“When Vegans Get Sick” — [Excerpts From My Talk At Vida Vegan Con 2015]

July 15th, 2015 - filed under: The Food » Food and Health

When Vegans Get Sick 0

Back in May, I gave a seminar at Vida Vegan Con, called “Facing Failing Health As A Vegan” (subheading: “And What Our Community Should Be Doing About It”). I had really wanted to film my talk, but wasn’t able to make it happen. So, I thought I’d share my notes, and the powerpoint slides, for all of you who weren’t able to make it out to Austin. Please keep in mind that this is meant to be spoken, not read, which means it may seem a bit funny when flat on the page — so just keep that in mind, okay?

Alright, here it is:

When Vegans Get Sick

This is a topic that is very near and dear to me. And it’s something that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. But it seems like, for a lot of vegans — and especially for “normal” healthy vegans — people who maybe have never experienced a health crisis — it’s not something they have ever really thought about.

And maybe there’s a reason for that?

I find that in our vegan community, there is a sort of knee-jerk defensiveness that kicks in anytime someone talks about a vegan getting sick. And I sort of understand that . . . sort of.

Because we feel like we have this *thing*, and it means so much to us, and so we really want it to be well-represented! That makes sense, right?

So when we see a person saying “I got sick as a vegan,” what we maybe hear instead is “Veganism failed me.”

And we worry, I think, that what other people will hear is: “Veganism doesn’t work.”

And so, as a community, unfortunately, we tend to react rather poorly. In this sort of, “Be quiet! Shut up!” kind of way. Like, “Silence that person!”

And it’s sad. Our fear of veganism being labeled as *the problem* causes us to lash out. And we direct our anger in the wrong place.

And I think the internet makes that easier. It’s easier to lash out, from safe behind our keyboards, and also, when the person maybe doesn’t feel like a really real person.

So like I said, this is a topic that’s near and dear to me. And so I want to begin by telling my own story.

And I want to do that, partly, so that you can see that vegans who get sick are not just nameless faceless hypothetical Internet people. And they’re not just lazy, or weak-willed, or ethically lenient.

They’re people like me.

And I was a vegan who was deeply committed, and an “influencer” or whatever you want to call it, and living in Portland Oregon with every available resource at my fingertips . . . and even I got sick.

And I felt completely alone. And I had nowhere to turn. And I almost became an ex-vegan.

When Vegans Get Sick 1

So, let me tell you about my story of getting sick as a vegan.

It all started at the end of 2010. I was living in Portland Oregon with my husband. I have a degree in biology, and I have a LOT of interest in human health and nutrition. So I had done a lot of research on diet, and was eating what I thought was a very healthy diet. A vegan, minimally processed, whole foods, mostly homemade, high-raw diet.

And a healthy diet was really important to me, because I had just become a mother. My son was born in March of 2010, and I was adjusting to new motherhood. And I was really active, and I was nursing — a lot — and really, just getting into my groove of being a mama.

And then, when my son was about 4-5 months old, is when my symptoms started.

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So what were my symptoms?

Intense fatigue, and I don’t just mean like, “Oh man, I’m so tired!” But like, when I would wake up in the morning, my body actually felt like lead, and it would be difficult to get out of bed.

And I would get rashes, weird colorless raised bumps on my arms, and torso, and face.

I would get splitting headaches, and out-of-control mood swings, hot flashes and clammy skin, and also sugar cravings. Along with a bunch of other weird, sort of smaller, incidental things.

So what was going on was of course very nondescript. It was so ambiguous. But it seemed to by cyclical, and anyone who’s ever dealt with a major illness knows it often is cyclical. And so there’s this pattern, of the symptoms alleviating. And you get this sense of hope!! Like – “Oh finally, Im getting better! Finally, god, my life is going to get normal again and I’m going to feel like my old self! Finally!”

And I would get my hopes up. And I would let my guard down.

And then one day I would wake up, and that crushing fatigue would be in my body again. Like lead filling me up.

And that? Was devastating.

The roller coaster, of having my hopes raised and then smashed, over and over, and over. And over. That was so psychologically damaging.

I developed intense anxiety, and for the first time in my life, real, self-hating depression.

So of course, I sought help!

I talked to my midwife, who I was still seeing for follow-ups. Ad she sort of blew me off, actually. She said it sounded like “typical new mom stuff.”

So then I went to an M.D., and old family friend who’s a practicing doctor. He said it sounded like maybe I picked up a virus. Nothing to worry about. He basically blew me off too, even when I came back 6 months later saying – “It hasn’t gone away.”

He said, “It’s hard to adjust to motherhood. Sounds like pretty typical new mom stuff.”

And I talked to my dad. He’s a prolific doctor of Chinese Medicine. He does acupuncture and Chinese herbalism. And he told me that my Qi was weak, and that I just needed to drink some bone broth. Maybe eat some fish.

Obviously, not very helpful.

And so this went on, for months and months and for over a year, in this up and down cycle. And clearly – no one was willing to help me.

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I felt completely alone. And it wasn’t just the midwives and the doctors. I felt like I had to keep this all secret from my community.

I mean, I’m a blogger, and an author, and a “public figure” in the vegan community . . . and I felt like a damn fraud.

And so I suffered alone. And I withdrew. I stopped blogging. I was miserable. I felt betrayed by my body, I felt like a failure, and . . . I hated myself.

But luckily, in the spring of 2012, I finally reached out to a naturopath. And for the first time, someone who could help me, was actually taking me seriously.

She ordered blood tests!

And, long story short:

–> I had extremely low cholesterol, which was inhibiting my body’s ability to make hormones. Most people know that too high a cholesterol is bad, but most people don’t know there’s a lower limit as well. Obviously, vegans don’t consume cholesterol, and my body wasn’t making enough of it. Cholesterol is required by our bodies in order to make the sex hormones – estrogen, testosterone, etc. And I didn’t have enough cholesterol to make the hormones I needed. So my hormones were all out of whack. Which is partly why my symptoms were cycling.

–> And secondly, my blood tests showed markers for protein depletion. So you know how vegans are always like “Shut up about protein!” or “You don’t need to worry about protein!” or the one I keep hearing lately: “If you’re eating enough calories, you can’t not get enough protein!” . . . Well, I am here to tell you. I am a vegan who was not getting enough protein.

Okay, so getting this news – that I was suffering from low cholesterol and low protein – it felt like a punch in the stomach. I mean, it would be pretty comically ironic if it weren’t having such a devastating effect on my life.

And my naturopath was encouraging me to eat eggs. Because really, what is an egg? It is literally a packet of protein and cholesterol.

And I was desperate. At that point, I would have done almost anything to feel better.

And I have to say, I was pissed. I was so angry, and the vegan leaders, and the vegan doctors, and the vegan gurus, who had all told me that I was eating the healthiest diet on the planet. And no one warned me about this!

And now, I was faced with this . . . horrible decision.

My anger didn’t last very long. All it really took was for me to remember why I was vegan in the first place.

And it wasn’t about those leaders or those doctors or those gurus. It wasn’t even about me.

I am vegan for the animals.

So I went to my naturopath and I said “No — we need to find a vegan way to do this.” And she said okay. And we did.

She devised a plan, and I was able to raise my cholesterol, and correct my protein depletion, using entirely vegan foods.

And once we had that blood work, and knew what we were dealing with, it happened very quickly. Within just a few months, I was a different person — healthy and happy, and still vegan.

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So my story has a happy ending — but here’s the thing about my story:

I am an incredibly stubborn person. I am also the kind of person who is very comfortable with the idea of doing things my own way – of forging my own path. And I was also living in a place that gave me a lot of access, to a lot of resources.

And the thing that I’m acutely aware of is that not everyone is like that. And so this experience has given me great insight, and a lot of empathy, towards people who are sick. And even towards people who stop being vegan.

Because unfortunately, our community is not currently set up to help them.

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This is what I see a lot of in the vegan community right now.

Judgement: food choices, lifestyle choices, health. *Every* one judging.

Victim Blaming: which is essentially saying “Whatever is going wrong for you, is because of something you did. It’s your fault.”

And then I see a lot of shaming, especially between ethical vegans and dietary vegans. If you’re an ethical vegan, “You don’t care about your health” or “You’re making bad food choices” or “You’re not eating healthy enough”. But if you are vegan for your health, well then “You’re only in it for yourself” or “You don’t care about the animals” or even – “If you’re not an ethical vegan, then you’re not a real vegan at all.”

Doctoring. Everyone’s a doctor. And this is usually like, “Whatever works for me will totally work for you!” which is just like, a really narrow way of approaching the diversity of humanity and human health.

And then finally, just straight-up stigma. “You’re sick? You’re BAD.” “Go away.” “Shut up.”

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Okay, so obviously that’s a problem. But what’s the solution?

What should you do if you are sick? If you’re vegan and you develop an illness — physical, mental, you don’t know what’s going on — whatever.

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First thing – SPEAK UP! What I learned, when I finally started speaking openly about getting sick, is that there are a lot of people out there who are sick and confused.

And every single one of them feels completely alone.

As I said in my big blog post about this: “If nobody shares their stories, then everyone feels alone.” And that is not what we want!

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Seek professional help! I seriously cannot emphasize this enough.

I have a side project going with Matt Ruscigno, and we’re exploring what we call “The Ex-Vegan Phenomenon”. Essentially, we’re studying why people stop being vegan. And one of the biggest reasons, of course, is because they were having health problems.

And what’s so amazing about these stories – and so often these people are bloggers, or have somehow shared their stories online – and the vast majority of the time they are self diagnosed, and they never got blood work done!

And I know from me, from my own personal experience, getting someone to take me seriously – yeah, that was hard. But once I got my blood work done, well I had my answer!

And it was so easy after that!

So I cannot emphasize it enough. Get blood work done, and get it done with someone who is competent enough to help you analyze and understand your results. I just threw a few of my favorite vegan dietitians up there – they’re all really awesome.

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So this is a big one, and this goes along with the last one, of self-diagnosing, of not getting professional help, and of really focusing on the idea that whatever is wrong with you, no matter what it is, will be able to be fixed by tweaking your diet.

Sometimes that is true . . . and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes you really need medication. But either way, you’ll know more when you get your blood tested.

But instead, what we see over and over again – and we see this in ex-vegans a lot – is this sort of extreme dietary management that develops, usually out of a quest to regain health or feel better.

So maybe it starts with a 3-day juice cleanse, and then after that you’re like “Okay, I’m gonna eat totally pure, totally *clean*”

And then you’re like, “Okay, I’m gonna try gluten-free because I think I might be sensitive to it.” And then you’re like, “”Okay, I read that soy can like, interfere with hormones, and I know a lot of people don’t digest it well, so I’m gonna be soy-free too.” And then, all those vegan doctors are saying oil-free, so “Now I’m going low-fat/no oil!” And then – “I actually think I’m gonna cut out all grains all together, because of the phytates! They’re anti-nutrients you know! And then also, I’m not eating nightshades because they’re inflammatory.

So basically I just eat kale.”

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“And this is what my diet looks like!”

“Oh but wait . . . kale is a goitregen. It’s bad for your thyroid. Can’t eat kale anymore!

Sooooo okay, I’m gonna be a breatharian. I’m gonna be SUPER healthy!”

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Okay so obviously, this is an extreme example and i’m kind of poking fun. But seriously? I see this sort of thinking a lot.

And to be clear, I’m not saying you can’t manage your health, and even an illness, through diet. (I did!)

But what I am saying is that right now, there is a culture of restriction. And that is not necessarily the path you should be going down if you’re trying to feel better.

Especially if you haven’t had your blood tested.

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And last but not least — there is no *One True Way* to be vegan.

Veganism is not a diet. And what I mean by that is, veganism does not tell you what to eat.

It tells you what NOT to eat – animals and their secretions – but aside from that, it doesn’t give you any direction.

And that’s really important to remember. There are a lot of different ways that you can eat within a vegan diet.

And it may be true that all-raw or high-raw works for you. And it may be true that oil-free works for you, or gluten-free or soy-free or high-carb starch-based or high-protein eco-Atkins, or whatever.

The point is that there are many ways. And if one way isn’t working for you, it’s okay to try something different –> even if the vegan guru or doctor that you’re following says it’s not.

So that’s something very important to keep in mind.

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Okay, so what about what you should do if someone you know is sick?

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Basically, these are the things I would like to see our community STOP saying to and about sick vegans.

1) People who stop being vegan were never vegan to begin with.
This is something I see all the time. The implication is that if you truly commit to veganism – on a personal, ethical, and environmental level – then you could never go back. Because once you see the light, you can’t un-see it. Or something.

The implication is also that anything less than that level of commitment is not “real” veganism. And so anyone who goes back, like due to a health crisis, was just never vegan to begin with.

And that’s basically a way of saying “You. Don’t. Count.” It’s a complete erasing of the person’s experience, and even their very existence.

And, not only is that just kind of cruel, but it’s also just really un-helpful. It just doesn’t actually accomplish anything. For either party.

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2) This works for me, so it’s obviously the One True Way, so just do it and it will work for you too!
This is something I’ve touched on already, so I won’t spend too much time here. But essentially, it’s totally fine to be like “Hey friend, have you tried adding greens and protein to your smoothie? I got a real boost of energy when I started doing that.”

And that is nice! And helpful!

And its totally different from being like “ALL you have to do is go 80-10-10 raw vegan, and you’ll never be sick EVER! It’s for sure scientifically proven that if you eat 30 bananas a day, you will always maintain perfect health, DUH!”

See the difference?

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And finally, 3) Being a healthy vegan is easy! Just look at so-and-so, or whats-his-name. So if you really wanted to be vegan, you would/could.
I see this a lot with vegan athletes and vegan strongmen. Like, “Well if so-and-so can run a triatholon, I’m sure YOU can manage to get up in the morning”.

But again, everybody is different, and these sorts of comparisons simply don’t help anyone. They are not productive.

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This is how I think our vegan community should be treating vegans who are sick or stumbling in their veganism:

With empathy. A little kindness goes a long way.

With affirmation. Don’t blame.

Embracing them. Helping them feel like they won’t be ostracized or abandoned.

Listen to them. Stop talking or trying to “fix” them, and just let them tell you their story.

And finally, with a zero tolerance policy for anyone who will judge, shame, or stigmatize sick vegans.

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And continuing from there, what about newly-ex vegans? What about people who have had a health crisis, and maybe have fallen into some of these traps, and have recently gone back to eating animal product?

Well, I know part of you probably wants to be like “WHAT ARE YOU THINKING??? Noooo, here. Watch Earthlings!! Watch Forks over Knives!!! Nooooo!!”

But . . . take a deep breath. Again, we need to think about what is actually helpful.

1) Speak gently. Remember that deep down, they probably regret their decision, or at least carry a lot of guilt and shame about it. Whether or not they let you see how much they’re hurting, they’re probably really emotional about it. So be gentle.

2) Encouragement. A lot of times when I talk to people who used to be vegan, they tell me “Well I still eat a lot of vegetarian meals!” or “I still eat a lot less dairy!” And I always tell them – “Oh man, that’s so awesome! You’re still doing so much more than most people.” And I know that can be hard, but truly. The ONLY time I reach people, especially ex-vegans, is when I keep it positive.

3) And finally, be welcoming! Extend an open offer. To come over for dinner, to join you for tea, whatever. Don’t ostracize them. Make yourself available, and approachable.

And let them come around.

Okay, so what’s the bottom line here? What’s the takeaway from this whole thing?

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Vegans can get sick. Sometimes it is related to their diet, and sometimes it isn’t.

The sooner we can acknowledge that vegans are not bulletproof — that vegans are just human beings with the same set of human problems — then that’s the sooner that veganism moves one step closer to the mainstream.

♥ ♥ ♥

  • http://www.honestbeans.com Melanie

    You’re brilliant! I too was sick on a vegan diet (also hormone related), was just as stubborn as you and managed to get better as well – so this really hit home and I wish I had heard all those very positive things from people around me. Thank you!

  • Lindsey

    Thanks for sharing your talk with us! As I was reading this, I was thinking of my brother. He is currently going through a health issue since February and still has no answers. He is an omnivore and every single person he talks to about his health issues; everyone replies with an answer. “More protein!” “Less carbs!” “It’s all in your head!” “It’s a virus!” “Get more sleep!” I’m starting to think it is simply human behavior when it comes to people who are sick, we all want to fix them. He is beyond frustrated with people and his health right now.
    I just love reading your words. Keep em coming, PLEASE!! :)

  • Shannon

    your talk was awesome! i am so glad you are doing this work! i am a researcher (well, a researcher in training :) and get so so frustrated by stuff like this!

  • Sara MM

    Oh Sayward-what a great presentation! AHH I still owe you my story. I’m sorry I’m moving so slow on that. Life keeps getting in my way but I haven’t forgotten. I need to set a deadline.

    Even after being sick myself I still catch myself being judgmental sometimes when a person becomes an ex-vegan siting health issues. It’s so hard to fight off that urge because of all the reasons you give. I need to step back, take a breath, and be more mindful of my emotions jumping into thinking the worst instead of reacting with kindness and support.

  • Anne241

    Thank you so much for posting this! I really hope your message spreads, it’s one that really, really, really needs to be heard in the vegan community, especially online.

  • http://windycityvegan.wordpress.com/ Monika {windycityvegan}

    Oh, I wish I had been in the crowd at VVC to hear your talk! This is a message that needs to get out to the masses.

    It also reminded me that I need to work on not being judgmental of judgmental vegans. (Which I guess makes me a judgmental vegan?) I have no tolerance for all of the shaming that goes on. I know that people are passionate and committed for a myriad of reasons that are personally relevant to them – but the shaming has got to stop!

  • LSM

    I happened upon your blog last week, and enjoy it so much that I’ve been combing through your older entries! I read your initial post about failing health as a vegan, and while I can’t say that I’ve had failing health, reading your story really inspired me to be more understanding. I help admin a vegan transition page on Facebook and I see the exact kind of negative thinking you highlighted in your speech ALL THE TIME. From now on, when I see this topic come up, I am going to refer them to your story for inspiration, motivation, and understanding. Thank you for sharing your story, and for shedding light on this issue. And I am glad that you are back to good health!

  • Samantha

    wow, this was an amazing article and I think the message is so important. I think it’s extremely important for vegans to receive proper support when facing a health issue. As vegans we feel like we have to constantly be feeling wonderful in order to set an example, for fear of the diet being blamed, whereas non-vegans have no such obligation. Those who have always felt full of vitality as a vegan can fail to empathise with those who’ve had a more difficult time. I qualified as a nutritional therapist (in the UK) recently (but am not practising yet) and on my course I learnt about how important it is to use scientifically valid rather than biased information. Both vegans and non-vegans can be guilty of being ‘know it alls’ because of things they’ve read from unreliable or biased sources and it’s not helpful to anyone. I’m fortunate never to have had an extreme health issue but when I went vegetarian I kept waiting to experience this amazing feeling of vitality I kept hearing about, I thought I had tried everything. (read my short blog about it if you want! http://samanthathesanevegan.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/my-journey-with-nutritional-therapy.html) But on my course I finally discovered a way to feel better as a vegan, which I’m very grateful for. Those who genuinely can’t and have really tried should not be shamed. Keep up the great blogging!

  • Rebecca Carnes

    Thank you for sharing this!! I am so happy you did… every one has a journey unique to themselves & no one should ever be judged or shamed!

  • lysette

    Great presentation Sayward! Thank you for sharing it here. I hope this conversation keeps expanding through the community.

    I had deep fatigue through the spring of 2010 and like you I thought I was eating really well -whole foods; lots of lentils, millet and greens. I went in for blood work thinking it must be iron or thyroid and the doctor who looked at my ‘abnormal’ results said she wanted to screen for lymphoma or leukemia! I freaked out and booked another appointment with my general practitioner. He brushed off my blood work -which was very abnormal- saying ‘It was normal’ for me. A month later they ran another blood test. I saw a third doctor to consult on my results. He read through each item and stopped on hemoglobin, paused, asked if I was vegan and when I said ‘yes’ he told me my B-12 was low and I should be supplementing it with folic acid. My energy levels came back quickly. Some vegans say they don’t supplement but that didn’t work for me and it took three different professional opinions to get me there.

  • Babette Vegan

    Great article! Thank you for sharing your VVC speech with us.

  • http://www.carrieonliving.com/ Carrie @ Carrieonliving

    Thank you, Sayward, for being so open and compassionate. You’re such a sage and role model, and I have huge admiration for your work.

  • Kelly

    So good. <3 Thank you for always being such a positive force in the vegan community!

  • Annie

    Thank you so much for this post. I shared it with my vegan friends :)

  • http://vegetarianbychoice.com Sanjeev Sharma

    Everybody – vegans, vegetarians and meat eaters – gets sick all the time. Basically what I am wanting to say is that only vegans do not fall sick and have health issues. And therefore, no one including a vegan should worry or think “oh, my God, I am sick and my health is failing me”. I could be eating meat and yet my health may not be all pink. Once we accept this fact, then I don’t really think we would be worried if we ever fall sick.
    And as you have illustrated in this presentation, so beautifully, if there is a problem – there is a solution. A vegan should become an ex-vegan for health reasons, if and only if, she is 101% sure that she will never have a health problem again. If the answer is a no or even a little doubtful, then stay vegan and find a way – as you did.

  • http://thepolymind.wordpress.com Courtney Bliss

    Thank you! I’m not vegan, but I do have an annoying little health thing that I’ve been trying to figure out. Hopefully this fall (when I’m at grad school!!!!) I’ll have insurance and can get my blood tested to finally find out what’s up.

  • Laurel Khutulun Lee

    I am really disgusted both with the community and especially with the actual doctors that you had to rely on a naturopath of all people for medical help. it seems you were lucky in that this one clearly had a healthy respect for proper scientific medicinal procedures. lots of them would have had you even sicker with more false dietary crap. am happy to see you got through it in the end! xx

  • Asia

    Thank you so much for this! A couple of years ago, I lost a lot of weight and got to the point where I couldn’t keep anything down – even water. I was constantly hungry and generally scared and anxious about what was happening to me. Numerous endoscopies and a of couple hospital stays with tests later, I found out I have achalasia. It’s something I now live with as it’s a chronic condition and it was neither caused by nor can be helped by my veganism. Your post really inspires me to want to share my story too!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Thank you Melanie! I’m so sorry you got sick, but I am SO happy to hear that you figured out how to get better while [stubbornly!] remaining vegan. Thank you for sharing your story, and I hope you continue to speak about it far and wide. ♥

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Ugh I’m so sorry Lindsey. When you’re sick, everyone is suddenly a doctor. It’s so unhelpful and can be incredibly overwhelming. I hope that he finds some answers soon. ♥

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Thanks Shannon! And yay for you, we need more researchers on our side! =D

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Thank you Sara, and I am SO looking forward to your story.

    And for what it’s worth, the perspective I’ve laid forth in this talk is very much my *intellectual* perspective. On an emotional level, I personally still struggle with many of these same things, like judgement and frustration. I am by no means trying to paint myself as perfect or as “above all that”. But I do see what helps, what works, and therefor I can see how I aspire to be. We are all working to get there together, ya know?

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Thank you Anne! I hope it spreads as well, it’s so important!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Me too Monika, we all need to work on our feelings of judgement and frustration. Me as much as anyone. ;-)

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Aww I love reading this, thank you! So glad my older entries are still bringing people joy. =)

    And it makes me so glad to hear that you’re the admin of a vegan Facebook page. i see a LOT of this kind of behavior on Facebook and it’s so sad. I think it turns away SO MANY potential vegans. Thank you for helping to spread this info and hopefully, bringing more kindness and compassion to our community!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Totally Samantha, vegans are unfairly scrutinized in ways that non-vegans never are. it’s a constant battle, but something we have to confront openly, instead of denying it even exists.

    Thanks for being a voice of reason out there and for helping to educate!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Thank you Becca!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Oh man Lysette, that is so frustrating! I’m sorry you had to go through all that medical incompetence, on top of feeling sick. As vegans we are so much more responsible for being our own medical advocates. I’m just so glad you finally found out what was wrong, and were able to correct it.

    For what it’s worth, I firmly believe that all vegans should be supplementing with B12. Definitely not something to mess around with!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Thanks Babette, glad you enjoyed!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Thank you so much Carrie. ♥

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Thanks Kelly, so glad you liked it!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Awesome, thank you so much for sharing Annie! I appreciate that a lot – I’m trying to spread this message as far and wide as i can.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Great points Sanjeev, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    I’m so sorry Courtney, and I hope that you’re able to sort out your health issues and find some answers. Make full use of that health insurance!! Grad school has been so great for me for that. ;-)

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    It was a pretty awful situation. Thanks for sharing, Laurel.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    I’m sorry you’ve had to deal which chronic illness, Asia. But I’m really glad you were able to get a diagnosis, and hopefully have found a way to manage your disease. I think what you said – “it was neither caused by nor can be helped by my veganism” – is SUCH an important message. Thank you for sharing. ♥

  • Shannon

    I agree (although I may not stick with the research, so competitive in my field but I am glad for the ability to be able to really analyze new studies)! I wish the media would accurately report scientific findings, but I think that your voice definitely matters!

  • Lacy Davis

    This is so, so beautiful! Thank you so much Sayward!

    When you talked about the restriction thing I almost LOL’d. You say it was an extreme example, but that was basically my exact thought process around food a couple of years ago. I did end up taking a break from veganism, which is a bummer, but I came back quickly, and to me- that is what counts! It is people like you that keep veganism warm, inviting, and accessible, and I only wish I’d read this when I was struggling. Your work is so helpful and I am so honored to get to witness it!

    Thank you again <3

  • http://kellisvegankitchen.com/ Kelli

    What a great talk, Sayward! I wish I’d been there to hear it – would love to hear you speak on this. I keep watching all the judgement and shaming in so many places – FB groups, etc – toward others and even their version of a vegan diet, let alone toward people who aren’t still/yet vegan. It’s really kind of appalling, and not people I’d want to be grouped with, vegan or not. You encompass the values that speak well of a community, and the kind of person many of us strive to be – empathetic, non-judgemental, welcoming and caring. Thank you for adding your voice to the loud angry ones out there.

  • Amica Hilton

    Wondering if you know anyone to suggest for blood work in Toronto, Canada? I can get my blood work done with my family doctor but I’m not sure he will be able to read it correctly or test for all the things I need. Any ideas?

  • Jennifer Carlone

    Would you mind saying some of the foods you and your naturopath decided would help you? I would love to know (just for some ideas…)

  • veronika

    Did you actually end up taking your doctor’s recommendation to get tested for leukaemia/lymphoma? And if not, why not?

  • lysette

    I now go for yearly physical exams and all my blood work has been normal in the last five years. My doctor says I’m in excellent health.

  • veronika

    No doubt, it’s awesome that you pursued second (and third) opinions, and that it was after all, a vitamin deficiency.
    I guess hearing about cancer, it seems like a nontrivial recommendation to just brush off. The mantra in oncology is “early detection saves lives”, and one of the messages that certainly stuck with me from the original post is “do your due diligence, get tested, knowledge is power”. So it seemed ironic to me that something like a test for cancer would be treated lightly, esp if your physician is actually willing to order the test for you rather than just telling you to chillax or something.
    Before I start sounding like an overzealous nut, I should just say that I did my doctorate research in chemotherapy, and currently work on B-cell malignancies in a department of immunology. Lymphoma and some other things that can be diagnosed by looking at repertoire of blood cells (like lupus) are something I think about and deal with daily. It is interesting for me to know why people would or would not pursue a diagnostic test for these things…
    I’m glad you figured out and fixed your B12! Best of health to you.

  • lysette

    Thank you Veronika, I really appreciate your insight. My GP brushed off the blood work as normal, it was a different Dr at the clinic that was concerned about my profile indicating cancer but because she wasn’t my GP and because the third Dr recommended B12 and I felt 100% better from supplementing I never followed up with a cancer screening. I’ll bring this up in my next physical. Best of health to you too :)

  • Rachel in Veganland

    I’m just now getting around to reading this! What a great talk! Thank you for sharing it here, I’ve been looking forward to reading it. You raise great points, the ones about shaming on both sides really resonate with me. I think you also touch on the issue of self-shaming in a very sensitive way. It’s super easy to become your own worst enemy if you’re having some health issues, wondering what you “did wrong” or what you “could’ve done” differently. That’s something I struggled with when I was going through some health problems of my own. For someone who’s already health conscious that can be devastating, especially when foods and lifestyle already receive so much attention in one’s life. Thank you again for sharing your story, then and now, and for offering some ways to help both ex-vegans and those who are dealing with illness. Wish I could’ve been there to see the talk!

  • http://angieeatspeace.com/ Angie

    This is such an amazing wealth of information and I want to thank you for continuing this conversation in our community.

  • http://www.greensandtea.com Heather

    Wow! Wish I could have been there! Your words resonate in my heart. On that note, I am hoping you might be able to help me with my predicament. Over the past 25 years (I am 42) I have transitioned from pescetarian to vegetarian to vegan. Presently I eat a plant based vegan diet for health, environmental, and moral/ethical reasons. This is where my story gets tricky. I was diagnosed with celiac disease over ten years ago and have since had to remove all grains from my diet, in addition to gluten containing grains. Also, I am highly allergic to legumes. This removes two main categories of vegan diet, severely limiting my food options for a balanced, whole foods, vegan diet. Obviously protein is the key nutrient I struggle with. Currently, nuts and seeds (particularly hemp seeds) make up the bulk of my protein, but this offsets my fat intake. In an attempt to step out of my comfort zone as minimally as possible, I have tried to incorporate locally farmed eggs, but cannot tolerate too many without gastrointestinal distress. I have even tried dairy from local farms, but dairy of any kind brings about debilitating sinus headaches in addition to stomach issues. It is important to me that I am able to live a healthy life that allows for the health of animals and Earth as well. I have researched and researched, read every single book I can get my hands on, devoured every blog that hints to my dilemma, yet I cannot seem to be able to find an answer. My physician advises the reintroduction of meat into my diet, but I cannot bring myself to do that. I am desperate for help. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

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  • Soren Impey

    “It tells you what NOT to eat – animals and their secretions – but aside from that, it doesn’t give you any direction.”

    The vegan society definition emphasizes exclusion of cruelty and exploitation, as far as is possible and practicable. Perhaps in addition to discouraging judgement of sick vegans, we should also discourage judging veganish folk who draw the line of exclusion differently from “ethical vegans”.