8 Real People Share Why They Stopped Being Vegan
I was gaining weight.
As a child, I was naturally inclined to eating mostly vegetables. The day I became a teenager, I became a vegetarian. Because I was a child of the '90s, my parents were naturally wary—"What protein have you had today?" was a question I heard every day for about 10 years. I remained a vegetarian through college and then started eating vegan in my late 20s. As I was going through nutrition school and with the rise of vegan documentaries like Forks Over Knives and Food Matters, I felt tremendous pressure to ditch eggs and dairy and eat strictly plant-based. I even started a health coaching practice and website based on these principles. But over time I began to feel perpetually tired, always hungry. I was gaining weight. I knew I needed a dietary change. Flash-forward to now, and while vegetables are still the main source of my diet, I'm focusing more on eating healthy fats like coconut and avocado while also incorporating a small amount of sustainably sourced animal protein and fish. And I have never felt better, healthier, and more balanced.
—Sherrie, St. Louis, Missouri
I wasn't being well-balanced.
In the summer of 2008, after six months spent studying abroad in Europe and losing all sight of health and wellness by drinking and eating everything, I needed some sort of reset, but I wanted it to be more of a lifestyle change since I had spent a lot of my years in college thus far yo-yo dieting. I discovered veganism through a friend, read a book about it, and I realized I had been living in blissful ignorance! I had no idea about the environmental impacts veganism could have on the world, let alone on our own bodies. I cold turkeyed becoming a vegan (literally, when I finished the book, I went inside, looked at my fridge and excitedly made the saddest hummus and cucumber sandwich).
I was vegan for three years and found it to lead to extremely restrictive, obsessive behavior, quickly. I lost a lot of weight (about 30 to 35 pounds) and was extremely restrictive with myself, losing sight of the original reason I had become vegan: to eat healthier and be gentler on the environment I live in. Then, toward the end of my veganism, I was getting lazy with making nutritious vegan meals and found myself eating lots of toast for meals and snacking on sugary bars and popcorn to fill me up. I was a vegan just to "be" a vegan, and my life had changed post-college. I was living in New York City, my livelihood wasn't subsidized by my parents anymore, and I started "cheating" on my diet here and there, and seeing it as "cheating" was the first red flag. I started thinking of foods as "good" and "bad," and I wasn't eating well-balanced and started spiraling into some binge-eating behavior.
All in all, I needed another lifestyle change, and I decided that I could incorporate some of the main ideals of veganism while including some non-vegan foods into my diet. To offset the environmental detriments caused by consuming animal protein, I started switching over to nontoxic household and beauty products, being careful with water usage, using more public transportation, and making other small changes like swapping glass containers for my plastic ones. Now, I eat 70-30 vegan (70 percent vegan, 30 percent omnivorous). It fluctuates depending on each stage of my life (for example, I'm nursing now and find myself craving more animal protein), but veganism taught me a lesson that'll last a lifetime: Listen to your body; it knows best.
—Ali, Jersey City, New Jersey
It triggered my disordered eating.
For so many years, I put labels on food of what was allowed versus off limits, good, bad, etc., and my veganism immediately triggered that thinking. What made it more difficult was that when I would start to try to listen intuitively to what my body wanted, the added influence, I felt bad, like I was failing the planet and animals in a way by not having compassion for them. But ultimately, I didn't have the strength to stay in (eating disorder) recovery and be vegan. Ultimately, compassion for myself was what I needed. Recovery will be lifelong, and I have accepted that it could mean remaining label-free, at least right now! When I don't put any labels or rules around my food, I'm instantly more joyful, present, and myself. Having trust in myself feels so much better than living in a more controlled state. Although during the brief time I tried to be vegan I learned so much and love that it encouraged me to be more conscious of where my food came from.
—Kate, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
It was really restrictive, especially when eating out.
When I was vegan, I was living in Spain, and to say the choices are limited is an understatement. Going out to eat with anyone was a miserable experience (how much spaghetti and tomato sauce can one person eat?). I went to New York for a holiday, and eating a vegan diet was so easy and effortless. After returning to Spain, I just felt overwhelmed by how miserable it was to be back in what felt like a self-imposed food prison. It was then that I stopped being vegan. It felt liberating. I was able to enjoy going out with my friends and family again. I felt like the world was my oyster! I no longer live in Spain (I now live in London), and a vegan lifestyle is becoming increasingly popular here—there are vegan restaurants and, increasingly, vegan options on the menu. I haven’t gone back to that way of eating/living, I think, because of the freedom I’ve felt not being vegan. That being said, it’s something I still think about a lot. And there is a part of me that feels guilty for eating meat.
—Emma, London, England
It was messing with my energy and general health.
At first, I felt a burst of energy (but most likely because I had cut out processed foods at the same time). I thought, "I have found the ANSWER!" After a few months, though, I was cold all the time, and my blood sugar was always crashing if I didn’t eat every one to two hours. I was never a big meat eater but found myself fantasizing about eating buttery salmon or a juicy steak. Finally, I "caved" and ate some wild salmon one night. I felt like all my cells were rejoicing in unison! Now, I still consider myself plant-based, meaning I try to pack a ton of veggies into my diet. But I definitely eat lots of pasture-raised eggs and fish. I feel so much better, and my blood sugar is much more stable! I SO respect anyone who is vegan for ethical reasons, but I had to listen to my body.
—Ali, San Francisco, California
It made it really hard to travel.
I like to travel, and I found it incompatible with the freedom to try new things and not feel restricted. I went vegan for a lifestyle change and ended up being very restrictive on myself about three years in. Then I moved countries and started traveling, and it just wasn’t working. My significant other is a meat eater, so we would end up eating at different places when traveling, which took a lot of the joy out of being vegan. It was a necessary lifestyle change for me over those three years, and I don’t regret it. I loved it at the time. I am now intuitively plant-based, so while I do avoid dairy and animal products, I'll eat them on occasion when I'm out or when my body craves them. I love that I can now eat based on how my body feels rather than the guidelines I have forced upon it.
—Shannon, Toronto, Canada
I was always hungry.
I was on and off vegan for 10 years, and I started eating meat because I hurt my back and was bedridden for two months, and I started having dreams about meat every single night, so I asked my friend to make me a turkey burger. After I ate it, I felt really full like I hadn't felt in years, and now I love eating it. I feel more satisfied when I eat it, I don't constantly feel hungry, and I feel stronger. I was really nervous about letting go of a label that I felt like everyone defined me as, but when I actually took the plunge, I found everyone to be really supportive of the fact that I was finally listening to my body. Bonus: Going out to eat and traveling is now so much less stressful.
—Rebecca, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
I valued being honest with the world—and myself.
I was a hardcore animal rights activist vegan for three years, at a time when I was also teaching publicly and espousing a lot of those beliefs to others. When my mom was diagnosed with late-stage endometrial cancer and had to make some changes to her predominantly plant-based diet, I was also forced to reckon with the veracity of my own beliefs. think it’s better for me, and for the planet, to be super honest about what and how I eat. When held to the fire, I found I was using ideology as a path for belonging more than anything— veganism and its trappings were a part of an identity I had assumed without questioning the depth of my belief in them. While I, of course, stand for the principles of environmental sustainability and animal love inherent in a plant-based diet, I also had to recognize the importance of bio-individuality in the face of my mother’s illness. I rarely eat meat. But it’s important to me to say that I’m an omnivore because there’s so much mania around dietary labels. I think people in certain industries feel pressure to be “plant-based” or vegan so they’ll say absurd things like, “oh, I’m vegan/vegetarian except I eat fish.” Which of course means—you're not vegan. So I’ve made it a point to be clear that I eat everything, even though most of the time that means plants. The whole idea—for me, at least—is to do right by the earth as best as I can. So the more I embrace the realities of food manufacturing and sourcing for everything I eat, the better I’m able to make educated choices and changes.
—Lily, Los Angeles, California
That said, there are a ton of good reasons for trying a plant-based diet! Here are a few.
Liz Moody is an author, blogger and recipe developer living in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated with a creative writing and psychology degree from The University of California, Berkeley. Moody has written two cookbooks: Healthier Together: Recipes for Two—Nourish Your Body, Nourish Your Relationships and Glow Pops: Super-Easy Superfood Recipes to Help You Look and Feel Your Best. She also hosts the Healthier Together Podcast, where she chats with notable chefs, nutritionists, and best-selling authors about their paths to success. Her work has been featured in Vogue, Glamour, Food & Wine & Women’s Health.