‘Is That Vegan?’ My Toxic Journey With Veganism

Restrictive diets can foster an unhealthy relationship with food



Veganism isn’t always the healthiest option even though it’s often touted as much healthier than other diets.


Content warning: restrictive eating.

In eighth grade, I fell into a rabbit hole of YouTube videos that led me to veganism. When I found these videos, I was greeted with promises of good health and a diet that could save the world. At only 13 years old, I was hooked and immediately attempted to start my vegan journey. It only lasted around two days, but even so, I was convinced that my diet needed to be changed. 

My transition to veganism wasn’t linear. I started by cutting out red meat. Even though I was a young teen, I convinced myself that I needed to be concerned with the potential cardiovascular disease red meat could cause. 

I took my diet a step further and decided to go vegetarian. I had already cut down my meat intake, so the transition was easy. Finally, for my 2015 New Year’s resolution, I decided to get back to my initial goal of going vegan. This time, the transition was much easier. Unlike my last attempt, I was successful.

I also convinced myself that if I was eating vegan, I would magically become healthier.

I went vegan for both environmental and health reasons, but the environmental reasons were the biggest for me. I found out during my YouTube video spiral that animal agriculture is awful for the planet. The information I learned felt monumental to me, and I believed it was my responsibility to change the world. How could I see these effects of eating animal products and do nothing about it? 

I also convinced myself that if I was eating vegan, I would magically become healthier. I was vegan for almost four years, and I can say I didn’t save the world, nor was I drastically healthier. 

Some people see amazing benefits from going vegan. According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) UK, being vegan can boost your mood, reduce the risk of disease, clear up your skin and help the planet. It is important to note that the main mission of PETA UK is to encourage people to adopt a plant-based diet and advocate for animal rights. I don’t want to discredit the benefits of veganism, but it isn’t widely addressed that this diet does not work for everyone. 

In my life, veganism became the cause of disordered eating patterns and unnecessary stress. The weight of feeling like you need to save the world and your own health by never eating animal products again is a lot. I didn’t give myself the grace to make mistakes. Any small slip-ups I made would make me feel like a terrible person, even though I saw others make mistakes and didn’t feel the same about them. 

When my doctor told me I had vitamin deficiencies, I refused to take the supplements my mom bought me. The vitamins contained gelatin, an animal product, and I didn’t have access to any without it. I didn’t care that my health was at risk; the idea of eating an animal product was way too much. 

Any time my family went out, I would have extreme anxiety about whether I would be able to find anything to eat. If I couldn’t find any options, I would just eat french fries or not eat at all. Before eating anything, I had to ask the golden question, “Is this vegan?” 

A diet that was supposed to be absolutely amazing was just making me miserable.

In a way, being vegan is like volunteering to be a picky eater. Do you want this? No, I can’t have it. 

I wasn’t eating foods that I wanted to because of my rule that I had to be vegan. A diet that was supposed to be absolutely amazing was just making me miserable.

No one warned me that by going vegan I ran the risk of feeling like my entire life revolved around food and what I could or could not eat. Eating casually was never an option for me. 

This isn’t inherently harmful; it just led me down a slippery slope, which is why I believe veganism isn’t for everyone. 

What I have learned now by speaking with professionals is that my eating habits were unhealthy. The amount of stress I was in over food was not normal. 

One thing I’d like to emphasize is that veganism was unhealthy for me because of my mindset about it. Now that I have stopped eating a vegan diet, it has greatly reduced my stress. Plus, my eating habits have gotten a lot healthier. It has been difficult to retrain my brain and tell myself foods that were once off-limits are actually okay to eat. 

I just know being vegan a hundred percent of the time is not a good lifestyle for me.

However, I have not gone back to eating meat: I am vegetarian. I’ve found being vegetarian is a great way for me to still help the environment and animals, but I feel less restricted in my options. I still try to incorporate vegan options, though, whenever I can. One small change I have made is getting plant-based milk in my lattes. I have never noticed a difference in taste, and I know I’m doing something beneficial. 

By being vegan for almost four years, I learned of many great recipes, got to connect with other vegans and tried amazing new foods. I just know being vegan a hundred percent of the time is not a good lifestyle for me. 

It is an amazing option for other people, though, and I’m not trying to dissuade anyone from trying it, just urging caution. Before anyone goes vegan, they should examine their relationship with food and determine if it is a good choice.