Hi friends. I want to have a conversation with you about food.
I’m going to talk a lot about my journey with food, but this post isn’t just about me. It’s about why we eat the things that we eat and how we can learn and grow from one another. I hope this inspires you to make changes in your own life or strengthens your personal beliefs and encourages you to stick to them.
I also want to put out there that there is no right way to have a relationship with food. There are plenty of bad ways, but nothing is 100% better than anything else. What’s important is that you listen to your body and do what makes you feel good. And above all don’t be afraid to change if something you’ve done for years suddenly isn’t making you happy or healthy anymore. Our bodies are constantly changing and our diets should reflect that.
Alrighty, let’s start from the beginning.
I went vegan on April 13, 2016. The transition was like flicking a switch; one day I ate meat and diary and the next I didn’t. My family was shocked and had plenty of questions, but they supported me and made it easy for me to start this new lifestyle.
I went vegan for a lot of reasons, most of which I touch on in an earlier blog post, and looking back I can see that it was the right decision for that time in my life. I had just graduated from high school and was about to move four hours away from everything that I knew and loved, and a plant-based diet gave structure to the chaos around me. I had always been picky with meat and my new diet took away the stress and anxiety of dealing with raw meat, which had always made me slightly uncomfortable.
The stories I heard before college about the freshman 15 seemed like old wives tales; I felt untouchable and in the greatest shape of my life.
Some of my go-to foods while I was living vegan: some AMAZING peanut butter cookies, anything from The Bark in Tallahassee (with John, of course), and some spinach pesto pasta topped with vegan cheese. Yum! All pictures by me.
However, this new chapter in my life wasn’t without its drawbacks. College introduced me to the darker side of plant-based living; the elitism and ego. I met girls who put other people down because of what they ate. I saw how uncomfortable people looked when they were ambushed by aggressive vegans holding signs that read “meat is murder” and challenging people to convince them otherwise, and it made me uncomfortable too. I also came face-to-face with binging and bad eating habits when my body had cravings that my diet couldn’t satisfy.
And yet I held true to what I believed. I told myself that these things would pass if I just stuck with it, and that some vegans were aggressive and cliquish but I didn’t have to be that way. I had expected to go through some hardships when I first embraced this lifestyle and they didn’t take away from the positives; the relationships I made and the way I felt and how happy my food made me.
But as time went on I found myself leaning on veganism out of habit as opposed to passion. This is when everything started to change.
As I spent more time at FSU and away from home I started to grow into myself more. I obtained a greater appreciation for my body due to rock climbing and started to love it for the way that it is, rather than put myself down for not looking a certain way. My love for the environment deepened and I became more invested in the environmental ramifications of various food industries.
One day as I returned from a weekend of climbing with my boyfriend John I turned over to him and asked what he thought of eggs. That sparked a discussion that changed how I viewed my eating habits. I realized that I was okay with the thought of eating eggs, so long as I knew where they came from and how they were treated. Later that week John and I drove to a farmers market in town and talked with a girl who owns chickens, and after hearing her story and getting to know her we drove home with 12 organic cage-free well-loved eggs.
This marked a transition in my life. I still don’t eat meat or dairy, but I am starting to learn more about real food and listening to what my body needs. Shortly after I introduced eggs into my diet I bought collagen peptides and started mixing some with my coffee in the mornings. Next thing I knew I was investigating environmentally-conscious ways to eat salmon and slowly added that to my diet.
Through all of the changes I realized that I had been using my old plant-based lifestyle as a way to restrict myself and limit my body. I wasn’t interested in what I needed, instead I was focused on what I was allowed to eat and shut out anything that didn’t fit those qualifications. Now I try to approach food with an open mind and a well-intentioned heart. I know what is important to me – ethics, environmental sustainability, natural ingredients, waste-free packaging – and I find things that fit within those values and beliefs. I’m allowing my body to take control and tell me what it needs to be the best that it can be.
Several people have been a huge help for me during this process. Most notably is my family for supporting me when I first took an interest in my eating habits. Also my boyfriend John for growing with me as I went on this journey with food and my friends in Tallahassee who have shared their thoughts on the matter and introduced me to new things.
These lovely ladies have truly inspired me. All of the photos are from their individual Instagrams which are linked below.
My friend Julianne Mahoney is working to be a dietician, and talking with her and reading her posts and stories on Instagram have encouraged me to change the way I look at food. She shares vegan recipes that I still swoon over today – even though I’m only vegan 95% of the time – and has helped me break the habit of viewing certain foods as “bad” and others as “good,” when in reality the only thing bad about certain foods is our relationship with them. Her blog post on Disordered Eating is so raw and personal and full of hard truths, and it inspired me to take a closer look at my own eating habits.
I was also incredibly inspired by two women on Instagram that I don’t even know in real life: Jeannette Ogden of Shut the Kale Up and Lee Tilghman of Lee From America. Jeannette often talks about #realfood in her posts and reminds me that sometimes you just need to eat a donut or two, and that perfectly okay. I can relate to Lee a lot because she was also a vegan at one point but has changed her diet over time, and she has introduced me to a lot of new things like fat balls and matcha tea.
If I didn’t surround myself with people who inspire me and challenge me and teach me new things, I would never have grown so much. It’s important to find people who can pour into your life and for you to pour into theirs as well.
For some crazy reason what we eat and/or how we eat it has become a huge part of how people identify themselves. We lump our dietary restrictions in with other facts when we introduce ourselves to someone new, saying “I’m doing the Whole30” or “I’m paleo” just as quickly as we’d announce our religious beliefs or place of origin. I even did it myself, listing vegan in my instagram bio or stating it at parties as if it were just another fact of life.
I completely understand why this is the case; food is a big part of society and people often find their communities or niches based on what they eat. However, when I look back at how I felt about veganism when I first embraced it, this mindset of being what your diet is is completely contradictory to what I believed in.
As you go through life try to remember that change is okay. Sometimes people present us with information that makes us go, “wow, I thought what I was doing before was good but this sounds a little better! I should incorporate this into what I believe!” and that’s okay. Maybe one day you’re a vegan and the next day you aren’t, and that’s okay too.
You are more than what you eat or whatever diet you’re trying.
I hope this post has poured into your life. I’d love to hear your thoughts or about your own journey with food in the comments or in a message.
Thanks for letting me ramble! I’m going to go eat some vegan ice cream now.
Was this helpful? Have feedback for me? Let me know in the comments, or shoot me an email at email@example.com. Feature photo taken by Brooke Neal.