Discuss - Is veganism really healthy?

Wednesday, 8 July 2020


*T.W. This post talks about abnormal eating. Additionally, this is based on my own personal experiences and opinions. As always this is a discussion and i'm open to other opinions!* 

Over the last couple of years I've struggled with my diet. I have gone through periods of eating way too much, to periods of eating barely anything. In fact, one of my clearest memories from my first year at university consists of me sitting alone in my shared kitchen at 2 in the morning absolutely inhaling a frozen pizza. You're probably thinking, I mean, that's not that weird, who doesn't love a cheeky snack after a night out? And to that I'd say I totally agree! However, I imagine not many would agree quite so much if the snack was still frozen and the night out had been your closing shift at the cinema. I can also safely say that this wasn't the first or last time, it continued for so long that the constant cycle of starving then binge eating became my new normal. My body was so used to abnormal eating that when I finally noticed that I might have a problem, it was so hard to rectify because my hunger signals were completely off. I can now happily say that I am no longer stuck in this cycle and am confident when it comes to eating, but my experiences in this area have made me curious about food relationships.

While it definitely wasn't the main reason behind my abnormal eating, my conversion to veganism and obsession with 'clean eating' around the time when I moved to university, did play an important role. Although I had been vegetarian all my life, it was at this point that I started to explore veganism. After watching several netflix programs and being consistently told by close family members of the benefits to eating unprocessed foods, I had it in my head that cutting out dairy and animal products effectively equated to a healthier lifestyle. Additionally, I was constantly surrounded my tiny instagram models and, to me, 'perfect' youtubers who would preach veganism to their fans. So, I stopped buying cheese, eggs, milk, and anything and everything that could possibly have animal products hidden within. But instead of replacing these with vegan alternatives like veggie burgers and soy milk, I skipped the burger completely and ate oats with water. In my head, if my going vegan was about eating clean, than surely eating a processed veggie burger was very contradictory. Of course, I now know just how wrong that statement is, but at the time it made sense to me. This mentality was even more solidified by the number of people who would congratulate me on being vegan or question my morals when I did occassionally break under sheer hunger and eat something that wasn't 100% vegan. 

All in all, as aforementioned, although veganism wasn't the fundemental cause to my abnormal eating, it was a contributing factor. If anything, it helped by acting as a justification both outwardly for my eating less, and inwardly to stregthen my unhealthy beliefs. 


However, since changing my outlook on food, during which I found it important to be as unrestricted as possible, I have recently made the decision to once again try a more plant-based diet. Unlike previously, when my choice was motivated by unhealthy desires, I am now looking at it with a whole new perspective. Not only has there been a significant amount of data indicating health benefits, such as lower cholesterol and blood pressure (1), but a number of papers suggesting positive environmental impacts (2 & 3). It's important to mention that my decision was not taken lightly, and despite research noting health benefits many also concluded that veganism was highly associated with certain deficiencies. As a result, I now ensure that I eat replacement foods for anything I am removing, and also keep track of my iron, vitamin C and vitamin D levels. In addition to some of the overall health benefits, I have found that my severe bloating and tiredness has also drastically reduced. While I'm aware that dairy might not be the sole contributor, I have seen a considerable difference with regards to these two problems. 

Although previous experience was one of the factors causing my initial hesitation towards retrying plant-based eating, I would be lying if I said the social constructs didn't also play a part. I'd like to think I eat intuitively according to what my body needs, so while I believe in the ethics behind veganism, I'm not strict. If I fancy a bowl of cheesy pasta, that's exactly what I'll have. But I've found, through demonstrations and just in general life situations, that it's hard to be a vegan without being fully vegan. Of course, I'm not saying this is everyone, but I do think vegans get a bad rep on this front. Consequently, I don't find myself wanting to call myself a vegan due to that mentality that many associate with it. A mentality that I believe was one of the contributing factors to my initial abnormal eating.

So, while I believe that adopting a plant-based diet can be beneficial to both health and the environment, I don't believe that it's the right choice for everyone. For it to be healthy requires more than just cutting out whole portions of your diet and, more than that, it requires motivation that stems from the right place. Which is why I don't support demonstrations which heavily focus on showing grotesque images of dead animals. Although shocking, this doesn't actually explain anything. People shouldn't solely be changing their habits because of fear of judgement, but rather because of a potential change in their actual beliefs whatever this may be. At the end of the day, when it comes to eating, I believe that you should be able to make your own decisions based on what you know your body needs, be it veganism or not.  

Do you think veganism is healthy? I'd love to know your thoughts below!

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References:

1. Mann, S. E. (2014). More Than Just A Diet: An Inquiry Into Veganism. Anthropology Senior Thesis, 1-101.

2. Steinfield, H., Gerber, P., De Haan, C., Wassenaar, T., Castel, V., & Rosales, M. (2006). Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options. LEAD & FAO.

3. Chai, B. C., Van Der Voort, J. R., Grofelnik, K., Eliasdottir, H. G., Klöss, I., & Perez-Cueto, F. J. (2019). Which Diet Has the Least Environmental Impact on Our Planet? A Systematic Review of Vegan, Vegetarian and Omnivorous Diets. Sustainability 11(15), 4110.

Additional Reading: 

1. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-44488051

2. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/long_reads/veganism-orthorexia-dieting-anorexia-food-bloggers-diet-vegans-a8537211.html

3. Barthels, F., Meyer, F., & Pietrowsky, R. (2018). Orthorexic and restrained eating behaviour in vegans, vegetarians, and individuals on a diet. Eating and Weight Disorders - Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity 23, 159–166.

44 comments

  1. This was such an interesting post! I do think people think of veganism negatively, but like you say, that can be so detrimental to someone's mentality. I don't think I could ever go fully vegan but I try to make conscious and healthy choices about food. I recently stopped drinking milk for health and it has made a huge difference so I can definitely see the positives of veganism for health and body.

    Tash - A Girl with a View

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    1. I'm glad you found it interesting! When I stopped drinking milk I also felt it made a huge difference to how I felt. Thanks for reading!

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  2. I am a vegetarian so I think very positively of vegans. I think it is a hard lifestyle to achieve, and you HAVE to make sure you are getting everything you need from your diet - this goes for any diet you choose. This is a really interesting post!

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    1. This is true! I totally agree that you have to make sure you get the nutrients you need in every diet, I just found this way harder to do when I cut out half my food options when I went vegan haha. Thanks for reading.

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  3. I think maintaining a vegan diet is difficult and almost all-consuming to achieve! I'm unsure if it's healthy for growing kids unless parents are monitoring their diets closely. I've stopped eating gluten and feel far better so I respect anyone who wants to take control of their eating, whatever the reason.

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    1. It is definitely all-consuming! I found it so hard at the begining but I think I'm starting to find it a lot easier now I know certain brands and alternatives to look out for. I agree with the monitering your children think this is so important.

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  4. I loved reading this because I related so much. When I was in uni I decided to go vegan and it made me become very obsessed with eating “healthier” and “clean” & naturally I started to lose weight but it only made me more and more focused on what I was eating. I then started cutting out more and more foods because I became obsessed with losing weight. No one would question it because I’d simply say “I’m vegan, I can’t eat that” & people would understand when really I was developing an eating disorder.

    Great post !

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    1. This sounds exactly like what happened to me! Veganism became an excuse rather than a choice for enviromental/ethical reasons. I'm sorry to hear you went through this, and I hope you're doing better now.

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  5. This is such a great and informative post! I totally agree with you that this isn't for everyone, but it does work for some people!

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    1. Thanks for reading, I'm glad you found it interesting!

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  6. I love that your point about going vegan for the right reasons and not because you're guilt-tripped into it. I have vegan friends who are vegan by choice for health reasons and that's fine. I do try and incorporate as much plant-based food into our diet as possible but it's hard with a family who loves their meat and dairy. It's all about finding that balance, isn't it? Lisa

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    1. It is 100% about balance. I hate when people try and shame others into doing something, what they don't realise is that change doesn't usually last this way, it has to be meaningful to effect real change. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

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  7. Excellent, well presented post. Thanks for sharing!

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  8. I love this post. And I agree completely, while there may be benefits in eating a more plant-based diet, there are also risks in taking things too far. Educating ourselves and talking to experts before making decisions that affect our health is key. I am still navigating the possibilities of what makes my body feel best, and I think a nearly keto diet is working for me now. But it is tricky to know when I really need carbs, and when I don't. Again, we are all so different, with different habits and needs, so no size of solution could fit all.

    Lindifique

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    1. I totally agree! Educating yourself is so important in order to stay healthy and benefit from your food choices. I've heard a lot about the Keto diet but haven't done enough research to know exactly what it entails. I think if it's working for you though, then it's perfect! Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

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  9. Excellent and informative post. Thank you for sharing.

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  10. This is such an informative post! I’m not personally vegan or vegetarian, but I’ve always been interested in exploring ‘healthier’ ways of eating.

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    1. Thanks for reading, I'm glad you found it informative!

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  11. I can relate to this post, as I also had a phase of trying to eat 'clean', I aspired only to eat raw vegan foods but I could never sustain that for very long. I also didn't think about replacing the nutrients I had lost with other sources. I have been vegetarian since the age of 8, by choice, and nowadays I eat around 95% vegan but in certain situations I end up eating something non-vegan. I also hesitate to call myself vegan because of the bad rep it gets, even though I completely agree with the vegan ethics! However there is also a part of me that is open to the idea that we biologically need animal products to be in optimal health, even though I don't want this to be the case. There seems to be so many different studies that say different things - it's confusing and difficult to know what's right! So I think we all need to experiment and find what is best for us whilst still taking ethics and the environment into account, and getting the right balance.

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    1. Yeah I think it's virtually impossible to sustain a diet when you cut out so many of the important componants without replacing them. I totally agree with that idea of biologically needing animal products, which is again another reason why I don't judge others for their meat consumption. We are, at the core, built to eat some form of meat. Experimenting is definitely key! Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

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  12. Love this post! It's so informative, thank you so much for sharing. Educating ourselves on our diets is so important - whether you're vegan or not.

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    1. Education is key! Thanks for reading I'm glad you found it informative.

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  13. I am a vegetarian for as long as I remember due to environmental reasons so I absolutely understand what you're trying to tell here. I would love to go full vegan but i'm slowly getting there. It was interesting to know your side of the story :)

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    1. It is definitely a process and taking your time to understand what you need and how to replace foods takes time. Honestly wish I'd taken the process slower the first time! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and reading!

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  14. I'm vegetarian but have 4 days of 100% vegan eating a week (but not what I would class as completely "clean") -- which I really enjoy. There is definitely some negativity about vegans but that is not reflective of all people who decided to eat this way. Those who are very militant about it are missing the point that they may be driving people away from becoming vegan. Great post -- thank you for sharing!

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    1. That's such a nice balance! I know quite a few people who do this and love the idea, that way you aren't being too restrictive but are also doing what feels good to you environmentally and ethically (or whatever reason you have chosen). I totally agree that some people are missing the point. I think we need to work collectively to educate rather than shame! Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

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  15. This was really interesting to read. I suffered from an eating disorder and went vegetarian then vegan for a while. This for me, wasn't the right choice. I feel comfortable with food now, and would consider trying a vegan diet again, but for now, I am focusing on my mental health. This was a great post, it was really interesting to hear your view!

    Em | www.loveemblog.com

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    1. Mental health should always come first! I honestly don't think there's any benefit to a 'diet' that's chosen during a time when the reasons behind choosing it are unclear! I'm sorry that you've been through this and am glad to hear you're feeling more comfortable with food now. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

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  16. I eat mostly vegetarian and once or twice a week fish. I like the idea of clean eating but I see too many people getting obsessed with it so don’t want to explore too far. I think it’s all about balance and awareness. Since I swapped my coffee milk to oat milk and dropped snacking on cheese I could say I am almost vegan. It suits my digestion system and it keeps my acne at bay.

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    1. Yeah I think when you cut out so much and have more 'food rules' it's so much easier to just become obsessive. It's fair not to want to explore it if you feel like it could negatively effect you mentally. I totally agree with your point about balance and awareness! Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

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  17. Thanks for sharing this honest account of your own experiences, I'm glad to hear you've managed to snap out of disordered eating now!

    - Laura || https://lauraorvokki.com/en

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  18. Thank you for being so honest and sharing your experience! So sorry you had to go through that, but I am happy for you that you are on a better path now for yourself and your health x

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    1. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment x

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  19. I think any type of diet can be healthy as long as you eat a variety of whole foods and limit the amount of processed foods you eat. I was a vegetarian for years, and I was very healthy. Although I tried to be vegan, I didn't last a full day. I just love cheese so much.

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    1. haha cheese has definitely been my downfall too! Although now I don't buy it I'm finding I want it less and less. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!

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  20. I definitely agree that it's not the diet for everyone but certainly has it's benefits. I haven't ever tried to be vegan but I do try to prioritise plant-based foods and it works!

    Anika | chaptersofmay.com

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    1. Prioritising is good too! I love the idea. Thanks for reading!

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  21. I do want to eat less meat and try different vegan products. Try and get more nutrients and vitamins into my body. Thank you for sharing.

    Lauren | www.bournemouthgirl.com

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    1. Thanks for reading! If you want to try it I would highly recommend doing it slowly and taking the time to read up on alternative food options.

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  22. Such an interesting post. I am vegetarian at the moment, and I definitely try and think about what nutrients I am missing out of by not eating meat. I have supplements to help alongside my diet but my main reason for going vegetarian was less about the 'diet' aspect and more about the environment. It's so easy to be vegetarian and still eat really unhealthy. I can definitely see the benefit of a vegan diet too though, but as you said it's not for everyone!

    Chloe xx
    www.chloechats.com

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    1. It's funny because as a vegetarian I never took any supplements and recently took a blood test and found that I was all good on everything! I Was expecting the charts to be completely different! I definitely think it's about reading your body and knowing what it needs and when it needs it. I understand the environment stance too and think it's so important at the moment. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts!

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