Updated: Sep 1, 2022
Three reasons why sticking to a plant-based diet may not be right for you, and other ways that you can still commit to ahimsa, or non-violence.
Many yogis adhere to veganism based on the principle of ahimsa, the Sanskrit term for non-violence and part of one of the eight limbs of yoga (the yamas). While I inherently understand and respect the principle of doing as little harm to other living beings as possible, I also recognize that proper nutrition is an essential component of health and wellbeing... And simply put, a vegan diet is not right for everybody.
Now, if you have tried being vegan and love it, I am all for it. I am not trying to yuck anyone's yum, and I certainly support and applaud those who are able to do it. But it was not right for me, and it may not be right for you. That's why I am here to tell you that you are not a bad yogi if you eat meat, eggs, or dairy!
If you are an amazing yogi and feel that an omnivorous, vegetarian, pescatarian, or any other diet under the sun supports your lifestyle and body best, I am here to validate you. By sharing three of the top reasons why I chose to not be a vegan yogi, I hope that some of you are able to find comfort and confidence in your dietary choices as well:
1. Restrictive Eating is Not Healthy for Those who Struggled with Disordered Eating in Their Past
If you have ever struggled with anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, binge eating disorder, or anything else on the disordered eating spectrum, this is for you. In fact, if you have ever had food allergies that have led you to feel restricted in your eating and form negative feelings around it (like I have), this is for you too!
You do not want to add more rigidity or restrictions to an already restricted diet. Nor do you want to have a mindset controlled by food fear, hate, love, and other emotions. It will only bring back negative feelings, obsessiveness, and other behaviors. So, if this applies to you, run far from veganism. The patterns of eating required to become vegan are too restrictive to be healthy for any E.D. survivor.
Side note: I am not talking about people who were born and raised vegan, for whom eating vegan is innate. Their physical and mental systems are used to eating this way, and thus it is not restrictive for them to do so.
2. Protein and Other Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies are REAL
Anyone who has tried going vegan for more than a few days and felt like crap, say "I"!
Some vegans may try to blame the headaches, brain fog, and fatigue on the process of detoxification. That is simply not correct. The truth is that you will get headaches and other symptoms whenever you switch from eating a lot of chemical-laden, processed food to healthy, whole foods... Or when you switch from drinking coffee daily to eliminating it. The headaches, lack of energy, and hunger associated with going vegan are not temporary unless remedied, and they are not due to a change in how many chemicals you are consuming. I've seen plenty of vegan diets that are filled with many, if not more, junk foods than in non-vegan diets. So, the headaches are not necessarily due to "cleaning up" your diet.
The reasons behind new vegans getting headaches and other symptoms are due to one of three factors: 1) you are not getting enough protein, 2) you are missing essential vitamins and minerals, or 3) you are simply not getting enough calories and have low blood sugar. Unless you are very regimented about your new vegan diet, it can be really easy to miss out on essential nutrients and become deficient in a slew of different vitamins and minerals.
In terms of protein, you should aim for at least .5-1 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. As a vegan, your options are limited. Your main sources are nuts, beans, peas, soy, and grains (like quinoa, wheat, and brown rice). While these vegan foods do have some protein, they do not have nearly as much protein per gram as a piece of meat, and many of them are incomplete proteins. For those of you who are new to nutrition, incomplete proteins lack one or more of the nine essential amino acids that your body uses as building blocks for muscle and tissue growth and repair, among other functions. You will typically need to add protein powders and protein bars to your diet to make it work as a vegan and combine a variety of different types of protein to get all of the amino acids your body requires for healthy functioning.
Meat has been a part of the human diet for literally millions of years. We are evolved and adapted to digest it. Dairy is another story and best saved for another post. The point is that meat isn't the enemy. Today, it is the industrialization of the modern meat industry that is the concern. The best way to alleviate fears associated with consuming meat is to focus on quality and buying from sustainable, local farmers with transparent company practices and open roaming spaces for the animals. Also, hormone-free and antibiotic-free meat–Applegate is one great example–is always desirable. The Kosher designation unfortunately means close to nothing. If you're not convinced, just watch the standard practices in the Kosher beef industry in the free documentary Earthlings. Kosher does not equate to better treatment of the animals.
A balanced and healthy diet can certainly be achieved either by eating meat or by being vegan, but it is a lot harder to do so as a vegan. If you are considering it, you should consult your doctor or nutritionist to learn about the best way for you to become vegan. Here are some common deficiencies to ask your doctor about: iron, zinc, calcium, B12, and other B vitamins.
There are certainly upsides to eating a plant-heavy vegan diet, and you may be less dehydrated by consuming more produce with high water content. You will also likely have a great metabolism and digestive regularity from consuming ample amounts of fiber and water. However, the same can be said about high-produce omnivorous diets, including Whole30 and paleo diets.
I am not trying to dismay you from going vegan. If you are truly interested, you should definitely explore it! Just don't jump into veganism full steam ahead without careful thought, research, and planning.
3. It Doesn't Make Sense with Your Lifestyle
Does eating vegan alienate you from friends and loved ones? Despite their best efforts to support your newfound eating habits, do you find it difficult to enjoy meals with people you once used to? Do you miss eating at certain restaurants? Do you find it difficult to plan your dietary requirements, purchase or order the ingredients, prepare your meals from scratch, and feel satisfied? You are not alone.
Being vegan can be difficult and time consuming for some. It can limit some areas of your life as well. Of course, it can be natural and beautiful for some, but if you are not one of those people, you do not need to FORCE yourself to be. Your loved ones should support your dietary requirements whether you are vegan or non-vegan; and, in the same way, yogis should accept your dietary needs even if they entail non-vegan nutrients. Yoga takes a lot of strength and energy, and it’s essential that you fuel yourself in a way that feels correct to your body.
There are meal prep services, like Sakara and Hungry Root, with vegan options that can take some of the heavy lifting out of meal prep and even nutrition planning, but depending on your budget, they may not be the most cost-effective options.
Being vegan can also be challenging if you are very busy, always traveling or on-the-go, or simply not into cooking. Preparing your own healthy vegan food can take a significant amount of time and you will need to frequently replenish produce that goes bad quickly. Also, it's hard to travel and bring foods that expire quickly with you. So, if you travel a ton or are out and about, I would not recommend it. It can be hard to find enough reliable vegan options with plant-based protein while traveling (for instance, I have found it next to impossible to eat vegan in some remote areas of the Southern U.S.). There is no need to starve yourself while traveling due to lack of finding options. Also, some people who are vegan begin to have immune reactions to meat and dairy when they consume them again, so you may be in for an unpleasant surprise if anything gets lost in translation or if you have a "slip up."
How to Still Practice Ahimsa Without Going Vegan
So how can you lead a non-vegan life and still practice non-violence or ahimsa? There are plenty of ways you can do so without being vegan. I've listed a few of my favorites below:
Be kind in your actions.
Adopt a shelter pet or volunteer at a shelter.
Stop buying beauty products that test on animals. Here is a list of companies that still do.
Stop buying fur or real leather. Seriously, the faux products are so good these days, there is really no reason.
Donate to animal shelters and wildlife organizations.
Give money to #stopyulin.
Give to the people you see suffering on the streets.
Embrace "Meatless Mondays" or try a vegan dish that looks tasty to you on the menu for a change of pace--you never know what your new go-to meal may be!
Only eat grass-fed, cage-free, pasture-raised meat and dairy... or even better, go visit and pick up your foods from small, local businesses. The best way to ensure that the animal who has sacrificed its life for your sustenance was treated in the kindest and most natural way possible, is to buy it from people you meet in person. Go see the animals and conditions yourself.
Stay informed. Eat what you want, but be familiar with how your food got to your plate. Hey, maybe for your own reasons you decide veganism is for you, once you know what the alternative looks like. That's for you to decide!
There are so many ways to practice ahimsa as a yogi. You just have to be creative with your approach.
Also, as a disclaimer, there are many benefits to a vegan diet. It can be delicious, healthy, and great for mama earth, but there are also downsides (as with anything). I am only sharing my experience in hopes of allowing yogis to not be dismayed by their inability to follow vegan diets and put some illuminative information that may help others out there.
With Love and Light,
Scientific Studies for Further Research:
To read nutritional comparisons between various types of diets click here.
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