Many people ask why I became a vegan, and they get the reader’s digest version. “For my health”, I say. “Environmental reasons”, I might tell another. Every long-time vegan is familiar with the game of quickly sizing up whoever asks that question and trying to decide if they might care about animal welfare, the environment, or health causes. It’s similar to something I think many women are familiar with, which is feeling like you won’t just be seen as an individual, but as a representative for your gender, or, in this case, lifestyle. You want to say the right thing, basically. Well the truth is, I AM a vegan for all those reasons and a million others, but that’s not why I BECAME one.
I never put much thought into what I ate and how it affected me or the world around me until I was a teenager. I suddenly became very weight conscious and flirted with disordered eating behaviors that are still difficult to talk about. Ironically, a very low carb diet is what triggered my transition to veganism. It was very popular when I was in my early years of college, eating a lot of animal products and strictly limiting sugar, even from plants, to enter the body into a fat burning state called ketosis. Well, I’m not a nutritionist or dietitian or anything like that, so all I can tell you is, I hated it. Sure, I could go for a while avoiding carbs, but then I’d eventually binge on them. I spent a long time hating myself and my body, wishing I could just be strong and restrict my calories. I’ve never even been very big, my largest was 140 at 5′ 2″. Eventually I gave up entirely on low carb, and the pendulum effect took over. I wanted nothing to do with meat, eggs, or dairy, and I started eating as much fruit and vegetables as I could get my hands on. Convinced I was just hopeless, I stopped worrying about calories. When I was hungry I ate plants, and that’s it.
While I was ignoring the scale, I began to realize that I felt better and better. My skin was clearing up, I wasn’t so tired, and I just had a more positive attitude towards food. Something was coming back to me, something I’d known as a child but forgot as a young adult: food should be fun. I still 100% believe this. You have to eat to live, so why not enjoy it? I started to remember that none of the shame and frustration I’d associated with eating was necessary. None of it made me any happier. None of it made me any healthier. As I continued relearning how to love food, I began relearning how to love myself.I had more energy so I exercised. I wasn’t terrified of going out to eat because of the calories, so I spent more time with friends. I started to believe that I deserved to be happy, and I started to forgive myself for punishing my body all that time. I felt like I’d woken from a daze and I could live again. Over the next two years, 30 pounds dropped away unnoticed. No calorie counting, no restricting, just eating plants. So yes, I AM a vegan because I love animals, and I care about the environment, and I care about the health of my body. But I BECAME a vegan because it set me free. Eating is joyful, weight management is effortless, and I love myself.