Why Going Vegan Didn't Work for Me

About eight months ago, after having a cancerous tumor removed from my ovary for the second time, a friend of mine introduced me to some research suggesting that plant based nutrition is a great option not only for people battling health conditions, but for everyone in order to prevent disease. 

I drank the vegan Kool-Aid, so to speak, and revamped my entire diet. I got myself a fantastic juicer, made smoothies as meal replacements, found filling protein from avocados, and replaced my grilled chicken and veggie dinners with lentils and kale. 

At first, I felt great.

However, after a couple of months, my body felt completely out of whack. In just eight months, I'd steadily gained 15 pounds, and experienced other side effects, such as excessive sweating and constant bloating.
 
Often when people gain weight from a vegetarian diet, it’s because they've replaced meat with refined starches, processed foods, and sweets. But I'd been careful to not do that. Not only was I uncomfortable, but I also became terribly embarrassed and insecure about my appearance.

Given my medical history, when my body changes so drastically, it's very difficult to not panic and assume the worst. I tried to manage my fears and, rather than dialing my oncologist, I looked at what I was doing in my daily life that could lead to these awful side effects. 

I realized that maybe overhauling my entire diet was not a great idea.

Before drastically re-introducing meat back into my diet, I did some research on vegetarianism. Having read various articles and speaking with people who'd had similar experiences, I decided to safely add lean meats back into my diet. 

Within one week of adding free range, organic, grass fed chicken back into my diet, I lost four pounds and felt much less bloated.

My new problem became that I truly believe in the health benefits of plant-based diets, not only for my own health, but also for the environment. 

How could I stick to my beliefs and my newfound principles, while also making sure that I was giving my body the nutrition it was craving? 

I created some healthy guidelines for myself to eat meat: 

1. Know where your food comes from.

Buying organic, grass-fed, preferably, locally-raised animal products is not only better for your health, but better for the environment. While it might be the more expensive choice, limiting portion size can offset the cost.

2. Be mindful of portions. 

I learned that eating meat again was a better choice for me, personally, but I still keep an eye on my food ratios. Veggies should take up most of the plate, I try to keep my meat portions about 4 ounces, which is roughly the size of my palm.

3. Alternate "meat meals" with meatless ones.

To balance things out, I try to only eat meat with one meal a day. This doesn’t always work, but if I do this a few days a week, I’m happy. Additionally, it doesn’t hurt to go meatless just one day a week.

4. Eat Slowly. 

Whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, or omnivore, it’s good to eat slowly and pay attention to when you are full! This will beat the bloating and save long term digestive problems as well as discomfort.

5. Listen to your body!

The lesson that I took away from my 8-month veggie binge is that what works for some people doesn’t 
work for everyone. Know what works for you and DO what works for you! 

My approach to nutrition, spirituality, and pretty much everything in life is to constantly learn and to beg, borrow, steal, and give back! Maybe going raw vegan raw was not the right path for me personally, but I learned how to apply some of those philosophies to a lifestyle that is healthier for me. 

I’m not a nutritionist or a doctor, but I do like to make educated decisions regarding my mind, my body and my impact on the environment. I’ve found that keeping myself open to the suggestions of others, reading up on nutritional trends, and making smart, safe, and manageable decisions is the best way to go.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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About the Author
Rachel Brill is a NYC based actress, writer, educator, dancer, and fitness instructor. While pursuing acting she teaches drama, fitness and arts based literacy to underserved youth in NYC. She is also a certified Zumba instructor, teaching Zumba around NYC. Rachel is currently developing her original play “Wombanhood” which advocates for women’s reproductive health and was inspired by the two cancerous tumors on her right ovary that she has had to undergo surgery twice to have removed. Her own health scare lead her to pursue a healthy lifestyle, promoting fitness and the importance of following your dreams. You can follow her on tubmlr at thisgirldreamsbig.tumblr.com on twitter at @racheldreamsbig and facebook at facebook.com/rachelnbrill.
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