I would like to begin by saying, the thoughts below are based on my own individual experiences. I am not a nutritionist or a medical professional. I’m just vulnerably sharing my story here with the hope that it will help some of you on your own path. Love you all.
I’ll start with the beginning of my journey to a 100% plant-based diet. I decided to go vegetarian in the Fall of 2014. It dawned on me after a conversation around the lunch table with a few co-workers. One of my colleagues mentioned the hormones and antibiotics that are given to most animals. I was totally grossed out and I decided that I would try giving up meat for a week. I stopped eating poultry and red meat immediately but I was still transitioning away from seafood, dairy and eggs. My digestion was incredible and I felt energized. I was super motivated to stick with this new way of eating. After only a few days, I felt AWESOME.
I created my Instagram account in January 2015. I was so excited to share photos of all the new meals I was making! Instagram quickly exposed me to the world of veganism. I was definitely intrigued. The health benefits sounded amazing. I absolutely love fruits and vegetables so I thought it would be easy enough for me. I was also very disgusted by the animal agriculture, dairy and egg industries after watching a few documentaries. I loved the idea of compassion and that I was no longer contributing to harming animals and the environment.
My skin health was my main motivation to no longer consume dairy. As a teenager, I had pretty bad breakouts. However, my skin cleared up completely after starting hormonal birth control. I started the pill as a way to control my extremely heavy menstrual cycle and the symptoms that came along with it. Of course, I enjoyed the benefits of short periods with little or no symptoms as well as clear skin. Six years later, I found out about the dangers of hormonal birth control. I made the immediate decision stop taking the pill. It was then that I realized the birth control was only masking my symptoms. Right away my heavy periods came back and my skin was worse than my teenage years. My colleague, who had originally planted the seed about vegetarianism, mentioned to me that dairy was probably contributing to my skin breakouts. She was right. It was super easy for me to switch from skim milk to almond milk. Eliminating dairy was the single best decision that I could’ve made for my skin. Within a couple of weeks, I noticed the inflammation on my face was noticeably less, and while not totally clear, I saw vast improvements.
I started to notice earlier this year that my menstrual cycles were NEXT LEVEL and taking a huge toll on me. I was feeling extremely weak and tired the week before my period and the week during. My headaches were getting worse and worse and my periods were SO heavy. I knew something was wrong. I had a feeling my iron was low because of the heavy menstruation. I started increasing all of the iron-rich plant foods, especially during my cycle. However, nothing seemed to change. During this time, I was having intense cravings for seafood. Fish was a staple in my diet before going vegan. It caught me by surprise because I had never craved animal products in the first two years of eating plant-based. I brushed it off as just a seasonal craving because it was summer. I increased my intake of omega’s and healthy fats to try to satisfy the cravings.
I started having digestive issues about 2 months ago resulting in intense abdominal pain. Suddenly foods that I previously digested with ease, were wreaking HAVOC on my system. I went to see a holistic doctor here in NYC. I thought that I might have developed an allergy to nuts or gluten. The doctor took blood-work and checked for possible food allergies as well as vitamin and mineral levels. When I received my results, I was SHOCKED and TERRIFIED. No food allergies but my iron was CRITICALLY low and my iron stores were even lower. I was also deficient in other essential vitamins and minerals. I was so upset, I could not believe how eating a plant based diet focused on nutrient dense fruits and vegetables produced these results. I felt as though I had failed my body.
I knew instantly after speaking with the doctor what I had to do.
My first step was research. I wanted to learn as much as possible about my deficiencies. Specifically, heme (animal sources) iron vs. non-heme (plant sources) iron. Of course, there are a lot of conflicting views on this topic. However, the fact is heme iron is absorbed more easily by the body than non-heme iron. Despite my best efforts to consume all of the non-heme sources of iron, my body was not absorbing enough and needed more. This was amplified by the amount of iron I lose regularly during heavy menstrual cycles.
I knew I had to start eating animal protein to bring my iron and iron stores, as well as my other deficiencies, back to normal. As much as I knew that incorporating animal protein was completely out of necessity for my body, the thought was still horrifying after not eating meat in nearly 3 years. I knew I had to obtain these products from the very best sources. I wasn’t about to run out to the nearest fast food chain – LET’S BE REAL.
I want to be strategic. My goal is to maximize my nutrient intake in the most conscious and healthiest way possible. My focus is to buy organic, wild, cage-free, hormone and antibiotic free, free range, etc. from the most sustainable sources that I have access to.
It’s been almost a week now that I’ve slowly started incorporating animal protein into my diet again. I already feel that my energy has increased. I was worried about having crazy digestive issues but that hasn’t been the case. It actually seems that the more animal protein I eat, the more my body craves it. I can feel my body responding positively.
The takeaway here is that our bodies are smarter than we give them credit for. I have a deep connection with my body. However, I still let my mind talk me out of listening to my cravings. I always tell everyone who asks me questions about nutrition “listen to your body”. I needed to take my own advice, be true to myself, take care of my health and my body. After everything that we have been through together, I owe it to my body to fuel it with what it is asking for and not fight it.
Health has been and always will be my #1 priority. It has been very difficult spiritually and emotionally to start eating animal products again. I am trying to find peace in the difficult moments with my decision because I know this is what my body needs.
I want to include again that this is just MY experience. We are all SO different and that is beautiful! I 100% believe that some people can thrive on a plant-based diet and that is truly amazing. I wish I was one of those people but, unfortunately, that’s just not the case. I have a ton of respect and appreciation for the vegan community and the movement. I think we can all agree that more plants are better for everyone! Especially with the current Standard American Diet.
I still plan to keep my diet very plant focused in the future. I love creating and eating plant-based meals (especially buddha bowls)!
I’m not sure where this journey will take me but I know I will continue to grow and change as time progresses and I’m excited to keep sharing with you. I am SO grateful for my body. I am also so grateful for the Instagram community that has been so supportive and opened my eyes to so much. I truly feel that every season in life happens for a reason. I believe with confidence that I am being guided on this path.
I know that not everyone will understand and that’s okay. I hope you can all find peace in knowing that we are all in control of our own individual decisions. No one else can know exactly how you or I feel individually in our own bodies. You are the only one who can decide what’s best for you.
I will always keep it 100 and real. Thank you all so much for your love and support.