Exploring Dietary Changes

Recently we’ve been experimenting with adding some dairy back into our diet. It started with Kesa not wanting to eat many of the foods that we all ate and wanting to eat cheese and yogurt. She always wanted them whenever we would go to either of the grandparents places and so sometimes I would buy those foods for her on occasion too because I wanted her to eat and if that is what she wanted, I felt as though I shouldn’t deprive her because of my dietary choices. I always have believed in following what works for the individual and not forcing my beliefs on others or my children so I let her have what she was craving.

Autumn has always been my good eater. She eats everything I make and likes everything I make too, whereas Kesa has always been picky and not very into the whole vegan thing. I feel like I have to beg and plead with her to try anything and it is like pulling teeth to get her to ado something that she doesn’t want to do. When we first went vegan when she was a baby, she ate different things and was going along quite well on the vegan diet. Still, often times when we went to my parents place or Craig’s parent’s place, the girls would have some dairy or foods that contain dairy, even though we never let them have meat. I never wanted them to have the dairy either and would feel so sad inside and worried about how bad those foods were for them and for the animals. I was fresh into my vegan regime and was determined to never have any animal products ever again. I was convinced that this was the healthiest diet and that because my reasons for doing this were ethical and spiritual and for compassion, I would never “cheat” or have animal products again. Even Craig would have some cheese or milk or sour cream, but me, never, ever.

I put a lot of information in my head about veganism and convinced myself that I was doing the right thing for my body, mind and spirit and for our whole family’s well-being too. On my vegan journey, learning and experimenting, I have gone raw, done a macrobiotic approach and even this last winter in 2012, I was on an  raw fruitarian diet for 3 months. Although, I never did mention that on my blog, I felt extremely light and expansive eating that way and it made me very out of my body, almost high. I had to come off of that and add back in cooked foods because I noticed myself getting more wrapped up in my ego and more isolated and feeling different than everybody else.

I am realizing more and more these days how extreme I have been with my vegan diet. I will have been vegan for 4 years this September and for the past 2 years have felt really unhealthy. Ever since 2010, when I was approaching my 2 year vegan anniversary, I was beginning to notice that the way I was eating was not satisfying me. I would need to eat a lot and lot of food just to feel satisfied or normal. The bulk of what I was eating was baked things, like banana bread, or things with oats and nuts and foods that were heavier and that made me feel more grounded. I would often wonder why I need to eat so much and felt like I was binge eating. The other vegan blogs I would look at all seemed to mostly be veggie dishes with some grains, salads or smoothies. Whenever I would try to follow that way of eating, I felt deprived and too light, I needed to eat a lot if I ate those types of meals and still, I would need to eat again in a few hours, usually a lot of bread or cereal, nuts, seeds and dried fruit. I was consuming a lot of calories (thousands and thousands a day), but still I never felt satisfied. I felt light and airy and so often in my head, over-analyzing and thinking so much, believing that this was all very good and healthy, even spiritual of me.

I got pregnant in the winter of 2010 and started having cravings for animal foods, cheese, eggs and even meat too. I felt so guilty for wanting those things and would search around the internet for answers, wondering why I felt this way. Surely, it couldn’t be my body wanting those foods that I had convinced myself were so unnecessary and only selfishly desired. I let myself have some dairy and meat in the first few months of my pregnancy and I got really sick, mucousy and low feeling, but in another way, I was feeling more satisfied, balanced and grounded. At the fourth month into my pregnancy, I went back to a vegan diet because I felt so guilty for not sticking to a vegan diet and also I was still feeling sick. The remainder of my pregnancy was healthy and I felt really good again sticking to the vegan diet. I exercised moderately and ate enough to keep me satisfied. It was working again.

Ever since Serafina was born and I was breastfeeding her I have felt completely and utterly exhausted. For the first few months, I was even feeling pretty depressed and isolated. I would need to eat a lot and lot of vegan foods (especially baked things) to get that satisfied feeling, again consuming upwards of 3,000 + calories a day, but still I never felt truly satisfied. I still feel tired all of the time and I have no energy for anything, even though she has been weaned for 5 months now. I thought that my low energy had a lot to do with the fact that I had been breastfeeding her all the time and that feeling that way was just normal. Being so low on energy has also made me feel more depressed again. I feel so bad for feeling this way and so frustrated  that nothing I have done has helped. I moved more into the raw direction again this summer to try and get more energy, eating 5-6 small mostly raw, vegan meals a day and I have also been exercising more and more to try and see if that would help (I even lost 20 lbs), but the truth is my body is telling me that it is tired and that it needs something different. I am still not exactly sure what that something is, but I am now at a place where I am willing to listen and be open to trying a new approach if that means I can feel healthy again.

I still feel in my heart that taking foods from animals is wrong and I feel that compassion for the animals well-being and freedom inside of myself. I don’t want to have to do this, but in the past week of having even just a little bit of milk and cheese (all the while at war with myself and trying to not feel guilty about it), I am feeling more energetic and the way I remember feeling years ago. I am less depressed feeling and more able to be a better mother and wife too. I am still not exactly sure what I am going to do, but we are just going to take it slow and I am going to see what is working for my body, by getting in touch with those messages again, rather than ignoring them and trying to follow some rules about living and eating and feeling guilty for not doing things “right” or perfectly according to the vegan or health things that I have read.

I never ever would have thought that I would come to this point where I felt a vegan diet could possibly unhealthy and unsustainable. I know from the vegan perspective there is a lot of judgement on people who say that they can’t stick to it any more and they try and tell them that they just “aren’t doing it right” and give them suggestions on what they should be doing and how they really should be eating. I used to pass those judgements on people too when I heard that they are giving up trying to be vegan. The thought of someone deciding to add animal foods back in their diet, especially going paleo or eating meat again after knowing that they could go without it made me feel really sad and confused for them. I really did feel so good at first on the diet that I was convinced I could stick with it forever and I can’t say that I didn’t try. I’ve always been a very “good” vegan. I never did cheat or give into cravings, except in the case of my pregnancy, where I had to see if it was what I needed and was afraid for the health of my growing child. I never let myself have any slip-ups otherwise and always kept myself convinced that this was the way to live and to eat.

The truth is though, that the more I read of other people’s stories who have discovered that a vegan diet didn’t work for them, the more I see how it is the ones who actually stick to it 100% that fail and go paleo or give up on a vegetarian diet altogether because the ones who claim to be perfectly vegan for years and years have admittedly had some animal products behind the scenes on occasion. The people that I have observed in life who are more balanced and not so out there, do have some animal products in their diet that help to keep them more grounded and able to live a harmonious existence, not feeling isolated or different from other people the way vegans often do. When I look around me at the people that I love and the ones who are so good to me, loving and accepting, all of these people are not so restrictive about their diet. They allow themselves to eat things and not feel guilty about it. They are not trying so hard to maintain such a high ideal or be so perfect all the time. The ones who are striving to live up to the vegan ideal and be so perfect, are often self-righteous and harbour a superior attitude over others, which is something I believe is not at all about compassion at all. Most vegans don’t even realize that they are becoming so estranged from reality and enshrouded in their egos because the initial reason why most people choose this diet is to help them become better, more loving and compassionate people. They would never want to admit that it could be accomplishing exactly the opposite in regards to their family, friends, fellow men and even themselves.

Diet is not the only high ideal I place on myself and I know that there are many more things that I can do too, messages that my true self is trying to tell me, that I ignore. I have always been a perfectionist and have always had a very big heart. I believe that the vegan diet for me was all about my heart and wanting to do the right thing for the suffering of the animals, that I completely ignored my own suffering and the suffering of my family. The fact that we can never go to family dinners, or to a restaurant or a movie or a birthday party. The fact that I never allow myself any enjoyment and was even depriving my kids of some enjoyment makes me have to ask how compassionate I have been to my fellow men? I have been so concerned with my diet and with doing the right thing for the animals, that I have no time or energy for anything else, but to think about food, make recipes and cook all of our food. There is no grabbing convenient foods when you want to stick to a healthy vegan diet, everything has to be from scratch and homemade. All of our food is made with natural ingredients and by me in our kitchen. I put a lot of time and energy into trying to make this work, but in doing so, I have no time for much else in my day. I feel isolated and lonely and have for a long time now.

I do still think that a diet high in vegan foods is very healthy (and perhaps a strictly vegan diet can work for some people) so I am going to leave my recipes up for people to enjoy. I am also still passionate about choosing healthy, natural, organic foods. I do not plan on going to the other extreme or adding meat back into our lives. Craig does not want that either. He likes the way he feels on a vegetarian diet and is supportive of my decision to add in some organic dairy if that is what I want to do. I used to be so scared of telling him too about how I feel my bad feelings could be from our diet because I felt he liked me on this diet and cooking so many natural, homemade foods for our family. I wanted to please him and everyone else too who looked up to me for recipes or inspiration to be a vegan mom and raise their kids vegan. I have felt a lot of pressure on me for a long time to have the answers for everybody or to be a leader or an example to people, or some living proof that this could work for them and their families. We are still going to enjoy a mostly vegan diet with some dairy only when we feel is necessary. I do not plan on even having it everyday, but I do feel like I should be open and honest about it on here because I know that is why so many people come to my blog. Others are here because they have a connection to me as a person and other aspects of my life and so I am hoping too, that there will be not so much judgement and maybe even a little love and support from those of you who feel like they know me and can relate to my suffering, confusion and the inner turmoil I feel about having to let go of something that really does mean so much to me. I know that there are a few ladies out there too who have gone through the vegan diet experience and had it not work out for them either who can probably relate.

I have always strived to be me in this space and be open and honest with myself and others, so that is what I have attempted to do in this post. I am humble enough to admit that I am human and that I am not perfect and cannot stick to these high ideals that I have placed on myself, without breaking under the pressure. I am also eager to explore what other things I can let go of in my life so that I can live more free and allow myself to enjoy my life to the fullest. I still want to blog and share my life, but I feel as though I have to do so honestly. I don’t want to be put on a pedestal any more for being a vegan guru or some ideal perfection. I don’t want people to idolize me and my family because we are vegan or homeschool or seem to have everything together. I don’t even want the labels any more. I want to feel free to be myself and accept that there is a time for everything and that things change and people change. I don’t want to feel as though I have to fight against those changing seasons in my life in order to maintain any image, for anybody, even myself. I just want to give myself permission to be me, whoever that is, at whatever point in time and to know that it is perfectly acceptable to be whatever I am and feel however I am feeling.

I hope that there are some people out there reading who can understand this too and relate to what I am writing.

With an open heart,