I spent three years of my life as a vegan. And I loved it.
I loved learning about the positive impact that veganism has – on the environment, on the animals, on ourselves.
I devoured all the information I could, from documentaries to studies, to speeches. It was Gary Yourofsky’s youtube video, The Best Speech You Will Ever Hear that gave me the final push to make the plunge.
I was passionate, educated, and just trying to do my very best.
Veganism resonated, and still does, with my very core. The idea of doing no harm, and of treating the precious beings around us and earth, our home, with peace and kindness, means everything to me.
Theoretically, and in an ideal world, I would still be vegan. I would do no harm, none at all, and everything would be perfect.
However, life has a funny way of knowing our plans and intentions, and throwing a spanner, or sometimes a handful, into the works.
Mental illnesses, and the recovery from them, have a knack of influencing everything you do. Whether that be behaving in a particular way, having to tell some thoughts to shut up on the daily, or perhaps making choices that you brain doesn’t agree with. When people are mentally ill, they don’t become their illness, as that isn’t who they are, but rather they are influenced by it to varying degrees.
The eating disorder likes to sabotage things that are important to me. As it turns out, veganism was just another avenue that the eating disorder could run it’s nasty, slimy little slither down.
Although I promised everyone that my intentions were pure, that this was a new opportunity for me to start afresh and eat well, nobody really believed me, and understandably so.
I tried my best. I really did. And for three years too.
However, when you have an eating disorder which is based upon restriction and secrecy, deception and lies, largely removing safe foods from an already small list, can be detrimental.
I do want to make to clear that veganism did not cause, or set-off, or provoke the eating disorder. I was unwell for years before being vegan, and if it hadn’t been cutting out dairy and animal products, it would have been something else.
However, it’s important to repair what was broken in the past, and to do so, I had to learn how to eat again. From scratch. Everything I was afraid of.
Recovery from an eating disorder means challenging, hundreds of times each day, the voice in your head which tells you “no”, which holds you back, which restrains you.
Recovery for me involved learning how to eat foods that others had prepared for me, not being able to analyse the ingredients or how it was prepared. It involved learning how to not have to read the labels and ingredients lists before I ate anything. It involved learning to eat a wide range of foods, and learning what I truly disliked, or what didn’t sit right with me, rather than what is founded in fear and anxiety.
Part of recovery means ensuring to myself that my intentions with veganism and vegetarianism are pure. Honesty is of upmost importance. This meant that I have to eat all the foods I was afraid of, such as dairy and eggs, so that my brain could heal and the eating disorder could slowly be smothered out.
The fear of judgement from other people when I first switched back from being vegan to vegetarian, was outstanding. Everyone knew that I was vegan, and had been for a long time; it was part of who I was. However, everybody also knew, though in a slightly different way, about my silent struggle with the eating disorder. Perhaps that’s why everyone was so kind and supportive as they eventually found out about the change. There were some questions, merely out of curiousity and good intent, and it was hard to answer. But I think my honesty about recovery was well recieved. I am so grateful for the lack of judgement, and the magnitude of support.
And what a weird coincidence! I just took a break from writing this piece, and a coworker asked “you used to be vegan right, but now you are vegetarian?” and then “why did you change?” And as per usual I got a bit nervous and my heart beat a little faster, but it was completely okay and accepted. He was just thrilled I could eat ice cream now!
I am so very close to being able to say I’ve done it, I’ve won; I’ve fought the impossible battle of an eating disorder and come out the other side. And in doing so, I’ve had to do some hard things. Things that I don’t like or agree with, but they are necessary and right for my personal situation. Good things come from doing what is tough, rather than what is easy, uncomplicated – unchanged. Inertia is a human experience too.
My experience with veganism taught me that we cannot be perfect. That being the “perfect vegan” does not exist, and that every choice we make regardless of the label, all adds up in the long run. It’s the actions you take in the day-to-day, the intentions you have, and the willingness to care for your brain, as well as the animals, which is what matters.
So, that’s me. I’m Kaitlyn, and I’m an ex-vegan – a vegetarian now – who is just trying to do her best. One day, when I am truly, fully well, and when I can trust my brain enough to know that my intentions are clear, I will return. But for today, I just have to put in the hard yards, and do what I’ve got to do.