Confessions of a (very) curvy girl: Veganism isn't working out so well
Part Seventeen: Self-Imposed Veganism is Killing Me
*Disclaimer - this is only my opinion and is based solely on what works for me. I have great respect for you, veganism, but we need to talk. I think we should both just call this what it was: a fling. A stupid fling that didn't mean anything :).
Here’s the thing: I hate this.
After being rear-ended (ha ha ha) last week, I took a week off from inducing this self-imposed “six weeks of veganism” experiment. I should also add that it is not just veganism that was part of the plan, it was also refined sugars that had to go, as well as pretty much any heavily processed foods and any other foods that I know full-well irritate my acid reflux like tomato sauce, chocolate candies, etc.
Knowing how hard it would be for me to get over the vegan hump though, I was willing to cut myself a little slack with the sugar thing, but I really wanted to stick to the other guidelines I’d set up for myself (particularly not eating foods that are heavily processed - that is more important to me than pretty much anything else; organic, local and minimally processed by industrial means - and I’ve been very good on that front to tell the truth). In addition, I have been trying to learn more about soy and how it is incorporated into our food. Not only is 90 percent (or more) of the soy planted in the United States GMO (genetically modified organisms, i.e., modified seed), but the health benefits of soy are debatable, and I’ve learned some things that make me rather uncomfortable about turning to soy as a viable alternative in my food substitutions even as I transitioned into this vegan experiment.
This week though, I was determined to start it. It had been like pulling teeth. Not because I wanted steaks and pork sausages and shrimp or anything, but because I miss the following things (in moderation of course) in a physical way; and my body does not feel better at all. If anything, I am feeling worse and my stomach just hurts and I have that starving feeling all the time. Plus it is causing me to fantasize about terrible food that I can still eat because technically it’s “vegan”, but that I wouldn’t be making the choice to eat if I were just a vegetarian, because then I would feel satiated with my breads and cheeses :). In fact, my perspective on being a vegetarian, having restricted myself to a vegan diet for the past couple of days, is that I could be a superb and devout vegetarian! I don’t have to give in to the occasional burger or piece of bacon, but god, please don’t make me give up my yogurt, honey, butter, eggs and cheese. Please. It makes me feel empty inside. Literally.
As you might imagine, I am now re-evaluating my plan and seeing several flaws:
1. Flaw #1: It is physically painful for me to be vegan. Since making myself eat only vegan fare, I have become extremely distracted (to an unfortunate degree) by the feeling of outright starvation happening in my stomach. I am eating regularly, but my stomach feels painfully empty. This may also have something to do with my acid reflux, but what always helps, at least in some estimation, is bread. Unfortunately, there are quite a lot of bread and carby-type things that I can’t have on a vegan diet.
2. Flaw #2: I am now eating worse. I have been planning and cooking as much as I am able to make this whole thing as easy as possible, but it hasn’t mattered. I could eat lentils and carrot apple ginger salad (which I have been eating this week and they are both extremely delicious) ‘til the cows come home, but it isn’t going to fill me up. So I find myself wondering what is so bad about eating the chips with guacamole and salsa from Seva for lunch? I mean, it’s all vegan right? I need something substantial, both in flavor and in actual substance that has good mouth-feel to get me through this, and I’m already annoyed by the salads. Already.
3. Flaw #3: I am very distracted by the gnawing feeling in my stomach (see Flaw #1). I have a ton of work to do for several different things, and I feel like I am only half there focus-wise because I am so distracted. My brain and body feel like they’re not getting some vitamin or substance that they are accustomed to.
4. Flaw #4: I really don’t agree with this. As I have said before, I have incredible respect for vegans, but I don’t necessarily agree with every one of the tenets of veganism. I think that in our current food system and considering the plight we are facing environmentally, that vegans may very well be the vanguard in terms of eating to save the environment; but that does not necessarily hold the same water when you leave the confines of the industrial food system.
Local agriculture and local meat and dairy make it possible for us to get to know our farmers and learn exactly who is growing our food and how they are doing it. In many instances this food is organic, hormone and antibiotic-free, not treated with pesticides and more delicious than anything you can find in a run-of-the-mill supermarket. It brings back the local economy and makes us healthier naturally, so I can’t see the down side there. If I know that my eggs are coming from Abe Schwartz, an Amish farmer from the area, (who is often at the Kerrytown Farmer’s Market on Saturday’s and sells delectable eggs) then I know those eggs are coming from chickens that are not engineered in any way and are not injected with antibiotics or anything else. I don’t feel bad about that choice. Quite the contrary in fact.
For me, sustainability in our food system needs to include our farmers and local food producers; those who are committed to growing food for us to eat that retains its nutritive value and makes us healthier people, and that includes the farmers who humanely raise livestock and produce dairy. Though again, I really do very much respect the choice to be vegan, I just don’t share it. I believe that organic yogurt, eggs and butter (amongst other things) are good for us to eat in healthy doses; simply put: I believe we need balance in our diets that I am not sure (as someone who has no nutritional training at all, mind you) exists in a strict vegan diet.
5. Flaw #5: This doesn’t feel healthy or natural to me. I am Greek, German (lots of Prussian, Bavarian, and some Polish in there because of changing borders), Irish, a smidge Scottish, and I have even heard French somewhere along the line; what constitutes a traditional diet for me? I’m serious. I begin to wonder why my body and mind are so violently opposed to even trying veganism for a short while. It was tantamount to going for a run (which for me is pure torture.) I began to have the same feelings as I had had when I was working as a medical photographer and overstayed my welcome in terms of my own “ick” threshold. I should have made a career move long before I did, and I suffered the consequences in that case for not listening to myself and to how my body was responding. Continuing to stay in a job that was unhealthy for me at the time was mirrored by the relationship I was in as well. In that too, I remained much too long.
However, what I take from those experiences is that though they were absolutely awful and tortuous most of the time, they taught me to know, without a shadow of a doubt what I don’t want, which has allowed me the freedom to choose exactly what I do want. And though I hate to say it, I am having similar feelings with this attempt at veganism. I am not happy doing it (in fact, I hate it...have I mentioned that before?), and the truth is that I was only attempting it in the first place because I wanted to figure out if it would help my acid reflux, which it did not. Weight loss may have been a side benefit, but I’ve also known plenty of fat vegans. My point is; I need to get back to the basics.
The reason I started writing this series in the first place was to find a system that worked for me. It was not to try all sorts of diets or to deny myself food I believe to be healthy. Above all, this series was definitely not about lying to myself or subscribing to a certain set of rules in an attempt to get thin or healthy for the short term. I need long term solutions that are systemic and holistic in their approach if I’m going to be successful.
So back to good old vegetarianism (with the very occasional well-sourced meat stuck in here and there) and exercise for me then. My tuckus is on the mend, and being well aware that my tuckus and I could have very well been dead (see last week’s post), I’m moving on in the trajectory that feels right to me, and I do feel very good about that.
More confessions of a (very) curvy girl will come out every Wednesday. Also, look out for the two new “Curvy Girl” supplements, “Unfit” and “Food/Foe Thought.”
Elizabeth Palmer is the Customer Advocate at AnnArbor.com as well as a contributor. She writes about food and food traditions, sustainable development and her experiences as a curvy girl. She has a bachelor’s degree in photography and is finishing her masters in historic preservation. Elizabeth also teaches a course on sustainable development at Eastern Michigan University.
You can contact Elizabeth by e-mailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.