Giving Up My Vegetarian Dream Was The Key To Improving My Health

The new and improved me.
The new and improved me.

I’ve been a vegetarian for the last 23 years, convinced that eating a vegetable-based diet was good for my health. The irony is that I’ve been far from healthy. I’ve always known diet plays a major role in how I feel, but I never connected the vegetarian diet I was following with the problems I was having.

Eight years after becoming vegetarian, I was diagnosed with a B12 deficiency. I asked the doctor what I should do.

“Eat meat,” she said. I was offended and didn’t listen. I started taking a B12 supplement and considered the problem solved.

In the fall of 2006, I was put on disability by my doctor. The diagnosis was depression, but the main symptom was constant exhaustion. I couldn’t work a 40-hour week. After three months, I wasn’t any better and my employer let me go. Fortunately, my husband can and has supported me since, allowing me to focus on getting my energy back.

I’ve made lots of positive changes over the years, cutting out sugar and caffeine, adding eggs and fish. The most significant improvement came when I went gluten free. After just three days, I was waking up early instead of struggling to wake up at all.

In the summer of 2012, I saw a nutritionist. I told her why I was gluten free.

She said, “Going grain free will help even more.”

I didn’t believe her, but I did follow the food plan she gave me, which was lower in carbohydrates and increased protein and fat, and things got better. I also tried using supplements, but they caused strange side effects. I went back to a diet-only approach and tried to be patient.

This May, I was reading my journal and noticed that every entry started with a complaint about being tired. I got angry, because this had been going on for so long.

Then a good friend who has an autoimmune disease and understands my frustration said the words that changed my life.

“Maybe you need to be eating meat.”

Advice that had fallen on deaf ears in the past got a hearing at last. I was fed up with my constant fatigue, frustrated that medical solutions weren’t working for me, and just plain desperate to be healthy again.

“I’ll think about it,” I said, and I did. I talked with friends who had made the change. I read posts online. I read Loren Cordain’s The Paleo Diet and Robb Wolf’s personal story in The Paleo Solution.

Cordain’s arguments helped me rationalize trying a paleo diet. He suggested the changes I had dismissed in the past: Eat lean meat. Don’t eat grains. The list of promised improvements matched my list of health problems almost perfectly.

In June, I wrote:
I love animals and think going back to eating them would be challenging, but I would make the change in a hot second if it meant better health and more energy. I know my number one priority is health because I have to have health before I can really have or enjoy anything else in this world.

I decided to try it, just as an experiment. I began eating meat again, and I gave up foods that had been my staples for years: dairy products, grains, and legumes.

And it’s worked.

I am healthier, much more like a normal person that I have been in a decade. Exercising is easier, I sleep better, I have more energy. I can now do in a day what it used to take me a week to accomplish, and when I wake up the next morning, I am not exhausted but ready for another busy day.

What did it take to get to this place? Years of suffering, years of struggle, years of searching for the right answer. In a word: desperation.

But the real key was listening to what people were telling me and allow that they might be right, and I might be wrong.

Further reading for those who are interested :
The story of a vegan with long-term health problems much more severe than mine who healed herself through diet

6 thoughts on “Giving Up My Vegetarian Dream Was The Key To Improving My Health”

  1. I’m so glad you are feeling better, Kit! When I look back on my own vegan-to-Paleo transition, I think “what a shame I didn’t do it sooner.” But I think anyone has to be desperate to change something as fundamental as diet. Your June journal excerpt is beautiful. <3

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience! It really helped me to be willing to give it a try. It’s easy to wonder why we didn’t make an important change sooner, but it’s pretty clear it took me ten years just to get to a place where I was willing to completely let go of my beliefs about my diet in order to try paleo.

      I am still struggling with the fact that I have to eat animals at basically every meal. Oddly enough, it’s easy to handle the meat and cook it, and I even enjoy eating it (Some of it tastes Really Good!). Emotional acceptance is slow, but I keep hoping it will come with time.

  2. So very glad you’ve posted about this, Kit. I was fascinated by your story when I visited this fall. I’ve always been a carnivore and have the energy of your average short-tailed shrew. I’m a big believer in the Paleo diet, and although well-meaning relatives sending Christmas packages has thrown me into Cookie Hell, I’m climbing back out. Huzzah for you. I’ve got a vegan friend I would SO love to convert…I privately think many of her bizarre health problems would simply vanish if she’d only cave. Hurrying off to your links. Thanks again.

    1. It’s hard to know with bizarre health problems what the true cause is. Our world, and especially our food, is so contaminated with chemicals and additives and preservatives that health issues could be caused by anything. I feel that diet is the first place to go, but that’s really because it’s the answer to my issues. When I have problems, 9 times out of 10, it’s because of something I ate. But I know people who have been vegetarian for 20, even 40 years, and they are strong and healthy. So it does work for some people. I just had to let go of the idea that it would work for me.

  3. Great post, Kit! I’ve also switched back and forth between vegan, vegetarianism, and meat. What I’ve learned is that any extreme diet that doesn’t include a balance of all foods is good only in the short-term to rebalance one’s biochemistry. When I first went vegan, my energy levels went through the roof and I had tremendous healing. But after almost two years of the diet, I started to decline in energy and vitality. Then I added back meat and my energy levels soared again….and now I’m vegan again. Ayurveda explains health in terms of the six tastes and how we need to incorporate them all into each meal. When illness manifests, the prescription from a dietary perspective is to increase a certain taste over others. For example, when having skin issues, increase bitter and reduce sweet. But when we are balanced (healthy, sleeping well, good energy etc.) the best diet to maintain that state is a diet that combines both meat, gluten-free grains, and vegetables/fruits/plants. At least that’s my experience! 🙂

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. I would love to believe I’ll be able to go back to eating grains again, but so far they cause me severe emotional and physical problems. So I guess I’ll stay with paleo for now, but I will definitely keep what you’ve said in mind. It seems logical that something more balanced should be the healthy answer, and I would love to be able to eat that way.

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