Vegan to Vegetarian and mental health - VeggieBoards
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#1 Old 12-15-2015, 10:42 AM
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Vegan to Vegetarian and mental health

Hello dear Veggies!

I came here looking for support and hopefully to know if anyone went through what I'm going through. This didn't go that well in a different vegan forum, so please be gentle ^_^

I studied veganism for half a year before deciding to fully embrace it but I was surprised by what I felt. There are still aspects of it that I don't agree with and a few others I'm not sure and because of it I never had the intention to call myself vegan even though I lived like one. But... the diet aspect of it made feel really uncomfortable. I was always healthy and had a good approach to food, but I am an anxious person since a child and tend to obsess over things and I guess that this aspect of my personality was exacerbated by the restrictions veganism implies. After a "honeymoon" couple of months I started to wake up with this knot on my chest, feel super anxious every time I had to shop for food, obsess with food labels, eating out and the possibility of making a mistake made me avoid it totally... I ate well and a lot, but when anxious I tend to lose weight and I am already small and thin so it became a problem. But anxiety and how I started to relate to food was the real problem.

Food has a cultural and emotional dimension but it was the emotional aspect of it that took a toll on me and not because I missed anything, but just because food restrictions controlled my life, it was like I was anticipating a decision about food all the time. And I'm a perfectionist so I really wanted to be a good example of a balanced vegan. But I was feeling miserable and usually the advices people give have more to do with nutrition mistakes and I don't see much about the emotional aspect of it, it's like a secondary thing. I also have a history of depression and I am doing therapy and this was all discussed with my doctor.

So... I decided to become vegetarian while still having veganism as my moral compass. It's been a month and I feel great, I actually feel free? Which in a way makes me sad:/ The anxiety went away and I gained the weight I had lost but in reality I didn't drown myself in eggs/cheese/milk, I eat pretty much what I did before and go vegetarian if there isn't vegan when eating out and let go of the labels obsession and just stick with the obvious. I still embrace the rest of the lifestyle, but it seems that I had a problem with the mindset necessary to be vegan.

My motivation was actually spiritual. I've been practicing yoga for many years (know many vegetarians) and while studying the philosophy behind it and gaining an understanding of ahimsa based religions I started to question if I was living aligned with my beliefs and veganism seemed to fit.
I still feel guilty for going back but I'm trying to find peace with accepting that my mental health is more important than being perfect and that an all or nothing approach and absolutisms deny the complexity of ourselves and the world.

Are you vegetarian for any of these reasons? Is vegetarianism a compromise when the best option (veganism) doesn't seem possible for you? Did you feel at any point that your were developing some type of eating disorder?

Thank you in advance! I've been reading other threads and you seem generally kind and I appreciate that
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#2 Old 12-15-2015, 12:10 PM
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Hello and welcome.

It's important to remember that veganism isn't about restriction or perfection, but doing the least harm to animals that you can reasonably do. If you suffer from disordered eating and food-related anxiety and if a commitment to veganism is exacerbating these problems, then you should just do the best you can while keeping yourself healthy. It seems like you're already doing just that. Maybe if you make progress in your therapy sessions, you can move towards veganism again. Maybe not. Keep an open mind and try not to berate yourself over something that's beyond your control. VB is for vegetarians as well as vegans, and who knows-- you might read something here that will make veganism seem easy and attainable for you.

I have had issues with disordered eating in the past, but in my case, veganism was a big help in my recovery. When I was able to let go of the guilt I felt about my food choices, I relaxed in other areas as well. Now eating, once a source of anguish for me, is an absolute joy. I hope that it will be again for you, too.
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#3 Old 12-15-2015, 05:26 PM
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Welcome Beetroot Me!

I have struggled with Anorexia Nervosa, binge/purge subtype, and now EDNOS for many years. Whether I was an omnivore or vegan (I skipped the vegetarian step) it didn't matter. I have probably come much further in recovery as a vegan than I did as an omnivore, if only because I was able to break through my acceptable weight barrier after years of holding on and get to a bit of a healthier place. That wasn't because of being vegan, it was because I was ready. I am still a work in progress, and sometimes I go backwards with my ED. For me personally, food has little to do with my ED and my mental illnesses (I have others too including anxiety). Food is merely a tool. So changing my diet really didn't make anything worse. I feel I eat far more of a variety of food as a vegan than I did as an omnivore ironically. Restriction is really only a problem in social settings like at work (other than when I make the choice to restrict) so I make sure I bring lots of my own food to share, or when traveling I research local vegan fare and bring my own stuff etc. I think I was as anal about planning meals and menus as an omnivore as I am being vegan. I can see though, in the beginning, I DID have to think about it all a lot because it was all very new to me. Now it is second nature. But I was in a stronger frame of mind when I went vegan. Had I been sicker at that time I might have struggled more and become obsessive about it. I can see that happening if you are prone to anxiety. Sometimes smaller steps are the way to go.

One positive benefit that came directly from being vegan was participating in some animal rights activism. I am VERY shy and have avoidant personality disorder, have had it for many years, some worse than others, went through psychiatric inpatient hospital stays because of it, even had a psychotic episode or two. The activism came from being so passionate about a cause, and it helped me push through my fears and overcome the trap they put me in. I gained a tremendous amount of self confidence, even tabled all on my own at a local college, and passed out leaflets around schools and downtown streets. I was able to finish college shortly after starting this activism, and graduated 20 years after dropping out from severe depression. I was able to pursue and acquire the career I coveted for years. And most importantly, it helped me stop focusing on my body and eating disorder. I was able to put on weight...had to...because I needed every ounce of energy to finish school, earn a certification, land my job, and keep volunteering. Even as a moderator, trust me when I say it took lots of coaxing from others before I accepted this voluntary position, and I still sometimes wonder what on earth I am doing lol. I think there are people on these boards who are far more qualified, but I do the best I can.

I don't have much more to add. I think NoWheyHose said it all very beautifully. Just do the best you can, small steps, and keep up with your recovery! Peace!

In the end, only kindness matters. - Jewel



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#4 Old 12-16-2015, 08:41 AM
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Originally Posted by no whey jose View Post
It's important to remember that veganism isn't about restriction or perfection, but doing the least harm to animals that you can reasonably do.
Thank you for your message ^_^
I just wanted to focus on what you wrote about what veganism is not because in theory I agree, I would even say that it is about expansion of compassion, that's how I approached it in the first place. But the practice of it implies restriction because the world relies so much on animal products that we stumble on it all the time, so an effort must be made to avoid those products and find alternatives.

Part of my anxiety also comes from that "rule/obligation". If there's a birthday cake I'll eat a little bit in the same way that I take a sip of alcohol when there a toast and I don't even drink. No one is going to buy more alcohol or cake because of me, but I know that on some circles I would be seen as bad as a meat eater for doing that. And we all live with constrains, as a non food example, I bet we all saw a piece of clothing we loved and just couldn't afford. On top of that I now consider what it's made of, but I don't feel restricted, at least not in the same way as I do with food. But this brings me to the label and being consistent with the label, because in reality I don't drink milk, never was a cheese person and very rarely eat eggs. But if someone else cooks something or I eat out there will probably be some of it and I'll eat if there's no suitable alternative.

Right now this works for me, maybe I'll be able to get into the mindset needed to go all the way
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#5 Old 12-16-2015, 08:48 AM
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Thanks Naturebound!

I guess Veganism/vegetarianism can work as a shift needed in our lives because it implies awareness and we never know where something small might take us. In a way it seems to me that it has something to do with empowerment, because when we do things/eat things/buy things with pure intention and not just by accident or habit we have to pay attention and truly choose.

I'm glad Veganism opened such a great path for you! All the best! ^_^
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#6 Old 12-16-2015, 08:56 AM
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It helps if you don't consider the non-vegan offering edible. It took some time with dairy and eggs, but now I don't view non-vegan items as "food," so the thought of eating them even in social situations isn't worth entertaining. It's as if I were offered a piece of old rubber at a party; even if all the guests were gnawing on rubber, I wouldn't feel obligated to join them! When I'm at a restaurant and I see a cupcake that has eggs in it, I don't wish that I could eat the cupcake. I get angry that anyone would ruin a cupcake by putting something disgusting in it, but I don't feel that I'm being restricted from eating the cupcake because eggs are disgusting to me. If the cupcake was made with urine or dish soap or some other weird substance, I would feel the same. After a few years, that's just how I feel about animal products. I don't know if that's a common experience or not, but it certainly helps!
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#7 Old 12-16-2015, 09:13 AM
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I see your point. I don't crave for meat or fish and never enjoyed touching it or cooking with it while growing up, so even though some smells remind me of family meals (I can recreate most of them because the seasoning is herbs based \o/) I still see it as food but not food for me, it's like an intolerance.

But aren't there vegans who would still enjoy milk and eggs but just decide not to eat them? I know everything about these products and can still consume them without feeling disgusted. Is it the distance we create from this products that helps with stop seeing these as food?
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#8 Old 12-16-2015, 09:25 AM
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Originally Posted by Beetroot Me View Post
I still embrace the rest of the lifestyle, but it seems that I had a problem with the mindset necessary to be vegan.
At the risk of making myself sound "simple", or maybe its that im not a spiritual person, but I really think you may be overthinking a lot of this and trying to live an almost stereotypical vegan. Food is just a necessary part of the day, you need to nourish yourself, and vegans just choose to have that nourishment not come from the bodies of other creatures. sure there are a lot of outspoken militant type vegans, and that's great as its important to spread the knowledge to people who may not know any better, but in the same regard I think there are a lot of other people who's diets and lifestyles just don't include animal products and for 22 hours out of the day when they are not eating are just going about their day. i've always felt there was something damaging about fully engorging yourself in a principle and spending all of your energies on one specific topic; you're going to burn yourself out eventually and move on, and what was once so important to you, falls by the wayside.

I've never thought of my veganism as being on a restrictive diet at all; I eat too much sometimes, indulge in junk food, drink alcohol several times a week, dont practice any type of meditation or spiritual searching, ( I am absolutely not diminishing those that do in anyway), I work on old cars, and have a fabrication shop and work in a laboratory. theres not a lot of stereotypical vegan behavior there, but I feel there are a lot of other maybe not so model vegans out there, and that's important too, to show non veg's that theres nothing strange and unusual about it, just a few differences.
I apologize, I think I've gotten off topic, just something that's been floating around in the old noggin recently.
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#9 Old 12-16-2015, 09:55 AM
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Thanks Muttley!

I do understand what you wrote. But you see, when searching for guidance quite often coming out of nowhere comes a person who doesn't give you the benefit of the doubt and speaks with great authority about veganism (I haven't see this with vegetarians). My overthinking comes from dealing with that all or nothing approach where my anxieties were seen as weaknesses. "Oh yeah, what about the animals?!" I met this sort of thing online many times. My life belongs to me and I'll do whatever I want with it but feeling the judgement around makes it difficult. If it helps understanding where I come from, dealing with meat eaters who try to challenge me doesn't bother me at all, but I feel differently about parts of the vegan community who make others feel less and who live inside a dogma.

I guess something I'm taking from my last months is that we should be careful to whom we look for when needing help and inspiration. Some people mean well but are not really compassionate or good role models. I recently found Colleen Patrick Godreau and really like her style.

You were not off topic at all, thanks!
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#10 Old 12-16-2015, 10:36 AM
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[QUOTE=Beetroot Me;3847241Is it the distance we create from this products that helps with stop seeing these as food?[/QUOTE]

I think so, yes. It used to be food to me and then one day I realized it wasn't.
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#11 Old 12-16-2015, 02:54 PM
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To be slightly negative, and something i read awhile back on a welding instagram page, but can be applied to basically every facet of social media; social media can be surmised as being 'where you lie to strangers and trick them into thinking that your f*cking rad' and sell people on yourself to either gain Likes, followers, etc for page profits, narcisism or whatever.

Instagram search #whatveganseat or read comments on a popular veg page or something and you'll convince yourself that every other vegan or vegetarian in the world is off living on a beach paradise somewhere, eating papaya, drinking bright pink smoothies and falling asleep in hammocks.when in reality, i assume most us went through something like my day; woke up around 4am in a lumpy mattress that needs to be replaced but im cheap, got ready for work, made a benevolent bacon and chao spicy cheese sandwich for my commute in to work/ breakfast, had a few bananas throughout the morning, ate some leftover seitan stir fry and rice from last night for lunch, screwed around at work, came home to meet a buddy for a few after work light beers on my porch and now im lazily searching for something in the fridge or freezer that wont take much to make, probably some gardein chik'n something something with whatever else and hot sauce. Not so glamourous and no one in social media would be interested in it, but its sustainable, didnt really require any extra effort over eating leftover chicken for lunch or a real bacon sandwich.

Be happy with what you are doing, find something you can stick to and is sustainable, and dont concern yourself with what you perceive your neighbors are doing, since alot of it could be for show.
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Last edited by Muttley; 12-16-2015 at 02:57 PM.
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#12 Old 12-16-2015, 03:15 PM
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Be happy with what you are doing, find something you can stick to and is sustainable, and dont concern yourself with what you perceive your neighbors are doing, since alot of it could be for show.
Thank you

I see what you are saying also in an oversimplification on veganism. I don't think it is generally that difficult but I do see ethics as situational and because of it contexts matter. Family, country, city, work, finances, mental health... Many aspects of our lives that we don't get to decide can influence our perception of what's doable and what's not. It may be just a perception not truly based on reality but just as marketeers know "perception is reality".

Social media does shape a lot of how we see the world and in terms of food it can be quite glamorous focused indeed (can't stand the juicing thing ^_^). But to balance your post I also see things I would never say were plant based recipes and because I like to cook ended up feeling inspired and it worked really well. Knowing how to cook and enjoying it makes a big difference
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