I follow a vegan diet. Before proceeding with this article and some of the problems associated with veganism, I would like to emphasize that I remain vegan and cannot currently foresee altering my non-consumption of animal products. I love being vegan, and I believe that there are a lot of benefits related to this lifestyle. Nonetheless, I can definitely acknowledge that there are several issues associated with veganism that people often refuse to discuss, specifically involving the restrictive diets and unrealistic expectations that influencers project upon impressionable viewers.  

The role of influencers

Recently, a string of popular, ex-vegan YouTubers released videos explaining the rationale behind their decision to switch to consuming animal products. Brain fog, poor digestion, tiredness, and lack of sex drive are among the reasons they listed for the changes in their diets. 

While I do advocate for ending diets that aren't making you feel well, vegan or otherwise, many of these creators spent years promoting high carb, low-fat, fruit-only, or extremely low-calorie diets. Some participated in water fasts or juice cleanses to detox their systems. Meanwhile, with each new diet-trend, they shared their supposedly amazing results with thousands of subscribers, claiming that they'd never felt better before moving onto the next fad. These videos are still up and continue to be monetized on their YouTube channels.  

While I cannot claim direct causation, there could be many reasons as to why these individuals experienced unwanted symptoms. Brain fog can be attributed to low-fat diets and therefore insufficient consumption of omega 3 fatty acids. Tiredness can also be linked to eating too few calories (or for those who do not take vitamin supplements, a lack of B-12). 

Two years ago, I decided to slowly cut all animals products out of my diet. Documentaries and classes convinced me that it was the best thing that I could do for the environment, the animals, and my health. However, with few ideas about what to eat, I turned towards vegan Youtubers.

The false image of perfection

Their lives seemed perfect. They woke up early every morning to practice yoga or meditate. Their meals were colorful and picturesque. They traveled to exotic countries, had clear skin, and their before and after pictures were absolutely astounding. I wanted to, like so many other young girls, be like them. 

Whereas I had initially listened to my body and eaten a dark chocolate bar or two when I felt like it, I slowly began to cut most fats out of my diet, because that's what I was told to do. Instead, I filled up on bananas, mangos, pineapple, and berries. While personally I never cut my calories, I can see how after following certain "What I Eat in a Day" videos, others might. 

I can only speak from personal experience, but when you are told that the only way to achieve the extraordinary results that these influencers relay to their audience is to eat in an unyielding, fairly restrictive manner, it becomes an obsession. I began to micromanage my daily eating habits, making sure my macros were in check. I cut most peanut butter (probably one of my all-time favorite foods) out of my diet because I was scared it would make me gain weight or break out. I was mad at myself when I ate a bagel or indulged in some chips and guac. 

Problems with following influencers' suggestions

Did I lose weight? Absolutely. However, the idea of food consumed almost every aspect of my life. I couldn't remember what it was like going through life without constantly thinking about everything I ate. A few months into my high-carb, low-fat phase, I lost my period. Six months later, after incorporating more fat into my diet, I got it back. I can't say for sure that this loss had anything to do with my diet, but clearly, it was an indicator that all was not right with my body.  

I don't believe that these influencers are consciously trying to lead their audience astray. Nonetheless, unintentionally or not, they exploit their viewer's or reader's desire to look and be a specific way. They fail to disclose the hardships of these confining diets. Not only is it physically and mentally taxing to follow such a prohibitive diet, but it's also excessively expensive.

Many of you may be wondering how some people could be so naive. Obviously, the shiny, happy experience lifestyle gurus promote is falsified. But the idea of an image is an extremely powerful motivator. The picture of a toned girl who wakes up at 6 am, drinks her lemon water, does one hour of yoga, and eats her beautiful açaí bowl is alluring to a lot of people (proven by the fact that videos promoting this idea have millions of views). In fact, this façade is so persuasive that it has convinced some people that eating only bananas or potatoes is the singular way to be healthy. 

Body image issues and body positivity

Throughout these past two years, I have watched and listened to a lot of different vegan Youtubers, all of whom have their own special brand, coupled with a specific diet, to sell. Many, with or without realizing it, suggest that the sole way to sustainably lose weight or be your happiest self is to buy their book and watch their videos.  

Regardless of intentions, implying that veganism, specifically forms of veganism that entail cutting out an entire macronutrient (fat, carbs, or protein), restricting calories, or periodic water fasts, can cure all your issues creates an incredibly destructive relationship with food and could conceivably lead to Orthorexia.

Even now, after seeing the pitfalls of these diets, it is still easy for me to overthink my meals and snacks. Eating tons of fruits and veggies is healthy, but so is eating peanut butter, whole grains, chickpeas, dark chocolate, flaxseeds, avocado, tempeh and a wide variety of other foods. So why should I completely cut them (or for that matter, any food I enjoy) out of my diet? The short answer: I shouldn't.