Fellow bloggers Sayward and Matt did a talk recently about the Ex-Vegan Phenomenon, exploring some of the health reasons why up to 75% of vegans and vegetarians end up going back to eating animal products within five years. I watched it online and found the discussion absolutely fascinating, especially in light of some of my health issues including fatigue and hormone issues.
While my hormonal imbalance (PCOS) is something I’ve had since puberty and certainly years and years before I started following a plant-based diet, the fatigue has been something new in my life. It started last summer and while I initially blamed it on the intense research and writing I was doing for my master’s degree thesis, I didn’t understand why I didn’t bounce back once the project was over. The way that I really noticed the fatigue was because I would wake up tired and I couldn’t maintain my normal levels of exercise.
For someone who works hard to eat a balanced vegan diet based on nutritarian principles and who loves being active, this was devastating. Additionally, since I am still a fairly recent cancer survivor, I wondered if the process of having my thyroid gland removed had somehow thrown off my entire system and if I would ever feel like my normal self again. At times, I definitely questioned my diet, but ultimately I do not believe that adding animal products was the answer I was looking for nor do I believe that being vegan was the cause of my problems.
I’d also like to say that while I rely heavily on Western medicine to address my health issues, I did tons of research from a holistic perspective. I want to give strength to the argument that eating a plant-based diet is nutritionally adequate and complete, but because we all are different, it can take some tinkering to find out what works best for each of us based on our individual needs and history.
Here are some of the ways that I’ve been addressing some of the issues that I’ve battled. Please note that I am not a doctor or licensed health professional, and you should discuss any issues or changes you are having with your doctor. The information I am providing is not meant to serve as advice. I can say that I am feeling a lot better, not perfect, but definitely better. Here are some things that helped:
- Get good quality sleep. I went through several months where I would go to bed at a normal time, but wake up only 4-5 hours lately completely awake. So, rather than toss and turn for hours, I would get up but then be exhausted later in the day. Insomnia is a horrible, horrible thing and addressing it has by far been the best thing I could have done.
- See professionals and/or get medical tests to identify problems. I waited too long to ask for help. When I told my doctor about my insomnia, he suggested that it might be my hormones levels so we did the appropriate blood tests to confirm.
- Take appropriate medications and/or supplements. I ultimately decided that there is no shame in taking prescriptions or herbs or whatever supplements I need to feel my best. After fighting the idea of taking oral contraceptives again to deal with my PCOS, I finally agreed to try it and my insomnia immediately improved.
- Use a plant-based protein powder supplement and eat more protein rich plant foods. While I’ve also been taught that vegans don’t need to worry about protein, I feel better when I supplement with a plant-based protein powder and eat protein rich plant foods like hemp seeds, beans, quinoa, etc. Maybe it’s because I am so active, but, like Sayward, I do have to think about where I get my protein.
- Practice stress management. This is right up there with getting enough sleep. I’ve made some changes in my life such as not pursuing a doctorate and following my passion instead, as well as making sure I have enough “me” time including meditation and other healthy habits like enjoying nature, listening to music, and socializing with friends.
- Get appropriate exercise. I’ve come to realize that there is a fine line between not enough and too much. I’m trying to balance my cardio and strength training better now, with the emphasis on strength and flexibility training, with just enough cardio to feel good. I’ll never be an endurance athlete and too much cardio exercise just makes me tired.
- Drink green tea. I’m not going to deny that drinking caffeinated green tea in the morning, with another cup just before lunch, has made a huge difference in my energy levels. I found some cool research on how green tea is energizing more than just from the caffeine, due to an amino acid called L-theanine. Apparently you can get the amino acid in a supplement without the caffeine (or you can drink decaf green tea), but I’m content with my routine for now, especially while it’s cold and drinking a hot beverage is just comforting.
- Eat a variety of plant-based foods with minimal processing. While I’ve always been pretty good about eating whole foods since I became vegan, I continue to make every effort to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and avocados. I definitely feel my best when I avoid the processed foods and just eat real food.
- Soak and sprout foods. This is a whole new realm for me and something I want to write more about in the future, but I’ve started soaking and sprouting a lot of my grains, beans, nuts, and seeds, to make sure that I’ve getting maximum absorption of the minerals from plant foods. I mainly got turned onto this practice after my husband started having trouble digesting oats.
- Consume minimal refined sugar. Ahhh, the sugar monster. I’m pretty sure I was born craving sugar and it’s a constant battle to manage those cravings. While I’ve tried abstinence and it did help, it ultimately felt too restrictive for me. So, I’m practicing moderation and using stevia in most of my desserts instead of using “real” sugar. I’m not making any recommendations here except to say that is working for me.
As we all know, finding good health is more of a journey than a destination, so I will continue discussing this topic in the future and please feel free to post your comment below or send me a message: carrieonveganATgmailDOTcom. I love learning from you!
Until next time, friends, be well and feel well.
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