How going vegan did wonders for my mental health

T/W: Discussion of mental illness and disordered eating.

There are three reasonable options as to why you have come to read this post. 1) You are intrigued by the idea of veganism and want to see what I have to say, 2) you are also vegan and want to check that I’m saying good things, 3) you are anti-vegan and want to blow up my comments telling me to eat a bacon sandwich. To the first two guests, you are very welcome, make yourself at home. To the latter, please leave quietly, or I will have to remind you that Greggs now does a vegan sausage roll and the world as you know it is ending.

This isn’t going to be another article about the wondrous health benefits of veganism, which are unexpectedly great considering our obvious protein deficiency. It’s not about the clear skin, the increased energy levels, the lighter periods and the fantastic bowel movements, this is about the wonders it has done for my mind. In the way that Steve Jobs only wore black trousers and a black roll top, I only eat plant based food. Another daily decision that I would have to make using my limited brain power has been stripped away and I feel all the lighter for it. Is it vegan? Yes please. It’s not? No thanks.

It feels empowering to be able to live my life in a way that matches my beliefs and what I think is fair. I feel like I am making a tiny positive influence in the world every time I make the decision to eat/ buy / live vegan; on the animals, the planet and my health. It brings me delight, validation of my purpose on this planet and a healthy sense of fulfilment.

Having struggled with depression and anxiety since the age of 17, my relationship with food has been complicated. Not only did my mental health mess with my appetite, making it disappear altogether at points, there were times where I would use food as a punishment, either by restricting myself, or bingeing. Going vegan transformed my view on food. I now see food as fuel that I need to achieve my goals and have had to ensure I’m eating the right things in order to keep my body ticking over nicely. Food is still a very enjoyable part of my life, I enjoy cooking and nourishing my body with love, but importantly I am not allowing my life to be controlled by it.

Veganism, surprisingly, has also challenged my perfectionist nature. I’m very much an all or nothing person, but in a non-vegan world, it is impossible to be the perfect vegan. I’ve accidentally consumed animal products since going vegan, as I’ve missed the damn milk powder on the back of the packet that they seem to put in everything, or someone has prepared an almost vegan meal that I’ve felt too cruel to turn down after the kindness of their efforts. There have been times whilst travelling where I have had to intentionally choose to eat vegetarian rather than vegan, due to the lack of vegan friendly options. I know that many vegans would call me out on this and declare that “You are either vegan, or not,” but that is far too unrealistic for normal everyday living. I’ve had to learn to make allowances for my mistakes and remind myself that I am trying my best. Learning to allow myself errors and the ability to occasionally ‘fail’ has been fantastic for my self-critical mind.

When I went vegan overnight back in March 2017, it was after months of both slowly coming around to the idea and a number of failed attempts to go veggie. It was only once the other significant parts of my life had fallen into place that my attempt was successful. I was mentally healthy, my relationships were strong, my studies were going well and I felt ready to take the leap. I also watched the handy 5 minute documentary, Dairy is Scary, which scared that leap into me. Prior to this, I had deliberately kept myself ignorant to the practices that go on in the dairy and animal farming industries, because I knew that once I was aware, I couldn’t in good conscience keep contributing to them. My moral compass weighs heavily on my life, which can be curse and a blessing, but it was only once all these factors were in place that I felt able to make the change to herbivore.

If you have a history of disordered eating, I would be cautious when dipping your toes into the world of veganism. It is a form of restriction and should not be taken upon lightly if you think it will be harmful. Nor should it be used as a thinly veiled disguise for the continuation of problem behaviour. Your safety and wellbeing is most important. On a similar strand of thought, I don’t think that veganism is right for everyone, nor is it right for everyone all of the time. There are too many factors at play which can make it extremely difficult for someone to commit. Physical health, mental health, time, money, stress, culture and so much more can act as barriers to veganism and I think it’s unhelpful to pretend these don’t exist. I will never shame someone for trying veganism and deciding it isn’t for them, but I will always respect you for giving it ago.

If you are thinking about veganism or taking part in the uninspiredly named Veganuary, I commend you and wish you the best of luck. Enjoy the process, be kind to yourself as you learn the ropes and allow time for the benefits to become clear to you. It is hard until it becomes your new normal, and then you wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’ll see you, both herbivores and omnivores, in Greggs. Save a roll for me.

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