When Vegan is Unhealthy, and Snack Ideas for Graduate School.

I have deleted and rewritten this post dozens of times.  I don’t want to piss off my vegan friends, and I don’t want to give my omnivore friends reason to question my eating habits.  I also don’t want to say veganism is ‘bad’ or ‘unhealthy’ for EVERYONE, because a lot of people I know thrive on a vegan diet.  
Just not me.

For several months during the past school year, I lived almost 95% vegan with occasional eggs and Greek yogurt.  I was convinced this type of eating was the right way to eat for me and for my stomach problems, but mostly I was getting a lot of advice from Healthy Living Blogs and thinking vegetarianism or veganism was the way to go in life.  I had a lot of time to cook big, vegan meals for myself, so it worked out just fine. I experimented with vegan cheeses (Daiya: GOOD.  Veggie Slices: WHAT?) and different variations of vegan desserts.  I now know every possible way to use a flax egg, and I have become a master at vegan overnight oats.  I also ate about a pound of kale every few days.  I was REGULAR, people.

Now I’m not going to lie, I felt a lot of energy when I first started eating this way.  I felt lighter when I ran, which to me was always good because if I eat the wrong things the night before a run…let’s just say my splits are always negative because I’m dashing back to the house to get to the bathroom.  (TMI? Maybe?)

But after a few months, this way of eating turned its back on me.

I felt tired all the time.  My hair lost its luster.  My nails were brittle.  My skin grew sallow.  I looked haggard, and not just because I was pushing myself through a brutal school regime every week.  I wasn’t fueling myself properly, and it wasn’t even because I was working out a lot.  I had turned my cardio way down in favor of strengthening my yoga practice, but I never really felt full.  And I was eating a LOT of veggie-based protein, so that wasn’t it.

In addition, my ‘regularity’ began to turn against me.  My stomach hated me for all of the stuff I was, well, stuffing it with.  My mom began to refer to my food as ‘roughage.’ And it was rough.  Oh, yeah, it was rough.  I was in pain all the time and didn’t know what to do.  Basically, it was only a matter of time before someone asked me if I was pregnant.

I underwent a bunch of treatment and got supplied with antibiotics and probiotics, as well as muscle relaxants.  Those helped, but still wasn’t enough to take care of the amount of problems I was having with my stomach, hair, nails, and skin.

When I began training for my half-marathon this past June, I was still attempting a mostly vegan diet.  I began adding egg whites back in just to get some more protein.  Then I started eating Greek yogurt again because the idea of oats in the morning made me sweat just thinking the one thing I wanted above anything else?


Lots and lots of meat.  I began craving turkey slices, tuna packets, smoked salmon on toast with avocado (still my favorite brunch item of all time), gobs of meat loaf and meatballs and MEAT.  The works.  And eggs.  Oh, all the eggs.

My energy went back up through the roof.  I actually felt FULL after eating, not just ‘I just ate a shitload of kale and I’m still hungry wtf is this mess?’ My nails, skin, and hair improved.  (Keep in mind as well: I was taking a LOT of vitamins at this point.  A LOT.  So I don’t want any vegan Nazis coming at me saying I wasn’t getting enough iron or whatever.  All of my levels were normal.  So stifle.)

I still love eating vegan and vegetarian.  Breakfast and lunches usually for me are still one of the two.  I just know now I can’t do that for my entire life and have that be my diet.  I am naturally an iron-deficient person, and in order to get that and my needed amount of B-12, I either have to eat a pound of nutritional yeast mixed with spinach a day (although that kind of sounds good…) or I have to start incorporating meat again.  It wasn’t exactly a difficult decision…I took a bite of veal osso bucco on my birthday this year and I think I blacked out with joy.

So I have been eating meat once or twice a week and fish 3 times a week, and the difference is staggering.  Also, cutting out food groups is not something one should do when training for any sort of race.  Nor should it be something you do if you’re in recovery for disordered eating.  I don’t care who you are, what you propose to do if you are suffering from any kind of restrictive eating.  The way to go about it is NOT to cut out a major foodstuff.  To me, that is lunacy.

I talked to my Mom and a few others close to me, and I realized I was doing myself a huge disservice.  Like I said in my post when I announced I wouldn’t be running the half…I’m not an athlete.  Nor would I ever call myself one.  I’m shaped like one, but that’s because I’m actively avoiding morbid obesity to the best I can.  

People ask me how I stay in shape.  It’s not rocket science.  I quote Gwyneth Paltrow (I love her, haters to the left): “I work my ass off.  It’s not good genes.”  Diseases related to cholesterol run in my family.  I take care of my body because I have to, and I eat clean because my stomach would have a full on panic attack if I didn’t.  

But because of my other dietary restrictions, I need to eat meat.  I just do.  My body doesn’t work right if I don’t have it.  I can tell something is missing when I don’t have it.  Part of my recovery from EDNOS is honoring what my body needs.  So, I have it.  

Now, I eat meat about 2 or 3 times a week, usually for dinner.  But if I am craving a turkey sandwich for lunch, I have it.  

Now, on to my second part of the post.  I managed to schedule all of my courses this semester so that they fall directly in competition with lunch time.  Not exactly ideal.  I also quickly, QUICKLY realized that packing a giant kale/quinoa/broccoli/squash salad to eat during those classes is also not exactly ideal, as you begin to get hate-stared at by the rest of your classmates.  You want to pack things that are satisfying, but aren’t distracting so you can hear the rest of your classmates discuss Rhet/Comp, Gender Studies, Old English translations, etc.

Another thing you have to be conscious of? Not stinking up your class.  Seriously.  A lot of the food I really love and would love to pack for a lunch any day smells like crap.  Tuna fish sandwiches, seriously, are delicious but smell AWFUL sometimes.  So I can’t pack those.  Egg salad, also, is out.  So are most soups, especially the kind of Indian curried lentil soups I love.
So, in a nutshell, these are the things I pack for lunch/snacks pretty much every single day, and they are things I can eat that will fill me up but not cause the rest of my classmates to despise me due to smelly things in the classroom.  

1. Hard boiled eggs.  I eat a LOT of eggs.  A LOT.  And hardboiled eggs are the best thing to bring with me that will fill me up without either making me feel too full or causing me to epically crash.  Also, these don’t stink if you just eat them plain, without mayonnaise.  Plus, they don’t distract from discussion.  That is, unless you forget to peel them before class.  Which I do on a daily basis.  Another good one would be turkey slices, but those are a little less convenient.  Plus, my school sells hardboiled eggs with salt and pepper packets, and there is something so delicious about simple, lightly seasoned eggs.

2. Larabars, etc.This is such an obvious one, but meal-replacement bars are one of the only ways I can get food in my gullet during class in a way that satisfies a proper amount of calories and fills me up at the same time.  I am currently seriously digging Superfood or Super Protein bars by Odwalla.  And in case I don’t have option #3 as a secondary snack, I’ll pack a bigger bar such as a ProBar or a Rockit.  Both come in around 370 calories with 22 grams of fat.  This is more of a meal replacement than a snack, obviously, so when I pack these babies I usually just pack fruit and veggies as my ‘sides’.
3. Popchips.  I know, these are the domain of Jillian Michaels and everyone and their mother eats them.  But they’re better than greasy potato chips, they’re gluten free, and SO GOOD.  Honestly.  I have about forty billion bags of these things in my fridge.  A runner-up if I can’t get these are rice cakes.  Seriously.
4. Fruit and veggies.  This is a no-brainer, but I’ve found any kind of fruit with the exception of those that come in a rind are very easily ported from class to class.  My personal favorites to eat during class are apples, pears, and grapes, but lately if I pre-peel a grapefruit those are good too.  As far as veggies, you want something that again is portable and easy.  Carrots, cut up peppers, celery, etc.  

Keep in mind: Those are options for when I have to eat a lunch-style snack thing during class.  If I’m just up at school and don’t need to worry about mess/smell, I’m packing a gigantic salad or a turkey sandwich.  That’s just how I roll.

When I can’t get my shit together in time to make or port lunch/snacks from home, I just buy soup from the student union.  It’s the only thing that won’t tear my gut a new one, and it’s easy enough to bring to and from class.  

My point is this.

Take everything on HLBs with a grain of salt on top of some thick-cut bacon.

You don’t have to be a vegetarian.

You don’t have to be a vegan.

You don’t have to run marathons, or even half-marathons.

You don’t have to do yoga.  (wait.  you totally should do this one.)

You don’t have to be anything other than yourself.

And if that includes eating some turkey sandwiches, you keep at it, sista.

Rock on.

Published by The Curious Ally Cat

I'm a 34 year old adjunct professor and writer in Connecticut. People seem to like me because I am polite and I am rarely late.

10 thoughts on “When Vegan is Unhealthy, and Snack Ideas for Graduate School.

  1. Interesting!
    I recently realized my stomach feeling like there was a lead balloon in it was the result of whole grains. Goodbye morning oatmeal, Hello omelet! 1 egg, 1 egg white and tons of vegetables. It fills me up far longer, I feel better and I lost a few pounds and my “belly”.
    We have to do what's best for our bodies!


  2. Totally loving this. Speaking as someone who was a vegan for over two years, veganism is a moral/quasi-religious stance, not an ideal diet from a health perspective. Eating lots of plants is healthy. So is steak.
    PS. I also love Gwynnie. Haters to the left times two.


  3. Love you for this post, especially that last bit. Thank you. Everyone's got their road to walk, shuffle, run or crawl. Nobody has to approve of how we make our way but us.


  4. I actually think that meat can be a healthy part of a person's diet. Until recently, I'd been vegetarian for several years. This past month or so, I've started eating fish a couple times a week. I don't think that I feel any better or any worse; I do feel more comfortable socially. I live in a village in a fishing area…so it just seems easier somehow to eat fish. I won't be adding land animals back into my diet, but that's an ethical stance rather than a health stance. Food is so personal; we all have to figure out what works for us.


  5. I love your thoughtful writing and the fact that you don't subscribe to a particular set of categories or mandates (and I know in the healthy living blog set, that can totally be tempting). Thanks for sharing your story too – I think when it comes down to it, every single person is so different and just has to do what feels right them, regardless of what other people are doing. For myself personally, I don't like labels but know that I don't like eating any kind of flesh except for fish (I tried chicken for for the first time in 6 years a month ago – and I kept at it for a week – and really hated it), but I DO love foie gras, bone marrow… I know, it's kind of weird that I love animal fat but not animal flesh. I can't do dairy either but I don't like to call myself vegetarian or vegan. I really resist any kind of categorization because I don't THINK that people are so clean-cut around the edges – yes labels and categories are convenient but they don't cut it! Anyway, I'm really glad you figured out what works for you – it seems like that process had great end results for you – and you learned a lot about yourself!


  6. Ally, you're great and I love you ;)!! I'm so glad you have the guts to speak up against the major healthy living blogs' points of view and just do whatever feels good for your body. No one should be vegan just because it's the latest trend in blog land, especially not if it makes you miserable (I know that's not what you did, but a lot of people are doing this atm)! I am sorry to hear it worked for you at first but made you feel horrible after a while! So what I am trying to say, you go girl, you're an inspiration for all of us!


  7. Hi! I just clicked over here from the GOMI forums…loving what I'm reading! I'm a grad student too, and eat a mostly vegan diet. I say mostly because I eat eggs and Greek yogurt occasionally, like you did. I definitely relate to the “hate-stares” from classmates! I bring lots of crazy mixed up meals to schools and they often smell very…garlicky. What's worse is when I bring something neutral smelling and still get comments like, “that looks like BARF!” Seriously.
    I love Gwen too!


  8. Read Tasha's writing over at Voracious to get another take on an ex-vegan. 🙂

    Good for you for doing what your body wants. I'm pescatarian and likely to stay that way. I don't eat land animals because they don't seem like food. But if someday I crave meat and want to eat it, I probably will.


  9. I am a recovered vegan my self but I still have health problems 20 years later.I was a vegan from 6 to 19.
    I nearly died. Turned out my father was 3/4 native American and the hereditary diet was nearly pure meat. My cholesterol and electrolytes wear all very screwed up. I very nearly had a heart attack.When I say this I do not mean I was at risk,I mean I was on a table with 2 IVs in my arms treated for what looked like heatstroke.Turned out my blood chemistry was a mess cholesterol good and bad way high, Potassium way low and about a dozen other problems, Finally all tracked down to my diet. The Moral of this story is not to always go with the flow. That what works for one person dose not always work for anther. And to be careful with any diet no matter how popular.


  10. I like the post article here. It’s good for healthy diet. Here my suggestion gourmandia page in Facebook you can find recipes that good for you. Thanks 😮


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