If you are somewhat unaware of the vegan scene online, there have been quite a lot of dropouts in the online vegan community, many of which have publicly confessed their departure publicly. The responses have not been so forgiving, at least from other vegans. But as a vegan myself, what do I think?
Truth of a matter is, I am in no place to take charge of someone’s actions, but I am in a place where I could offer an opinion. This is simply my voice of reason to anyone who is currently thinking about reverting away from veganism or has just done so. No, this is not going to be a typical backlash against newly former vegans or ex-vegans. I will not be informing you to just consume enough plant-based calories, find a balanced vegan diet, or to rewatch all the documentaries and/or reread books that made you vegan in the first place. To be fair, you’ve probably already done that. Maybe you’re seeing doctors or undergoing blood tests for nutritional deficiencies about your lack of cognitive functionality or physical pain. Alternatively, this could just be a more simple transition out of the lifestyle where you eat some cheese and fish here and there or decide to purchase a wool sweater without worrying about it.
Obviously, the latter situation is somewhat of a different conversation. If you want to live veganism a bit more loosely, the solution is a lot easier–just do it. Ditch the label, but remain somewhat plant-based, or go full on carnivore (but you shouldn’t do that, either). However, say your situation is a lot more complicated. You have a strong emotional attachment to veganism. It helped you, maybe even saved you at some point. There is no way you can possibly let it go, but something about this lifestyle doesn’t seem right. Your body feels wonky, you feel overwhelmed or just drained from doing more research on what kind of clothes you want to purchase, anything where the vegan label is no longer of service, but of burden. Here are a few pieces of advice I can grant from a mostly objective point of view.
Understand how to research. There are many garbage health and nutrition websites that will spew out antiquated information about dieting and weight loss that you probably know is false as well, but maybe you could be victim to a misinformed source yourself. Do these individuals have corresponding degrees that are not falsified? Were the studies sponsored by the particular industry of focus? What were the overall response and feedback received?
Say you do your research, but are still not quite sure. In this case, speak to a medical professional that you trust, ideally one you have consulted with before in your life (unless you did not like your past doctor). Whether this doctor and/or registered dietitian recommends incorporating animal products in your diet, eliminating certain foods, or swapping out certain ingredients in your vegan diet, abide by this advice first. It is crucial to not turn your nose up on the medical system. Given how tempting it is to steer in the natural route of healing, you most likely have no idea what you’re doing or have an idea, but it’s the wrong one. Do not rely on a source of ignorance (yourself) as a means of gaining knowledge (the advice you need). As always, think critically and objectively. Look on both sides, which is exactly what you should have done when deciding to become vegan.
Want to know another incredibly tantalizing source that most people turn to before seeking professional advice? The Internet. As addressed in the first paragraph, there are more than plenty of horrendously written nutrition and diet websites and articles that will provide either outdated, inaccurate, or just BS advice on health. Again, because of its accessibility, the Internet is the first resource for questions–“how do I lose weight?” “what is the significance of a p-value?” “why did this particular product get recalled?”–and the Internet is additionally the first affirmation for answers. At this point, if you have been considering departing the vegan train for a while, you’ve probably exhausted yourself from researching on the Internet already. The only benefit you can gain from the Internet is seeking registered dietitians and doctors who provide online services, or at least a medium that is run by primarily health and medical professionals where you can contact someone and chit-chat.
A cleanse will not mend a cleanse. If you fully know that your vegan diet was a restrictive one and developed health issues as a result (digestion problems, hormonal imbalances, weight gain/loss, etc.), then there may be some foods you should avoid for a period of time to not inflame the gut or immunity system. However, in the long term, your diet should consist of anything and everything you could possibly ever want to eat. Yes, that includes vegan junk food. Admittedly, for me, a diet centered solely on whole foods isn’t always sufficient for my palette. Truth of a matter is, I adore chocolate, bread, sushi, ice cream, white rice, vegan chicken nuggets, and any type of cake under the sun. Personally for myself, I did sustain quite a restrictive diet in 85-95% of my high school experience–I regret doing so. The fact that I’ve also transitioned into veganism along with integrating more processed foods and liberating my rigidity serves as a healthy combination. Despite no longer eating animal products, I can still eat a wider variety of food, some of which I never enjoyed before. Don’t be afraid to try other types of food, even if it’s indulgent, where you can explore your options. Maybe eat primarily wholesome food during the week and use the weekends as a time to treat yourself. Obviously, do not go overboard. There is such thing as a vegan junk food diet, which is just as unhealthy as being restrictive in healthy eating.
But should you follow your intuition? Say you have had an official history of eating disorders where you’ve violently restricted your body and exhausted it of exercising and lack of nutrients. Veganism just seems like the most perfect calling to you–it centers around caring for the animals and the environment along with its abundance of innovative dishes. However, what will your reaction be when you learn that you cannot eat absolutely everything around you–because guaranteed, you’ll run into this kind of situation. Will you feel triggered or will you feel somewhat gratified? Which one should you feel? Want to know the brutal answer? Neither. Veganism should not reignite your eating disorder nor should it feed into it. If anything, the primary goal for your recovery should be indifference. Understanding what kind of food choices you should make, challenging yourself constantly, and pushing your mindset towards the end-goal whether you like it or not.
Look into what kind of other life factors might be dis-stressing you. Health encompasses everything else aside from what types of food you eat. Clear the clutter. Evaluate your current living situation (do you like where you live? What about your job?) and relationships (does your family, friends, and/or partner treat you as you deserve to be treated?). Speak up and talk to someone you trust. And if you haven’t already, improve your sleep quality and exercise.
Given that this article is quite extensive, it’s possible that you couldn’t be bothered to read (TLDR–but seriously, if you’re going to read articles, be prepared for long ones). Here are the THREE most crucial takeaways out of this entire article:
- Recall how you came to veganism. People change and their mindsets evolve with them as well. Was your way of thinking different back when you first came to veganism from how it is now? Did you pursue it from a health perspective or an animal welfare one? You are more than welcome to revisit those documentaries or research papers that inspired you to become vegan just to check if your perspective has altered.
- You are more than a vegan. Refrain from tying any one thing to your identity, which is a conglomerate of multiple qualities. If you really are struggling to take off away from veganism, don’t do so right away. Try looking at a small piece of an animal product. Does it took tantalizing or nauseating? If you want to eat it, just try it once and see how you feel. The aftermath may confirm that you genuinely don’t react with animal products well or that you just need a plant-based source of the same nutrients that has less fiber (which can sometimes be over-consumed on a vegan diet) and more fat/protein (i.e. mock meats, pea protein, nuts, seeds, etc.).
- Remember that nothing is permanent. Your health circumstances may be a consequence of your past actions and this seems like the only way to heal—eating meat, fish, eggs, any animal product. Really, it’s okay to take time off. Think of this time period as a separation, not as a breakup. If you truly resonate with veganism and want to partake in it as much as possible, it is much better to just let go for a shorter period of time than to suffer for a bit longer and then have it explode into a host of health consequences.
Before I conclude, I do just want to disclose that veganism is not a daily list of check-boxes. There’s no grading system and you are not a failure if you make mistakes. Sometimes you fall in love with a sweater that has a tiny amount of wool in it. Heck, I was gifted two sweaters that may have those ingredients, but I wouldn’t know since I have no idea what the brands are! Anyhow, maybe the sunscreen you purchase has been tested on animals, but it’s the only sunscreen that you’ve found that works for your skin. You can practice veganism in numerous ways–not hitting every mark perfectly is alright, so as long as you do your absolute best whenever you can.
At the end of the day, if you are re-thinking about veganism, that is A-okay. Having said that, you still need to remember to think critically about how you want to approach your situation and not just hop off without thinking of a stop or plan B. After all, you only have yourself to look after and your health deserves top priority. Otherwise, without a fully functioning body, mind, and spirit, nothing else in your life will flourish at its greatest potential.