To Quit or Not to Quit Veganism

Sayward Rebhal, of Bonzai Aphrodite, has an excellent post about her struggles to stay healthy as a vegan. When I got done reading it, I thought “This is EXACTLY what I’ve been saying!” It sounds like she had not been aware that there is a group of vegan health professionals who do not promote very low-fat diets or dismiss any concerns about protein.

Her post is here: Facing Failing Health As A Vegan

In contrast, another (now ex-) vegan blogger, Alex Jamieson, posted yesterday that, “I’m not vegan anymore.”

Jamieson became vegan for health reasons, but it appears that she later came to be a vegan for more than just health, in which case it is disappointing that she didn’t try to do more to figure out why the diet might not have been working for her. Taking a vitamin B12 supplement or getting tested for iron are two things that are easy to do and that could be the culprits in many of these cases of ex-vegans.

While I do not dismiss all cravings for meat as being simply in people’s heads, and I think Jamiesons’s cravings for meat might really have indicated a nutritional deficiency, it is very frustrating to see people talk about getting in tune with their bodies as though it’s some legitimate stand-in for nutrition science.

Jamieson says, “At first, I thought: ‘I must be mineral deficient. Or maybe I need more concentrated protein. I’ll eat more sea vegetables. I’ll just add more nuts and hemp seeds and drink more green juice. Then the cravings will stop.’”

Those are not terribly concentrated sources of protein. It sounds like she was on a very low-fat diet, too, something that might have caused cravings.

In any case, it is not the leftover remnants of the spirit of the animal that is making her feel better. Her body might require some molecules, or mixtures of molecules, that she was only able to find in animal flesh. But if that same mixture of molecules could be reproduced outside of an animal, it would satisfy her body’s needs.

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28 Responses to “To Quit or Not to Quit Veganism”

  1. Sayward Rebhal Says:

    Jack, if it sounds exactly like what you’ve been saying, it’s because I LOVE YOU! =D

    I’m a huge fan, your rational science-based approach is exactly what resonates with me. You and Ginny are two of my very favorite voices in the blogosphere and in the greater vegan movement. I wish more of our leaders were as logical and balanced!

    Thank you for all that you do, I reference your work constantly and send people over here all the time (especially the B1 and protein sections). Thank you!!!

  2. Mattheworbit Says:

    Jack,

    I never get sick of your no-nonsense, science based work. Thanks for being the voice of rational, sensible, reasonable compassion.

  3. Agatha Says:

    Jakck, thank you for commenting on these cases, you’re the best advocate veganism has ever had!

  4. Arcadio Says:

    When I read the Bonzai Aphrodite post (that everyone seems to be posting now) I thought: “This is EXACTLY what Jack Norris has been saying!” ;)

  5. Claire Says:

    Dear Jack,

    As someone who has recently come back to veganism I understand sometimes how people might get burnt out trying to explain why they don’t eat this or that. For me, I had some emotional eating issues and I had to step back from what had become a very controlling and anxious relationship with food, and get my head in te right place where my heart had been all along. Last time and I didn’t have you or you book, and I feel much more supported with both. I’ve been back for 5 weeks now and feel at peace with my choices.
    This week you’ve helped me with the protein question- I’m training for a 10k in May, and by re-reading your section on athletes made me realize I’m likely no getting enough protein since I’m running 3 times a week, and starting to pass 3 miles each session. . I track my eating through a calorie counter which also follows fat and protein so I make sure I’m getting enough, and I take the basic level of the vitamins and minerals you write about.
    I hope that anyone else having either deficiencies or emotional issues with food will do what I did- reach out for help or information or both so they can be empowered to live happily and healthfully.

  6. Bertrand Russell Says:

    Absolutely wonderful, Mr. Norris!

    > if that same mixture of molecules could be reproduced outside of an animal, it would satisfy her body’s needs.

    I think Sayward’s story shows this very well.

    As always, thanks for countering the myths — including the harmful myths put out there by vegan “doctors” and “gurus”.

  7. Sharky Says:

    I just read Sayward’s story–twice. So much food for thought. How to stay healthy and feel good within a vegan framework is something I wrestle with: low fat or not, emphasize protein or not, which supplements, if any, etc. With all the competing, conflicting info in the nurtition blogosphere, I have to remind myself to listen to the science. So you are an invaluable resource, Jack.

    And thank you, Sayward, for presenting your struggle to return to health without sacrificing principles.

  8. Laurie Says:

    I agree with Sharky. I have such a hard time juggling competing information specifically around fat, supplements and carbs versus protein. When I was a younger vegan, I didn’t really worry about it because my body bounced back no matter what I did or didn’t do. Now in my 50s, I take this far more seriously and find the information confusing. Is it any wonder orthorexia is on the rise? I rely on Vegan for Life extensively for the science and common sense. And I look forward to Vegan for Her as I am sure it will address some of the specific health issues of us “mature” vegans.

    Thank you Jack and Ginny.

  9. Leo Says:

    Thanks for your continued work on promoting awareness of this stuff, Jack.

    Sorry for my ignorance, but do you have a single post I could point people to that helps them fix these kinds of issues? Not your entire book or site (which obviously do that), but one post of fixes — get B12, check your iron, eat good fats, get some good sources of protein, etc?

  10. ed Says:

    Sayward’s text is moving, intelligent and stirred a lot of thinking. I’m rooting for you Sayward (if you read this)! It is important to see that veganism and animal rights have come far but we have a long way to go. Finding more and better ways to make veganism fit different bodies is an ongoing project. If health or some circumstance makes someone take a small step from eating only vegan then I want to empower the person to not feel crushed and find ways to retain as much as possible of the vegan way. Anyone with animal rights in the heart is a friend and the right thing is to help and support a friend when times are tough!

  11. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Thank you for all the nice words, everyone!

    Leo,

    Here are the two best links for that:

    http://www.veganhealth.org/articles/intro
    http://veganhealth.org/articles/dailyrecs

    I should rework the top one to add more about fat.

    Ginny has a Food Guide that’s also a good place to start:

    http://www.theveganrd.com/food-guide-for-vegans

  12. Dustin Rhodes Says:

    I would also like to reiterate the praise: you are such an exceptional advocate. It’s such a shame that people like Jack, who is genuinely interested in helping people out rather than judging them, is the exception and not the rule in the vegan community. You really are a beacon of kindness.

  13. Laurie Says:

    Thanks for the links. And if you could add something about fats that would be great. Some doctors say that if you have a family history of vascular-related disease (s) stay away from vegetable sources of fat (nuts and avocados); others say vegetable sources are okay as long as they are not processed (i.e. no veg oil or marg). It’s contradictory. And for those of us without a medical background, it’s confusing.

  14. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Laurie,

    > Some doctors say that if you have a family history of vascular-related disease (s) stay away from vegetable sources of fat (nuts and avocados)

    The evidence that, if anything, moderate amounts of nuts prevent rather than cause, heart disease is pretty overwhelming. I can see someone arguing that if someone already has heart disease, then they need to be careful with nuts, though I’m not saying I agree with that. But for people who merely have a family history of heart disease without significant heart disease themselves – that’s a reason for them to make sure they eat a serving of nuts every day.

    Avocados are a different matter and I do not think there has been anywhere close to as much research on them (the last I checked there wasn’t, but it’s been a few years now).

  15. Laurie Says:

    Thank you very much. As always, you clarify and educate in a way I can understand and for this I am very grateful.

  16. Vegas Vegan Says:

    Jack,
    I like to think that people who say their bodies “crave” meat are analogous to amputees with phantom limb sensations. No medical/scientific evidence but it’s still there.

    Then there are those who claim this 2 meals into “trying” vegan

    Keep up the great work!

  17. Arc Says:

    . “Her body might require some molecules, or mixtures of molecules, that she was only able to find in animal flesh. But if that same mixture of molecules could be reproduced outside of an animal, it would satisfy her body’s needs.”
    Isn’t that just the point when we consider how to adequately and humanely nourish our non human companion animals (especially cats) . I am getting so weary of being told by vets that a cat is an “obligate carnivore”: what does that mean anyway if not that his/her vegan diet would have to be supplemented by one or another nutrient that is not supplied by plant foods? Isnt that exactly what we human vegans do when we supplement with B12? So what is the rationale for the mystique? Whether it is taurine or pH or another nutritional factor which must be tweaked in the vegan cat, it becomes a manageable empirical problem to be solved rather than an essentialist rationalization for doing nothing, adhering to the status quo.

  18. Marie Says:

    Thank you very much for this information. Is there any talk of translating “Vegan for Life” into other languages? I am French and I have been trying to spread the information in the book to the vegans and non-vegans I know, but it’s more difficult to be heard when you have no credentials (even though the book is so clearly written and educational that you do feel like you can actually understand a bit about nutrition after reading it).
    I wanted to point out something that seems very important in Sayward’s testimony, something you’ve been saying too: she says she was often eating a high-raw diet, and getting enough protein is one of the main difficulties of this type of diet. So I’m thinking that might have been the source of her problems, rather than veganism per se.

  19. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Marie,

    No translation of Vegan For Life in the works, but there is a French translation of What Every Vegan Should Know about B12 (PDF) and anyone can use the Google translate feature to read any of my articles, although I don’t know how well that works.

  20. Tessa Says:

    I have been a vegan for over 10 years. About twelve months ago, I began to experience a very dry mouth (tongue) and my skin (entire body) seemed to be absent of any oil. I would use baby oil over my entire body after a shower.
    I also suffer from IBS (stress related). My son informed me last year that grains are inflamatory, so I stopped having quaker oats each morning. I’ve almost given up bread entirely – consume 3 or 4 slices per week.
    How do I not eat animal products when I am having such health problems.
    God bless

  21. Alice Gheorghiu Says:

    I don’t understand people that are saying they cannot get enough nutrition by eating vegan alternatives to meat. I am appalled by this nonsense. Before when I was eating meat, I was always sick, I had heart palpitations, lack of energy, always prone to catch colds with high fever. Since I am vegan, I snowboard, ride the bike to work, exercise everyday, and I have high energy until late at night. And the last but not the least I am 55 yo.

  22. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Tessa,

    Have your IBS symptoms improved since reducing grains?

    How much fat do you get in your diet?

  23. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Alice,

    I guess people are different. My experience on a vegan diet has been pretty good, too. But people’s experiences run the gamut.

  24. fartygirl Says:

    Alex knows what she’s talking about when it comes to food. She is a nutritionist. She is a vegan chef. She knows about food; she knows what she needs.

    I feel that anyone who criticizes her for her choices is not doing so for her sake. Critics are criticizing because THEY feel attacked.

    Vegans feel they must defend their choices. That’s what this boils down to.

    What Alex decides to do is her business. There’s no point in arguing why she did what she did. It’s her business. It’s what works for her.

    If you don’t agree with it, then why even bring it up?

    The fact that you bring it up tells me that you have issues with your own diet. That’s all.

  25. coffeebrain Says:

    Dear Jack,

    Thank you THANK YOU for posting this blog article. I also read your link “Failing Health as a Vegan”, and I am so grateful for it. Why? Because I gave up veganism, thinking it just did not agree with me, when the real culprit was all the extra gluten I was now eating – fake meats, more breads, etc., that left me with debilitating, stiff, achy joints and muscles. You see, I have gluten intolerance or sensitivity as it’s more commonly called. But I blamed it on veganism. I was so angry, I even sold your wonderful Vegan for Life book to a used book store, (but I have it on reorder through amazon, bought through your link). If I had just stopped and thought about it, knowing I’m sensitive to a lot of gluten in my diet, I could have avoided all the frustration and vegan blame. I guess I thought a vegan diet was magic – that I could eat anything and not feel ill effects. I feel sheepish even admitting that.

    Now I’m off gluten for good and feeling great. I am back to being vegan. What a relief! Oh….and I’ve experimented with many vegan eating plans in the past. Like the gal in “Failing Health as a Vegan”, I too feel better eating coconut oil (and generous drizzles of extra virgin oil on my food). I have no energy eating low fat/fat free. My apologies to Dr. Mcdougall, but I felt AWFUL on his diet. I also personally feel better with a little extra protein in me, and now drink my vegan protein shakes guilt-free.

    Thank you so much for your blog. This article today was so timely.

    P.S. Your book arrives today! I’m back for good!

  26. coffeebrain Says:

    P.S. I just read back my post and I did not mean to insult Dr. McDougall. I used to be on his forum, and his diet has helped many. And any vegan plan is a step in the right direction. It just wasn’t for me.

  27. Chloe Says:

    I’m tired of people using Sayward Rebhal as an example of how to be a good vegan with a health problem. It’s not fair to the rest of us that cannot afford to see a Natropath (or any sort of alt health practioner). Sayward also had a hormonal imbalance and other problems that could be easily corrected by dietary changes within the framework of veganism.

    We are not all so lucky.

  28. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Chloe,

    I don’t follow what you are saying. Are you suggesting that you didn’t do well on a vegan diet, and don’t like that vegans are implying that all you had to do is do what Sayward did and you’ll be fine?

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