Ex-Vegan and Proud: Renee's #RealDietStory
Earlier this week I put a post up on instagram about my diet story. I shared and tagged 20 other bloggers, challenging them to share their diet story. And already I’ve read so many of their incredible stories in return. It’s beautiful to witness, and a precious moment of warm community amidst the cold chaos of internet life.
I posted all of this on a whim. Although it feels like I developed this idea a long time ago. As if it was being formed in my subconscious without my even knowing.
Lately I’ve been really empowered by the idea of sharing our vulnerabilities, sharing our real and strange and messy selves.
For a while now I’ve found myself gagging at the surrealistic composed lives I see on instagram and personal blogs. I love it and hate it, simultaneously. It’s beautiful. It’s art. I appreciate it. I want to go to there.
But do I relate to it? Can I envision my own life so artfully disheveled? Illuminated in blue hues and set against a venetian plaster backdrop? Surrounded by fluffy kittens and toddlers in hand-crafted linen jumpers and infinite cups of coffee with fashion magazines sprawled around my collection of designer clogs?
So this sharing, the sharing of my diet story, it just tumbled out of me. Probably as a result of the bone-tired feeling I get when I see these hyper-styled, controlled internet personalities.
I feel a sudden urgent need to talk about it. As if I desperately need to create space for all of us out there with stories about failure, imperfection, suffering and rising from the ashes.
I’ve tried to write about it and talk about it on the blog for ages. But for whatever reason, I held myself back.
So, without further ado:
THE REAL DIET STORY OF A HAPPY EX-VEGAN BLOGGER aka The Beginnings of #RealDietStory and #ExVegansClub
Plant based lifestyle changed my life.
Well, that... and yoga... and psychedelics.
As a teenager I used to struggle with anxiety and depression. Unbeknownst to most of my family and friends, as I suppressed most visible inclinations.
In college, it worsened. On the outside I preferred a laudably bubbly and wickedly sarcastic sense of humor that garnered me many artists and hippie-folks as friends. It allowed me to be both light and dark.
But behind closed doors I often had episodes of anxiety that left me in tears. I felt listless and terribly alone. I hated my body. I felt a self-imposed pressure to be perfect, and felt sure that it was an unattainable reality.
I felt completely unlovable.
As a result, I did some pretty stupid things. I drank a lot. I fooled around with lots of idiots who didn’t deserve my time. And I put myself in some pretty dangerous positions with men I didn't know (I came out unscathed thank God).
I drank loads of coffee and barely slept for six months.
I got strep throat for two months in my freshman year.
That, on top of the chronic sinus infections I had been dealing with for my whole life.
I dropped my beloved major (Theater) and started receding into the background of my classes.
I developed an eating disorder.
I was falling apart.
I look back on myself with so much kindness and I just want to hold that 18 year old version of myself and tell her how beautiful and kind and lovable she was. She was in so much pain.
I became a vegetarian half way through freshman year. All of my new friends were vegetarian. I never much liked meat anyway. I was always more of a broccoli fan, and I'm being completely honest.
Up until that point I had stopped eating any meat but chicken and fish, anyway. I'd started feeling uncomfortable about eating mammals. I only kept eating animal foods because I was scared into believing I needed it to get an adequate amount of protein.
When I made the switch I was pleasantly surprised to find out I could survive on plants alone! I didn't keel over without chicken in my salad.
What a revelation!
Of course, mostly I was at a loss as to what foods I should be eating. I ate loads of yogurt, pasta, bread, cheese and pale salads.
Hummus was a god-send. Microwave canned soup was my everything.
Despite my rather awkward diet, almost immediately, something shifted for me. It was as if a fog lifted. I felt more awake, more aware, more sentient.
I can’t explain this sensation, even to this day. But after going veg for three weeks I seemed to wake up from a dream. As if my life went from auto to manual.
My attitude changed, but I was still getting sinus infections and I was about 15 pounds overweight for my size (you guys I’m really short). I recall being very self conscious about my weight, constantly. As you can imagine, the new diet only aggravated my desire to control my eating.
My neurotic food-listing and binging/purging didn't subside until I started going to counseling.
I started taking slightly better care of my mental health. Just recognizing that I had a problem was a big step for me.
I can’t really accurately tell my story without also telling you that, yeah, I’ve done psychedelics. Minimally and intentionally (mostly). In college I went through a very intense experimentation period (intense for me as I’m a highly sensitive person). I regret nothing.
At the same time I discovered yogic philosophy and asana practice.
All of this combined to blow my mind open and change my path forever.
Suddenly, I was seeing the world in a completely new light.
The details of our world became beautiful, wonderful, chaotic, infinite and curious. I felt electric and strange and wild and free.
Perhaps most importantly, my neuroses subsided. I have not obsessed about my food intake ever since my first psychedelic experience.
Whereas food had been a mechanism I used to create a false perception of control, I discovered with relief that food and cooking could be a way to process my emotions. I could use food as a meditation. A mindfulness practice.
I was incredibly grateful and privileged to explore my newfound relationship with food in the kind embrace of a community of hippie musicians and artists. They welcomed me into their spice-laden kitchens and art-plastered living rooms, offering me weed and homemade chutneys and rose-infused teas.
We ate a lot of curries and homemade bread and banana-avocado-chocolate pudding.
I had never felt so accepted and loved.
(Really, what was happening was that I had never been in an environment that was so conducive to loving and accepting myself.)
It was at this point that I came into contact with veganism and raw veganism, which I had never heard of before. There were a couple of yogis and musicians in the community who were strictly plant-based (which wasn’t even a term then).
I remember ogling their lifestyle in disbelief. How could anyone live that way? I thought to myself.
But every vegan person I knew was highly intelligent, energetic and creative. I would go so far as to say these individuals had tapped into their genius, and were pursuing it full steam ahead.
Did veganism give them that boost? Was a plant based lifestyle some sort of freaky cult churning out genius artists? If I went vegan, would I become a genius bohemian goddess?
These thoughts swirled around my head.
I continued to experiment with my vegetarian diet through sophomore and junior year. I tried high fat low carb and high carb low fat. I became zealously anti-sugar, proselytizing about it to anyone who would listen.
(They just shook their heads and kept eating cake.)
But it wasn’t until I read The China Study in my senior year that I decided to try out veganism. Logan and I were dating at this point. So we did it together.
Thank God I lived off-campus in an apartment with a kitchen. Because I suddenly went from eating out all the time to cooking almost every meal.
The first month was rough. Giving up dairy and eggs was probably one of the hardest things I had ever done (and I had just hiked the whole camino de santiago the previous Summer like a badass!).
Again, I had this feeling that a fog was lifting. I lost that extra weight. I stopped getting sinus infections. In fact, I also stopped getting colds, influenza and every other run of the mill illness.
I felt energetic, emotionally balanced. A spacious sense of peacefulness washed over my body, as if I had suddenly ended a war that had been roiling under the surface.
I was hooked.
Cue two years of zealous veganism.
Which culminated in… you guessed it. A total meltdown.
Not a mental one this time.
Actually, this time it all came down to food intolerances.
I had started experiencing IBS symptoms.
I was scraping by, financially. But still managed my vegan lifestyle by inhaling those $2 vegan Trader Joes meals in the freezer section. But when I wasn’t living on TJ’s food I was making immensely healthy, delicious food at home. I had been studying nutrition and briefly considered becoming a holistic nutritionist. I was really into My New Roots at the time.
I thought to myself I’m vegan. I’m active. I’m eating organic food. What’s the problem???
Peanuts and modern wheat, apparently.
Eventually I gave up hard core veganism out of necessity. At the time I was traveling a lot and the food intolerances on top of the self imposed restriction were causing me a lot of unnecessary suffering.
I was surviving on protein bars, rice, tempeh and cereal. Not ideal, to say the least.
I was losing weight simply because I didn't know what the hell to eat anymore.
Of course, I got compliments about it. Oh you're looking so thin!
I shook my head in disbelief. Society was telling my very clearly that skinniness was more important than health.
I was infuriated.
I was skinny but felt like shit. And, what, I was supposed to be proud of that?
So, here’s what happened next:
I started eating eggs and goat cheese again.
My experience giving up cow dairy had taught me, very clearly, that I was better off without milk (me, my dad and brothers are all allergic). But I'll eat ghee or butter or a sprinkle of parmesan once in a blue moon. If you make me a raw milk latte from happy cows, yeah I'm gonna drink that! No guilt, just bliss.
About a year later I decided to start eating some consciously harvested seafood again, very occasionally.
I still maintain a diet comprised of 99% plant foods, with the occasional egg or cultivated local oyster thrown in the mix.
This emotional shift, from zealous veganism to a more relaxed, flexible diet made me realize that I was really attached to being “vegan” and my fear of relinquishing that label was hurting more than helping.
For me, the labels exacerbated a tendency towards extreme self-criticism and made me worse, mentally. Not better.
Which is why I go by “plant-based” now, which to me is basically a catch-all term for “yeah, I’m mostly made of plants but also other things who knows?”
I'm completely recovered from my disordered eating these days, and have been for many years. Thanks to diet, yoga, mindfulness, counseling and the loving support of my husband, family and friends.
Oh, and side note -- I recently discovered I'm intolerant to potatoes. Which may be what has caused my reaction to a range of other foods. Diet is an ever-evolving journey and experiment. And yes I've experienced a difference in my quality of life since removing potatoes. Including less intense reactions to peanuts and wheat! YOU GUYS I MAY BE ABLE TO EAT PEANUT BUTTER SAMMICHES AGAIN SOMEDAY I'm very excited about this.
(The potato intolerance thing is a long story, so I'll have to share that in a different post.)
I’m sharing this not because I think MY WAY is better for everyone particularly.
If you’re a hardcore vegan thats AWESOME. You’re a rockstar. If that works for you, go for it! This is me. I’m just doing my thing. You do yours!
Continuing the Conversation
If there’s one particular pattern I’ve noticed in the past two years of full time blogging, it’s that most of the talented plant-based bloggers out there are intentionally flex about their diets.
Not all. There are certainly some incredibly talented hard-core vegan babes out there making it werk.
But before sharing my #realdietstory and challenging other bloggers to join in, I didn't realize how many of us share common story lines. And I certainly didn't realize how many of us are in the #exvegansclub
I started this whole project because most of us hesitate to talk about our stories openly.
Why? My first thought is that we’re afraid our readers will leave us, will consider us frauds or fakes or posers.
Maybe we'll lose a part of our identity, as dedicated plant-based bloggers?
But when I look at all of us, as a group, what I see is a kind and compassionate community of creatives who are attracting folks who are also interested in living plant-based lifestyles without the labels, guilt and body-shaming.
And that’s an incredibly beautiful thing.
I’m going to use this post as a space to hold the links to all of the posts from those plant-loving bloggers who were brave enough to share their personal diet stories as part of #realdietstory and I welcome them all into the #exvegansclub ;)
Renee Byrd (me!) of Will Frolic for Food | Instagram (read the comments for tons of stories!)
If you’ve seen a plant-centric blogger post their Real Diet Story and you’d like to see them included in this link party, please leave a link to their post below. Instagram posts and blog posts are both acceptable.
If you’d like to nominate bloggers you love to share their diet story, please leave a comment saying who you would like to hear from!
If you yourself want to share, don’t feel like you need a nomination! This is not just for bloggers! It's for all humans who eat food. Share your story, boo. I want to hear from you!
Much love, peace and plant-based eats — Renee