TRIGGER WARNING: This article mentions compulsions related to eating disorders.
After too-ing and fro-ing for a long time with a vegan diet, I finally fully committed to veganism in January this year. It has been absolutely amazing, and my only regret is that I didn’t go vegan earlier! My veganism is truly healing me in so many ways:
Goodbyeee gluten intolerance!
Five months into being vegan, I had been reading about how some people were gluten intolerant were able to eat gluten again after changing to a vegan diet. So, I thought I’d give it a go again, after three years of going off gluten. I was a little nervous, as in the past gluten had made me feel very sick, with headaches and nausea being the main consequences.
I started off slow, limiting myself to only one glutenous food item per day. I had absolutely no reaction! It was as if gluten had never been a problem for me in the first place! I was so excited, as eating vegan and gluten free is sometimes difficult, especially when eating away from your own home.
So, over the past month or so I’ve been slowly increasing my gluten intake. Turns out I don’t eat many simple carbs anyway, so gluten isn’t a particularly huge part of my diet. But now I can confidently say that I am no longer gluten free! I am so excited by the fact that a change in my diet healed a part of my body that was limiting me and making me sick. Being vegan reversed a dysfunction in my body, and I think that’s pretty cool.
Me being me, I really wanted to know the science behind how this had happened! Here’s what I found:
(if sciencey bits bore you please feel free to skip past this bit):
According to research carried out by the North American Vegetarian Society(NAVS), maintaining a healthily-functioning intestinal lining(or “gut wall”) is essential to preventing food sensitivity reactions. If holes are made in this lining, mostly due to lifestyle factors, diseases and food sensitivities are paved a way to make it into our bodily systems, causing not-so-fun reactions. The most common lifestyle factors that can cause a broken gut wall include use of drugs, chemicals, radiation, or antibiotics, excessive intake of sugar, alcohol, or antacids, inflammation caused by illness, or stress.
Considering I started reacting to gluten after a very stressful and traumatic time in my life, I think that stress was probably the main cause of my ill gut health. Anyway, evidence has shown that our intestinal walls can heal themselves, if we provide them with good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. Overtime, the holes can be filled, and therefore our food sensitivities and susceptibility to diseases may disappear. The main nutrients that are needed to repair cells in our gut wall are complex carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, proteins, essential fats and phytochemicals. All of the best sources of these nutrients are found in a well-balanced plant-based diet.
This fully explains why after going vegan I am no longer gluten intolerant! I have managed to let my gut heal by providing it with a lot of the right nutrients needed to repair the damage I have caused in the past. Awesome aye!
Helloooo bulletproof immune system!
My immune system has always been reasonably weak. Strep Throat was common, and varying degrees of common colds regularly made their way into my system whenever I was around anyone else carrying the disease. I was never sure why this was, but figured it could have been because of my very busy, activity-heavy, and often tiring lifestyle(all self-inflicted of course!).
However, since eating vegan, I’ve only had a cold once this whole year, and haven’t contracted Strep Throat yet(I used to be guaranteed to get it at this time of year, every year). The only sickness I’ve had is migraines and as far as I know they aren’t normally linked to a poor immune system. There have even been times when almost everyone else around me has been sick(eg at work or in my house), and I haven’t caught the bug at all!
Why is this? My hypothesis, before I do some research, is that since I’m not eating any animal products, I’m just automatically eating more fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are packed with so many nutrients, vitamins and minerals that boost the immune system, as well as many other bodily functions.
Here’s what I found on the net(again, skip this part if it’ll make you yawn):
The Physicians Community for Responsible Medicine have researched and conclude that “the immune-boosting power of vegetarian diets is partly due to their vitamin content, their low fat content, and perhaps other contributors, such as reduced exposure to toxic chemicals and animal proteins.”
They also add a fun fact that: “fats impair immunity, and cutting fat out of the diet helps strengthen the immune defenses against cells that turn cancerous.” I personally think that fully cutting any kind of nutrient out of the diet is unhealthy, but it seems that reducing fat intake(but not cutting it out) boosts immunity, and eating vegan just naturally reduces fat intake.
A vegan forum called “Vegaprocity” have also done a lot of research on the link between a plant-based diet and immunity: “your immune system is only as strong as the food you use to fuel it. Studies discovered that macrophages, a type of immune cells, slowed down in people with a high cholesterol level. Cholesterol is chiefly found in animal based foods.”
“Micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, found in fresh fruits, vegetables, and grains, are essential for the healthy functioning of the immune system.”
Goodbyeee ED voices
Well, sometimes. Getting rid of the evil eating disorder voice isn’t as easy as that. But, when the ED voice is telling me to restrict, I find the compromise of restricting animal products(and nothing else) quite helpful. When feeling vulnerable or fragile, I kind of think of it like I’m already restricting animal products, so I’m eating healthier anyway, so therefore there is no reason why I need to restrict further. I have made a deal with myself though: if I’m going to let myself restrict animal products from my diet, I am never allowed to restrict anything else. Being vegan has made me feel better about eating foods I sometimes find particularly hard to feel okay about eating.
Please note: I have never been too seriously sick with an eating disorder. However, the eating disorder voices have been in my mind over the past few years, and have caused various patches where unhealthy compulsions and thinking patterns have made their way into my life.
DISCLAIMER: I am in no way saying that veganism can hands-down speed or help recovery of an eating disorder. I know that some survivors have found this lifestyle change helpful in their recovery, and others have found it detrimental due to the triggers that come with restricting any part of your diet. Everybody’s experience is different, and I am only speaking for myself; no one else.
I’ve always been keen on exercise and sport, and have always made an effort in making sure my daily exercise is reasonably high. However, I’ve never managed to become noticeably fit or strong, despite my efforts. I thought this was because my exercise goals were only ever high enough to stay sane and healthy, not to improve at or pursue any particular sport. I also decided I just wasn’t naturally sporty.
Since going vegan, I haven’t upped my exercise intensity or quantity. I’ve continued with my yoga, walking/running/cycling, and netball at the same levels I was before. However, I have noticed a huge difference in my body’s reaction to my exercise since I’ve been vegan. My muscles have never been so toned before. My stamina in my exercise routines has never been so strong and consistent. I have never noticed a difference in my physical appearance due to exercise until I went vegan- I’ve burned more fat and gained more muscle. When I have large gaps between workouts for whatever reason, I don’t feel anywhere near as behind/weak/unfit as I used to if I missed days in a row.
My general energy levels have also increased, not only during exercise but throughout my daily routine. In my very un-scientific opinion, I think this might be because I need to eat more frequently and more quantity to keep myself full, so this regular energy input helps to boost my energy output. Also, a lot of animal products are very heavy and stodgy, and often leave you feeling bloated or heavy. Plants don’t make you feel like this, so generally I feel a lot lighter after meals, which helps me to continue with my day much more easily, as opposed to feeling like you need to sit around or lie down for a little while after eating.
Without trying to sound like the proud, annoying vegan many of people stereotype vegans to be, I highly recommend adopting a vegan lifestyle. It won’t be as hard as you think. Do your research beforehand, so that you know how to be healthy and how to respond to the inevitable “why are you vegan?” questions. Ease into it if that works best; for example cut out meat first, then eggs, then dairy, rather than cutting it all out at once. You will be surprised at how much better you feel, both ethically and physically.
Everyone except for a small few that I know that have gone vegan rave about how much better their lives are, just like I do. The small few who said it didn’t work for them either didn’t research well enough and therefore didn’t know how to be healthy with their diet(ie maintain crucial vitamin/mineral/nutrient levels), or purely couldn’t for practical reasons(eg parents not allowing it, constant travelling or being hosted by others, etc).
I challenge you. Do it. If you do it right, you’ll never look back.
Featured image: I had this amazing black rice porridge at a cafe the other day! Black rice cooked with coconut milk, topped with nuts, fruit, coconut sugar and coconut yogurt. So yummy!!