I Went Vegan & Suffered From Anxiety, Candida Overgrowth, Acne & More—Here's Where I Went Wrong
Like many experimental teens with Internet access, I found my way to the PETA website to learn a bit more about vegetarianism. Several videos and articles later, I decided to kick meat to the curb.
A few years after, I took it further into veganism, which lasted four years. Vegetarians typically only exclude meat (and eat things like eggs and dairy), while vegans avoid all products related to animals including meat, dairy, eggs, and items such as leather.
I was motivated by the myriad health benefits that a plant-based diet promised—more energy, better digestion, not to mention the newfound sense of contentment that comes with choosing a cruelty-free diet.
I never felt restricted, but after seven years of no meat, I chose to abandon my plant-based diet. I still refrain from eating beef, pork, and most dairy, but I've expanded my diet to include chicken, turkey, and fish.
I reached this decision because of the many health issues that I was struggling with. Anxiety, depression, candida overgrowth, hormonal imbalance, acne, fatigue, bloating, IBS, insomnia, and chronic irritability became a part of my daily life.
This isn't the fault of a plant-based diet, but here's where I personally went wrong:
I ate bread, bread, bread...
...and more bread. Carbohydrates are seemingly perfect: They taste delicious, they're quick and easy to prepare, and inexpensive. What's not to love?
Well, too much bread and other refined carbs (think white bread, white rice, white pasta, and baked goods) can contribute to a little thing called candida, that resides in the gut—which is exactly what happened to me. The sugars from these products feed candida, disturbing the balance of good probiotics in our gut that keep our immune system healthy.
A few signs of candida include: frequent colds and flu, acne, dandruff, yeast infections, foggy thinking, fatigue, IBS, food sensitivities, bloating, and gas.
Eating too much sugar can also have a big impact on your hormones. Ovaries don't have an off switch for sugar, so too much will create a state of estrogen and/or androgen imbalance. Hello, acne and PMS!
What to do instead: Get a good probiotic supplement, and eat kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut to keep your gut healthy and combat candida.
Remember that bread isn't bad, but it's a good idea to stick to multigrain versions instead of the kinds made with refined flours. Like anything, balance is key.
I said goodbye to protein.
As the years went by, I seemed to forget that protein is a necessary part of any diet. I knew fortified nut milk, plant-based protein powders, and certain vegetables all contributed to my daily recommended amount of protein, but it's easy to forget to include protein at each meal when meat isn't the centerpiece.
Protein is crucial—it keeps you satiated and gives you lasting energy. It slows the release of sugars into your system so that you don't get a spike of insulin and then a crash that leaves you irritable and craving more sugar.
What to do instead: Chia seeds are a great way to get amino acids and you can sprinkle them on anything.
A plant-based protein powder can have probiotics, fiber, and more. Just add it to a nut milk fortified with B12 and zinc, and you have a perfect nutrient-rich protein snack.
I forgot that plant-based doesn't automatically mean healthy.
I got caught up in the illusion that being a vegetarian or vegan was the cornerstone of a healthy diet. While this can be true for many people if done properly, but it's not true for everyone. We all have different life demands, tastes, and responsibilities that need to be recognized and honored.
Vegetables are great. They provide us with nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber. They should make up most of your diet for the best health, but meat and other animal products can be healthy too. Eggs are great for memory; grass-fed beef contains vitamin B12 and zinc, which are good for the immune system.
Remember: Having something not plant-based once in a while won't kill you. When we get too rigid with our diet, we can start to mesh who we are with what we eat. Food can begin to control your life, opening the door to issues like orthorexia, which certainly won't make you feel healthy.
A plant-based diet can be great for your health, but it's important to emphasize including sources of protein and probiotics in your diet, and limiting refined carbs.
It's helpful to remember that there's more to eating plant-based than simply removing meat from the equation.
Eating should be fun, enjoyable, and—most importantly—balanced. In my experience, it's not about aiming for perfection but to figure out what foods work for you, and of course...eat your veggies.