Marfigs' Munchies

Adventures in vegan eats and feats

Veganism and the curative diet: when healthy eating isn’t enough

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Everyone has issues. Physically no body can be perfect; some people may have allergies, others digestive issues. Some may be on pain management diets, and others on a diet to address very specific diseases or simply suited to their ethical framework. What happens when one has multiple problems that attack your body, all with very different, often conflicting “solutions”? And what is there to do when you already eat a healthy, balanced diet and still struggle with your body and a never-ending sense of discomfort and pain? For some of you, don’t worry, this isn’t a “why I’m not vegan anymore” post, but I do have some things I’d like to share and get your opinion on.thinking-out-loud

To me the vegan diet is anything but restrictive in general terms, but there are so many blogs out there that address varied topics from cancer to gluten-intolerance, candida to Crohn’s, so even within the “subset” of veganism you do get restrictive diets for medical reasons. It’s fun to try out the various recipes designed for specific diets or people because they’re delicious and exciting in their own way, but as one becomes accustomed to one’s body outside of animal products and issues still remain, it becomes rather frustrating to locate the cause when there is so much information out there that implies it could be any handful of monstrous ailments that debilitate your body at all times.

When I was a meat-eater, and even as a vegetarian, I had absolutely crippling joint pain. It became worse in my first years of university, living by myself and surviving on white bread, cheese, chocolate and cigarettes. I could sometimes barely lift a mug without pain shooting through my wrist (hello plastic cups!), and my knees were constantly half-sprained and sensitive, prone to swelling and constant dull pain. The knees I could easily attribute to my massive size, but the wrists or shoulders? My doctor suggested it was psychological, whilst family members insisted it was hereditary, since my mom has rheumatoid arthritis. I was pretty lazy, however, so not much got done in terms of tests and what not.owlhatWhen I switched to vegetarianism I suddenly had a burst of unheard of energy. I had so much energy, in fact, that one day I put on my very dusty walking shoes (why did I even have them if I couldn’t walk five minutes without hating life?) and went for a power walk, all by myself, and on my own steam. I started with home yoga, stretching and shaking around for an hour each day, loving the fact that I could push my body in a controlled way. It hit me one day, as I started seeing massive weight loss and flexibility: I didn’t have as much pain. As a vegan, there has been no joint pain. I’ve only had one or two flare ups on the scale of what I experienced daily in earlier years, and that was after a few days of binging on refined and processed foods.

Seriously? Is that all it took? Unfortunately, one problem down, others to go. Veganism doesn’t mean perfection – far from it. One can still live unhealthily as a vegan, or even make awesome food choices and still have lingering issues. I still grapple with IBS (boo hiss) and am constantly ambivalent about whether bloating, pain, and a sloshy belly is due to carbs (too much or too little), gluten, or simply because my body chemistry is full of nonsense. It’s also easier said than done to undergo an elimination diet to see what exactly causes one’s specific symptoms. Cut out citrus? Ok…but what about this box of oranges I just bought? Cut out tomatoes? But then what will I put in my salads? Soy is “bad”, and legumes aren’t always digestion-friendly? There go two sources of vegan protein!531069_10151375969482494_2137149627_nMy point is, you’ll see a lot of back and forth in my recipes and on the blog in general, because it seems that “eating healthy” isn’t always straightforward, even as a vegan, and somehow the body (or at least mine) always has something to say. “Why did you eat toast for breakfast? Don’t you know it’s not good for me?” “Hey! Peanut butter! Break out your tracksuit because you won’t fit into your jeans for a while!” All this is why I’ve decided to simply accept that mindfulness is only a small part of the game, and that there isn’t always a situation in which one is a constant winner against one’s own body.

I was so relieved to read Wholeheartedly Healthy’s blog post entitled Eating Too Much Healthy Food, because I can relate to the transition where at some point last year I started eating way too little (and not on purpose) and lost a lot of weight, and then when I got long speeches from everyone I started eating more and more and am now over my ideal weight again because of it. It’s easier said than done to cut out food again or exercise too much, because what do you cut out when 90%+ of your daily intake is non-refined, veggie-based foods, and how do you fuel and intense hour-long cardio workout without consuming food? How can you start to become overweight and energy-deprived on a high-veggie diet with all the right supplements?foodgooood-11To top it all off, of course, my body’s usual response to food (painful bloating or lack of energy) also impacts my ability to exercise, makes me depressed, and so the vicious cycle continues. Turns out, being vegan means I eat healthfully but I’m not necessarily healthy. It’s at a point like this that I (and others like me) should give up self-medicating with food and go see a bladdy doctor or specialist, which is what I’ve made an appointment for. Food does have curative properties but it isn’t a total cure for many diseases or ailments, and no-one should fool themselves and put their life or comfort in jeopardy because they already think they’ve unlocked nutritional nirvana.

I never plan to go back to animal products, because I’ve had the same issues on all diets and want to remain vegan for more than just dietary reasons, but I can understand why some people freak out and think eggs or “just a little bit” of grass-fed meat are going to save them when they run into a supposed dead-end and live in daily discomfort. However, I’m going to work with my specialist and subsequent doctors to heal myself within veganism. Still, even though going vegan wasn’t a choice I made for diet alone, it is rather disappointing to think that after nearly 30 years I still haven’t figured out my body, and that my personal brand of vegan diet (low sodium, low fat and low on bread and pasta) isn’t as awesomesauce in practice as it is on my daily meal planner.

It makes me uncomfortable to see the “vegan diet” (that is, something separate from veganism as a way of life) being touted as the magical solution to problems of aging, cancer, and other issues, because although there are many wonderful studies showing the benefits of the diet aspect of veganism, I think that shining halo may make a lot of people too hesitant or ashamed to seek professional help for persistent medical issues. Even when you are not at all nutrient deficient (as some people like to think all vegans are), take your daily B12 supplements, and have done as much research as possible to make sure you’re covering all loose ends, your body can still be sick in other ways. I know my frustrations at a lack of improvement or cure at “food medicating” have seen me more stubborn than I should be, and that it should take less than lying screaming in pain on the floor to admit that food itself, no matter how “clean”, raw or unrefined, is not always the only cause, nor is it the only treatment.smoothiebfastswirlI think there’s a lot of pressure, especially on vegans and vegan bloggers, to be examples of shining good health, and honestly veganism does do amazing things to your body, aside from the moral aspects and lifestyle changes. So many people have indeed overcome illnesses through veganism and other lifestyle and dietary changes, but for others that isn’t the end of the road.

For anyone overcoming an Eating Disorder (which is a lifelong thing IMO), being unhealthy on healthy food really sucks. Again, I’m hoping that the specialist will find something gruesomely wrong with my system, because I’d be happier with that, to be honest, than with a shrug of the shoulders and being told to play around with my diet and see what works. When I was at the ER a few weeks ago I was honestly holding thumbs for a burst appendix, because surgery then yay! I’ve been back to the drawing board so many times that my pencils are dull and my brain even moreso. It’s time for the professionals to step in and to dissect the conditions of my living body without forcing me to be anything but what I am, although at this point what I am, physically, is a mess!

In conclusion, bring on the bionic bodies! (with tastebuds, for science)

Author: Marfigs

Ahoy, I’m Margaux! History teacher and freelance editor; wench to my Man-thing; volunteer at a cat shelter; and handmaiden to our kitsy cats, Gatsby, Freyja and Atlas. This blog is dedicated to vegan food, occasionally overthrown by pictures of foster kittens and other fluffy creatures. I love sharing ideas and recipes, so don't be shy: stop by and say hi!

12 thoughts on “Veganism and the curative diet: when healthy eating isn’t enough

  1. Pingback: WIAW and health update | Marfigs' Munchies

  2. Great post.
    There are often comments from (mostly healthy) vegans towards people with a chronic disease: ‘go vegan, go raw! and all your problems will be solved!!’
    It’s not that simple. And that can come across as very culpabilising (it’s your own fault that you are sick!).

    Diet is not the only determining factor whether you are sick or healthy.
    There are also other environmental factors, genetics, your lifestyle (sports, etc.) playing a part.

    And also, diet cannot reserve some of the damage done bc of a disease, e.g. if you have had a bowel removal (and maybe a pouch) bc of Crohn’s disease, a fused spine because of Ankylosing Spondylitis, nerve damage bc of MS, etc.

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    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment! And yes, it becomes rather demoralizing to have so-called simple solutions spouted constantly, when most of my diet has at some points been as close to raw as possible with no relief. Apart from a lack of practicality in most of these bits of advice, there are so many other factors, as you say, which you have absolutely no control over or perhaps no knowledge of and thus can’t begin to take steps (as far as possible) to address the issues. As much as I love veganism for its health benefits (apart from the ethical standpoint), it really seems a bit sly to tout it as a cure-all and the feeling that you’re failing at health on the “healthiest” diet or lifestyle can cause one to wait longer than necessary to seek real help. Ah, this stuff makes my blood boil!

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  3. Pingback: WIAW and staying fed despite yourself | Marfigs' Munchies

  4. I love this post. I am so careful about my food choices and they’ve done so much for me in the way of health. I’ve had a mysteriously difficult digestive system my whole life and I have to be really aware of my food choices… Even so, our bodies can be so difficult to figure out. I understand your feeling of wanting to find out you had a burst appendix just to find out what is actually wrong and being able to treat it and solve it. All of last year I suffered from a sudden onset of getting vertigo constantly, which then led to anxiety because I was always so worried about getting vertigo in places where I couldn’t easily escape and feel better. I went to three different doctors before one of them would even run the tests I asked for… We ended up finding that I had extremely low levels of vitamin d, which we figured were caused by a virus I’d had at the beginning of the year causing malabsorption.
    Anyways, my point is, it amazing how well we can nourish ourselves, but still suffer from things that are beyond our control. I certainly think a plant-based diet can lead to better health, but some things are just caused by breaches in our bodies’ chemistry. I hope you find some relief or a solution soon, Margaux!

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    • Hi Kayse – thanks so much for your comment and sharing experiences! I’m always so relieved when others know what I’m talking about – and it’s tricky to navigate what one can and cannot eat when you desperately also want to live spontaneously like other people; I so desperately wish I could stop at a roadside café or some hole-in-the-wall restaurant and just order pizza or whatever I was in the mood for without dreading the consequences!

      I’m glad you pushed and went for different opinions – vitamin d malabsorption I’m sure isn’t an everyday diagnosis, but vertigo is SUPER scary when it’s random! When I volunteered at an orphanage I had to stop at some point because I was too afraid to pick up the babies in case my consciousness started spinning and I dropped one.

      Body chemistry is definitely something that one can’t judge from the surface, which is why I’m sure only a hardcore battery of tests will get to the bottom of this, not some dietitian’s wise words or what not. Gut flora composition, “leaky gut”…there is so much that can go wrong and still be hidden away behind a healthy facade!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Beautifully written Margaux, I hope you find out soon and start feeling better. ❤

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  6. Wow, thanks so much for sharing your story. I know someone with Crohns, and I know that it can be really tough for her sometimes. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like for that or for something like the pain you describe. I’m really sorry that you have to go through that…It’s got to be hard. I’m glad to hear though that you’ve found a way to get through it…And feel by eating different foods!

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    • Thank you for your comment! 😀 I think what a lot of people forget, especially for those suffering from Crohns and the like, is the depression that often accompanies the disease and how people either self-destruct or become extremely isolated because of the physical and social discomfort of their situation.
      Definitely looking forward to getting to the bottom of this and bouncing back to energy and exercise! 🙂

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  7. I’m 19 and all my life I’ve struggled with bad stomach distress and crappy intestines. I got the BS diagnosis of IBS when I was 12 years old, but there was OBVIOUSLY a lot more going on than the blanket disease that they diagnose with everyone. Since then, I’ve had a CT scan, colonoscopy, gastroscopy, gastric emptying scan, gallbladder scan, and have tried every med on the market (and even one from Canada that isn’t approved by the FDA….). Two years ago, they diagnosed me with gastroparesis and a bad gallbladder. I was already eating gluten/dairy/egg-free because of the diarrhea associated with those three, and now I had to cut out red meat, fiber and be low fat TOO?
    SO far it’s been a rough process because they are still suspecting malabsorption due to my inability to gain much needed weight. Stomach issues are seriously the worst!

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    • Hi Eva – thanks so much for your comment – I feel infinitely better knowing I’m not alone! IBS is a nonsense diagnosis because most doctors (or even websites when you play doctor yourself) will tell you there is no one cure and it’s just a question of trying to cut out this or that.

      I can’t believe the battery of tests you’ve gone through though, but honestly when it comes to the amount of pain and discomfort one feels it is worth it IF you get a diagnosis, but it seems you’re still not sorted. I think a lot of people underestimate what a funny gut will do to your life – it affects everything from relationships to outings, concentration and more!

      The “practical” side of eliminating food gets to be a bit much though – every doctor and every dietitian will tell you something different, and most of it isn’t compatible with “real life” – how are you supposed to join in for cake on a special occasion or have an impromptu dinner out when everything is so micromanaged? Argh!

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