Why I’m Not Vegan Anymore

by thethreepennyguignol

I’ve been vegetarian for pretty much my entire life. I’ve just never really liked meat, and did the usual baby-vegetarian thing of looking at my cats, looking at my chicken nuggets, and figuring that I didn’t want to put things in my mouth that came from another animal, something which had the figurative ability to snuggle on my lap during Saturday morning cartoons. For a long time – about fifteen years, aside from some brief breaks – I was just vegetarian and I was just fine with it and I politely ate my Quorn chick’n chunks in relative peace.

But as a bitch with the inability to do things by halves, when veganism started taking an upturn in my sphere of notice, I decided I had to give it a try, too. I read a lot of great books and watched a lot of great videos and I dived into it for a whole month, just to see what it was like. And I liked it! I really did. Yes, it was strange eating a diet devoid of fried egg brunches, but I felt good about the food I was eating. Not just the way that it tasted, though you best believe that I was fucking up some barbecue sweet potato bean nachos, but the way that I felt about what I was eating. I was acting in a way that aligned with my morals, and that felt good. Really good.

I stuck with being vegan, on and off, for a long time after that month was out. I liked it. I really enjoyed it. I felt healthy, I felt well-nourished, I was careful about taking my B12 supplements. I still ate cake and pizza and all that good stuff, and I didn’t feel like I was missing out on any part of the way I had lived my life before. Cheese? Who’s she? Never heard of her.

But veganism is a pattern of eating that naturally applies restrictions to what you can consume. As time went on, I found myself restricting my food in other ways – less calories, less fat, less sugar. Veganism became an easy way to extend those restrictions in a fashion that nobody was going to question. Oh, sorry, can’t have that slice of cake, or that burger bun, or that cheesy pasta. Vegan. Remember? Also, I’ve hit my calorie limit for the day and if I go over it I might have to go to the bathroom to purge and cry. But you know, the vegan thing too. That, mostly. Honestly. Not the bulimia at all. 

By the time that I figured out that I had managed to get to an outstandingly shitty place with my eating habits, I had forgotten almost all the reasons that I had gone vegan in the first place. I wasn’t doing it for the animals, or for the environment, even for my health – I was doing it because it got me out of eating. As I went(/go) about the long, grinding process of trying to get over my Bullshit, veganism has, inextricably and unfortunately, been tied up in my attempts to restrict and relapse.

You don’t have to look far to find people talking about how their veganism was employed to cover up an eating disorder, or how the restriction inherent in veganism guided them down a disordered path. It’s been hard to miss the spate of high-profile “ex-vegan” vloggers over the last year or so blaming their veganism for a myriad of wide-ranging health problems, while politely ignoring the fact that the actual veganism in their diet seemed far less problematic than the pseudoscience they were subscribing to. What started as a cottage industry in vegan lifestyle creators has turned into one built around “why I’m not vegan anymore” content that often focuses on the detrimental effects of veganism on their health, mental and physical.

And I’ve been thinking a lot about this kind of content lately – I’m still a vegetarian and can’t see myself ever not being one. I still eat a mostly vegan diet, but I don’t put that label on myself now to avoid the restrictions that come with it for me. And I have a lot of mixed feelings about the way that veganism is being presented with this new wave of content. Because yes, veganism is a restrictive diet, and yes, it can lead to disordered eating patterns, and yes, to some extent, that is what I used it for when I was at my worst. And I don’t want us to pretend that veganism isn’t something that can be unhealthy for people susceptible to disordered eating patterns, because it can be. Veganism is still a lifestyle that comes in for such mockery, and there’s an urge within the community to try and dismiss any negative press around it in the hopes of making it appeal to more people, but ignoring these factors isn’t going to do anyone any favours.

But it makes me really sad to think that these are the connections we’re making about veganism in the general societal conversation about plant-based eating. I totally and completely believe that you can eat a vegan diet in a way that’s healthy both physically and mentally. Veganism is, by its nature, a diet that has a number of restrictions it places on the food you can eat (and the clothes you can wear, depending on what kind of veganism you subscribe to), but there’s no reason to believe that veganism is inherently unhealthy in any way. If you’re coming to this article looking for a “veganism made me SICK and here are all the reasons you should AVOID it and probably also just drink smoothies made of GIBLETS to be on the safe side”, that’s not what you’re going to get. A well-planned vegan diet is healthy. Period.

I think it’s easy, if veganism is something you’re not interested in, to take in these claims of unhealthiness and disordered eating and use them as confirmation that you’re making the right choice. And it annoys me no end that I have been part of that – that I used veganism in an unhealthy way and as an extension of my garbage eating habits, and backed up some of these beliefs. I don’t doubt that a lot of people have totally legitimate reasons for not wanting to be vegan or giving up veganism, and I’m not trying to come for anyone who, like me, just shouldn’t for one reason or another.

But I wanted to write this article to say this: veganism, right now, is not a super healthy choice for me because of my problems with disordered eating. But I don’t believe that my experiences are extractable and applicable to everyone else, and I think the wave of content that nudges towards this conclusion is pretty erroneous. There are dozens of great examples of people living healthy, sustainable vegan lifestyles, and to apply my own experiences to them would be to undercut so much of what I still believe about veganism and the vegan community. This is why I’m no longer vegan – and also why I still think veganism is a perfect viable lifestyle choice for a lot of people.

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