No matter the motivation behind going vegan, one generally expects a slew of health benefits. Not only are the leading causes of death in developed nations scientifically linked to diets high in animal products, but personal anecdotes abound that credit veganism to acne reduction, greater energy, even curing major medical ailments!
With the vast majority of vegans experiencing better health, what happens when making the switch to veganism makes you feel worse?
It can feel very isolating and frustrating. Helpful advice might suggest being more vegan (as though the sufferer were “cheating”) or, perhaps, being vegan for longer. There might be an undertone of belief that the would-be/new vegan is just looking for a way out, a rationale to quit being vegan. Or, fellow vegans may scoff at the ignorance of the suffering vegan. That is, that they shouldn’t worry over protein if they’re eating enough calories or that they should have supplemented with DHA or B12 or other hard to get nutrients.
People who leave veganism for real or perceived health problems have diverse concerns. But generally, announcements of quitting are met with a call for blood tests to prove that their concerns are valid.
In this challenge, I am facing my vegan demons so that I can stay vegan after my 30 day challenge is up. Because, I want to be vegan. The environmental, social, and ethical concerns are very compelling for me.
But I also suffer from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). This, incidentally, is not diagnosed with a blood test and as far as I know, I suffer from no nutrient deficiencies.
Though this may seem like blasphemy, every time I went vegan in the past, I didn’t feel very good. Low grade nausea and bloating, sometimes abdominal pain relieved only by diarrhea. I know, I know. Way TMI. But my story is important to hear, because IBS is actually pretty common and while I have no idea how to prove this theory, I imagine a lot of would-be vegans leave as a result of this experience.
The good news is, it is possible to remain vegan and feel better, but it isn’t intuitive. It isn’t intuitive because a lot of very healthy foods, lauded by most, can trigger symptoms.
My gastroenterologist suggested a low-FODMAP diet in order to treat my symptoms. And my initial education was disheartening: it seemed that being vegan would be impossible. FODMAPs are carbohydrates that are more difficult to digest and carbohydrates are found in plant foods (and some dairy). Staples of the vegan diet, including legumes, garlic, onion, wheat, and certain fruits were actually making me feel worse!
And forget prepared vegan convenience foods! Oy!
But, I feel very blessed to discover Jo Stepaniak’s book Low-FODMAP and Vegan: What to eat when you can’t eat anything.
(Also check out the website ibsvegan.com)
She’s a long term vegan and IBS sufferer and she’s not recommending an on-going diet fad. She provides a plan of action for people with IBS or other functional digestive disorders to figure out what foods are triggering their symptoms so that they can reclaim their awareness and tailor their diet to their body’s needs.
This, along with my simple meal prepping ideas, are part of a larger plan for me to figure out what I can thrive on. I’m writing all this, because, I know there must be other vegans who want to stay vegan but can’t figure out why they aren’t thriving.
Had I known all this before, I firmly believe I would have stayed vegan after one or two attempts. But my journey had to be filled with many more attempts as well as lots of confusion. Someone should benefit from it.
Until next time, keep that talk walking!