For the longest time now, I've been vegetarian. Like, as long as I can remember. I've spent 2 years of that up until 2015 being an extremely strict vegan, only to return back to vegetarian. No meat for a real long time, the time aside from that has been on varying levels of what some would deem 'restriction'. It's been a serious, to sound overly cringe, 'journey'. I'm vomming too. But to be fair, it has. I've had such an traverse relationship with what I eat, and yet only now do I feel content with myself. Only since I've stopped giving a damn.
Giving up meat. Growing up, mum & I only ever ate chicken, maybe a small portion of red meat only very occasionally. So it was easy for me. I vividly remember the last time I ate meat. A chicken breast was put onto my plate, and I had the most overwhelming realisation that it was cut from a real living, breathing animal. I couldn't disconnect the two & something clicked inside me. Since then, I've consumed no products containing meat. This must be over 5 years ago, minimum.
A couple of years of being a happy vegetarian ensued, then I began reading. Reading about the effects of dairy, how processed food affects your body & the benefits of a plant based diet. Aka 'vegan'. Using this term anywhere is very touchy. On the interwebz people are so sensitive about this term & the correlations associated with it many are hesitant to label their diet as 'vegan' for fear of backlash. But I was a vegan, and quite a strict one. For over 2 years, I ate no dairy, meat products (of course), no refined sugar, wheat or processed food. It happened very gradually. I didn't wake up one day & say 'ok, from today I am vegan!'. It was a process & gradually I cut out more & more things from my diet, half subconsciously. It was extremely restrictive & I do admit that. I felt very proud of myself though, for excelling this amount of self-control. Many couldn't quite wrap their heads around my diet & found it so alien to be that intensively restrictive. But to me, it was normal. It was alien for people to crave processed foods & believe conventional 'treat' foods (chocolate, sweets etc) were ok to consume. I questioned why people would choose to ingest such foods, knowing the consequences. Was that 2 minutes of eating a chocolate bar worth the sugar content, the effects on your body & the levels of processing it went to? Not only the effects on your personal body, but the environment.
At 21 I began studying for a nutrition degree. People on my course all had some varying level of interest in nutrition. Though when any person found out I was vegan, including my lecturers, it was a shock to everyone. The first & most common question was always 'well what exactly do you eat?'. I felt like asking the same thing back to them. I found this so unbelievably frustrating & quite frankly a little rude. I understand it's a different diet & you're interested, but I just felt like replying with 'food, just like you do'. Even my boyfriend at the time, when he told people I was vegan, would be faced with the same question: 'what exactly does she eat?'. Peoples perception of a vegan diet is always different, if it isn't a topic you've been exposed to. My Dad now, for example, still doesn't even understand what comprises of a vegetarian diet, never mind a vegan one. I met my wonderful & most cherished friend, Nela, at uni. She is the one person to this day who was completely in awe of veganism & thought it was so commendable that I stuck to it & the level of devotion I put in. Again, to me, it was normal to eat this way. It was a habit & a way of life, it wasn't anything for me to think about. Some would eat chicken, I would eat sweet potato. Personal preference.
After a while of being vegan, I was feeling rather frustrated. Being a student isn't going to leave anyone rolling in ££, so a regular diet alone is difficult to fund. But vegan was a whole other level. For me personally, to enjoy the food I was eating, it was costing me alot. To buy substitutes for flour, for example, was around 3x the price. Almond butter at the time was my favourite treat, smothered ontop of medjool dates. This was such an expensive snack & I just got to a point where I couldn't bring myself to keep buying the food anymore. I was a student, poor & all my spare money was going on such simple treats to allow me to enjoy my diet. Simply, I fell out of love with veganism & I'm honestly not ashamed to admit that. I was bored of what I was eating, resented spending money on it & envied my friends having such an easy life. I remember one day being in Sainsburys & just having an internal meltdown because I felt so beyond frustrated feeling like I couldn't eat one single thing in the shop. I didn't want to eat anything in the shop, except for all the food I deemed 'bad'. I was having cravings & I wasn't listening to my body. The only enjoyment I was getting out of food at this point was oreos. Oreos, if you don't know, are vegan. They are also refined, processed & full of sugar. All the things I 'prized' myself on not consuming. But for dinner one night, I remember opening the fridge, searching through my cupboards & settled on eating 4 oreos. Something had to change.
Cheese was my only craving. It was my favourite food before I went vegan & the only thing I felt I really 'missed'. It had been 2 years (ish) since I'd consumed cheese, so naturally the thought of introducing it into my diet again left me apprehensive as to how my body would react to the lactose, having been absent for a long period of time. A few more weeks went by of oreo dinners & skipping meals until I couldn't take it anymore. I felt ill, lethargic & past frustrated. I did a 'breaking vegan' shop with my Mum (many cheeses) & ate my first vegetarian meal in 2 years. No adverse side effects & it was the first meal I actually enjoyed in months. I felt free, I was no longer trapped. I enjoyed the preparation, taste & enjoying it with my family. Throughout being vegan, my ex boyfriend, friends & Mum did enjoy vegan food with me, they were always supportive. But they were glad I was no longer that intensively restrictive. It had gotten to a point where it was a method of self control & restraint, I was proud & would reward myself with being restrictive. Not giving in to the 'bad foods'. It was a healthy diet, but an unhealthy mindset.
10 months on, I am now firmly back being a vegetarian & I've never felt better. Honestly, now I eat the worst I've eaten in years. I was extremely 'healthy' in what I ate, whilst vegan. I'm sure it did my body good. My diet now, I doubt it. But I'm ok with that. Being a nutrition student, it's assumed you eat well & know what's 'good' & 'bad' to eat. Yes, I do. I know what is 'healthy' & 'unhealthy', but to be honest I don't really care. Being restricted, or withheld, from any kind of indulgence, for a long time & such a restrictive level for years will make anyone have a rebound. Or in my case, a 10 month & with no plans to stop, purge.
Let me explain. I'm a hypocrite, basically. But I'm ok with admitting that. I can't exactly sit here and say any different really, can I?! All the foods I cut out, eliminated & vowed to never eat again are the very ones I consume multiple times, daily. But that's life, nothing stays the same, everything changes. I was unhappy, so I changed, now I'm happy. That to me, is the most important thing. Not feeling proud because 'oh I've restricted X amount from my diet today'. Food is there to be enjoyed. I've learnt that. My Gran is 88 & refrains from eating a piece of cake she enjoyed for fear of 'getting bigger'. What's the point? Seriously. You're here once. Eat whatever you damn well please & don't feel like you have to answer to anyone. I just kept asking why I was restricting myself, eating a diet I resented day after day for the feeling of overwhelming admiration I got from people once I declared I was vegan & my ability to stick to such a closed off diet. To me, that wasn't worth anything. I needed to listen to my body, & I did. Now I eat a lil' bit of dairy & a lot of chocolate. That's ok. I could be doing worse with my life.
So what if I eat 5 rich tea biscuits at 7am, or a pre-breakfast 8am brownie? I run out of the house eating a freddo on the way to my car just because I wanted a lil chocolate, & what?! I carry mini haribo around as a snack, just because. Making 16 cookies & eating 8 within the space of 2 days is fine, I enjoy cookies. I'll actively encourage 'fat Fridays'. A day in which my bff & I eat as much shit as we can on a Friday (if you hadn't already guessed), until we feel grim. A magnum a day keeps the abs away, etc. So bloody what. I don't give a damn, honestly. I'm 22 & it's what I want. That's ok. Food is there to be enjoyed, not resented. I eat what I like. I don't care anymore whether it's good for me. And guess what, since eating this way, eating all this processed & refined sugar, fat & carbs, I'm the skinniest I've ever been. Miracle, right?! I'm a nutrition student advocating to eat literal shit all day long & the weight will fall off you? No, that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying I relaxed. I no longer stressed daily about what I was going to eat. I just enjoy my life & I enjoy food. Stress holds weight, that a fact. I was much bigger as a vegan, despite eating 'healthier'. I went to the gym 5x a week (heavy weight lifting sessions) & ate plants. Yet, now I do 3x yoga & eat shit, basically. Not literally, good lord. But my body looks pretty damn great. I'm not a stick, but I never will be. I've reached a natural weight & one I feel happy with. My body is happy & my mind is happy.
I don't eat pizza every day, tbf. I eat rice & quorn, soup, full fat cheese & crumpets. Oh & the occasional jar of nutella. Pretty much the same, every day. Nothing mad or crazy. Not saying I eat curry, chips & takeaways, no. That isn't what I personally crave or what makes my body feel good. But if it is, good for you doll. You do you. And more. Just relax & enjoy food. It is there to be enjoyed, not hated. It's ok to go on restrictive diets, but after a while, you'll rebel. You'll get cravings, it's natural. The body needs certain things & you need to treat yourself. It's psychological, it will happen. If something is taken away from you, or 'banned', you'll only want it more. I know I do, anyway. Hence the cheese binge. Using food as a reward is something I do disagree with, though. You are not a dog. If you do well, I don't personally agree with 'oh I now deserve X to eat'. Then it's a learned behaviour. I don't do that myself. If I want something, I'll go and have it. I won't think 'omg I'll put on so much weight'. First, so what if I do put on weight? Does it make me a bad person? Unattractive? Unhappy? Unappealing to the opposite sex? If it's to the point where your health is at risk, then ok. Maybe cut down on the pre (& sometimes post) breakfast brownie. But to me, someone who loves & accepts themselves for who they are, what they look like & who truly enjoys their food is so attractive. If I was a guy taking a girl out on a first date only for her to graze on a grilled chicken salad, I would question it. Are you doing this because you think I want someone to be a certain size? Do you think I'll find it attractive that you can eat so little? Whereas if she tucked into a great big pizza, chips or pasta, enjoyed herself & thought nothing of it, I'd love it. It shows she's happy & accepts herself. Isn't there to impress anyone or put up a fake front.
If you hadn't already got the message of this post, it's to just enjoy food. Whether that is a vegan/vegetarian/whatever type of diet. Just enjoy your food. We're here for such a short amount of time. Enjoy your whole life, for that matter. But as the topic of this post is food, enjoy your food. Celebrate it. Share it. Create & experiment with it. It's there to be played with & manipulated. I don't feel the pressure to eat a certain way, because I know what I enjoy. If I still enjoyed eating vegan, I would do. But I didn't, and that's ok too. I'm not in any way bashing veganism. It is such a wonderful & commendable way to utilise all the healing natural foods available to naturally heal health ailments. I'm not ruling out ever returning to veganism, but right now it isn't for me, and that's ok. I just feel there is such intense pressure surrounding certain diets that it is the 'right' or 'correct' way to eat, & any other way is 'wrong'. No, pressuring your thoughts onto someone else is wrong. Everyone has their own right to eat what they want. Just because I don't eat meat doesn't for one second mean I would force my diet onto anyone else. It is my choice. If someone eats meat, is genuinely happy & can accept the ethical/environmental associations related to meat consumptions, then fine. They're happy, it's what they want. If someone started pressuring me to eat meat, how is that in any way different to me pressuring someone not to eat meat? I wouldn't want their beliefs forced on me, it works both ways.
I know this is super long, but I felt it necessary to talk about. It's real life, every person has a different relationship with food. I'm super relaxed about it now, but it's took a long time coming to accept eating this way. I'd genuinely love to hear your attitudes towards food, if you'd like to share.