Health perils of a vegan diet plus … it’s just not working to save the planet – How I became an ex-vegan
Yes, veganism and I broke up. I am no longer vegan. I am officially an ex-vegan.
I’m over it already. I’ve already been lambasted for a couple of weeks by vegans who feel betrayed by my decision. Of course, I was just a “bad vegan” who “wasn’t doing it right.”
And after spending the past few days researching what other ex-vegan bloggers have written about their split with veganism … what I’m going to say here is not new. Many, many people have had the same experience that I did. And many of them have written and spoken about it quite eloquently – see below for links.
Mahatma Gandhi could not sustain a vegan diet. The Dalai Lama could not sustain a vegetarian diet. And most spiritual figures have not even bothered to try. I used to be very hard on them about this, but I have reconsidered. I owe them an apology.
In my last blog post, I detailed some of the symptoms that I had been experiencing on a vegan diet from lack of DHA and EPA. That was only a partial list of symptoms. Toward the end, I was feeling utterly exhausted, my joints were painful and dry, my skin never seemed to heal completely, I was dropping things in the kitchen on a regular basis. Blood vessels were protruding on my temples. I was getting muscle cramps constantly. My muscle tone and conditioning was just … off. The white hairs on my head were proliferating quickly. My teeth were feeling sensitive. My face seemed weirdly and asymmetrically puffy. The bone in my right calf was aching on a regular basis. It seemed that veins in my legs were becoming slightly varicose. My eyes felt weird and hard to focus. And I was waking up angry every single morning. Really angry. My chronic shoulder pain – which I had virtually eliminated with EFT tapping years earlier – suddenly flared up again at a level of intensity that made absolutely no sense and was driving me insane. There were other symptoms, these are just a few of them. The symptoms were not getting better with time. They were getting worse.
Then, as I had mentioned a couple articles ago, I seemed to be extremely sensitive to a ridiculously growing list of foods. I was not one ever to have allergies in my life (except to morphine, but that’s a story for another day ;) ) … and suddenly I was having to eliminate foods like crazy.
It was getting to where there was literally nothing I could eat. I had actually become fearful of food. Fearful that anything I might eat would trigger a skin breakout within hours.
I knew something was very, very wrong.
A few weeks before I ended my vegan diet, a man dropped dead of a heart attack right in front of my apartment building on my street in San Francisco. I heard someone on the street saying “call 911,” the lights almost immediately come over the hill. And they did CPR in plain view of my apartment. I could see his pale dead face through a gap in the trees on the street, as they hopelessly attempted to revive him.
That it happened so close to me seemed like a message. I was in danger.
The last weekend of my vegan existence, I had to call my neighbor because I was having heart pain and shooting pain in my arms. She kindly checked in on me every few hours for the next few days. I felt extremely thirsty and could not quench my thirst no matter how much water I drank. I was scared. My mind flashed back to the man who had a heart attack. I knew it was time to make a change.
And I knew the change was both physical and metaphorical. Because while vegetarian and vegan was originally a choice based in compassion, the truth is that veganism had turned out to be a hard-nosed, dogmatic philosophy that had – ironically – shut down my heart to my fellow humans. And even to my own body, which was screaming out for help.
I wrote to my dad and told him I was feeling scared. He told me about a time in college when he had been trying to lose weight and went to the doctor. The prescription was for him to eat something more substantial. My dad suggested I eat the “morally acceptable equivalent of a cheeseburger.”
I had been feeding my cats meat and fish during almost the entire time I was vegetarian and vegan (a total of three and a half years). Finally, at wit’s end … I popped open one of the cans of high-quality tuna from which I’ve been giving Fritz the Cat juice for a couple of years … and I ate fish for the first time in three and a half years.
I ate the entire can, and I noticed that fish felt good in my body. I noticed that the thought of eating even one more vegetable or legume was absolutely abhorrent.
For a few more days, I still felt in a panic. There was a horrible pressure at my right temple that persisted for days. Some mornings, I woke up with crushing headaches. I walked to Whole Foods to get a dozen certified humane eggs, and on the way home, the muscles in my legs were cramping all the way up and down. I felt fragile, and my neighbor said I looked frail.
Did you know that taurine is a co-factor for the body’s use of the critical mineral magnesium? … and that if you don’t have enough of the co-factors, it does not matter how much of a nutrient you’re getting … Sure, nuts and seeds are high in magnesium, I should be getting plenty of magnesium. I was even supplementing magnesium. But my body could not use it because I was lacking the co-factors due to a strict vegan diet. This is scary stuff, my friend.
Yes, I learned a lot about nutrition over the past few weeks. And I knew a lot about nutrition already. I started to feel pretty annoyed about the vegan propaganda that I had been believing for over a year.
Because if you do the research, it is abundantly clear that it is NOT POSSIBLE for most humans to get the nutrition they need on a strict vegan diet. We can go down a long, long list of nutrients, and that is probably just the tip of the iceberg. Because even the most well-informed nutritionists have no idea about the unknown factors … what we don’t even understand yet about how combinations of nutrients lead to optimal performance in human beings.
Vegans will sometimes talk about B-12. And every so often you will hear one talk about DHA. But in my over one year as a vegan, I never heard anyone talk about vitamins A and D, how many people cannot convert ALA to EPA and DHA, how many people cannot convert beta-carotene to vitamin A, how fat soluble vitamins are not the same for the human body as vitamins in vegetables. I never heard vegans acknowledging bio-availability issues. I never heard them being honest about calcium deficiency, dental problems that have plagued countless ex-vegans, the widespread prevalence of multiple nutritional deficiencies in long-term vegans … and on and on and on …
It was a slow awakening process for me. I certainly was aware of my symptoms early on. About six months into being vegetarian, my skin issues worsened significantly. But I never connected that with diet. In retrospect, it’s entirely possible that I had exhausted a lot of my DHA/EPA reserves, and so my body was becoming more sensitive and inflamed.
The truly dramatic symptoms began, however, when I went from vegetarian to vegan. Maybe I had already used up so many reserves, I didn’t have much left. A vegan diet certainly was not providing the nutrition I needed.
But vegans were so certain that EVERYONE could thrive on a vegan diet, that I was sure the problem was just a simple missing link. Some tiny adjustment that would reverse the symptoms. Perhaps a supplement or a new exotic food.
So I tried just about everything. Adding more raw food for enzymes. Probiotics were indeed somewhat helpful, but they are equally helpful on any diet. Eating fermented vegetables. Eating chia seeds, flax seeds, flax seed oil. I tried kelp noodles and maca and other foods I had never heard of before this. And I started taking about 25 supplements over the course of a few months.
NOTHING WORKED. Moreover, I had become completely dependent on supplements for even minimal health. When I slacked off a little bit on my iron supplement for example, things began to crash fast.
I’m sorry, but a diet that requires that many supplements and still has alarming symptoms like this is not in any way natural or healthy. There may be a few people on this planet who can maintain optimal health long-term on a vegan diet. I am not one of them. And I am willing to bet a lot of money those people who can maintain optimal health on a vegan diet are few and far between.
If you are on a vegan diet, I would encourage you to research extensively these nutrients at a minimum, because there is a good chance you are deficient in some or all of them:
Other B vitamins
Vitamin K2 (This one is a killer, don’t overlook it. It is not to be confused with Vitamin K1, they are not the same thing.)
In parallel to this slow awakening to the fact that a vegan diet was wreaking havoc to my health … I was also becoming rapidly disillusioned with the entire vegan ideology. I still had not heard from very many ex-vegans, or maybe I had tuned them out. I was immersed in vegan culture, and for the most part it was very angry and very ugly.
(There were of course some shining exceptions to the rule, some people practicing true compassion. But for a movement based supposedly on compassion, what I was encountering more often was judgment, attack, and hatred, even infighting among vegans.)
First off, in many vegan groups in which I attempted to participate, it became clear quickly that one was expected to adhere to the “religion” no matter how little sense it made.
Chastising people for eating honey while consuming industrial bee-pollinated almonds, for starters? Seriously?
Chastising people for riding horses (people who clearly love their horses) while killing your unborn child?
Chastising people for eating fish while consuming non-organic, pesticide-laden food that kills billions of birds, insects, fish, and other creatures every year?
The inconsistencies began to add up. And, I hate to say it, because I really do believe that most vegans absolutely have the best intentions, as I did … There was no ability in these groups to grapple with the hard questions.
I even frequently had the thought “wow, this person is really dumb” when conversing in vegan groups. The massive oversimplification, blind adherence to arbitrary “authority” figures, hypocrisy, and contradiction, boggled my mind.
And I don’t like calling people “dumb.” I don’t think it’s very respectful. Only when I did my deeper research on deficiencies of B-12 and DHA/EPA did it make more sense. I was dealing with an entire population of people whose brains – unbeknownst to them – were not functioning properly due to malnutrition.
Meanwhile, even before I came to the conclusion that most humans do in fact HAVE TO eat meat, fish, dairy, and eggs, at this stage of our evolution … it was becoming increasingly clear to me that veganism does not really solve anything.
Yes, we might be able to reduce the massive overpopulation of factory farmed livestock – and I don’t think anyone can really argue against that proposition.
But feed all humans the grain intended for livestock? Really? In an era of epidemic gluten intolerance? We are going to look to grain as our “savior”? I don’t think humans can live healthfully on grain.
And we won’t have solved our overall problems anyway, as many ex-vegan bloggers far more well-versed on these subjects have very carefully pointed out.
For me, veganism was about the end of death, literally. I want to abolish death on this planet.
But as time went on, it became more and more clear (as one of my coaching clients eloquently put it) … that veganism is a failed attempt to solve a quantum problem with forced Newtonian “solution.” Veganism does not actually escape the ego’s “cycle of life and death.” It merely attempts to adjust its way around it.
I will also say that the dogmatic, aggressive behavior of many of the vegans I witnessed (and how I witnessed my own personality change while on a diet of malnutrition) … was one of the biggest factors in me turning away from veganism. What began as a philosophy of “compassion” was more often turning into an “us versus them,” elitist, obnoxious, disrespectful, and totally hypocritical bunch of crap.
But the final death blow to veganism for me came from the intelligence of my own body. One day I had to step back and realize – even in the midst of tremendous malnutrition-induced brain fog – that it simply was not working. Thousands of dollars invested in supplements and special foods … and my alarming symptoms were only getting WORSE.
Then veganism is dead and buried. Once you realize that most humans cannot be healthy on a vegan diet, the other arguments in favor of veganism just become ludicrous.
It was only after I had decided to begin incorporating animal products … first fish, then eggs, then high vitamin K2 cheeses, and finally my first taste of red meat in probably close to four years … that I went online and researched about ex-vegans and why they left the movement.
The stories are fascinating and what’s truly remarkable is how similar were the debilitating symptoms that many of them were experiencing. If you’re interested, an excellent source of very thoughtful interviews on this subject are on the Let Them Eat Meat blog here.
Read a bunch of those Let Them Eat Meat interviews with an open mind and I think you’ll agree … it’s become very clear that our global problems, while admittedly dire, are not going to be solved by the mind that created them. Veganism is a mindset that operates within the failing paradigm, so it cannot solve the problems. It’s going to take a quantum leap. (More on that below.)
So that’s the story of my breakup with veganism. Again, I am not recommending anything to anyone at this time. I definitely feel better since I started eating animal products again. It’s clear to me that I used up my reserves of crucial nutrients because right now I want to eat animal products ALL THE TIME. I would imagine this will drop back down to a more moderate level once my depleted reserves are replenished.
Now that I am officially an ex-vegan … I’ll just end with this. I no longer have that leering disrespect for other people’s bacon cravings. Sure, they could be less crass about it. They may have an omega 6 to omega 3 imbalance themselves from the S.A.D. diet.
On the other hand, these bacon lovers may just be listening at some primal level to what their body needs.
When I had my near-death experience in 2006 and lost nearly half my blood, I was craving all kinds of weird foods – including red meat – for weeks after I got out of the hospital. Later, I researched it and discovered that every single food I craved was chock full of iron.
It turned out my body was absolutely trustworthy in telling me exactly what I needed to eat to replenish my blood.
I do believe, passionately, that all this can be reprogrammed at the level of the subconscious mind, but it’s not a small project. It would require a lot of commitment from a lot of people to accomplish it. We have to overturn the very deep-seated belief in the “cycle of life and death,” the genetic programming of humans, and the entire world we see. It’s a mammoth project.
Until that reprogramming occurs, the old rules apply. And I’ll tell you what I learned from this experience.
When idealism comes face to face with survival, for most of us, and rightly so, survival will win.
So yes, I am now an ex-vegan. I ate a cheeseburger, rare, two days ago for the first time in almost four years. It felt very satisfying. I ate the wheat bread and everything, didn’t order anything special. And my skin did not break out afterwards. I wonder if my food sensitivities will magically clear up along with everything else, now that I’m eating animal products again. It’s too soon to say. Stay tuned :)
Update: Please do be sure to read our follow-up article here on Why the Vegan Philosophy Collapses in A Pile of Contradictions and Hypocrisy.
About the Author:
Erika Awakening is a Harvard Law School graduate and former practicing attorney. She left the rat race to become a location-independent entrepreneur, holistic life coach, blogger, speaker, healer, and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT tapping) expert. Erika Awakening is one of the world's foremost experts on eradicating limiting beliefs and lifestyle design on your own terms. Learn more about Erika Awakening
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