Health and wellness touch each of us differently. This is one person’s story.
I was on a 100 percent plant-based diet for nearly three years. Yes, that meant my plate was only whole fruits and vegetables, grains, and legumes. I excluded all animal products, including dairy, meat, and seafood. And initially, I felt amazing.
My digestion was great, and I was super energized. It also felt great to no longer be contributing to the cruelty of modern animal agriculture and the negative effects livestock production has on the planet.
But… earlier this year, things started to change.
I started to have way less energy. Completing even the smallest of tasks had become a struggle. I also noticed that I was having horrible migraines before and during my menstrual cycle. At one point during my periods, I could barely get out of bed.
I knew something was wrong, and tried to adjust my diet in every way possible. I started eating healthier fats and iron-rich plant foods, but my symptoms didn’t change. During this time, I also had an odd, intense craving for seafood, but I wanted to continue making veganism work for my body.
It wasn’t until I started to have trouble digesting foods that normally went down without an issue that I decided to visit my holistic doctor.
I thought that maybe I developed an allergy to nuts or gluten, but my lab results revealed something even more shocking: I was critically low in iron — and my iron stores were even lower! Not only that, I was also very low in nutrients, including vitamins B-12, A, D, and zinc. I had been eating a wide variety of the healthiest foods on the planet, but my body was clearly sending a signal that it wasn’t enough.
My doctor was very concerned, but remained respectful of my vegan diet. She suggested a long list of different supplements to try to raise my levels, but I knew supplements weren’t the answer.
I had been ignoring the signals my body was sending me for a long time already. Instead of forcing my body to adapt to veganism again, it was time to start incorporating fish and other animal products into my diet.
The newfound changes have been incredible
It’s been about three months since I started eating animal protein again. I slowly transitioned at first by only eating fish and eggs.
It’s very important to me to ethically source my animal protein from the cleanest and most sustainable sources possible. I only purchase wild-caught salmon and eggs from pasture-raised, hormone- and antibiotic-free chickens. When I crave beef, I purchase grass-fed meat.
Here’s what I’ve noticed in my body since making the transition away from veganism:
I stopped waking up throughout the night
I didn’t realize I had been struggling with sleep until my diet changed. I noticed major changes: I wake up fewer times throughout the night and my sleep is much deeper. Before, I often woke up during the night. Now, I sleep through and wake up feeling very rested.
I have more energy in the morning
Toward the end of my time as a vegan, I struggled to wake up in the morning, let alone exercise! Since I started eating animal protein again, I have so much more energy to do everyday things. I even have enough for yoga classes and runs outside.
I feel more satisfied after meals
I used to get hungry every couple of hours. My portions were huge with all the vegetables imaginable just so I’d feel full. These portion sizes usually left me bloated and uncomfortable — not to mention frustrated when I was hungry again shortly after.
Since reintroducing animal protein into my diet, I transitioned to eating much smaller portions. It was a huge change for me: The first time I ate eggs, I literally felt like I had just finished Thanksgiving dinner! Now I’m able to feel satisfied after meals without overdoing it.
My skin cleared up
I’ve struggled with acne for a long time. After removing dairy from my diet, my skin cleared up a lot, but I’d still experience frequent breakouts. After I began incorporating animal protein into my diet, I noticed less inflammation and fewer breakouts. Friends and family told me my skin looked much healthier and more alive.
I have fewer headaches (and less menstrual symptoms)
Migraines are the worst. Usually they’d ramp up really badly the week before my period. The other day, I felt a migraine coming on and decided to eat some beef in an effort to boost my iron. Within a half hour, all of my headache symptoms went away. Now I make sure to eat a serving or two of meat the week prior to and during my period. It’s incredible that I haven’t had a headache since.
Listen to your body’s needs
Health has always been my number one priority. As much as I wanted to remain 100 percent plant-based, it simply just wasn’t working for me.
Instead of judging myself by what I should or shouldn’t be eating, I started to truly listen to my body and what it needed. It’s essential to listen to our bodies and do what’s good for them, rather than what’s been good for someone else. Everyone is so unique and has individual needs that not one diet or lifestyle can fulfill.
Right now, I’m eating a largely plant-based diet while incorporating some fish, eggs, and meat. This is what’s making me feel my best, and I plan to continue to eat this way to honor my body. Remember, when it comes to health, listen to your body first before the opinions of others (of course, unless it’s your doctor). Do what feels best for your body!
Based in New York City, Alexandra Lein is the content creator behind the popular Instagram account @veggininthecity. She loves creating delicious and healthy meals and sharing them with her community. Alex is passionate about practicing yoga and mindfulness. Recently engaged, Alex and her fiancé plan to tie the knot in April 2018.