For the past week now, I’ve had a sinus infection. When I woke up feeling sick last Tuesday, I immediately tested for Covid, but it was negative. I honestly couldn’t believe it. Although I’m very grateful I’ve somehow managed to avoid Covid so far, what are the chances that someone who hasn’t been sick for ten years gets two unrelated illnesses within two months of one another during a global pandemic? What kind of ridiculous coincidence is this?
Since my symptoms felt so similar to how I felt in November, I assumed I’d be better in a few days again. I was aggravated at even that. However, now that it’s been nearly 7 days with little to no improvement, I’m starting to feel pretty silly for being upset about losing only a couple days. Apparently sinus infections last a lot longer than other colds. I’ve never had one before, so I’m at least learning a lot. I have a whole new appreciation for the people I’ve known who seem to get them all the time. I had no idea they were suffering so much. I feel even worse, because for some reason, I always naively assumed a sinus infection was less serious than a cold or flu.
The only really good thing about being sick is it makes you so much more appreciative of being healthy. It’s wild to realize I took those ten years of good health for granted so easily. Even after having quite a lot of sicknesses as a child, I hadn’t spent hardly one moment being grateful for a decade of impeccable health. And mixed within my anxious fears about how much longer I’ll feel sick and if I’ll need to end up going to the doctor’s for an antibiotic to get better is a tearful, humbling sense of gratitude. At least I can be fairly certain that I will ultimately feel better again. Now that is something to be thankful for.
There are so many people who have never known a day free from physical discomfort or illness. There are so many people every day that get sick and live with the knowledge that they won’t get better again. And despite how upset I am by the idea that I may have to go see a doctor, I’m so glad that I am able to do that if I need to. So many people don’t have access to even the most basic care. There weren’t even antibiotics a little over a hundred years ago. And soon enough, due to egregious overuse in factory farms, they will not work anymore.
So even though I’m frustrated and tired and uncomfortable, this illness has still given me something precious: perspective. It could be so much worse. It is so much worse for millions of people in this world. And one day when I get sick, I won’t have even a hope of getting better. For these reasons and many more, I am so grateful. I am so grateful for this body, for access to medical care, for medical science, and for all the countless moments free from pain and discomfort that I’ve already been able to enjoy.
the body loves me
even when I don't love it
this animal spirit inside
is fighting tirelessly
to keep me alive
of blood vessels and veins
muscles and sinews
and breathing stardust
cleverly conspiring to keep me safe
I poison its efforts with casual harm
cutting and gagging and straining its limits
imperfection is not justification for punishment
blinded to the enormous, exhausting efforts
of a body trying its very best
This quivering creature that cradles my soul
only craving compassion and care
the bare minimum of reciprocation
for non-stop, selfless service
offered in a myriad of unnoticed ways
I cannot fault it for not following vanity
and dangling me just above death
to fit in a smaller dress
it doesn't understand that desire
true love is keeping me healthy
The fierce physical innocence of this form
continues to create blood and breath and bone
to buoy me forward in this life without thanks
the precious animal that is also me
doesn't deserve such callous disregard
The mind and the body are wards of one another
it's time my mental faculties begin
carrying their own weight in the ways
of consistent loving-kindness
for this creature doing the best it can
By now I think most people are familiar with the major benefits of transitioning to veganism. Many, like me, are initially drawn in by promises of weight loss while still eating large quantities of food. Then they wind up staying for the animals and the myriad of other bonuses you notice along the way. Other people do it to be healthier in general or to contribute less to the destruction of planet Earth. There are tons of posts out there that will tell you about the same handful of positive changes a vegan diet brings into your life. After being vegan for over 10 years, I’d like to shine a light on the somewhat stranger, less discussed benefits a vegan lifestyle offers.
One: Level Up Your Cooking Skills
I hate to cook. Or at least… I used to. Now although the amount of time it takes and the mess it makes frustrates me from time to time, I can’t help but get an immense sense of satisfaction from the incredible, healthy dishes I’ve learned to throw together so easily. In the beginning the increased necessity for cooking your own meals may be daunting to new vegans. In a small area like the one I live in, going out to eat every night or buying pre-made vegan food items isn’t really an option (even if I could afford it.) I can’t just go to the deli and buy a rotisserie chicken for dinner when I’ve had an unexpectedly long day. On the other hand, I honestly have no desire to let others make my food. They simply don’t do it as well as I am able to now. I’m quite surprised and proud of my newfound cooking ability and can genuinely say I prefer the meals I make at home over the expensive vegan restaurants’ dishes. If you’re interested in the types of food I prepare, you can find links to all my most used recipes in this post.
Two: Expand Your Food Repertoire
After ten years of hearing, “But what do you eat?” I’ve grown quite perplexed by the question. Imagine trying to answer that as a non-vegan. Am I supposed to list dozens of food items and meals? I eat so many different things! I feel like simply responding, “What do you mean?” I once heard someone on a podcast who explained it perfectly. How many different meats are there really? Maybe three or four that people eat regularly, then cheeses and milk. That really isn’t much variety. On the other hand there are thousands and thousands of different plant foods available to us to eat. Non-vegan meals now look quite sad and tan-colored to me, very bland and unappetizing. Since going vegan, my experience with new, interesting, and exotic foods has expanded beyond the wildest dreams of the normal, American meat-eater. I’ve tried dishes from many different cultures, mastered the art of utilizing spices, and tasted fruits and vegetables I never knew existed before! I assure you I eat a more exciting and varied diet than any non-vegan I’ve ever known.
Three: Bye-bye Common Cold
While I had a vague awareness of this before, the Covid-19 pandemic really brought it to the forefront. I think we’ve all gotten a bit more paranoid around anyone who seems to be sniffling or coughing in the last few years. What’s surprised me is just how often everyone I know experiences cold symptoms like these. It’s almost as if everyone around me is perpetually ill. There are people I’ve noticed who are literally always congested, dripping from their noses and eyes, and have a cough that won’t quit. And these aren’t people with long Covid. Many of them never got it to begin with. Hopefully I won’t be jinxing myself by saying that in my ten years as a vegan, I’ve never gotten sick. Seriously. Not once. And before you go attributing this to luck or good genes, I used to get sick all the time. At the very least, I could expect a few days of serious battling with a stomach bug every year and being plagued by the pesky common cold every fall/winter. I never even realized how badly my body felt at a baseline level until I went vegan and experienced real health for the first time in my life. I thought regular sickness was just how life was supposed to be. I’m here now to tell you, it’s not. Veganism is your ticket to not only long-term health, but daily wellness.
Four: Faster Recovery Time
Not only does a vegan diet prevent you from feeling achy and sluggish after a big meal, it also helps your body recover more quickly from a workout. A vegan diet contains absolutely zero cholesterol, so the heart benefits are usually a big focus. But in addition to a stronger, healthier heart, the rest of the body’s abilities are also bolstered by eating plant-based. I can’t help but laugh when I see fitness bros proclaiming vegans are weak and can’t build muscle for lack of protein. Not only are there world-class, record breaking athletes that are vegan, the diet is also a great help to the average fitness enthusiast like myself. You are not only just as capable of building muscle, but the process will be much less painful. Inflammation in the body wreaks all sorts of havoc, but it also is the culprit when you notice sore, tired muscles after an intense workout. While I still get a satisfying sense of soreness from a challenging leg day, my body recovers and replaces those aches with new, stronger muscle tissue much faster than it ever did before I went vegan. If you’d like to learn more about the effects of veganism on athletes, I’d recommend watching The Game Changers. Or you can read about this specific aspect on their website.
Five: Brain Fog Finally Lifted
Before the pandemic, this aspect of veganism was also a bit harder to explain to people. With so many long-covid patients reporting the now common term of “brain fog” I feel I have a better chance of helping people understand what I mean. It’s been so long, I can’t really remember what it used to feel like inside my head. Still I’ve never forgotten the experience I had after about a full month of vegan eating. I woke up one morning and everything just felt clearer. It’s hard to describe exactly. I’ve always said it was like a cloud had lifted off of my mind. I could think faster, more coherently, more easily than ever before. It’s not like I had been struggling or anything. I had always been a straight A student and prided myself on my above average intelligence. Even so, this was something different. Almost like I had been carrying a heavy weight that was suddenly dropped, allowing me for the first time to move at my full potential. When you and every one you know have been living in a perpetual state of mild illness, you don’t really understand what it means to truly be healthy and well, physically AND mentally. But I promise you, give it a month, even if just as an experiment. You’ll be blown away by what you discover.
I hope that this has given you a bit more insight into the nearly infinite reasons to go vegan. I’m sure there are many more that I have accidentally overlooked, but these five are the ones I’ve been thinking about lately. I’m no saint. I went vegan in the beginning for selfish reason, not for the animals, as I wish I had. I’m hopeful that personal gain will be a motivator to other people as well. Regardless of what aspect of veganism you look at, there is some incredible benefit to be had whether it be to your health, daily lifestyle, cognitive function, the Earth, or the animals. Please consider giving yourself, everyone else, and everything on this planet this amazing gift.
This body is not an ornament
or a toy to break and replace
it is the holy vessel that holds me
and tethers me to this world
A useful container that houses the soul
perfect and precious because it is uniquely mine
the one thing I fully own, my true home
the most important gift I could be given
How ungrateful I've been for
the mortal flesh that supports me
my personal window into reality
an unconscious effort that keeps me living
Belittling all that this body does
based only on shallow self judgement
centered around outward appearance
as if that even matters
The frightened animal form
my consciousness has been assigned
to protect and take care of
offering only criticism and neglect
May I be a better steward
to this living temporary temple
and learn to speak to it with gratitude
and soft caresses of loving kindness
I feel my phone begin to vibrate as I’m on the other line with my mother last night. I glance at the screen to see that my best friend is calling. I thought it somewhat odd as we usually send a text before we call one another, but didn’t think much of it. I finished talking to my mom and called her back about 10-20 minutes later. To my surprise, she was actually calling me because she was on the way to the vet to meet her husband who had just taken one of their cats there. They were both in a panic and she just wanted to hear a comforting voice.
Although I was touched that she would reach out to me in this state, I couldn’t help but get angry at what she told me. Their cat was experiencing a urinary blockage, which is a rather common issue for cats. I believe a couple of my family cats have had the same problem in the past. The shocking part was the estimate they were given for the cost of treatment: $3,500. I knew it would be a lot, but holy mother of God. I immediately started doing research.
It didn’t take more than a few minutes to discover that this price was at the very highest end of the scale for treatment cost for a urinary blockage. I collected all the information I could, advised my friend about what specific questions to ask the vet, and sent her the links to the websites I had referenced. In the event the vet didn’t give them any alternatives, I also told her she should call around to try to get estimates from other vets before agreeing to anything.
I was happy that I was able to help my friend during this difficult time, but after we hung up, I was left reeling with disgust for the healthcare system in this country for not only humans, but our fur children as well. With this grim reality heavy on my mind, I am even more concerned with what I think I’ve discovered today about my own four legged baby. For the last few months, she has had very bizarre, yet extreme symptoms that seem to come and go without cause. One day she’ll be fine, then the next she’ll be nearly crippled. Then a day or two later, she’ll be okay again. I hesitated to take her to the vet thus far because I feared they’d only run all kinds of expensive tests with no guarantee of a diagnosis or effective treatment.
However, the decision to make an appointment has all but been decided for me today. By complete chance, one of the children I met at work was saying that her dog has Lyme Disease. I don’t know why I hadn’t considered it before, but my heart sank as I looked up the symptoms. My dog has been displaying nearly every single one. It has been the only thing I’ve read that actually fits her strange difficulties the last few months.
A bit more research has suggested the cost may be upwards of $1000 for treatment, even if it is still a mild case and hasn’t already damaged her heart or kidneys. I am ready and willing to pay whatever it takes to ensure that my sweet baby girl is happy and healthy again. And the sad part is, the vets know that. I am hopeful because so far my vet has always been very understanding and reasonable. I believe they even have payment plan options available. However, it sickens me to know that so many people take advantage of our love and desperation to help our pets. Our intern told me today that her mother was once charged $250 just to be given their dog’s body back in a garbage bag.
I think often our guilt at not wanting to pay what we are asked or our panic to have our pet healed leads people not to question or challenge the price tag. However, you should never have to feel guilty about standing up for yourself or resisting someone else’s efforts to take advantage of you. There is nothing wrong with asking more questions, doing your own research, or even getting quotes from other vets. In fact, I highly encourage you to do this. I’d also just like to offer any help I can to others who have found themselves in these heart wrenching situations. My vet actually has the cards at their front desk, but just in case yours does not, there is a program/website called Good Rx. I had known about this for human medications, but didn’t realize they had a pet version as well. Good Rx is a way to ensure that you are getting the absolute best price for any medication.
I know that’s not much help. I wish I could offer more. I sincerely hope that this information can be of use to anyone reading this. I am grateful to be fortunate enough to be able to afford my dog’s treatment, but I shudder to think of the pain of not having the money to help her. I would, as I’m sure many other people have, go to great lengths to get her the care she needs, no matter the impact or financial devastation I may have to experience as a result. It is truly one of the ugliest aspects of human nature that these vets and doctors display, to take advantage of someone’s love, someone’s health, just to make a bigger profit. I offer my deepest sympathy to anyone who has been the victim of this cruel exploitation, and for those that haven’t, I pray you never do.
Well, it finally happened. This morning as I got up to turn off my alarm, the first thing my barely conscious brain registered was a slight discomfort at the back of my throat whenever I would swallow. Despite being vaccinated and receiving my booster, I knew it was only a matter of time considering I work with the general public every day. I wiped a little one year old’s nose Tuesday. A twelve year old boy came in maskless and coughing Wednesday. The nurse that came to our meeting yesterday has been working on the Covid unit. I should have known at least one of these regular possible exposure situations would eventually result in getting sick myself. Not to mention I live in a very rural, conservative area where no one ever fully followed the CDC guidelines and I’m sure there are plenty of people that, to this day, never wore a mask. It’s shocking I haven’t experienced symptoms sooner.
Unlike my usual groggy morning self, this morning I was wide awake. My mind was racing with all of the things I am supposed to do today and this weekend. I starting making mental bullet points of all the things I needed to cancel, where testing is available, etc. I felt frustrated that I just put on new fake nails that no one will get to see. I worried about the things I left at my office that I won’t be able to get for god knows how long now. A small part of me wanted to somehow think of a way I could avoid quarantine all together. In the end I knew I had to text everyone at work and my yoga studio to let them know.
After finally coming to terms with what has so far only been a minor inconvenience, I began to have very different thoughts. Given that I still feel rather normal and healthy aside from my throat, I did my morning workout as I normally do while I waited to hear back from my boss. Instead of feeling annoyed and reluctant to move my body first thing in the morning like I usually do, today I felt so overwhelmingly grateful that I could. I considered just how unbelievably lucky I have been so far during the course of this never-ending pandemic. Not only that, but how lucky I have been in life, especially regarding my physical health.
I’m a bit of a hypochondriac, so part of me wants to believe that this sore throat is something unrelated, but knowing that I haven’t had so much as a cold for over a decade, leaves me feeling pretty confident it’s Covid. Yet realizing I’ve been so healthy for such an extended period of time is incredible. Not only that, I am so fortunate to be young and healthy in the face of this pandemic. My biggest fear is losing my sense of smell and/or having lingering fatigue. Although these still seem horrifying to me, I have to remind myself that so many people are afraid of literally dying from this virus.
It’s funny, I was just thinking yesterday that there is something beautiful about the sudden negative turns in life. Despite the content or context, they are like being jarringly awoken from a dream. Everything around you becomes so much sharper and more defined. Reality takes on a crystalline, vivid nature. We see everything more clearly, as if for the first time. We become painfully aware of all that we have, and also all that we stand to lose. We are reminded that we should never take anything for granted, whether it be something as significant as our ability to breathe with ease or as seemingly trivial as our sense of smell.
Even the most inconvenient or potentially devastating life events can be a blessing in this way. Today I am going to spend my time off counting my many blessings. I’m going to be exceptionally kind and gentle with myself. I’m going to give myself my favorite foods and savor my ability to taste them. I am going to give my body rest and tenderness. I am going to center my loving awareness on the people most dear to me, and be thankful that I live alone and haven’t had the chance to potentially expose them to my sickness. I am going to spend quality time with my fur babies and be grateful I have a job that allows me to work from home when needed. Hell, maybe I’ll even take an afternoon nap which I haven’t done in years.
Whether I end up testing positive for Covid or not, I am so humbled by all that life has given me. I am going to use this time of fear and uncertainty to meditate on this beautiful slice of consciousness that the universe has gifted to me and all that it entails. My heart goes out to the rest of the world and all those who have suffered or are currently suffering from this virus. May you be safe. Maybe you be happy. May you be healthy. And may you live with ease. Today I will let this be my prayer, my mantra, for myself, my loved ones, and the world.
Since 2014 a UK based non-profit has been spreading the word about veganism and influencing global change by encouraging people to commit to practicing veganism for the first month of the year. Veganuary even has it’s own website with lots of helpful resources for people that aren’t sure where to start. There is a free vegan cookbook available for download. They also have 18 pages of vegan dinner recipes alone right on the site, no email required! You could try a new meal idea for each day of the month if you wanted to.
Today I wanted to do my part by contributing to this incredible movement. A lot of vegans look down on this “challenge” because it can seem like a way for people to feel good about themselves without actually changing their lifestyle, therefore acknowledging the issues, and still deciding not to make a bigger impact. I used to be one of said vegans. It really aggravated me for some reason to see people simply flirting with veganism. Cheat day vegans and meatless Mondays were also pet peeves of mine. I just felt like it was a joke to these people. I felt the ever present pressure of our ever shortening window of time to save the animals, ourselves, and our planet, and demanded more.
Now I see that any amount of change is good. The aggressive, militant attitude of vegans like my younger self are part of the reason people avoid making the change in the first place. It seems very strict and intimidating. People just aren’t sure they’ll be able to do it, and that fear of criticism and failure causes them to look away instead. It creates an atmosphere where people are afraid to make mistakes, afraid to ask questions, and that isn’t serving anyone. Now I highly encourage anyone who’s curious about veganism or even just wants to turn over a new, healthier leaf for the new year to give veganuary a try. With ten years of veganism under my belt now, I figure I’ve learned at least a few kernels of worthwhile advice I can share as well.
One: Make It Easy
Sometimes one of the hardest parts about going vegan is the planning and preparation of food. People that have been vegan for a long time or are used to cooking all the time, may not realize that a large portion of the populations eats out for a lot of their meals. This can be a huge deterrent to veganism if there aren’t vegan restaurant options near you or if you can’t afford these pricier pre-made choices. That’s why planning ahead is essential for new vegans. Take the time to find at least five easy recipes with minimal ingredients. I would recommend looking up some simple vegan versions of your favorite comfort foods. Make a grocery list of ingredients (maybe restock your spice drawer with less common spices such as garam masala) and preplan when you are going to gather these things as well as when you will prepare the meals. This way you won’t find yourself hungry and low on time which could easily lead to a meat relapse.
Two: Give Your Body Time to Adjust
I’ve had people come up to me in the past and say that they tried to be vegan, but it made them sick so they stopped. This was always so perplexing to me, because I know that a vegan diet is the best thing for your body and your health. I just couldn’t understand why it would make them sick. Part of me wondered if it was psychosomatic or if they were lying. I advised that they be sure to take a multivitamin with B-12 since there is no natural source of that in today’s foods. (Animal products are artificially infused with B-12.) However, just the other day I learned there may be another reason a vegan diet could make you feel worse in the beginning: fiber.
Even before I was vegan, I ate healthier than a lot of the population, so I never noticed this issue. But if you’re someone who is used to eating primarily meats, cheeses, and processed foods with little plant matter, a sudden increase in dietary fiber is going to be hard for your body to handle. While ultimately a diet high in fiber will improve your overall health, the gut microbiome will take time to adjust. It just doesn’t have enough microbes that are able to break fiber down when it has gone years without needing them. If you notice symptoms such as bloating, gas, or abdominal discomfort, know that this is likely the cause. Also know that these symptoms will pass with time as your gut microbe population changes to accommodate your changing diet.
Three: Protein & Cravings
Sometimes people begin to feel as though they are denying their body things it needs by cutting out animal products. We’re taught all of our lives that we need these unconscionable parts of our diet in order to be healthy. Even though countless studies have proven that isn’t the case, showing the opposite in fact, it can be hard to overcome this ever-present misinformation. Any vegan will tell you that one of the most frustrating myths we are endlessly confronted with is the idea that a vegan diet does not provide enough protein. A vegan diet has more than enough protein, and it isn’t hard to find. I’ve never made a conscious effort to seek out specific sources of plant-based protein and I’ve been incredibly healthy for the past ten years. Not only that, I’ve built tons of new muscle in that time. I’m more muscular now than I ever was as a non-vegan.
When you find yourself craving meat, or more likely cheese, don’t put too much weight behind those cravings. We are taught to “listen to our bodies” which is normally good advice, but our body’s signals go a bit haywire when we introduce chemical addictions to the mix. If you cut out added sugar from your diet, you will definitely crave it, but that doesn’t mean your body needs it to be healthy. We think we are craving some kind of necessary nutrients from our usual foods, when really we are craving casomorphin (in the case of cheese) and testosterone, estrogen, and other hormones that are pumped into these poor animals before slaughter.
Coming back to casomorphin, it is an opioid peptide that is derived from the digestion of the milk protein casein. This is the culprit when you find yourself desperate to cling to your cheesy foods. All vegans have experienced this challenging withdrawal and overwhelming craving. I promise you, it will pass. One day a block of cheese will look no more appetizing than a pile of gravel.
Four: Allow Yourself to Make Mistakes
Veganuary isn’t like other challenges. There is no rule that you are out if you slip up and eat animal products before the month is over. So give yourself the grace to try again even if you make a mistake or can’t resist your cravings. Veganism isn’t about being perfect. It’s about trying your best to do the least harm you can. Don’t be too hard on yourself or feel like you’ve got to give up if you find yourself unable to stick to the challenge every moment of the month. You can try again as many times as you need to.
I truly hope that this advice and information will help you make in through this first month of the year without contributing to the suffering of animals and the destruction of our world. Regardless of whether or not you plan on becoming fully vegan, veganuary is still an incredible act of kindness and good will. Even though it’s only one month, it makes a huge difference, not only in the economy, but in your body. I’ve mentioned before that it only took one month for me to notice a total transformation of my body and mind. Please feel free to reach out to me or leave a comment if you have any questions or concerns. I will do my best to be as helpful as possible. I am happy to provide support. Good luck! I have such high hopes for you in the new year.
Most people are aware of the various physical health benefits of eating a plant-based diet. You see articles all the time about it’s ability to prevent and treat heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, even cancer. You can lose weight, slow the effects of aging, etc. These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of veganism. There are so many other surprising perks that come along with this change that I never really hear people talking about. Even other vegans I know don’t seem to mention it unless I ask them about it.
One of the most interesting and amazing things I noticed after my first month of a strictly vegan diet is something I have only recently come to understand a bit better. My post yesterday was a very brief synopsis of what I learned about the gut microbiome and how it affects our thinking, decision making, and more broadly, our mental health. Learning this really helped me connect the dots. So that explains it! By “it” I mean the strange mental distinction I felt between eating animal products and eating plants.
It’s been a long time since my first vegan month, but I still remember that milestone like it was yesterday, because of how it caught me by surprise. It felt as though the effects came on rather suddenly. One morning I felt like I had every other day of my life, then the next morning it was like I was awake for the first time. It’s hard to explain, but I’ve always described it as a cloud lifting off of my mind. Now I’ve always been an intelligent, quick witted person. Still, all of a sudden my thoughts seemed to come to me more easily, more quickly, more seamlessly. I guess now having learned the term “brain fog” I would describe my pre-vegan brain as being in that muddled state 24/7. When you’ve lived your whole life that way though, you don’t really recognize it as a problem.
For years, this strange phenomenon that occurred in my own mind, and the mind of all the other vegans I asked, really baffled me. I didn’t understand what exactly caused this shift. But when I read about the way our gut directly communicates with our brain, it finally made sense. After a month of consistent plant-based eating, my gut was producing the metabolites that I needed to be my best. My gut and brain were able to communicate efficiently for the first time in my life.
Another benefit of a vegan diet I wanted to address I believe is also due to the complex interactions between our gut microbiome and the rest of our body. You don’t hear about it often, but a vegan diet is the most anti-inflammatory diet out there. In the beginning this statement didn’t mean much to me. I hadn’t even been aware that eating animal products caused a constant state of inflammation in the body, nor did I understand the health implications of that fact. Inflammation is often the cause of many autoimmune diseases as well as other health problems. But apart from that, inflammation in the body also has an impact on our ability to be physically active.
Contrary to the myths about veganism preventing you from achieving physical fitness and building muscle, it actually assists the body in these endeavors. Without subjecting the body to constant inflammation each time we digest a meal, it is able to perform much more efficiently mentally and physically. Not only are my workouts easier and more enjoyable, my recovery time is also greatly reduced.
Finally, as a vegan, I pretty much haven’t been sick in ten years. When I was younger I used to get extremely sick (usually a stomach bug) at least twice each year. For awhile, I thought it was just because I was a kid. Granted, kids do get sick more often because they are still developing their immune systems. However as an adult, I still see a lot of people who seem to be constantly sick in one way or another. Especially in the winter, everyone I know gets at least one lingering cold. All around me people are coughing and sniffling and complaining of headaches and sore throats.
These mild, but chronic health issues are all seen as normal, just like that brain fog I once hadn’t even been able to notice. No one even considers that things could be different. But they can. All it takes is treating your body with kindness and feeding it what it was designed to be fed instead of anti-biotic, cortisol, adrenaline, puss, shit, piss, and virus ridden dead bodies. Looking back it seems obvious that I didn’t feel my best. I’m surprised our bodies are even able to function with the typical American diet. With veganism, everyone wins, the animals, the environment, and us.
So with January fast approaching, I highly encourage anyone reading this to give Veganuary a try. No need to commit to veganism for the rest of your life, just experiment. Take that one month to try something different. Just to see how it feels. One month was all it took for me to notice a life changing mental shift. It is definitely worth it for many reasons, least of which are all the incredible personal benefits. Let me know if you’ve experienced any noticeable physical/mental changes from a vegan diet. Also feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or would like some advice for how to make the switch. I’m more than happy to help any way I can.
The more I learn about the human body and the world, the more obvious it becomes that every little supposedly insignificant thing matters and everything is inextricably connected. The bad news is there is no cheating your way to health or fitness or happiness. But the good news is, although it may seem harder, the tried and true methods of slowly achieving success are always available to us. If we treat both our bodies and our minds well and show them patience and compassion, health and happiness with inevitably follow. A lot of people will find this obvious and uninteresting, but I’ve never been one to base any of my opinions or actions on good faith alone, I usually require a more thorough knowledge of the mechanisms going on behind the scenes.
The emerging science of what’s going on backstage in our own bodies is truly stranger than fiction. Most of us know (although we don’t like to think about it) that our bodies contain lots of microscopic organisms in addition to our human cells. Our skin, our hair, our nails, our eyelashes, and of course our guts are teeming with strange little lifeforms, the majority of which are harmless. It may be a bit unsettling to consider, but the bacteria inhabiting our bodies are actually even more than harmless, they are helpful, even necessary for us to be healthy. Before reading The Mind-Gut Connection by Dr. Emeran Mayer, I thought my vague comprehension of that fact was sufficient. Gut microbes are good for us, case closed. Now I’m discovering that the role these little organisms play in our digestion, day to day life, decision making, and ever our personalities are far more complicated than I’d ever imagined.
Apart from all the implications this information sparks curiosity about in the scientific community, my philosophy centered mind goes straight for the larger existential questions we are now faced with. Who is really running the show? Are we this human form shown to the world, or are we actually the bacteria pulling the strings deep inside our guts? Perhaps we’re just the passive hosts without even realizing it. Or maybe it’s not even possible to make a clear distinction between the human and bacteria cells within us. For now it does appear as if we are one in the same.
Whatever we may be, Dr. Mayer’s book is an excellent example of the way looking deeper into the natural world leads only to more marvel and mystery. The complexity and intricacies of this existence are an endless source of fascination that I don’t think we’ll ever truly be able to decode. However, we have now learned at least a bit more about this magical little world within us. So here are a few of what I found to be the most interesting things laid out in this book:
Personality & Decision making
These bacteria in our digestive organs do a lot more than help us break down our food. They are also influencing our mood, disposition, and the decisions “we” make. We all know that our cells communicate and deliver signals and chemicals to the brain, but what I didn’t know was that these bacteria are doing the same. I was shocked to discover that our gut produces the majority of serotonin in our bodies, not the brain. This is one of the reasons we experience that familiar cozy, satisfied feeling after a good meal. This also explains the way our diet affects our mental health. It’s not just a placebo effect. Eating healthy, fibrous, fresh, unprocessed foods really does make us feel better all around.
One of the most incredible things I learned was from a study that showed transplanting the gut microbiome of one rat into the gut of another causes the latter rat to begin expressing a personality and behaviors more similar to the donor rat. For instance, a shy rat given the microbiome of an outgoing rat, will now begin to appear brave. It’s honestly a bit frustrating to realize what a big role the gut microbiome plays in our mental state. Perhaps one of the reasons I’ve faired so well without my paxil is because I’ve been drinking pro & pre-biotics every day since before I began weaning myself off the drug. It makes me wonder what kind of success, if any, I may have had in my battle with social anxiety if I had known this information before starting an SSRI.
Hunger, Satiety, & Weight
The microbes in our guts also have a big part to play when it comes to our appetite. They have a direct line to our brains with the capacity to influence our hunger signals. What I once thought was a definitive sign that my body needed more calories or nutrients, now may very well just mean that my gut bacteria need more fibrous matter and pre-biotics to snack on. These little buddies also have a hand in our sensitivity to our satiety signals, in other words our cue that we are full and want to stop eating. These bacteria are also responsible for how much of the food we eat is absorbed and stored in our bodies.
Just as in the other rat study I mentioned, the same effect can be observed regarding the physical weight of the rats. Give a skinny rat the microbiome of a heavy rat and it will begin to gain weight and vice versa. This is a stunning insight into just how little we actually comprehend about nutrition and how to influence our own body weight. There really is no “one size fits all” diet when it comes to weight loss or gain, and it’s got a lot more to it than just genetics.
The Best Diet for a Healthy Gut Microbiome
This book also gives suggestions about the best foods for us to eat if we want a gut microbiome that keeps us healthy and happy. The author particularly emphasizes that diets high in animal fat lead to a state of constant inflammation and physical and mental health complications. Not surprising. He also says that diets high in fibrous plant foods lead to more helpful strains of bacteria flourishing in our guts. Now it seems obvious to me that the extrapolation of that information points directly to a vegan diet. No animal fat, tons of plant foods. However, this author is clearly attached to his flesh foods, because based on anecdotal evidence of healthy tribal peoples who eat a mediterranean diet (basically vegan, plus fish) he decided to label that the best diet. He gives no explanation on how the fish part is necessary or beneficial. The actual data he provides seems to say the opposite. So I think it’s safe to say eliminating the last “bad gut” food, would be best, don’t you think?
Unfortunately, he goes on to say that even a drastic change in diet isn’t going to have a huge effect on the types of bacteria living in our guts. However, it will change the kinds of metabolites the bacteria we already have produce for our bodies and brains, which is nearly as good.
In summation, the information I’ve learned from this book has completely changed the way I view my body and even my mind. I fluctuate back and forth between being excited and terrified about this new knowledge and what it means. At the very least, this book shows just how important our physical health is when it comes to our mental health. The two are inextricably linked for better or worse. Really all we can do is work with the gut-microbiome we have. They are as unique and diverse as each individual they are house in. Treat them right, give them lots of healthy vegan foods to eat, and they will repay us in kind.
Despite my many flaws, I do have at least one thing going for me: consistency. Since I was probably around 18 I have always had the same lofty goals laid out at the beginning of the new year. I suppose even earlier than that I was fond of including “losing weight” on that list. I have a lot of nostalgia tied to that idea of weight loss. It was always exciting to start out on a new path with high hopes of finally achieving my “dream body,” even though it usually ended in devastation, self-hatred, and disappointment. Yet now, having recently pulled myself out of a debilitating eating disorder, I am at a bit of a loss as to what goals to set for myself.
As soon as I sit down to contemplate what I’d like to improve on, the first things that immediately pop up are diet, exercise, and weight loss. While the wording of these goals is no where near as toxic and self-shaming as they used to be, I still worry they are unhealthy. Even when I feel like I have the best intentions and am coming from a self-loving, health conscious mindset, I fear that subconsciously there may be something more sinister at play. It honestly feels like I have a mild form of PTSD from what I’ve made myself go through with food. Now even my goal of switching back to black coffee so I stop using artificial sweeteners sparks fear. Any mild analysis or consideration of my eating or exercise habits has become a huge stressor for me.
Trying to set new goals for myself has really emphasized just how much my life has been centered around food for basically as long as I can remember. Now my only options seem to be feeding my negative body image with unhealthy expectations or utterly disregarding the idea of physical health and nutrition. Both seem like terrifying extremes, but I don’t know how to find a healthy middle ground. Even setting small reasonable goals makes me fearful I’ll end up taking it too far or start paying too much attention to my appearance again.
The holidays (especially this year, having gone to TWO immaculate vegan Thanksgiving feasts) has not been very helpful. Although I am quite proud of myself for not even entertaining the idea of throwing it all up, despite being so stuffed I felt like I was going to die on Thursday. Even so, looking back on all of the bread, pastries, and wine I’ve had has me feeling puffy and grotesque. I’m trying really hard not to care. Still I can’t seem to shake this gnawing sensation of dread from creeping in again and again.
I have been wanting to deepen my yoga practice, particularly regarding the philosophy, and I’m hoping that will help me overcome this dilemma. While brahmacharya is traditionally interpreted to mean sexual abstinence, in my yoga teacher training we used it to mean moderation. While I struggle with most if not all of the yamas and niyamas in yoga, brahmacharya is a particular challenge to me. I believe total abstinence of something is easier than practicing balance and moderation. I find it far easier to never eat potato chips or cookies than to have just a few. Despite the deliciousness and various health benefits of nuts, I absolutely never buy them because the serving size is so ridiculously small. For this reason, I usually don’t even keep snacking foods around my house. If I’m going to eat them, I’m going to eat them all, and anything less almost doesn’t seem worth the effort.
I am hopeful that altering my eating habits through the guidance of my spiritual practice will help me maintain mentally healthy expectations and intentions. And I suppose I have good cause to believe this may be true. Practicing mindful eating for at least one meal a day has helped me foster a much better relationship with food and the hunger/satiety signals my body sends me. Unfortunately I’ve fallen out of eating everything mindfully simply because I so enjoy that cozy, brain dead state of watching Netflix while simultaneously stuffing my face. That has been a cherished eating tradition since watching TV from my childhood dining room table.
I suppose like most things, navigating this delicate situation is going to require a lot of trial and error. For now, I am going to do my best to stay mindful and not be too hard on myself for the hiccups and stumbles I encounter along the way. If anyone reading this is struggling in the same way or perhaps has had experience with this issue in the past, I would love to hear any suggestions you may have to offer.