My Transition to Veganism (Part One)
For most of my life, I’ve been a vegetarian. I stopped eating meat when I was seven, then seafood at age ten. Vegetarianism was all I ever knew and something I was very proud of. After all, my lifestyle was more sustainable for the environment, better for my health, and wasn’t harming animals . . . or so I thought.
When I was diagnosed with anorexia at age thirteen and subsequently placed in treatment, my vegetarianism was met with skepticism from the doctors and nurses who treated me. (Read all about that here.) Defending my reasons for becoming a vegetarian was immensely challenging and ultimately made me prouder and more secure in the choice I’d made to eliminate meat from my diet all those years ago. But in treatment, accessing quality vegetarian food wasn’t easy and often involved eating the same foods over and over again to meet my nutritional requirements. Tofu (usually undercooked), beans, peanut butter, and, yes, dairy and eggs were staples in my recovery and foods I relied on for protein and fat, as well as my doctors’ approval. I knew only one vegan in treatment, who had to drink vegan protein shakes several times a day to compensate for the nutrients the hospital was unable to provide him with via solid foods.
Once I was in recovery and no longer needed inpatient care, I continued to incorporate animal products into my daily diet. My mother’s baked goods—sweet breads and cookies with butter and milk and eggs and more—that were comfort foods during my refeeding days continued to be in high demand. I’d challenge my irrational fears of food by going out for ice cream and pizza and allowing myself slices of cake and pie at celebrations. In retrospect, this was all important for my recovery, and by eating these foods and defying my disordered thoughts, I was able to get to the better place in my life that I’m currently in. In fact, until recently, I’d never even considered the possibility of going vegan.
That changed a couple of months ago. I was on Reddit, like I often am when I have nothing else to do, when the vegetarian subreddit I follow linked a post uploaded to the vegan subreddit. I don’t recall the exact post but I decided to check out the subreddit and see what it was all about. And it was . . . opinionated, as I expected. But it also provided me with a wealth of knowledge and ideologies that I’d previously been unexposed to or unwilling to acknowledge.
One user had shared a 2019 Ted Talk by a vegan activist named Earthling Ed, which I watched. The whole talk was very compelling but it was the last few minutes when Ed talked about vegetarianism and how it simply wasn’t enough that really struck me. I was shocked and heartbroken to learn what went on in the dairy and egg industry and inspired to dig deeper. The more I educated myself on these industries that were supplying the same products I regularly ate, the more compelled I felt to make a change. How could I say I loved animals and then drink milk from a cow who’d been forcibly impregnated and separated from her baby in the process of producing it? How I could tell omnivores that eating meat was wrong and still enjoy an egg salad sandwich when thousands of day-old male chicks are macerated in the egg industry every day?
I realized I didn’t want to eat dairy and eggs anymore. I used to think I needed them for protein but countless scientific studies have proven that we don’t need animal products to survive and in fact are healthier without them. So what if they tasted good? Taste, to me, was far less important than the life of an innocent animal who didn’t deserve to be exploited and slaughtered. (After all, the milk and dairy industry = the meat industry). I also realized I was in a place in my recovery where I could make this transition for all the right reasons.
When I was battling anorexia, I flirted with the idea of going vegan so I’d have an excuse to not eat some of my biggest fear foods, namely butter, cheese, and cream. The animal rights aspect that’s what veganism is really about wasn’t part of the picture; in my mind, all that mattered was restriction. Five years later, however, I have no interest in reverting to restrictive behaviors ever again. In fact, one of my initial concerns when I made this switch was that I’d inadvertently cut out foods, miss out on crucial nutrients, and hinder the progress I’d made in recovery. But that didn’t happen. If anything, veganism has benefited my recovery by introducing me to new and highly nutritious foods, inspiring me to cook for myself more, and making me appreciate and enjoy food in a way I never did before.
After eating a 90% plant-based diet for a couple of months, I became completely vegan two weeks ago. Everyone’s motivations for becoming a vegan are different but for me, it was for the animals and the earth. It’s been an incredible journey so far, and I’m proud of myself for making this change and would strongly encourage others to do the same.
Stay tuned for part two next week, where I discuss how I transitioned to veganism and the impact it has had on my life so far.