The hidden problem with being vegan (no, it’s nothing to do with protein)

Flowering sage plantLately I’ve found myself eating less like a vegetarian and more like a vegan. I’ve never really been a fan of cow’s milk but I’m now finding that cheese and eggs never make it into my shopping bag and I’m often swapping honey for agave syrup at home.

And I’ve felt kinda terrified by this change.

Alana jokes that I’m a closet vegan and maybe she’s right. But here in Spain, where I’m living right now, eating like a vegetarian in restaurants can be pretty tough and going that step further to vegan is at times impossible in all but specialty stores.

For awhile there I put a lot pressure on myself over this apparent double standard of eating one way at home and another when out with non-vego friends. I felt stressed and distressed, like I was a failure because I couldn’t live up to my own expectations of what I felt comfortable eating.

At some point it finally occurred to me: this stuff doesn’t really matter at all. I’m the only one who cares what I call myself and how I eat. And therefore I’m the only person with the power to drive myself crazy over my choices.

The secret struggle with trying to live kinder and more simply

I tell this story because I think many of us who wish to live a simpler, kinder and more environmentally sustainable life often put enormous pressure on ourselves to be some kind of ideal superwoman. Armed with information about what’s going wrong in our world, we’re spurred into action. We want to be everything, do everything, and change every little corner of our lives — and all at the same time.

We inadvertently or unknowingly place ourselves on our own personal pedestal, against which we measure ourselves, often harshly.

At times the pressure to remain standing up there becomes so suffocatingly overwhelming that we find ourselves gobbling our way through an enormous block of far-from-vegan-or-fair-trade chocolate. (Or maybe that’s just me.)

I’m reminded of two close friends, one a staunch vegetarian and the other vegan, who discovered they must change their eating habits for personal reasons. The transition sparked agitated soul searching, self-doubt and a deep sense of inadequacy — exactly the feelings that bubbled up in my own mind when I found myself unwilling or unable to eat completely vegan all the time.

When we can’t meet our own perception of ideal, we’re all too ready to mentally kick ourselves into a corner.

We become stuck in one place, dispirited and stagnant yet afraid to move forward, frightened of what that might actually mean for us. Frightened that moving forward might take us to a place that changes our own perception of who we are.

Ladies (and gents), it’s time to dump all this silliness

I reckon it’s more important that we educate ourselves about the challenges facing our world and its environment, animals and people, then do our little bit to make positive change — but in whatever small way feels right for each of us in each moment.

My way might be completely different to your way. But it’s the awareness that matters. And the willingness to act today, and maybe differently tomorrow, and to be comfortable with both decisions.

So here’s what I’m going to do now. I’m giving myself guilt-free permission to relax my eating habits when I’m out with friends while continuing to eat vegan at home. I’m not yet sure how this will change and develop in the future but for now I don’t think that’s something I need dwell on. Being vegan at home is the small change that feels right for me in this moment.

What do you think of this approach? Do you have a different way of tackling these types of challenges?


16 Responses to The hidden problem with being vegan (no, it’s nothing to do with protein)

  1. Lauren June 17, 2014 at 2:50 am #

    I love what you said. I am terribly guilty of putting pressure on myself to define myself as if not labeling makes everything I’ve done for not? Well that’s silly and stressful. I’ve learned that it’s about progress not perfection, that my actions define me, and that if I listen to my body then I naturally eat foods that give me energy and make me happy .. no definition needed. Good luck in your journey as well.

    • Koren June 17, 2014 at 6:35 pm #

      Ah, Lauren — you put it perfectly when you say “it’s about progress not perfection”. I think this is going to be my new motto!

  2. Robyn B | Modern Day Missus June 17, 2014 at 10:37 am #

    I’m a vegan, and I still eat vegan when I go out, but I completely agree with you – it should all be about progress and not perfection.

    If everyone made steps to live a more ethical life, the world would be a much better place, and we need to applaud steps in the right direction, as opposed to jumping down the throats of those who aren’t perfect.

    Our journeys are our own and we need to do things in the way that is right for us…

    Robyn xx

    • Koren June 17, 2014 at 6:38 pm #

      Totally, Robyn. I guess it comes back to that age old problem of comparing ourselves against others, which is never a good idea. The funny thing is, I reckon if we drop the comparisons and start supporting each other a little more, life will be much easier and more fun for everyone!

      By the way — love love love your beautiful blog. I’ve signed up for your mailing list. 🙂

    • sandrakohlmann June 18, 2014 at 8:55 am #

      I’m with Robyn. Each step toward vegan is a great one. When I went vegan, I dreaded eating in restaurants. Over time, ordering has gotten easier and easier. Part of this is that restaurants in the US are getting more vegan friendly. Part of it is that you learn what to look for and how to adapt non-vegan dishes, when ordering. But if vegan at home is what works for you, this full-time vegan won’t judge!

      • Koren June 18, 2014 at 11:43 pm #

        I think I’m still at the dread stage, Sandra, because unfortunately Spain is a little behind the times. Ham and tuna are actually considered vegetables here — and I’m not even kidding. You wouldn’t believe how often they turn up in a “vegetarian” meal. The waiters seem really shocked when you bring it up. On top of that, vegetarian tapas are often nothing more than cheese or eggs and bread. I think the language barrier makes it harder, although I’m proud to say my Spanish is improving daily. I’m thinking Spain and I can grow together on this one!

  3. Talia June 17, 2014 at 10:46 am #

    Speaking my language here! After eating vegan for close to a year I had a routine blood test which showed terribly low levels of B12, Iron and Vitamin D. These results scared me and I went back to a vego diet. I often feel uncomfortable about this choice, and think about the impact on so many cows and chickens. However in addition to my own health, I am currently pregnant, already taking regular supplements to keep my levels right. So at this point, I’m vego, having regular blood tests and still try to limit my dairy intake, that is where my compromise is sitting.

    • Koren June 17, 2014 at 6:43 pm #

      Tally, you’ve totally made an incredibly wise (if difficult, mentally) choice for your current stage in life. Actually, it was our convo on this very topic that inspired this post! So thanks for being an ace inspiration as always, and for helping me to be more open-minded about my own choices. You’re such a beautiful person, inside and out!

  4. berrystylegirl June 18, 2014 at 6:24 pm #

    It sounds really close to me. With time I have understood that you don’t decide “I am vegan – that’s all” and then act as vegan. It’s more about feeling – you feel yourself as don’t eat meat (for one ore another reason), for do charity, for example. You make ethical choice not because someone said it but because YOU feel it’s ethical.
    And when I’ve made my decision (I am vegetarian, but hope to become vegan in future), I understood that it would only be really ethical for me if I won’t pressure my family and friends with it. If they won’t feel uncomfortable near me. It is not easy, but hope I will find how to do it.
    Thank you for your lovely blog and posts!

    • Koren June 18, 2014 at 11:46 pm #

      The transition can be pretty difficult, huh Berry! But I think you’re right, in that it’s all about taking it in our own stride and giving ourselves time to work out what is right for us.

  5. Heidi June 19, 2014 at 5:44 am #

    Koren, I wrote a massive comment but then my wifi pass ran out. In short, this post rocks. I’ve been experiencing a lot of guilt over my eating habits since my health scare last year, and the plethora of health blogs with their emphasis on an unwavering vegan/organic/sugar-free/start-every-day-with-a-freakin’-green-smoothie diet haven’t helped. It feels like they are subtly pointing the finger at me, blaming me for my diagnosis, and that a reoccurrence is in the cards if I don’t strictly adhere to the perfect diet. It took me a while to realise that the daily stress I was experiencing in regards to food was probably more detrimental to my health than simply making small manageable changes. So, yeah. Cool post 🙂

    • Koren June 29, 2014 at 8:44 pm #

      I totally know what you mean, Heids. The advice is supposed to be helpful but after awhile it just becomes suffocating and guilt-inducing, which can’t be healthy! And I haven’t even had a serious health scare like you — that must add a whole extra layer of pressure, stress and fear to this. So yeah, small manageable changes FTW!

  6. Katie June 19, 2014 at 10:10 pm #

    Love this post! I can relate to so much of what you said. I’ve never been vegan but have been vegetarian for the for the last 5 years and, due to some health stuff, have recently had to add free-range chicken back into my diet. I have put so much pressure on myself to be a good vegetarian for so long, it’s been really hard to make the change. At times I have really beaten myself up over it and felt a lot of guilt over something that, ultimately, isn’t actually within my control. I think we just need to be a little kinder on ourselves. The important thing is we are doing the best we can, with where we are right now. Big hugs! xx

    • Koren June 29, 2014 at 8:50 pm #

      Thanks, Katie! Gosh, I can relate to that pressure. Why do we do it to ourselves? I admire your decision to do what’s right for your health — and in a way that still aligns with your values (ie, ethically sourced chicken). Big hugs back at you!

  7. Wendy July 21, 2014 at 4:11 am #

    I read these blogs and am amazed at how such wonderful, creative and conscious people are so hard on themselves. What on earth makes you think that you will live longer if you eat perfectly? Whatever perfect is. And, have you thought about what living longer means?
    Be healthy as you can, take the waves of life that come on a roll, do what you can to live fully in the moment.

    Above all, please be gentle with yourself and others, enjoy this life to the fullest. Eat whatever makes you feel good, honor your life as a gift beyond gifts. The worry and fear about what we are doing, eating or thinking is the worst curse we can lock into. Let go, enjoy and be fearless! Life is a gift to be enjoyed.

    May you be well always.

    • Koren July 24, 2014 at 11:55 pm #

      Soooo perfectly said, Wendy! I think some of us are getting caught in the trap of trying to be healthy in a perfect way, not realising how very unhealthy that mindset actually is!