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Posted on Wed, Mar 10, 2010 : 4:01 p.m.

Veganism isn't working out so well

By Elizabeth Palmer

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 elizabethpalmer@annarbor.com.

Comments

seldon

Sat, Mar 13, 2010 : 1:30 p.m.

When you guys say "meat is the luxury," you're making an argument based on long-term environmental effects. When I say "Veganism is a luxury," I'm talking about the practical implications of attempting to follow a Vegan diet while still getting enough nutrients to stay healthy, and keep your kids healthy. It takes study, time, and access to specific foods. That's easy for you guys, and it would be easy for me if I chose to do it, but we're (relatively speaking) well-off, well-educated people who live in the Ann Arbor or Ypsilanti area. For people who are barely surviving (and there are a lot of them right now) thinking about long-term environmental considerations is a luxury they don't have. For people in inner-city Detroit or Flint, access to the kind of food Vegans around here eat is a luxury they don't have. What they do have is access to cheaper, mass-produced, stuff that includes animal proteins. So yes, from an individual perspective, Veganism is a luxury. So is wringing your hands about long-term environmental effects of dairy and meat.

C. Pan

Thu, Mar 11, 2010 : 8:28 p.m.

Everyone has different needs, and there are many diets to choose from to meet those needs. I am vegan and don't survive on salads and soy. I prefer a wide range of whole foods. Perhaps if I had initially been schooled in how to eat local, seasonal, natural foods, and foods from farms I know, BEFORE I became vegan six years ago, I'd be okay as a carnivore or a vegetarian making good food choices. But I wasn't aware, and became vegan in order to stop eating the crap that is in regular stores. And after eating vegan for six years, I can't envision myself consuming animal products again. But that's just me.

Chrysta Cherrie

Thu, Mar 11, 2010 : 3:19 p.m.

Seldon, AnnArbor.com staff are encouraged to comment on stories. Here's content director Tony Dearing's stance on that, taken from the discussion about comment guidelines: "On this site, our staffers are clearly identified as such, as we do allow our staff members to comment, as long as they follow the conversation guidelines that apply to any other community member." Back on topic: Elizabeth, what kind of ovo/lacto grub have you been enjoying since breaking the "veg"?

Dennis

Thu, Mar 11, 2010 : 1:04 p.m.

Veganism is not a luxury, nor is it for everyone, nor is it a cure-all. I completely agree that each of of us need to make decisions based on our own experiences and opinions, but it is an over-simplification to categorize a vegan diet as one lacking in hearty foods, repetitive, or expensive. Whole grains (rice, millet, barley, and many breads, as well as legumes of all shapes and sizes make for a very hearty base for any meal and cost next to nothing -- much less than meat or cheese. Also, they are satiating. Also filling and delicious are nut butters, avocado, apples, eggplant, and many other foods - notice I haven't mentioned soy or salad. I guess my point is that a vegan diet, like all diets, has potential to be healthy or unhealthy, frugal or expensive, delicious and full of variety or boring and lackluster. Chips and salsa don't constitute a nutritious, vitamin-rich meal, but neither does a grilled cheese.

SBean

Thu, Mar 11, 2010 : 12:25 a.m.

Elizabeth (and Chrysta), you might be interested in the book, The Vegetarian Myth, by Lierre Keith. She went through similar experiences as you. You might learn about the likely reasons for your physical and mental reactions to your diet.

seldon

Wed, Mar 10, 2010 : 10:18 p.m.

Chrysta, is that the official editorial position of annarbor.com? If not, you might want to post it from a personal account.

bunnyabbot

Wed, Mar 10, 2010 : 9:14 p.m.

once again. ask your doc to test you for PCOS, if you fall into the prediabetic catagory then look into the prescription Metformin

Chrysta Cherrie

Wed, Mar 10, 2010 : 7:54 p.m.

Elizabeth, you gotta listen to your body, and it sounds like you're doing just that. Kudos on your progress! Picker, when you consider the toll that meat production takes on this planet (and perhaps more importantly, the number of people who could be fed if we used most of our farmland to grow crops for human consumption rather than grains to feed and raise livestock), eating meat seems pretty luxurious. If you're interested in reading about the environmental impact of grain/vegetable production vs meat production, here are a couple of resources I found quickly: http://www.brook.com/veg/ http://veg.ca/content/view/133/111/ http://www.goveg.com/environment.asp http://openthefuture.com/cheeseburger_CF.html

tdw

Wed, Mar 10, 2010 : 7:50 p.m.

I don't know if you're "curvy" to the point of being at risk health wise if you're not just be big and beautiful

The Picker

Wed, Mar 10, 2010 : 7:24 p.m.

Veganism is a luxury!