I went vegan about two years ago.
I use the term loosely because while I agreed with the general message of not hurting animals, I did not fully embody what it meant to be vegan until the end of my senior year of high school, when I braved the pathway to recovery from my eating disorder. I chose the route of veganism in my junior year because I thought it would help me lose more weight. Vegans only eat lettuce, right?
As misinformed as I was, there came a point when I had enough of struggling on my own. I had denied my illness for so long, because I didn’t want to admit there was something wrong with me. Nonetheless, I grew tired of constantly being at war with myself. It took away from my relationships with family and friends, my sense of adventure, and my enchantment with living.
My day-to-day life had become a calculated game of calories or how long I could last without eating food. I felt ashamed to eat anything other than a piece of fruit in public. As I type these words my behaviors seem so misguided and sad, but it is important that I acknowledge that this was my reality at the time.
There is a preconceived notion around vegans that they are weak and sickly, and for some time, I might have seemed like the poster child for that stigma. But I was also secretly the epitome of disordered eating. I had tsunami-like waves of anorexia, restrictive eating, orthorexia, bulimia, and binge eating…You name it. For a long time, I thought life was against me. You need food to live, but why was it out to get me?
One of the hardest periods of my life was recovering from ACL surgery during my senior year season of volleyball, because I felt like everything I worked for as an athlete was taken away from me.
Since I couldn’t control one of the most important aspects of my life anymore, I decided to focus on something I could. I dedicated all my time and energy towards my eating disorder. I cannot rationalize my thought patterns and behaviors to you, but it isn’t meant to be justified. Mental illness doesn’t always make sense, but it can be managed, and recovery is possible.
After numerous doctor visits for diet-related problems, I knew I was exposed. My eating disorder became not only evident to my family, but also to myself. I knew I needed help, but without an eating disorder, I wasn’t sure if I’d have an identity. What would I think about other than what I ate? What would I care about other than losing weight? Was there even a person behind the disorder? I had made myself small and fragmented in so many ways for over two years, that I had no idea who I wanted to be.
And so, I turned to my veganism. And in that small moment, I found a passion that would motivate me to live better and to be better. I didn't want to make myself and my identity small anymore. I knew life had to be more than whatever existence I was enduring, and so I took a risk that would redefine my entire sense of purpose.
This tiny moment of faith was the catalyst for other small changes, that would ultimately make all the difference.
I found inspiration, and I became educated.
I read blogs and watched videos online about the importance of veganism in our world. I identified with so many of the mantras. I wanted to be an active part of a movement that worked for a cleaner, healthier environment. I wanted to advocate for sustainable living and a diet that could feed the hungry in this world. I did not want to support animal agriculture because I didn’t want to contribute to unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions, ozone depletion, deforestation, or desertification.
I discovered that I love our planet, and I needed to partake in the effort to save it. It became clear to me that my own personal reality was skewed and distracted and that maybe I did not know everything.
I was humbled, and I became more compassionate.
For the first time in my life, something far greater than my individual self mattered. My internal struggle was not necessarily minimized, but it was put into perspective. I could do more in this world than count my calories or check how flat my stomach was in the mirror.
Ultimately, I didn’t want to contribute to the violent torture, rape, exploitation, and slaughter of sentient beings. Animals are intelligent and beautiful creatures that deserve to live their lives naturally. Who was I to decide the worth of a puppy’s life was superior to that of a pig’s?There was a whole new aspect of injustice in this world that I did not want to perpetuate any longer with complacence. I needed to stop dwelling on my own imperfections or failures, and start utilizing the abilities I did have to make a difference.
I was motivated, and sought action.
With my heart and eyes wide open, I began to integrate veganism into as many aspects of my life as I could. I made efforts to support and continue to support vegan companies and establishments with the power of my dollar. I am doing my best to purchase vegan cosmetics and clothing.
I am dedicated to my studies as a dietetics student so that one day I can become a vegan registered dietitian. I recently started a vegan blog and try to extend the voice of veganism to other social media platforms, as well. I have joined the University of Vermont chapter of Spoon University to highlight my passion for being vegan in a food conscious community. In my public speaking class, I chose to give an informative speech on veganism. I will talk for hours about veganism with anyone who will listen, and I want to do more.
Ultimately, I finally found a sense of peace.
I am not completely resolved of my eating disorder, and sometimes I still struggle with negative thoughts and unrealistic expectations. However, with each passing day, I am learning to manage these fears and anxieties. With a passion and a purpose, I have found my life to be more whole, and more enriched. I no longer need to define myself on the basis of how much I weigh, or the number of calories I put into my body.
Instead, I have a new focus. I find value in my capabilities, my ambitions, and my ethics. I am a part of something much more meaningful than my clothing size or measurements. I view myself as an advocate for health, sustainability, and compassion for all living beings.
And with that profound sense of purpose, my life has an undertone of content. I have faith in the future, and have less fear in what I cannot control. I can eat nutritious food in abundance. I can go out with my friends. I can talk with my parents when I am struggling. And most importantly, I can share my story with you in hopes that it may help in some small way.
I am grateful for a functioning, healthy body, a fantastic support system, and the natural beauty of the world around me. I no longer feel the constant need to compete with food, my body, or even other people. Instead, I get to focus on what matters most: my family, friends, and aspirations.
To me, veganism is more than just a diet, it is truly a lifestyle that I have embodied whole heartedly. And while being vegan does not automatically equate to a perfect life, it has saved me from many of my own demons. I am no longer afraid to experience the complexities of everyday life.
If you're dealing with any kind of mental illness, or any kind of sadness for that matter, I urge you to first and foremost seek help. Recovery is a painful process, but I promise it is worthwhile; you will get your life back.
And I encourage you to fill that life. Fill it up with things and people you love. Dedicate yourself to a cause or a goal. See your worth internally, not externally. And when you do, life, even with all its flaws and imperfections, will be strangely but undoubtedly beautiful.