When you fail to meet your goals on your vegan journey, practice self compassion and patience.
I had a blip in my vegan journey and fell off the wagon. Unfortunately, I’m still trying to get back up and not meeting those goals with perfection. Many vegans would jump at this opportunity to shout “plant-based!” in disgust and resentment. I understand that perspective, but I don’t agree. My motivation for my choices is still grounded in the ethical well-being of animals. However, in a world in which veganism is not the norm, and food is so fraught with emotional triggers for me, it is sometimes hard to honour my beliefs with my choices. In this post, I want to share my experience and my shift in perspective toward forgiveness and patience. This is a lifelong journey, with ups and downs and the struggle is worth it. It begins with pregnancy.
I am now a mother and my life has changed in so many ways. Learning my new role and growing into it has been the biggest challenge of my life. This journey of motherhood has been a lot like this journey to veganism. I have been tested and pushed to my limits and, every day, I must remind myself I cannot always achieve perfection, and that is ok. What is necessary to continue to do the best that I can is to strive for patience, forgiveness, and compassion.
When I got pregnant at the end of 2020, I fully intended and expected to have a vegan pregnancy and raise a vegan baby and child. What I was not prepared for were the huge impacts of the pregnancy hormones (though I really should have been–the pregnant stereotype is so true). That first trimester was brutal. Everything made me nauseated. All of my favourite foods were now repulsive to me. Scents that were once a comfort sent me heaving over the toilet. For the first month, all I could eat was crackers with peanut butter and clementines. The next month it was grape tomatoes with vegan ranch dressing and clementines. All my vegan faves were absolutely repellant to me. Tofu? No way! Cashew cheese? Disgusting. Nooch was the worst thought. I actually lost weight when I got pregnant–not from the vomiting (though I was on a routine of every three days), but from the intense food aversion. Then there came the moment when I broke my diet.
I remember one night feeling utterly starving and sick and I thought, “I need spinach,” so I sauteed up some baby spinach and ate it in two big bites, but it didn’t satisfy. Then the scary thought occurred: “I need egg.” It had been years since I’d eaten egg, but coincidentally we had some in the fridge for the cats. I figured I would cook it up and try it and if it made me gag, my husband would finish it. I wouldn’t have even considered it except that everything in my body was saying, “yes please.” I remember feeling so grossed out scrambling it up in the pan, but once it was cooked, I hoovered it and instantly felt better. And then felt so much worse for the guilt.
When I became pregnant, suddenly I was having dreams about eating meat and cheese, craving deli turkey and havarti cheese sandwiches. I had a recurring, visceral dream about eating a street meat hotdog on a streetcar that always left me craving. Suddenly, the smell of meat was enticing again rather than smelling like rotted corpse. I knew this was the hormones, but I didn’t know how powerful they could be. I, and others in my life, tried to assuage my guilt by reminding me I was growing another human and it was necessary to eat, so I should eat what my body could tolerate. Despite my cravings, I could never bring myself to eat meat, and I know now I never will again, but I did give in to egg and dairy. It was a blessing to be able to eat again and not feel constantly sick, but completely messed with my head.
Once the pregnancy hormones started easing up a bit, I found I was able to eat more foods again and less of them animal products. By the third trimester I was mostly back to my vegan diet, with an occasional junky milk chocolate candy bar or nibble of cheddar cheese. Then my baby was born and we had a rather traumatic first week together, both hospitalized for different reasons. I had a moment of coming full circle my first day back in the hospital after initially being discharged. I was starving, hadn’t eaten much of anything in days, was terrified of what was in store for us, had just missed dinner delivery to the rooms, and had limited options due to COVID restrictions. A very kind nurse went out of her way to get me food and came back with the only option, an egg salad sandwich. Again, I shovelled the egg in my mouth with a feeling of immediate relief. And, again, the same feeling of guilt and shame.
Things were so chaotic entering into new parenthood, and still have yet to calm down that I feel like I’m in a perpetual state of limbo. I haven’t found the me I used to be in my every day, and I also haven’t yet found the me I want to be as a mother. I’m finding myself choosing junk food with dairy more often than never, and way more often than I would like, because I haven’t made time for alternative self care methods. These foods are therapeutic to me, triggering nostalgia and connecting me to my past, a childhood in which I felt safe, loved, and stable. With so much changing in my life daily and with so much uncertainty in myself and my performance as a mother, it is all too easy to practice that comfortable cognitive dissonance. It’s too easy to ignore the torture that facilitated my comfort.
As a mother, I get even more how horrific dairy is, even as I choose to ignore it, and I don’t want to be making these wrong choices. I know that shame and guilt are not good motivators for change. Likewise, a sustainable and ethical journey should not be motivated by shame and guilt, but by passion and kindness. I want to be the person who lives by her convictions. I want to set that example for my child and for myself. It is only with patience and compassion can I find my way back.