I am no longer vegan.
And I am still passionately devoted to helping as many people reach their ultimate health as I can. By helping them accept their cravings and unique needs, and working with their unique bodies to create lives of meaning, freedom and radical self-acceptance.
I’ve been thinking of how to tell this story for some time now.
What I’m about to share may come as a total shock to you. Especially since I really became known to so many of you as “the vegan girlfriend” and co-creator of Super Size Me.
You might want nothing to do with me after today.
But I’m really hoping that you feel hopeful and breathe a sigh of relief.
Back in 2000, when I decided to eat a vegan diet and live a vegan lifestyle, I initially did it for my health.
My body was suffering from years of unhealthy eating and a whole-foods, plant-based diet rebooted my entire being. Quickly. It was a relief and a miracle, in my mind.
The more I learned about how our food culture operated, how animals are raised in such unhealthy, horrifying conditions, and how animal protein production adds so significantly to global warming, I resonated deeply the vegan way. It felt good and clean. It felt right and my body thrived.
For a great long while.
And for a while, I thought many of the world’s problems could be solved if more people ate this way. We could end hunger if we fed grain to people instead of cattle. We could end global warming if we reduced the fertilizer, trucking and refrigeration required to produce meat. We could end the obesity epidemic.
What I ate aligned with what I believed.
And that was that.
But then, a few years ago, something began to shift. I became chronically anemic. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, and insomnia plagued me. For over a year I tried everything within the vegan framework to turn things around, but nothing helped.
My body started craving the “bad” stuff. Namely, meat.
It used to be that, when a friend ordered a burger out at dinner, I was slightly (though quietly) disgusted.
But I started noticing a different reaction.
Instead of disgust, I started to salivate.
I was exhausted, depressed, and foggy-brained. I wanted to feel strong and grounded again.
The impulse to order salmon instead of salad with tofu at my favorite restaurant was overwhelming.
And, for me as a vegan, it was confusing, too.
At first, I thought: “I must be mineral deficient. Or maybe I need more concentrated protein. I’ll eat more sea vegetables. I’ll just add more nuts and hemp seeds and drink more green juice. Then the cravings will stop. I’ll get my iron levels up. Things will turn around.”
I denied these cravings and tried to “talk my body out of them”.
I hid my cravings from myself, and my community.
I ate more sea vegetables in order to add more minerals to my diet as I had told so many of my vegan-curious friends to do. I chose more protein-heavy plant foods on a regular basis. I avoided sugar and drank green juices by the pint, all in an effort to give my body the nutrition that I thought my body was asking for.
I tried for over a year.
I felt ashamed. If I was “doing it right” I wouldn’t have these cravings, would I?
And still, the cravings persisted.
The Vegan Ideal
While these cravings warred with my vegan-teacher self, I noticed that most of my health coaching clients and readers were not vegan. Many of them were interested in trying this style of eating, often for the same reasons that I had.
They love animals and don’t want to contribute to their suffering.
They care about the planet and our global health.
They want to feel well in their bodies and lose weight.
Yet, some of these clients weren’t thriving on a vegan diet. Some were sicker and heavier after going vegan than they were before.
And they were so ashamed. Ashamed that it didn’t work for them when they thought it a moral, “right and kind” diet. Ashamed that the weight loss others had experienced wasn’t happening for them.
They felt like failures.
From that place, they craved something different.
They were looking for a state of health and well-being where they didn’t feel judged or guilty for their bodies’ needs… or cravings.
And I told them what I started to tell myself:
Some cravings are just your body telling you what it needs.
So I began coaching more and more people to trust their bodies.
To learn to listen to their own, innate knowing.
To live their truth.
And people began to relax and feel better in their bodies. They lightened up about food and felt better about themselves. Once they started listening to their bodies and trusting themselves, the judgment about food lifted and they started eating better because they wanted to, not because they “should.”
The Hardest Part
For many of these people, the hardest part wasn’t eating animals again. Even though they loved animals, and many had rescued their pets from shelters or donated money to environmental groups.
The hardest part was the shame. That they weren’t living up to the “vegan ideal.”
I saw their struggles.
And it made me guard my secret more tightly.
I told no one of my own cravings for meat or fish or eggs.
Even as I was helping others come to terms with the perfection of their own bodies and cravings, to learn to love and accept themselves as they were showing up, to be honest and real in their life…
… I was hiding my own truth.
The Turning Point
As time went on I couldn’t stand myself.
I had to eat some meat to experiment.
I had to experience how it felt to eat animal foods again, if only to prove to myself that it wasn’t really all that good. That it was just a thing I could manage or handle, like some addiction.
So, with the support of a few close, trusted friends, I allowed myself to eat what I was craving and started with some eggs.
The emotions of guilt and confusion I felt almost overwhelmed my ability to listen to what my body was saying – my human-animal body.
I started to think:
“What are you doing?! You shouldn’t be eating this – how can you even like the taste of this when you know where it comes from?!”
But I tuned in to my body instead of my thoughts.
And my body said YES.
It felt good and strong. And it wanted more.
My mind and morals popped up and batted down those overwhelmingly positive body sensations, but it became like a world-class tennis match.
Cravings from my body would SHOUT for meat, and my brain and logic would violently shove it away.
This went on for months.
I would secretly visit restaurants or stores and buy “contraband” animal foods, scurry home, and savor the food in solitude.
It’s so strange now to realize that, after working for 12 years as a health and wellness professional, I’d developed an eating disorder.
It reminds me of that new term orthorexia – the idea that we can become unhealthily obsessed with eating the “right, perfect foods.”
And a glimmer of hope began to dawn on me – that I could support even more people to feel good and get healthy without the shame, judgment and guilt if I brought my own struggle to light and shared my story.
Coming Out of the Closet
I began to see my cravings for animal foods from a different angle.
It wasn’t immoral or wrong.
It just was.
In fact, I came to believe that trusting your body, living your truth, whether it be vegan, part-time vegan, flexitarian or carnivore is all inherently good.
I thought about coming out sooner, but I was afraid. Afraid of what my vegan friends would say. Afraid of what my family would think. Afraid what would happen to my health coaching company that I was working so hard to build.
And I was worried what my clients and readers – what YOU — would think.
Would you feel betrayed? Would you be upset that I had lied all that time?
But I was suffering under the weight of my secret. I was living two lives. I hoped that one day I would be brave enough to talk openly about my experiences and about what I saw as a new possibility for health and wellness.
Today is that day.
As the revealing of my secret came closer, as I began to eat openly in front of my family and talk with a few vegan friends about my evolution, I noticed something very contradictory.
While my family and closest friends were completely accepting and loving towards me as I began to eat animal food products, I saw how that wasn’t always how it went with everyone.
Recently the actress-comedienne Ellen Degeneres, one of the most popular vegans around, mentioned that she had been eating eggs from her neighbors “happy chickens.” The response from the vegan community was swift and harsh. Diatribes on blogs and Facebook posts against her for “lapsing and lying” we’re harsh.
How is that compassionate, I thought?
This was a word I had given to the vegan community completely. But I began to realize that we need to offer compassion for all creatures, all animals, all humans, ourselves, in order to be truly compassionate.
And I realized that by keeping my truth a secret, I was adding to the hostile food-culture that so many feel trapped by.
The food culture that makes being overweight a crime and a weakness.
The food culture that makes eating what your body needs a moral dilemma.
This culture that has produced the most unhealthy, food-and-weight obsessed and ashamed generations the world has ever seen.
And it’s killing us in so many ways.
So I’m writing you this letter and telling you all in the hope that you and I can bring the dialogue to a new place.
A place where we can begin to have more compassion for ourselves and each other.
A place where we take the morality, perfectionism and rigidity out of our food.
A place where we can live truly healthy lives without the fear of judgment that who we are or what we need, is wrong.
A place where we can be ourselves.
These truths about our bodies, our desires and evolving needs became my bestselling book, Women, Food, And Desire.
What I Believe
I believe there is a middle way. There is no ONE way that everyone should live or eat. People can still love animals and care about protecting the environment AND honor their own animal bodies and consume the foods that they need.
I believe there are many paths to health.
I believe you can love and care about animal welfare and still consume them.
I believe that a vegan, whole-foods diet saved my life and is a delicious, valid, healthy style of eating for many people.
I believe that a vegan diet should be promoted as one of many possible ways to get the body and life that people crave.
I believe most people should be eating more vegetables and less processed, chemicalized, processed junk food.
I believe we should restructure the way animals are raised so that they live in more natural, comfortable, humane surroundings and stop force-feeding them 80% of all antibiotics used in the US.
I believe humans are animals. And some animals need to eat other animals to be healthy. Some do not.
And I believe in the innate kindness of people. And that by having compassion for each other, no matter how we eat, we are creating a new food culture, and a better world.
A culture and world that is free of shame.
And I am still passionately devoted to helping as many people reach their ultimate health as I can. By helping them accept their cravings and working with their unique bodies to create lives of meaning, freedom and radical self-acceptance.
It has been such a huge relief to me to stand in the full view of the people I know and respect. To state my truth from a place of self-acceptance instead of shame. And I hope you’ll join me in exploring the evolution of your diet, wellness and life dreams.
With all my love, hope and thanks,
I want to live in a world where food and body shaming are ancient history, where women can find sisterhood and grow strong together. I invite you to join me and thousands of women just like you on this powerful journey back to YOUR truth:
UPDATE: February 2018
This blog post and my evolution from vegan to non turned into such a viral conversation that it lead to my latest book, Women, Food, And Desire and my #1 iTunes podcast, Her Rules Radio. I hope you’ll join me there to stay in conversation together.
Get Women, Food, And Desire here or get the Audible book here