Everyone (or at least everyone who is reasonable) knows how healthy a vegan diet is. Many people adopt a vegan diet for health or weight loss and find that they get amazing results. When I became vegan I did not do it for this reason, in fact, I didn’t even know how healthy it was back then. Despite the fact that I hadn’t intended to, I did get some pretty amazing results. I am now in much better physical shape than I ever have been before. However, because I initially became vegan for animal rights reason, I have also experienced a result that some people may find surprising. I have experienced a shift in my body image overall and I no longer have the goals or expectations for my body that I used to have.
I used to be obsessed with being thin. I would look at girls who everyone said were far too skinny and I longed to look like them. I set very strict rules for myself about what, and when, and how much I could eat and would berate myself every time I broke them. I rationed my food and measured it out carefully to be sure that I didn’t eat too much. It never actually got to the point where I was physically unhealthy, but I was definitely emotionally unhealthy. I hated the way I looked. I hated everything about my body and went to great lengths to hide it.
When I started to become more dedicated to animal rights my feelings about my body slowly began to change. When I first became vegan I started hearing all of these stereotypes about vegans, one of which was that all vegans were skinny and unhealthy. At first I actually found that pretty exciting. Since I had always wanted to be one of those super-skinny girls, maybe veganism would make that easier. After a while though, I started to realize just how important animal rights is and how insignificant my feelings about my body were, in comparison. I realized that the scrawny, sickly vegan stereotype was very bad for the cause and the last thing I wanted to do was perpetuate a negative stereotype.
So, I made a conscious decision to stop trying for the super-skinny body type and start trying for a healthy, strong, fit one instead. At first it was difficult, I would see pictures of girls who were unhealthily thin and still wish that I could look like them. But the more I reminded myself that was not the image I wanted to present to the world, the more I started to see the beauty in women who were strong and healthy. I forced myself to stop worrying about how much food I was eating and instead focused on what types of food I was eating, only healthy, nutrient-rich vegan foods. Instead of constantly stressing about burning calories, I started thinking about building strength.
I was rather amazed at how rewarding it was. Suddenly, instead of being perpetually disappointed with myself, I was proud of my progress. Instead of looking in the mirror and being ashamed of the fat I was unable to lose, I noticed myself being able to do things that I had previously been unable to do. More than that though, I felt good about being a positive picture of veganism. I was helping to destroy a stereotype that was hurting the cause I had dedicated my life to, and that is something that I can feel a lot better about than achieving some arbitrary weight goal.
* The picture is me with Petunia, one of my adopted pigs.
Image credit: Tobias Akerboom (at hutmeelz)