day, hopefully I would eat far fewer animal products than I used to.

    Keep the faith, and blessings to you and yours.

    Sincerely,
    Erik

  • Audrey Yarper

    Why I applaud your compassion for animals, your post made me realize that veganism is a religion. Your adherence to it, is coming more from outside control than anything else. Food is not a religion. I feel into this same trap. I was vegetarian with periods of veganism for 12 years, it took me a long time to connect my diet to chronic fatigue, mood swings, increasing panic attacks, mental fogginess, intense cravings for sugar, severe depression, poor immune system ect… After several years of eating meat most of these symptoms have completely disappeared. I do eat meat very sparingly and eat only cruelty free meat, but I’ve realized that my body needs it. Throughout human history, there has never been a vegan society or culture. 75 percent of vegans are vitamin b12 deficient. I’m sure that was the major culprit in my case and my life was a living hell because of it. For many, like me the illnesses associated with this diet manifest so slowly that they are hard to connect, but I don’t know a single long time vegan who is healthy. I can just look at them and see their pale skin and sunken dark eyes and lethargic voice and feel how they are hurting. I have seen long time vegetarians who seem healthy, but that is hard to do too. I’ve also know very many who seem very ill. Your health shouldn’t be dictated by this religion of veganism.

  • Audrey Yarper

    wow. Again this sound so much like a religion. basically saying,’ ‘even if this diet makes me sick enough to die I will not give it up, because this is where my community is and they would reject me if I gave it up. I have to keep my faith in this, even as I see it destroying me.’ It’s FOOD people FOOD, not a religion. If you are sick, than stop doing what you are doing that is making you sick!

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  • Igor Đukanović

    Thanks. :-)

  • strandlopertjie

    Thing is – omnivores also develop deficiencies. It’s just that, as you said, vegans believe they should be examples of perfect health to prove their point… I know of a family member, omnivore, who struggled with iron deficiency and anemia for years. Maybe going vegan would have helped. :))

  • ursula

    would you eat poop if it made you feel better? It’s not that she’s a afraid of letting people down, it’s that she doesn’t view it as food anymore. The thought of eating eggs or meat makes me want to vomit.

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  • kittykat

    Thank you so much for writing this. I went vegan about a year ago and was vegetarian for 10 years before that, but since going vegan I’ve had a lot of health issues. They’re due in part to some unrelated stomach problems, but seeing all these issues pile up is kind of scary. I’m nineteen years old and I feel like my body is failing me already. But I’ve felt like I really can’t talk about it, because I have to maintain that appearance of shining vegan health for the sake of the vegan image, for the animals really. Your post has given me hope that this isn’t how I need to keep living. The flaking skin and scalp, the dizziness, the sweating and coldness, they aren’t all caused by being vegan I’m sure. But I’ve been so worried to mention it for fear people will assume so. I’m going to make an appointment with my doctor to try to work this out, within the vegan framework, because you’re right: this isn’t for the critics of veganism or the vegans who are cruel to less-than-perfect vegans. This is about my own well being, and how that affects animals. Because I can’t be kind to animals if I’m not being kind to my own self. So thank you for that.

  • Anne

    It’s mostly meat eaters who are b12 deficient, because the heat from cooking meat eliminates the b12. adaptt.org