The Transition Away From Veganism & Deep Healing
Hello beautiful human beans,
I hope you are all doing well, feeling content, mindful and healthy this fine morning. This has been a post long-time coming. A post where I delve deep into some of my experiences in the last year of immense imbalance. Where I tell you what I experienced, some of what I learnt, how I healed (and am still healing) my mind & body, and how I am going forward in my life. It is therefore a LONG post, but I have sub-categorized it all so you can dip in and out of the sections you’d like to read if it’s too much at once, but I’d rather cover all of my bases to demonstrate the intricacy of this process. The first few sections are context & history and my personal experiences. Then towards the end I sub-categorize my lessons in four sections: physical, mental/emotional, spiritual & Ayurvedic (this is where the lessons really pull together).
This all has some effects on The Healing Root, as some of the content will no doubt change once you’ve read through to the end of this post and can see why and how I’ve had to make pretty drastic changes in my diet, lifestyle and myself – however, none of these changes really change the core of what The Healing Root has meant to me and what it continues to mean for me and for those who have been with me along this journey thus far.
WHAT THE HEALING ROOT STANDS FOR & CHANGE
The Healing Root, as the name suggests, has always been a platform/medium through which I share my personal healing journey. It has been a profound space of learning from and connecting to like-minded people who also value the intricate journey of self-healing, as well as being a space for me to process, integrate and share that which I have learnt along my journey in the hopes of bringing some solace, comfort, relief, insight and shared wisdoms that I have picked up along the way from various teachers/people/experiences. With regards to this, the essential core of The Healing Root is not to be changed: the focus is still very much on healing, on growth, on Presence, on balance, on health and of integrative wellbeing. It is a space of deep healing for myself and hopefully for others. It is not a space of dogma or of regimented ways of being in or perceiving the world. In this, it is a space of going beyond identification with the mind. The mind that is often the seat of suffering. Even so, the mind is not to be demonized, although it is the mechanism responsible for ego-identification. The ego is not a personal shortcoming or even something to be rejected, rather it simply needs the light of conscious awareness to allow for true wellbeing and spiritual expansion. This is the path beyond the mind and into deep BEING. And this is the path of what the last year and its’ experiences have taught me.
A very big part of what health has meant to me in the last 6 years, and consequently what was featured a lot on The Healing Root until this moment, has been the conscious encouragement, support and adherence of a vegan diet/lifestyle. For this reason, I completely understand that my decision to not identify or adhere strictly to a vegan lifestyle anymore will rattle some cages and confuse some minds. This decision has not been an easy one, not by a long shot. In fact, the last couple of months have been really hard as I have been struggling to get past the intense self-judgment that has arisen out of this decision. But, now, sitting here writing this, a deeper penetrating consciousness has illuminated the path forward for me and made me realize that self-judgment and criticism are not going to serve anyone. So, I am learning day by day to release judgment by letting go of my identifications slowly but surely, and therefore moving ahead on the journey of unconditional self-love & support in a more authentic and lived way. For those of you on Instagram, I have made a video story about this that is saved to my Highlights which you can watch if you would like to. Otherwise, this will be a more in-depth consideration of my decision.
To be honest, I would not have come to this decision by my own free will had I not felt that I needed to. But here I am none the less, having made this decision due to severe health reasons that demanded of me to shift my ways. What has been interesting, is that what started out as being a tough decision driven by health reasons, soon became a MASSIVE point of growth mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I hope that you can meet this decision, even if not with understanding, with a sense of compassion. Like anything and everything in life, it is not black and white, and there is still much that I am learning, grappling with and learning to accept. What I have learnt to deeply welcome is: CHANGE. We are not static beings. We are evolving, vibrant, dynamic beings and how we engage with our life demands of us to recognize this impermanent nature of existence. This is a beautiful thing.
HISTORY & CONTEXT
As many of you may know (especially if you follow The Healing Root on Instagram where I engage more frequently), in 2018 my health took a negative turn. I was presented with so many challenges: physical and emotional and spiritual. For the whole of 2018 I struggled with severe stomach issues: which I often shrugged off because in my mind I thought, “I am vegan, I must be super healthy”. However, my body became increasingly weak, brittle and frail. Every single time I ate, it would trigger my stomach issues and I would be overcome with the most intense fatigue, pain, cramping, bloating, terrible gas, intense indigestion, chronic diarrhea (which I had for the whole year and which left me dehydrated and bare to the bone). I had no energy; nothing I ate was being absorbed properly so I was severely malnourished for most of the year. As a result, I lost a lot of weight. As can be assumed, my mental health took a toll too as a result: especially with having a history of an eating disorder. I was so confused: I was eating a high fruit & veg diet which had served me so well in healing many things for me in the past. I was eating low in fat which previously had given me so much energy and vitality, and I was eating A LOT. However, apparently my body was started to object to this way of eating and my body was making it abundantly clear that something needed to change.
About ¾ of the way into the year I reached a point where my body was breaking down completely. When my tummy was triggered I would be in agony for about 6-8 hours after I had eaten: this meant that I couldn’t eat much at all and what I was able to eat was coming out whole (a big indicator of malabsorption). There were a few times last year where I honestly thought I was dying. As dramatic as that may sound, there were times when I would be falling asleep and I honestly didn’t think or know if I would wake up the next morning. I felt really close to death. Most of the year I didn’t really acknowledge the severity of the illness. But by the second half of the year, I was basically disintegrating and it could no longer be ignored. I saw a dietician and she predicted I had a severe case of IBS or gastroparesis. I was losing more weight and FAST. My skin disorder, Psoriasis, was flaring up BIG time. My skin was dry, thin, pale and so weak. I was literally dragging myself through life.
Thank goodness things starts to look up when I listened to a VERY strong intuitive calling to go back to the ancient healing system of Ayurveda which I’d learnt about when I was studying to be a plant based healing chef. To be honest, Ayurveda quite literally saved my life. It showed me all the places in my life where I had been perpetuating deep states of imbalance which were culminating in the manifestation of these states of debilitating distress in my mind-body. Through the lens of Ayurveda, all disease arises from imbalance. And as I started to go deeper within this ancient healing system I started to see the places in my life where I was not supporting myself and my individual constitution. I began to understand my signs and symptoms on every level: psychological, emotional, mental, spiritual, energetic and physical. I began to see how my lifestyle and dietary choices were no longer serving me and that I had to change something, and SOON. And I began to see that because of how far I had pushed myself into imbalance I needed to make some drastic changes to restore balance as quickly as possible.
I also started to recognize patterns of what would trigger it badly: high fiber foods (i.e. fruit & veg), eating large quantities of food in one sitting, poor food combining, eating fruit after a meal (even hours later), and a host of other things. It got to a point where I could not eat anything with fiber in it and I was truly dumb founded. I was seemingly doing everything “right”: i.e. eating high fiber whole plant based foods. But still, my body was not responding. I was juicing celery every day, but NOPE. My body was not having it. I then started to make some healing changes as seen from the lens of Ayurveda: eating more warming, soothing, nourishing meals like my Soothing Golden Coconut Dhal recipe.
MAKING SMALL CHANGES
Introducing more starch-based, cooked foods and more fats in my diet helped a LOT. It started to soothe my digestive system, calm my mind and body. I remember the first healing cooked Ayurvedic meal I made for myself (which was The Soothing Golden Dhal on the blog) - it was like I was eating for the first time in my life. My body responded with so much elation and in that moment everything I’d learnt in Ayurveda was true for me. It was really really hard for me initially because I had identified so much with the raw food diet and lifestyle as being “the best”, “the healthiest”, the “pinnacle of health”, that to re-learn ways of being and engaging with the process of nourishing myself required a deep letting go of ego-identification with certain ways of eating and with certain ideas around health. This experience demanded of me to LET GO. Of identifications, of control, of all of the things in my life that were upholding an inner rigidity.
The cooked food helped a LOT but not enough. I was beginning to crave some animal products: especially fish. Eventually, when my tummy was showing no signs of healing and my weight was critical, I had to LISTEN. I researched more into Ayurveda. It explained that in severe cases of imbalance, the addition of some healing sources animal proteins are needed to restore harmony within the body & mental system. From the lens of Ayurveda, certain doshas are also more suited for the consumption of animal products. For example, in my case, I am very high Vata (which is comprised of air & ether elements which means I am very flighty, light, dynamic, constantly on the go etc.) so therefore, animal products help to ground and deeply nourish Vata types.
THE FIRST EXPERIENCES OF INTRODUCING ANIMAL PRODUCTS
& DEALING WITH IT EMOTIONALLY
So, as difficult as it was ethically and morally I had to put aside all of the vegan conditioning I had in my mind in order to take care of myself. I made sense of this by saying, “if I cannot extend the same compassion to myself (by listening to what my body is literally DYING for) I will not actually make it and then I won’t be here anymore to serve humanity in bringing deeper awareness and expanding consciousness to the world through teaching Yoga & healing arts”. I listened and ate some salmon. For the first time in over a year my stomach was not sore after eating. I had more energy and vitality after that one piece of salmon than I had had the entire year.
Still, I only had enough fish (a few times) to keep me from collapsing. Every time it was so so healing and deeply nourishing. At this point there was still a lot of shame and guilt around eating animal products. It felt so wrong. So, as soon as my tummy started even showing the slightest signs of getting better, I stopped eating animal products. I felt so relieved; thinking “cool now I can just go back to being vegan and forget that happened at all”. But, as soon as I started eating just plants again, the incidences of my tummy being triggered increased again. I shrugged it off: sticking to foods that were cooked, higher in fat and soothing – basically the things that triggered my tummy the least but still weren’t actively healing it.
It was so confusing experiencing animal based foods as so incredibly healing when everything I stood for and valued was tied to the opposite notion: that veganism is 100% the way to go for everyone and in every situation. In my limited and dogmatic understanding previous to this experience, veganism was the only way. I really believed that veganism could cure everything. How naive that mindset was.
In December, I was finally diagnosed with a severe case of SIBO. Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth. It suddenly all made sense. I did research and seeing that many people had suffered from it gave me a deep sense of comfort and relief knowing that I wasn’t dying from some bizarre parasite that I picked up in Thailand or that I had damaged my body beyond repair from my years of addiction but that I was suffering from a medically diagnosed bacterial disorder and that everything I was doing previous to the diagnosis was aggravating it.
Veganism brought me so much healing, abundance, health, and JOY for many years. But, things change. And I am learning that change demands fluidity and flexibility, and it demands a willingness to intuitively tune in with yourself every single day. My utter determination pointed to/highlighted a few things to me: 1) how incredibly identified I was with being “vegan” – how much I tied my sense of self-worth, my sense of being a good person and feeling deserving of good with my actions, my lifestyle and my diet 2) that the values upheld by a vegan diet (compassion, healing, vibrant wellbeing, caring for the animals, the Earth and ourselves) are still so dear to me BUT that I need to heal myself before I can have enough energy and vitality to carry these values forward into the world – perhaps in different ways but none the less my intention and drive in this world is to bring these qualities forward 3) BALANCE means something completely different to every single person – this is shaped by our previous life experiences, by our mind, by our environments, by our birth constitutions as seen through an Ayurvedic lens, and that life is NOT black and white. Health is NOT black and white. And that true health and vitality really is a completely idiosyncratic journey for each individual. Health is more about fulfilling your unique blueprint for health than it is about rigidly following what has worked for others.
I came back to varsity and my stomach issues flared up again BIG time, this was when I realized I had to make permanent shifts – before that, my dabbling with animal products was a “temporary medicinal fix”. But, I realized that our bodies have an intelligence beyond the mind. When we trust these deep intuitive impulses that are always moving towards health and healing, that is when we will find our truest and most authentic expression of health. And so, I trusted and jumped.
THE ETHICAL DILEMMA & ENLIGHTENED SELF-INTEREST
I immediately started to actively heal my stomach issues but on the other hand I was dealing with the intensity of the ethical dilemma. I got around this by making SURE that the eggs I bought were from a local farm and that they were TRULY free range chickens because many times the label of “free-range” means very little. I made sure the fish I ate was also ethically and locally sourced. And I then just had to accept that although this may not be the most objectively “ethical” action, there is something to be said for living as consciously and ethically as possible within the limits and parameters of prioritizing your health. Rob Stryker, in an interview with Dr John Douillard states how one should find the modalities of health and healing that are linked to time tested wisdoms as these teachings have much to teach us on how to strengthen ourselves within our current times. Stryker also talks about how as we take care of ourselves (and that looks different to every person) we are driven to be more charitable, more generous with our time, energy and material goods, and most important: we begin to OPEN ourselves to others and to life. Stryker talks about conscious self-interest or “enlightened self-interest” and continues to say, “by serving your highest interest, the highest interest of all is benefitted/served”. We have to make ourselves strong in order to carry out our life purpose, in order to bring more consciousness into the world.
COMING BACK TO HEALTH
Since, making this big lifestyle change I have experienced so much health and healing re-emerge. I have felt my skin become soft again, my inflammatory illnesses (Psoriasis and Gastrointestinal inflammation related to the SIBO) both got NOTICABLY better, I have more balanced energy than I have ever had, my stomach is calm and soothed (most of the time), my mind is calm and stable, and my subtle energy feels grounded, harmonious and strong. Even though I haven’t put on much weight yet, my gut, skin and mental health are all doing so much better. I can definitely feel the benefit in my body, and my body mirrors it. I have a higher body fat percentage now which is making me feel stronger and is stabilizing my hormonal levels after experiencing years of amenorrhea. I feel like a different person. Now, I want to make it clear that these health issues were not a cause of a vegan diet; you can follow a completely healthy vegan diet which can serve you in so many profound ways but the key is to do it in a balanced way and to constantly check in with your body’s true needs and honour them religiously, instead of honouring a particular set of dietary/lifestyle ‘rules’ just because mentally you believe in them.
I think that my years of eating an extremely low fat diet, high raw (mostly fruit) diet along with my mental addictions of having struggled for many years with disordered eating (that also left me malnourished throughout the years) put me in a very particular disposition of veganism not being the best option for me, personally. If you are in South Africa and would like some information and guidance as how best to make a vegan or more plant based diet work for you (or if you’d simply like to increase the amount of balanced plant based meals) I would highly recommend seeing my friend Jessica Kotlowitz who is a plant based dietician living in Cape Town, South Africa. She is amazing and super knowledgeable.
BREAKING DOWN WHAT I HAVE LEARNT INTO FOUR DOMAINS:
As mentioned above, my health improved dramatically. My SIBO subsided almost completely, my inflammation in my body & mind decreased substantially and I felt stronger and more vibrant that I have for years.
This was a BIG one. I didn’t realize that maintaining such a restrictive vegan diet (not all ways of doing vegan are restrictive – i.e. high raw) was upholding my eating disordered ways of categorizing certain foods as “good” and others as “bad”. What started out as a lifestyle that offered me immense freedom, abundance and healing potential by shifting my relationship to food, to one that was more positive than what it had previously been, had in the last two years become the very thing that kept me in the loop of putting a “seal” or cap on how much I was allowing myself to experience life. By being pushed to go beyond this I was forced to see the ways in which I was using “healthy eating” to maintain my complex and often negative relationship to food: another way of controlling. In this, these changes have helped me so much in going beyond my addictions. I think also the fact that for the first time in my life I was losing weight without trying - without it being driven by my ED. I realized just how precious health is and had a completely new outlook on life and especially of WEIGHT. Having the choice taken away from me, I suddenly wanted to put on weight, I wanted health and vitality. Which was a very deep gift/lesson from this illness because this experience made me want to GRAB life by the balls in ways that I had never experienced previously.
This experience taught me a lot in the arena of: sense of personal power, will, identity, drive, ambition and ego. The manifestation of this illness mirrored to me the deep internal conflict and restrictive ways in which I related to myself and to life. In my experience, inflammation became a deep expression of my body having an “allergic reaction” to how I was relating to myself. A physical reaction to a state of deep non-harmony. I became aware of this because every single time I had a tummy flare up or a skin flare up (both inflammatory states) it was when I was stressed, not being kind to myself, not loving myself, my diet became stricter and stricter as a means of me trying to fill the void of non-loving by trying to enhance my sense of self through food, and my cortisol levels were through the roof (the stress hormone paired with adrenaline). But again, you can eat the healthiest diet in the world but if your mind is not in a healthy space and the way you are relating to yourself and the world around you is not through a loving lens, it will not bring you vibrant health. Health, I have come to understand is more directly correlating to the mind and to energy than to what you do or don’t eat. Yes, eating a healthy diet plays a vital role but it is not the only aspect of what constitutes health. Not by a long shot. It’s all very well living a highly conscious life in terms of your food choices but, it begins to serve the ego when it starts to inflate your egoic sense of who you are in the world. When you judge your self-worth or that of someone else’s as inextricably linked to how “pure” “clean” and even “ethical” you or they are, that is a sure sign of something gone awry. As Eckhart Tolle explains, this is the ego’s way of trying fill a deep internal void that is experienced when we lose the ability to be in the Presence of our deepest Self. Because the ego tries to identify with something outside of ourselves: our job, our relationships, our roles (as “mother” “daughter” “healer” etc.) or in my case, food, we experience a certain inflation of our worth or sense of self through certain identifications of “I eat so purely/cleanly therefore I am a good person” or “this is a very empowered choice of mine: I am being so healthy” – even though subliminally, this fixation of healthy food is actually what is maintaining the addictive pattern, thus upholding identifications within the mind. It’s really important, and takes a lot of courage, to acknowledge when certain ways of being in the world are really serving us or whether we are using them to, as Michael Singer puts it, “protect your stuff/shit”.
This journey showed me how dogmatic, rigid and closed my mind was. You are no less spiritual or “spiritually evolved” by not adhering to a vegan diet. It all comes back to consciousness, awareness and energy. With my understanding of my spiritual journey, Ayurveda, healing and what balance and restorative health means to me my entire outlook on life has shifted dramatically.
Balance. Balance. Balance. I am going to do a FULL ON post about this in the next few posts that go live on The Healing Root, but until then, suffice it to say that balance means something different to each individual and until I experienced this level of imbalance and suffering, I, too believed that there is one way that brings balance to all. Learning more and more about what accounts for individual differences from an Ayurvedic perspective allowed me to take the corrective action most suited to my constitution in order to restore harmony and balance. So now, I no longer look at animal products as “bad” but rather as having a time and place for each individual and consumed as consciously and ethically as possible. In my case, I am taking/consuming animal products as medicine –as a means of healing my tummy, my mind and my extreme Vata and Pitta imbalances. I also make sure to bless my food, this is and has been a very important step in me being able to feel okay with consuming animal products: taking a moment before and after a meal to really express deep gratitude and appreciation to the animal/animal byproduct for strengthening me and healing me. A Sanskrit prayer for this is: “Sahanavavatu”. This means “let us be together”. And in the simple act of doing this, it clears the energy of the food (whether vegan or not vegan) and makes your body, mind and soul receptive to what you are about to eat, or have eaten: bringing you into union and health.
There are four important things to look at when trying to discern what to eat (i.e. what is right for you) from an Ayurvedic perspective: For who? When? Why? And How? The answers to these questions will change for each individual according to what they need to restore balance in that moment of inquiry (and this will differ because we are all exposed to, and experience, different things in life which all effect our energy & physical body in different ways).
WHAT I HAVE NOW INCORPERATED & GOING FORWARD
I hope that this post can even vaguely begin to highlight to you the very careful, intricate process that this has been for me. I completely understand, if you have been following The Healing Root for the plant based vegan content/values, that you may want to unsubscribe or unfollow. In that case, thank you so much for your support up until now - it has been a privilege and an honor! This said, much of the content I will provide will still largely be plant based or at least have vegan alternatives where possible. I am still eating largely plant based but with the addition of some fish, eggs and medicinal ghee. I will do separate post on Ghee and it’s incredible healing benefits soon!
For those of you that will be venturing forth with me along The Healing Root, I am so looking forward to more exploration with you.
I have been absolutely dumbfounded by the response from followers on Instagram. The understanding and deep sense of support has blown my mind. For that, I am so so thankful. I have also received so many people expressing that they have experienced their own health issues so similar to this, they have also asked for advice. I have so many tips, tricks and things that I shifted & changed in my life that supported me in this journey and my next post will be dedicated to that!
For now, thank you, and Namaste