Almost exactly three years ago, I asked blog readers to tell me their stories about going vegan after the age of 50. The feedback I received—almost 200 comments and emails—were an amazing source of information and inspiration for Never Too Late to Go Vegan (which, by the way, is available this month for e-readers for just $1.99).
For a new project, I’m looking for a completely different type of story. Are you a vegan with a chronic disease, like heart disease, cancer or diabetes? Or high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol that hasn’t dropped as much as you anticipated? Or are you a vegan with obesity? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience.
I’m not seeking stories about people who have reversed their disease with a vegan diet. Those accounts are wonderful, but they are not the focus of this project. Rather, I want to know what it’s like to live with a chronic illness as a vegan and an animal advocate.
From the research, we know that vegans have a lower risk for diabetes and obesity, and probably lower risk for heart disease and cancer. But low risk doesn’t mean zero risk, and there are definitely vegans out there who have chronic diseases.
Does it affect how you talk about your veganism? Are you comfortable telling people that you are a vegan with a chronic illness? Has anyone ever made you feel ashamed about it? Does being a vegan made it harder or easier to deal with having an illness?
If you are willing to share your experience publicly, you can do so in the comments below. If you’d prefer to share privately (I will keep your comments confidential) you can use the contact form on this website.
I’m 34 years old and have been vegan for just under 9 years. At 5′ 11″ and 270 lbs, my medical records describe me as morbidly obese. My blood pressure is also higher than is optimal. I’ve struggled with my weight ever since I was a chubby child. My mother and father are also overweight, and my family has a history of heart problems and diabetes.
While consideration of the animals was my primary motivating factor in moving to veganism, I had also been under the impression that my weight problem would magically disappear when I eliminated animal products from my diet. I gained a little weight at first, but I pretty much stayed the same weight as I was pre-vegan (around 225) until about 2 1/2 years ago when I moved to a new city and no longer had time to walk to work. I’ve been at my current weight for about a year now.
Being this heavy has made hesitant to disclose my veganism at times because I’m afraid people will see me and think that this is what will happen to them if they go vegan. I’m afraid that they’ll see me and justify their aversion to carbs and excuse themselves for continuing to eat the products of animal suffering.
My weight also makes it difficult to connect with many other animals advocates who rely on the narratives of health and weight loss to get people interested in the vegan message. If they don’t seem merely disingenuous, they are openly hostile to non-vegans who are overweight. That hostility may not be specifically directed my way, but it is still deeply felt by overweight vegans like myself.
I’m a 25 year old graduate student working on feminist theory about speciesism. Veganism is a very big part of who I am as a person and the work that I do. It all started about 6 years ago, when I first started a plant based diet to help ease my obesity. As a side effect of PTSD, I struggled for years with binge eating, where I would go to McDonalds or other fast food restaurants and consume 2-3 meals at one. I weighed about 220 pounds the day I decided to make a change. About a month in and after multiple “cheat” days, I watched Earthlings and everything changed. I lost weight in the process, but that was just a side effect of eating healthier overall as a vegan.
Fast forward 4 years – I was healthy, had perfect blood pressure, was only a few pounds into the “overweight” category. Then I began to have severe abdominal pain for a few days, a week, almost a month. I was diagnosed with some infection and sent home.
Then it happened 6 months later. And 6 months after that. It just happened again last month – I get such severe pain sometimes that I can’t breathe. I usually lose 5-10 pounds in a flare-up.
I’ve had about every test under the sun – blood tests, urine tests, CT scans, ultrasounds, colonoscopies. No one has ever found anything. Some people have theorized that it’s Crohn’s or celiac, but my tests always come back negative. I have a new doctor know who thinks it might be pancreatitis, but we won’t know better until I develop symptoms again.
It’s safe to say that I felt a lot of shame around this illness – I eat healthy for the most part, especially compared to my old habits of cheeseburgers and Cheetos. I take care of myself, so why is this happening to me? We see so many info graphs about how vegans are low risk for so many conditions, so it’s definitely frustrating. I don’t like to talk about it much because then people use it as a way to “debunk” veganism. AntI-GMO people are even worse – my stepmom is constantly telling me that if I give up A, B, C or D, I’ll be cured. Everyone is a doctor these days.
I was diagnosed with Sarcoidosis in 1996 or 97. An autoimmune disease that can attack any organ and has no known cure (one of my doctors compared it to Lupus). I have battled horrific IBS or Chrohn’s type issues , eye inflammation (Irisitsi and uveitis resulting in permanent blood vessel damage behind my eyes), and scarring on my lungs , lesions in my brain, unexplained weight gain (in my legs all fluid), then unexplained weight loss. I was not vegan when I was diagnosed but have been living vegan for almost a year now. Improvements have come (thank goodness) but still struggle. Have issues with soy and gluten so navigating my food has been interesting but I’m learning.
Thank you for asking about these issues.
I relate so much to your story and I’m in gender studies as well at UCLA! Please email me if you would like, I would love to connect with you.
I had stomach problems for years and I would flare up occasionally. Within a day I could put on 8 lbs. I finally got diagnosed with Candida and I no longer have troubles, because I am raw vegan and watch my diet. This can be life threatening if not diagnosed. It causes an auto immune deficiency and you become nutritionally deficient. I felt like I had chronic fatigue before being diagnosed. My counts are so much better now due to a raw diet. A naturopath diagnosed me. A western medicine doctor could not diagnose it.
I have psoriatic arthritis with spondylitis and mutilans. I went vegan in 2001 and have been on and off depending on the illness and what my body needs. I am preparing now to go on a raw food cleanse.
I am in mild pain for the most part due to my receiving Remicade every 6 wks. It not only removed all my plaque psoriasis, but it also helps a great deal with allowing me to stand up straight and to be active. That in combination with a vegan diet helps me quite a bit.
I have bad days and good days. I am so thankful that I just happened to see a pbs special on a vegan diet in 2001. I believe the only true way to defeat disease and be healthy is through a vegan diet.
I am 43 years old (will be 44 next week) and I have severe osteoporosis. I went vegan in February 2011 so I have been vegan for almost 5.5 years. However, my osteoporosis was diagnosed in September 2006, the year after I had a total hysterectomy and lost both ovaries to endometriosis. It was a horribly traumatic experience for me, and I slammed into surgical menopause like a meteor into Earth. It took YEARS to adjust to going from being in the prime of life at 33 years of age to surgical menopause…complete with 20 + hotflashes and night sweats daily, migraines (I NEVER had headaches before), body aches and joint pain, extreme fatigue, terrible mood swings, chronic nausea. I also still had to have more surgery the year after losing all my reproductive parts because endometriosis was still wrecking havoc on my body. I tried every single hrt regimen under the sun (including a compounding pharmacy and bioidentical hormones) and nothing helped me feel human again. I had to go to working part time from full time as I could not function.
At any rate, I wanted a baseline bone density score to work with since I lost my ovaries at such a young age and was struggling with hormones. I was shocked that my DEXA score was already -3.2 T score in spine and -1.8 hip. I had been on thyroid meds for over twenty years at that point, had always been a low normal weight range, didn’t get my first period until I was 16, and osteoporosis runs in my family. So I had a lot of risk factors. At that point I refused to go on the osteoporosis meds because my body is HIGHLY sensitive to drugs, hormones, vitamins and supplements. And I was already struggling with surgical menopause and finding an hrt my body would absorb. I did put on weight, quit smoking, and started an exercise program. Two years later my scores improved to -3.0 and -1.4. However, something happened that same year. Something inside me clicked, and I began to go on a diet. I did not like my body (though I was a very healthy normal weight, it was the heaviest I had ever been), and I wanted to lose weight. All the years before it never occurred to me to diet, though I had never really liked the shape of my body. I was a little heavier than I was used to at 132 lbs. So a diet I went on…and it spiraled into full blown anorexia nervosa. I quickly lost down to a two digit number where I stayed for a while. I was forced into treatment and forced to eat in front of others. It was an awful experience. I went through an intensive outpatient eating disorder program for six months until insurance refused to pay any more for it and my out of pocket expenses reached over $9000. Even with appeals from my doctor insurance wouldn’t budge. Eventually I left treatment and immediately lost down to a dangerously low weight. This went on for years, back and forth, losing and then gaining enough to keep others off my back when hospitalization was threatened. When I went vegan I was in a sort of semi recovery. I went vegan for ethical reasons, very strongly so. It was very much linked to recovery, and looking outside myself and beginning to question where my food came from, and issues such as world hunger. I remember never wanting to be hungry or starving again. And I felt the utmost empathy for those who were chronically hungry. In researching these things, I discovered what veganism is and was shocked by what I learned about our food system and exploitation of animals, and the impact animal agriculture has on our environment, and how unsustainable it is to a growing population. I went vegan overnight, but after carefully researching and considering nutritional needs and soul searching what veganism meant to me. I did well for a few years as a vegan, but relapsed into my eating disorder in 2013 when I was back in college and juggling that and work. I was injured from running and pushing my body too hard. And again that mindset clicked. If I couldn’t exercise, I couldn’t eat. I had a very nasty relapse to a low weight but this time with eventual bingeing and purging when my weight became critical. Somehow I managed to begin to pull myself out of it. Much of my motivation came from my DEXA scan in 2014. My spine score had worsened to -3.6 and hip -1.8. At that point I decided to go on an osteoporosis shot. I was terrified of side effects but thankfully have not had any and it’s been two years now. My scores have now improved to -2.5 spine and -1.4 hip as of March 2016.
I did some animal rights activism…tabling and leafleting colleges, high schools, and downtown city streets in late 2013 when I was still very underweight but fighting to get better. It was very hard being so underweight and wondering if I was perpetuating the stereotype of the skinny vegan woman with the eating disorder. But no one ever commented on my weight, and I had some great conversations with a whole variety of people, even some “street” people who were homeless took an interest. I had a great talk with a hunter/farmer, and professors, and young students. A high school principal even agreed to allow me to drop off a ton of leaflets and his secretary announced their availability for students to grab in the main office at the counter if they were interested. She announced this every morning with her daily school announcements over the intercom. Animal activism helped me gain confidence that I lacked before. I have always struggled with social anxiety, avoidant personality disorder, and other mental health issues most of my life. I was feeling pretty bad about myself in 2013, but activism for the animals helped me overcome some fears. I volunteered with Vegan Outreach, and though I was on my own where I live, I had a lot of phone and internet support from Vegan Outreach members. They don’t know it, but they were literally my lifeline back to sanity at that time.
Online, yes, people have blamed my veganism for my bad bones, despite the fact that I was diagnosed long before becoming vegan. Veganism had nothing to do with being severely underweight or having bad bones. My lowest adult weight was as an omnivore by the way. Also, I intentionally put on over 25 lbs as a vegan to get to a healthy weight. It was the first time in six years I was able to break past a certain barrier and get healthier. I belonged to a vegan forum at that time, and the members there helped me a great deal. They were very encouraging and loving and it made a world of difference as I had such a fear of weight gain. No one judged me for going on an osteoporosis med when I could not do it on my own. I was at a point where diet alone could not save my bones from just how bad they were. I have also suffered several very bad strains and possible stress fractures, though never confirmed.
I posted on this site back in 2014 after my worst DEXA scan, wondering what to do and how to go about improving my bone density as a vegan. I wish I could remember which article I had commented on though! Ginny Messina was very supportive and helpful! I am happy to say I am doing much better now, though nowhere near out of the woods as far as osteoporosis. I am fighting to stay healthy, and my eating disorder is still a battle though I am MUCH further along with recovery than I ever have been. It’s the mental stuff I still battle with daily. I do encounter a lot of triggering stuff in vegan communities, both online and locally through a vegan Meetup I belong to. So many people preach about how we should eat, and so many foods are demonized…soy, gluten, fats, cooked food. Overweight vegans are sometimes marginalized, and those who have to rely on medication are judged unfairly. There are always those who promise that a vegan diet will cure everything. And young girls go vegan because they think it will make them tiny and athletic.
I still share about my veganism to others, even if I am not perfect. I still get sick sometimes, and injured, and have to take a few meds. I actually think being human and imperfect makes me a very compassionate person. 🙂
I’m a vegan with celiac disease, which makes my diet more complicated, but I’m not sure if that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for.
I’ve been vegetarian for many years, maybe 20 or more. I’ve been vegan for nearly 9 years.
I don’t have a chronic disease but I have struggled with moderate adult acne all my life, both before and after becoming vegan. Mum had acne, too. She tells me I just have to be patient. It will disappear when I hit menopause. I may be the only woman I know praying for menopause 😉 In the meantime, I’m always tweaking my meal plan, personal care products, and supplements to see if I can improve my skin’s appearance.
I’ve struggled with advocating a vegan diet because of my skin. Sometimes people look at my plate and then at my face and reach a conclusion that may be valid…or not; a conclusion that may support their preconceptions around veganism; and, I fear, a conclusion that may not helpful for animal welfare, health, or environmental issues. When this happens, I wonder if I am helping or hurting the cause.
Thankfully, I’m happy to say that it is more often the case that my veggie meals start conversations and bring awareness to the table. Perhaps my imperfections have become a kind of filter? It’s my experience that there are many compassionate people who are willing to look past the surface to see the real issues at hand. Maybe these are the people most ready to consider a change? I hope so!
Love your blog and all your wonderful advice. Thank you!
At age 23 I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. In the matter of two months I was experiencing severe pain (it got to the point that brushing my teeth was a mission). I took medicines for over a year and even though the disease got under control I wasn’t feeling well. I had severe anemia, and was tired and fatigued all day long. The pain was still there. Walking up was a struggle and walking seemed impossible. That’s when I decided I had to change something, so I consulted a nutritionist and I became a whole foods plant based vegan. In the matter of two months the anemia was gone, pain was starting to diminish (dramatically) and o felt overall different. It’s been almost two years. I’m still a happy vegan and I live a perfectly regular life. Sometimes my wrist bothers me, but I can live a normal life that doesn’t involve not being able to pull my pants up or to open my shampoo. I walk miles, I run, I have energy. The disease is on its way to remission.
Vegan for six years with diabetes, kidney disease, thyroid disease, liver disease etc. I didn’t expect it to cure these chronic conditions. I think if I went on a raw vegan diet, maybe I could help beat the diabetes. It is difficult, but I would never, ever eat animal products again. I was sick long beforeI became vegan.
Hi Karen. I don’t recommend a raw vegan diet. It is impossible to get enough selenium on a raw vegan diet. People tend to gain weight, due to high sugar consumption and hormone imbalance; not to mention high calorie intake. If you want help with your diabetes, I would talk to another dietitian. If you are thinking, “many people live healthy lives on raw vegan diets” many people live relatively healthy lives on McDonald’s bi-monthly. Yes, raw vegan diets have been shown to reverse pre-diabetes but not diabetes if you were wondering.
I am a 66 year old woman and was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes about two and a half years ago. My mother also had T2DM. She was, and I am, on the high end of normal weight, but not in the overweight category. For these past 2+ years, I’ve experienced a lot of confusion about what to eat because of all the different recommendations from the medical community, the American Diabetes Association, research studies, etc. At this point, I’m trying a whole foods vegan diet that limits sugar and bread. I am not on any medication, but with an A1C of 7.2 I’m hoping that some months of daily exercise and being vegan will bring my blood sugar into a healthier range. The one consistent message about t2dm seems to be that weight loss can be of great benefit. So I’m a work in progress. I find it challenging to be vegan as none of my family or friends are vegan. But I enjoy plant foods, so it’s doable. I also avoid letting most people know I’m a diabetic, much less a diabetic vegan. It will be interesting to hear many more stories from other people and I will update in several months if there’s an option to do that.
I’ve been vegetarian for ~20 years and have had migraines for ~24 years (my paternal grandmother had them, as does my sister), as well as GI issues that began in college.
In 2008, I completely a DVM (veterinary degree) and began a post-doc program. Unfortunately, around the same time, I developed chronic migraines and cluster headaches. Then I began developing other symptoms. I was diagnosed with lupus, fibromyalgia, IBD, and food allergies (milk, eggs, peanuts, shellfish, gluten, some tree-nuts, 2 mushrooms, etc). For the last 2 years, I’ve been gluten-free vegan, eliminating all food allergies.
For over 2 years, I tried naturopathy, acupuncture, massage, conventional medicine, everything. I worked out, gardened, meditated, and still do. However, because of all of the health issues, I gave up playing soccer and went on disability. Then I lost my job and I am still trying to get healthy but I am still vegan and am happy about that. It helps with (bit does not cure) the IBD and food allergies, and while it doesn’t seem to help the other issues, it can only make me happier and less prone to certain other conditions :).
Thanks so much Ginny, above all for your amazing work with nutrition, but also for this fascinating question. It’s been very enlightening to read other people’s stories. In general, I think it’s unfortunate that vegans often feel pressure to be paragons of health, beauty, fitness, etc. Everyone has different reasons for being vegan, and different postures towards others when describing, explaining, or justifying it. I’m vegan for ethical reasons, and I don’t tend to bring it up in unsolicited situations, although I am passionate about it and it is very central to my own view of myself and the world. Health concerns don’t really factor in for me, but I still feel a bit of pressure to be healthy, or worry about an “ambassador role” if I enjoy less then perfect health. (I have a feeling from the way you’ve pitched the question that these are concerns for you as well).
I’m a 55-year-old man who went from omnivore to vegan within about 6 weeks in 2008 (aged 46). I’ve had stomach and intestinal issues for many years and have had vague and inconclusive diagnoses over the course of decades. I followed a yeast/fermentation-free Candida diet in the 1980s, but that didn’t solve my issues. I was diagnosed with mild Crohn’s Disease in the late 90s and put on medication for it, but that didn’t work either. Along with my symptoms go fatigue and dehydration (if I’m not careful), and it’s very frustrating not to be getting the full nutritional value of the food I eat. So it has affected my life pretty significantly.
In 2007-8, I decided to eliminate various things from my diet to try to isolate any food sensitivities (I had tried this years ago with no success, but I thought what the heck). I eliminated (in turn) wheat, soy, alcohol, yeast/fermented foods, and dairy. By coincidence, at the time I cut out the dairy, my girlfriend was in the process of going from omnivore to vegan (over the course of a couple of months). She had previously been both vegetarian and vegan at various times, but started eating fish and dairy partly at the urging of ob/gyns and pediatricians when she was pregnant and had infants. When I met her in 2004, she ate little or no red meat and didn’t cook it at home. Partly because of my girlfriend’s journey, and partly because of some reading I was doing about the meat production industry, I decided to stop eating meat; the dairy elimination just happened to coincide.
I used to eat meat with an average amount of enthusiasm, I guess, but I really loved cheese a lot, and it signified on many levels. When I was a kid and eating food that was put in front of me, it was either in, alongside of, or put on top of it, and by force of comforting habit, it seemed to become an essential part of who I was. When I started making food for myself, it was the easiest possible thing to throw in, grate on top of, or chomp along with whatever I was eating (quick protein, fat, and comfort). I missed the cheese for about a month, after which it just never occurred to me to think about it. By the time I realized the eliminating dairy and eggs from my diet made no difference to my intestinal issues, I also realized that I was a happy vegan with a happy vegan partner, my diet was more enjoyable than it was before, and I was living with a set of ethics that made sense to me. [I ate eggs for another few months, then gave those up too.]
So I still have the Crohn’s, and I continue to search for ways to manage it (started on a new medication about a month ago). I rarely discuss it with people, even close friends, because
(i) It’s kind of unpleasant.
(ii) I now know that my health issues are nothing to do with my vegan diet.
(iii) If people knew that I had digestive issues, they might assume that they correlate with my diet (even if I explained that they don’t correlate).
In terms of my overall health, I can’t say that I’ve noticed much difference since going vegan, except for one thing: gutbomb dishes like very heavy, greasy meats and very dairy-heavy things (like a famous mashed potato dish with a lot of butter, sour cream, and cream cheese) always made me extremely logy, I felt as if I weighed 1500 lb., and I wanted to take a 20-hour nap. No vegan food has ever had these effects on me!
Thanks again for this cool project, and I look forward to reading more of other people’s stories.
I have been vegan for 1 year. Went vegetarian the year before that. Diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis after a few months after going vegetarian. Diet change to vegan was not for my health, purely for the animals. However, I still sometimes think that I “shouldn’t” have MS or any flare-ups since I eat a vegan diet now. But apparently that is not true! Thanks
I have struggled with chronic (and severe) ibs for over 20 years (I am 26 now), even after going completely vegan about ten years ago and raw about 7 years ago. I do feel better maintaining a ridiculously strict diet and routine, but I still deal with “down days”, or even weeks. it bothers me so much that no matter how much my health in every other aspect (I’m never actually sick!) is a great testament to whole food, plant based nutrition, I know people are skeptical because I always seem to be dealing with stomach troubles. not everything is food related but I know that my issues have detracted from people taking me seriously about the benefits of a vegan diet. it is very frustrating-
Ever since I went vegan in 1999 my health has declined*. Now I’m 44 and medicated for prehypertension and generalized anxiety disorder (which has been a life saver!).
Growing up I never thought much about food and maintained a healthy BMI with no health problems. I was very active and stayed in good shape. Early in my vegan “lifestyle” I became a rawfoodist which I believe caused an unhealthy obsession with food. Since then, I escaped from those snake oil (not vegan!) peddlers but continue to struggle against a focus on food. But so much about veganism is about food and one can hardly be a member of the community and escape the constant messaging about food products and ingredients.
I’ve seen overweight people and those with non-normative physical or mental abilities mocked, shamed and derided in the vegan community. A community which is supposedly about justice. We need to do better and be more inclusive and aware.
The work Ginny does and her fearless integrity (like the following link) is a beacon of hope for truth and justice in the vegan movement. http://www.theveganrd.com/2012/04/body-shaming-fails-vegans-and-vegan-advocacy.html
Thanks for this blog post Ginny, I hope this goes a long way to shift the movement for a more just cause.
*health tends to do that over time. Veganism here is only a correlation which can work for or against as I meant to illustrate.
Hi! I’m 58 years old, have been vegan for almost 9 years now, was vegetarian for several years prior to that, but went heavy on the cheese and eggs. I’ve been overweight since I developed at 13 years old. I have hereditary osteoarthritis – both parents and a couple of siblings have had knee replacements (my mom has both knee and hip replacements) and my knees are so bad with severe degenerative osteoarthritis that I had to leave my employment as a legal word processor and go out on disability because I couldn’t sustain my daily commute without severe, painful consequences that would last for days.
I also had a total thyroidectomy in 2014 because the goiters on both sides grew so large that they were bending my windpipe. They found cancer upon biopsy, but I didn’t have to go through any kind of treatment since they took the entire thing out – just being monitored.
Being overweight has not helped my joints. I had an emergency hip replacement in 2014 also, the joint was so riddled with cysts and absent cartilage that I couldn’t get up out of a chair. I’m living with my bad knees because I don’t want any more replacements, they seem so invasive and the entire procedure isn’t vegan in an ethical sense – animal testing is highly involved in perfecting these procedures and subsequent upgrades. I am constantly aware of my fake hip and what it took to be approved for human implantation.
My blood pressure was so high that I’ve had doctors tell me that going vegan most likely saved my life. Now I need to control my intake. (less fat, sugar, carbs), and get the weight off of my knees, which are only getting more and more painful as time goes on. I avoid pain medications because of animal testing, as well, so the only thing that’s going to get me up and going is to take the weight off. So, chronic osteoarthritis and obesity are my issues. And I’m vegan for life, regardless of my health issues. I’m sure that eating only vegan food has had a great impact on my tired body. Now I need to really look at my own nutrition.
I have a physical chronic condition, but also mental ones. I suffer from hypothyrodism, bipolar, borderline personality disorder and social anxiety) and have had them for several years now.
One difficulty I faced was realising I was going to have to take medication that has in the past been tested on animals. But after talking to other vegans I realised I need to put my own health and safety first, as the animals would benefit more from a healthy, alive but medicated vegan than a unhealthy or even dead vegan.
My hypothyrodism, combined with the medication I’m on being notorious for weight gain and struggling with disordered eating (that is undiagnosed currently) has lead me having weight problems. Even after turning vegan, my eating is still bad because I’m very clued up on what convience and junk food is vegan. This sometimes makes me feel like I’m a bad example of veganism, especially for those people who may want to try veganism initially to lose weight or for health reasons (then hopefully find out about the ethical benefits as well). Adding to this, I want to become a registered dietitian and I feel like people would not trust an overweight RD who can’t seem to listen to her own advice, and this is a real painful thought for me after struggling for so long to lose weight and having things such as health conditions and medication making it a lot more difficult for me.
Being a vegan with social anxiety is also something I find difficult in many ways. For example, the thought of having to ask for a vegan option when eating out a restaurant can be enough to give me a panic attack. Some people are understanding and will ask for me, but most have the unfortunate attitude of “well you’re the one being fussy and awkward so you have to ask”.
The social anxiety and memory problems I have also affects my ability to debate and defend veganism. If an omnivore throws a comment in, I find it hard to defend myself on the spot because I either get too anxious or I’ve forgotten the facts leading to a weak response. It’s a bit easier online when I can look up facts to be reminded. The memory issue has only become a problem in the last few months but I am finding it very hard to deal with, I forget so much, even simple words sometimes.
Hi, I am 43 years old and have been vegan for two years. I was diagnosed with IBS 20 years ago and have varied between vegetarian and omnimove since the age of 15 finally going vegan two years after an horrendous bought of stomach issues which lasted 6mths. Stupidly I went back to vegetarian for 4mths last year and ended up with another 6 mths of stomach issues including horrendous diarrhea, fatigue, low iron etc. Had my second colonoscopy and biopsies and while waiting for the results had a blood allergy test done. The test came back with one result – dairy. I had wanted to go back completely vegan anyway so this was my final push. I have been completely vegan again for the past 5mths and within a week of changing diet my symptoms had disappeared. My biopsy results came back as a rare form of colitis that is triggered by dairy and meat protein allergy!! Feel so much better now. My energy and general health are fabulous and I won’t be changing my diet again that’s for sure.
Great question! I feel like there are so few I can tell about my story. Vegans can be so abelist, giving 30 responses about what type of veganism to try (raw sugar free gluten soy whatever), what you are doing wrong (cause something is your fault), medications are wrong, stories of their wonderful miracalous healing experience, and also ironically no compassion.
Ive had health issues for years. Chronic UTIs as a little girl. Often sick, then stomach problems for a long time. Yo yo dieting, excrutiating cramping of the intestine, rectum, and uterus. Also having a lifelong mental illness, depression, bipolar and the side effects of the meds ive taken.
I went vegetarian at 15 which meant for me that I ate a lot of dairy. I went vegan at 20 and in general I would say my health problems worsened. For years I was confused, doctors dismissed me, I felt unsure telling them I was vegan cause they would blame whatever on it. I had vomiting spells, weight gain, weight loss, diahrea, gastritis, the list goes on. I tried different elimination diets, more tea/water, enzymes, vitamins zero effect. I felt pressure to solve my own health problems. I also have cystic acne, not just on the face, but neck, chest, shoulders, back since I was 11 years old. Which no dermatologist has ever been able to rid myself of, even with perscriptions, low fat, dairy free diet.
I was eventually diagnosed with Endometriosis and Celiac Disease. Had surgery last year and have the BC implant in my arm. I have been eating gluten free for a little less than a year.
I do not feel much better. I still have to carry around pain meds. Still confused about stomach aches. Still deal with cramps. And one of the most embaressing as part of the vegan community: irregularity often with few bowel movements. Which is always the joke vegans say about omnivores.
I never ask vegans in general for health advice anymore. I often notice so much abelism. I often never tell onivore folks cause the would also wanna blame my veganism or at least think that diet is useless she is sick constantly. With doctors also judging, there are so few people I can actually be honest with about whats going on in my body. I havent been feeling well a good part of this month. Im not sure why. Dont know if the endometriosis is growing back. Cramps for weeks. Stomach aches that last days. I am really thankful for this question cause I think there are other vegans who are constantly sick and also afraid to talk about it. Wonder why veganism just doesnt help some peoples illesses…
So unfortunately veganism hasnt helped me physically, not that that was ever my goal. And I do believe that if I wasnt vegan the problems would have been much worse. Just wish vegans and omivores were more accepting. 🙁 Its so frustrating being the unhealthiest person you know, with the healthiest diet of anyone you know!
I’m really glad to find this post. I’m 35 years old, and I’ve been a vegetarian for 25 years / vegan for the last 12. I love being vegan. I love what I eat, and I love the philosophy of living a cruelty-free life.
I have always considered myself a generally healthy person. I’ve never had a major illness but about 7 years ago I was diagnosed with Epstein Barr. I’ve had periodic flare ups over the last number of years and an overall decline in health. I eat so much better than any of my friends. Sure I like vegan “junk food” like anyone else, but I feel like I eat a good share of wholesome, nutritious food. I probably could eat less sugar and am working on it. I have also cut the amount of soy I eat down over the last few years because I have read it can suppress the immune system. I also have a hugely stressful job that I don’t think helps my overall health.
It comes and goes but I have periods almost every month where I just feel exhausted, have fatigue, a low fever, light sore throat and post nasal drip. Then it goes away. I’ve recently been also diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue. Every doctor I see blames veganism for my issues. Not to mention most of what you read online says the same.
Not eating animals is a huge part of who I am, and the thought of changing that makes me completely despondent. Does anyone here have experience with Epstein Barr/CFS as a vegan? What do you think of the supposed connection between veganism and auto-immune disease? I really don’t know where to turn.
As a long time vegan here (15 years), it was interesting hearing people’s experiences.
I would be interested to hear what people’s diets are like. I am aware there are vegan foods that cause me negative effects and I’m on my own journey to find out what those are. I think for me the optimum solution exists within the vegan umbrella but its a slow process of elimination of what works and what doesn’t.
For the record I have suffered with long periods of depression and anxiety. I find a drug like drowsy response to what some would call harmless vegan food (white potatoes, oats) and the negative moods ensue.
At the moment my safe foods and diet consists of raw foods, cooked veggies, rice, sweet potatoes, omega 3 rich seeds (flax, chia) and very rarely wholemeal bread (which is still under review).
I know I’m late to the party on this post – hope my experience is still helpful for you. Before I comment, I wanted to say thanks for the work you’re doing to help people be healthy! I love your books and recommend them to others who are working towards better health.
I developed adult-onset Celiac Disease at 24 (after a nasty case of chicken pox, which I hadn’t had as a child). I removed gluten from diet and felt better. Except for the endometriosis that showed up and was diagnosed when I was 25. It was already stage 4 when we found it and was threatening to perforate my colon. Without other long-term options, I had my uterus and ovaries removed at 27. I don’t know that I would do that now, but at the time, it seemed reasonable considering the threat. I never got my full energy back after that. Along the way somewhere, my thyroid started acting up and I began taking thyroid hormone. Over the next 11 years, I continued to get more tired and I continued to have increasing digestive complaints until I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at 38. I struggled for a couple of years with figuring out how to manage it, since I did not like the pharmacological options, and finally discovered the whole-foods, plant-based way of life at 40 (one year ago). After a few months of recovery, I felt almost like a typical person, able to work and keep going all day long, positive in mindset and mood, hopeful and energetic. I have never taken prescription medication to manage Crohn’s and I no longer have symptoms most of the time, though I have a mild flare once in a while.
I was just rediscovering ME (without fatigue and sickness) when I talked to my doctor about some weird things that had started happening: my fingers and toes were turning white and numb in the cold, I had a strange rash on my cheeks, I had significant joint pain, my fatigue was building again . . . and now we have a working diagnosis of Lupus. I see a rheumatologist in two weeks.
All these diagnoses and physical challenges are ridiculous and embarrassing to me; they feel like character defects. I don’t want to have to think this much about my physical self! I am an intelligent and educated person who can’t control her body, and that feels like failure in many ways.
I realize I have only been vegan for one year so far, and I know these illnesses took my whole life to develop, so I am trying to maintain high hopes that continuing my vegan diet while making course corrections as necessary to meet my individual needs (like Harry above!) will enable me to overcome this latest diagnosis, return to health again, and be able to live a long fun life without scary medication. Hopefully my relationship with the rheumatologist (and every doctor!) can be one of assessment and monitoring rather than pharmacological treatment.
Thanks again for your work!
I’ve really appreciated the great advice on this site over the years, so more than happy to share my experience!
I have mild chronic fatigue syndrome. I have been a vegan for about 8 years. Prior to becoming vegan, I had chronic fatigue on and off for most of my adult life (I am now 48). I also had serious anaemia prior to becoming vegan (I had a course of iron supplements, and increased my intake of red meat at the advice of my doctor). The anaemia was solved, and it hasn’t recurred since becoming vegan (the anaemia was unlikely to be dietary, since I suffered from excessive bleeding during periods, which have now stopped).
Due to various life changes including a move of house and job and starting a new relationship, I have a lot of friends now who have only known me since I became a vegan. It is so frustrating to me that they see the effects of chronic fatigue, and jump to conclusions that my symptoms are due to my vegan diet. While veganism hasn’t cured the chronic fatigue, it also hasn’t made it any worse! Also, because I am aware of past problems with anaemia, and know about the need for vegans to supplement for B12, I am probably a lot more careful about getting regular blood tests, and using supplements preventatively, than a lot of omnivores. My doctors have not suggested that veganism is causing or exacerbating the CFS. I wish my new friends had seen me at my worst state of CFS, before I became a vegan.
One symptom that did seem to get better after becoming vegan was constant, low-level digestive problems with bloating and discomfort. I rarely get that anymore, usually after over-indulging in bread or other very starchy foods – I can always immediately identify the cause. I put the improvement in digestion and solving the bloating down to cutting out dairy.
One of the ways I have found that I need to adapt my diet to help with CFS is in the area of blood sugar and getting enough protein. I have cut out almost all refined sugar, very rarely eat even sugar replacements (maple, agave and the like). I sweeten desserts with dates and apple juice, but I usually have fruit rather than vegan desserts. I have to have regular meals, and when the CFS is particularly bad, it seems to help to eat bigger meals, with some calorie-dense foods like avocados. The other way I need to adapt is to make sure I get enough protein and healthy fat, so I include a lot of pulses, soy products (avoiding overly processed ones), vegan Quorn, nuts, avocados, olives and coconut milk. I try to be as low GI as possible, so I limit white rice, pasta and bread to occasional treats, rather than staples. I replace wheat pasta with pasta made from pulses, or I use cauliflower, sweet potatoes or puy lentils to replace the traditional rice, pasta or potatoes.
I am planning to add (vegan) L-Carnitine to my supplementation regime, since it is recommended by some of the CFS resources I have come across.
I’ve also thought of trying to increase the proportion of raw foods, or try juicing, etc. I am at the point of grasping at straws due to the seemingly endless problems with CFS, now compounded by the menopause.
I have considered going back to an omnivore diet in the hope it would help with the fatigue, but I know a lot of people with CFS/ME who have omnivore diets, so eating animal products will not magically cure me. I’m also completely unconvinced by the science behind claims that eating meat helps with fatigue.
I became a vegan for health reasons (my parents both went onto a near-vegan, now pescatarian diet, and it helped them to overcome heart disease and cancer, in conjunction with conventional medicine). However, after a few years of being vegan, I also became convinced of the ethical and environmental arguments on a personal level. It’s hard to consider the ethical case in a non-biased way while eating animal products!
I really feel for the others with CFS related illnesses who have posted here. I have seen so much on the web about the supposed benefits of a ‘Paleolithic’ diet on fatigue, and while aspects make sense to me (low GI, problems many people seem to have with grains), I don’t think the science – or the anthropology – support the claims. I try to be as low GI and as wholefoods as possible, while not completely cutting out grains.
I do feel that veganism is beneficial for my CFS in a few ways. By protecting heart health and therefore maintaining healthy circulation, I will at least not be adding to my existing level of fatigue. I feel that including lots of immune supporting foods (leafy greens, berries, seeds, onions and mushrooms) actually helps me throw off a lot of the infections I used to get several times a year before becoming vegan. And I feel that it takes a lot of energy to digest meat and milk. On a vegan diet, the only digestive problems I get are on the very rare occasion when I over-indulge in fried foods (usually a takeaway!). I would also probably be putting on a lot of weight, due to my comparative lack of physical exercise, if I were on a standard diet. Even though I’ve gained about 7lbs. in the past few years, this is really nothing to a lot of women my age, and I’m sure that it would be much higher if I were eating meat, cheese and eggs.
Even though my parents are not 100% vegan, their predominantly vegan diet has helped them overcome major health issues, and they both look at least a decade younger than their chronological age. They also have much more energy than most people their age, and are incredibly active. They credit their near-vegan diet with this.
I would be really grateful for any specific advice you might have for people with CFS and related illness. I do try to explain to new friends that the CFS preceded the veganism, and if anything it has got better, not worse, since I became vegan. But I can see the skeptical looks! More importantly, I do feel that diet is one of the major hopes for CFS, but the amount of information out there is confusing and often contradictory, so would like to have advice from someone I trust!
How you doing on the vegan diet now? I have severe ME for 8 years, and vegan for for 5 years. Ive seen no improvement. I’m interested to find out how others are doing.
After reading some of the other posts in more detail, I was taken with the point about ‘vegan body shaming’. I wonder if there is a related phenomenon, both inside and out of the vegan community, of ‘health shaming’. This could take two forms. One is, criticising people who are vegans, but who continue to enjoy processed snacks and sugar. The other would be, seeing any health problems as being due to veganism itself, or not being sufficiently healthy in dietary choices (raw foods, etc.).
While I am personally convinced that a wholefood vegan diet can help to protect against many illnesses, it is not a magic bullet. However healthy our diets, we can’t absolutely prevent even the classic chronic diseases. Also, it is entirely legitimate to choose to be vegan for ethical (and/or environmental) rather than health reasons, or to have a mix of reasons for being vegan. I suspect even the least diet conscious vegan is probably way ahead, health-wise, of the standard american diet.
Because being vegan seems to be inherently controversial to non-vegans, it’s almost like we have a greater burden of proof – and we also have to justify our diet to other people in a way that omnivores do not.
Whatever the health benefits of diet may be, this should not be the same as blaming people who get ill. Some people have fewer resources (including time and energy) to follow wholefood diets. Other people follow excellent diets and get ill anyway. Whatever the situation, I feel very strongly that shaming and judgment do nothing to help!
I’ve been vegetarian since I was 17 (I’m 37 now) and vegan since I was 27 (occasionally dipped back into vegetarianism for a few years). When I was 19, I was diagnosed with thyroid disease (Hashimoto), and I am not the only one in my family. I am healthy otherwise and fine with hormone replacement, but it would be nice not to have to depend on medication.
I am 39 years old. I have had health problems for most of my life, starting with migraines at age 7. At age 10 I became vegetarian and stayed with it until this year when I converted to a fully plant-based diet. This was after years of battling with digestive problems which were eventually diagnosed as nerve damage to my digestive tract. According to my gastroenterologist, this was likely due to contracting H1N1 in ~2008 but was not diagnosed until 2016. At the point I was diagnosed I was already gluten-free and vegan, but now follow a vegan low-FODMAP diet.
Prior to this I’ve also been diagnosed with many other things: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, premature ovarian failure (which led to a total hysterectomy at age 34), chronic back and neck pain, interstitial cystitis, gluten intolerance, autoimmune dermatitis and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
Before I started having problems about 15 years ago I was at a weight that was normal for me, which was about 122 pounds. By the time I had the hysterectomy I was up to my heaviest at 179 pounds, despite being on (what I thought) was a very healthy diet (except that it included dairy, eggs and gluten, which I now know don’t agree with my body at all). Exercising didn’t matter; I just kept getting sicker and gaining more weight.
It took a long time to get back down to a healthy weight. It helps a lot with some of my symptoms to not be carrying around the extra weight, but I am still not symptom-free. I am still getting used to the low-FODMAP diet, which is very difficult and restrictive (imagine being vegan and unable to use gluten, garlic and beans). I sometimes “cheat” because it’s so difficult to eat out and avoid all those foods. So I know that at least part of my digestive symptoms are my own fault.
I already feel like many people are put off by talking about the animal activist part of being vegan; they’re so much in denial about all the horrible things that happen to animals so that humans can make them part of the food chain. So I try to focus instead on the health benefits to eating vegan. But it’s a difficult balance when my health is less than stellar. A plant-based diet did not cure any of my chronic illnesses, although many of them are better. But so many people out there are looking for a magic cure-all solution to their problems, and it just doesn’t exist. So I try to focus on the good things that have happened and all the delicious foods that I can eat (I develop vegan, low-FODMAP recipes).
I also feel like when I complain about symptoms people might think I’m whining. Someone who doesn’t have chronic illness doesn’t understand how much of one’s day-to-day life can be affected by it and how many decisions one has to make to manage those symptoms.
Honestly, I feel like a lot of the people who have blogs, YouTube channels, etc. and talk about how perfect their lives are as vegans and how they have no health problems either have excellent genes or are lying. Just looking at all the other comments here, clearly it is more common than one might think to be vegan and still suffer from health issues.
My husband has been found to have high blood pressure – about a year ago – and has had high blood sugar for many years (detected at least 7 years ago). He has been vegan almost 10 years. Despite all our dietary efforts, the blood pressure does not change and he has been started on medication after some very nasty spiking episodes. He is in no way overweight, being bang in the middle of the BMI index. There is still a margin for exercise (as opposed to “activity”), but otherwise the dietary choices do not seem to hack it – except, of course, we do not know if things would have been even worse otherwise! Hope this is of interest for your file.
I look forward to seeing the results of this interesting survey coming out!
I have osteoarthritis, and have been vegan for 6 months. It has helped my digestion, but I have yet to notice any change in pain or my high C Reactive Protein level. I’m committed to sticking with the diet, which is easy for me because I love beans, vegetables, nuts, and soy: and I don’t miss meat, dairy or eggs.
I suffer from auto immune disorders and have done most of my life. I take medication for it.
I’ve only been vegan for a few months now and actually my health feels worse. I was hoping it was some kind of detox but after reading these posts I’ve realised they are probably not and I’m just going through a bad patch.
I know I won’t go back to eating meat however. I haven’t eaten dairy for a long time and meat was fairly rare really. I’ve always felt guilt about eating animals.
I’m looking into the gerson therapy to try and heal as I’m on sickness benefit and hope to be able to get back to work at some point. Gerson therapy doesn’t allow grains or fat, and supposedly has a high success rate especially with cancers.
Good luck everyone and stay positive.
I’m 29 and have been vegan for almost a year. I have ME/CFS and have suffered from debilitating symptoms for over two years. I became vegetarian because I realised that meat made me feel worse and then became vegan because I realised that dairy was another trigger. Nowadays, I can’t see myself eating or using any animal products and I’m dreading with ME/CFS researchers. Although they do say thay cutting dairy is great, they also say that cutting meat and eggs is a risk factor and can make the condition worse. I do feel better after going vegetarian and after vegan, but I’m not cured (far from it). The vegan diet helped me avoid some “down” days (extreme fatigue triggered by consumption of meat or dairy), although they do still happen occasionally, but hasn’t helped much more than that.
I thought it would do me more good health wise (I expected, for example, to experience some weight loss, since I eat a whole food plant based diet, with minimum to none processed produce), but even though that didn’t happen I’m still very happy following this diet. However, I find it hard to deal with the idea that the few doctor that do recognise my condition tell me I should be eating meat and that’s hard to hear.
I’m 54 years old, vegan and have ME/CFS. This condition started after I completed breast cancer treatments in 2014. Prior to the cancer diagnosis, I worked full time and was very active – weight training 3 times per week and running 5km 2 to 3 times per week. During the course of treatments (surgery, chemo and then radiation), i put on a lot of weight. I have also dealt with food addiction issues all my life so it’s no surprise that I used food to get me through that difficult time.
I tried going back to work but my fatigue seemed to be getting worse rather than better. After 8 months of working part time, I went off work completely. I was diagnosed with ME/CFS in the fall of 2016.
As for the vegan diet, i started losing weight after becoming a member of a 12 step program for food addiction and transitioned to a vegan plan in Dec. 2015. I am 5’4.5” and I weighed in at 187lbs in April 2015. I have maintained a weight of 124lbs since March 2016. The vegan food plan that I use is very well balanced. I don’t eat any flour (no bread, pasta, etc) or any sugar (including honey, maple syrup, etc). I eat whole grains, lots of fruit and veggies, raw nuts and seeds, beans and légumes, good oils, and supplement with nutritional yeast (vit B12). I also abstain from caffeine.
I’ve tried several supplements such as l-carnitine but have not experienced any changes. I do use a licorice supplement to help with my low blood pressure as i was getting very light headed.
I can’t imagine what I would feel like if I still ate animal products as well as flour and sugar. Eating this way takes commitment but it’s worth it for me. It has not cured my ME/CFS but I’m convinced that my symptoms would be much worse if I were not vegan. Today, I do yoga 3 times per week and get out for walks as often as I can manage.
People are generally okay with me being vegan but I think it has more to do with the fact that I had cancer so people feel that this “drastic” change makes sense rather than the relationship of my food choice and ME/CFS. Unfortunately, my family physician and the clinic for chronic diseases that I deal with don’t really acknowledge the benefits of a vegan lifestyle however, they still support my choice to eat this way. I find that people are more receptive to hearing about veganism when it has to do with health rather than the environmental or animal rights issues.
For me, veganism brings more peace into my life as I learn to accept my limitations as a result of this chronic illness, one day at a time.
I realize this is a year old, but if you are still looking for vegans with chronic illness, I would love to be any help I can be. I’ve been vegan for 9 years and had RA for 16, I also have spine damage and am in the middle of a potential additional lupus diagnosis. I did not go vegan for any reason but ethics, but the lack of understanding that veganism is not a magical cure or even something that will necessarily alter one’s health issues at all is endlessly frustrating to me, for the sake of dangerous advice being given to folks like me, and as someone who has had my physical abilities continue to detioratie, regardless of my vegan diet.
I have been vegan, high carb, high fiber, low fat, for only a few months. I am 68 and have many health issues; type 2 diabetes, atrial fibrillation, chronic kidney disease (stage 3), high blood pressure since age 26, stenosis and herniated disc, and overweight (borderline obese). So far, I have lowered my blood glucose, but it is too soon to know if I can get off medication for diabetes. I see my endocrinologist next week. The lab and urine tests will be my prime indicator. I have had only one a-fib episode and it lasted only 1 hour and I got over it quicker than usual. It usually gets me down for a day. I feel better and have more energy. I don’t have that afternoon slump I used to get. I do not eat the vegan “junk” food. Only whole foods.