Today I was planning on sharing another side dish you can add to that 4th of July potluck you were invited to (in case you didn’t like my Coconut Bacon Potato Salad). I feel that can wait until later today or tomorrow. Instead, something on GMA this morning got me fired up and I wanted to share my thoughts on it. They presented a story on the vegan blogger that developed an eating disorder, The Blonde Vegan (now calling herself The Blonde Veggie), and with it came some not-so-surprising accusations on the vegan diet.
I’ve never heard of The Blonde Vegan before this so I know nothing about her. Apparently, after a year of being vegan and growing a sizable social media following, she was diagnosed with an eating disorder called Orthorexia Nervosa. I’ve never heard of Orthorexia before this story either, because it’s not an officially recognized eating disorder. According to the NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) website:
“Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but orthorexics become fixated on food quality and purity. They become consumed with what and how much to eat, and how to deal with “slip-ups.” An iron-clad will is needed to maintain this rigid eating style. Every day is a chance to eat right, be “good,” rise above others in dietary prowess, and self-punish if temptation wins (usually through stricter eating, fasts and exercise). Self-esteem becomes wrapped up in the purity of orthorexics’ diet and they sometimes feel superior to others, especially in regard to food intake.”
Okay, I can see how this could have happened to The Blonde Vegan. Eating vegan is healthy and most people already believe that us vegans think we are superior to everyone else because of our diet choices. For me, that can’t be more false. I know that there are vegans that don’t accept other’s choices, but I believe in respect and human decency. I have one major thing to say about this and I’m going to yell it.
This has nothing to do with the vegan diet. There are going to be people who think they are superior no matter what they choose to eat. It’s a character flaw, not a vegan diet side-effect!
After The Blonde Vegan’s diagnosis she decided to announce on her blog that she will be transitioning away from veganism because she had become unhealthy, weak, and her period even ceased. Juju Chang responded, “You basically exposed the dark underbelly of veganism.” I want to make a clarification right now. I’m happy that The Blonde Vegan recognized she had a problem and decided to do something about it. There are plenty of people living on an unhealthy vegan diet because they haven’t taken the time to research proper nutrition. This is not the same thing though.
This has nothing to do with the vegan diet. This happened because of a mental illness. Being vegan is not the same as having an eating disorder!
She told Juju Chang during her interview that she got such a negative backlash from this post, including death threats. That unfortunately is not surprising. I know there are some die-hard-rude-as-hell crazy vegans out there that give us rational ones a bad image. For that I apologize. I apologize to everyone, vegan and not, for having to put up with people like that. Again…
This has nothing to do with the vegan diet. There are extremists in every aspect of life. Sadly, those vegans so ready to hand out death threats did not get the Compassion to ALL Living Things memo!
After the story ran on GMA they had their Chief Health & Medical Editor, Dr. Richard Besser, on to talk about it. This is what he had to say:
“There’s no dairy, there’s no eggs. And that can be a healthful approach, but you have to be careful. Especially if you have kids on this. Vitamin b-12 is only found in animal products, calcium can be a challenge, it can be hard to get enough calories because there’s so much fiber in plant foods. You can do it and do it well, but you should really work with a nutritionist to get that balance right.”
There are certain things I agree with and others I do not.
First of all, this is not the first time he has stated you need to be careful especially if you have kids on this. That statement is more of a personal twitch for me. I am very sensitive when it comes to someone criticizing me for how I choose to raise little tummy. What parent isn’t? Let’s face it, when it comes to parenting you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. No matter what we choose to do as parents for our children someone is going to stick their nose in it and say something. He is right on some level that you do need to be careful, but it’s no different from an adult needing the proper balance of nutrition. So I ask for you to please stop making your viewers think that what I’m doing is harmful to my child when I know it’s not.
Secondly, Dr. Besser goes into the usual it’s-hard-to-get-this-on-the-vegan-diet argument. Thank God he didn’t say protein! I’m not even going to touch on the calcium remark. That is the second most irritating claim next to protein. Vitamin B12 is NOT only found in animal products. For people who know nothing about nutrition, guaranteed at least half of the GMA viewers, they will take this to mean that there is no other way possible to get B12 than eating meat. That is 100% not true!
There are vegan sources of vitamin B12. You could either take supplements or eat foods that are B12 fortified. This is a controversial topic because there isn’t an absolute way to determine if you are actually getting active B12 or not and people argue if you have to take supplements the vegan diet isn’t good for you. According to Vegan for Life:
“There are also molecules that are very similar to vitamin B12 but that have no true vitamin activity for humans. These are inactive B12 analogues. Most methods for measuring vitamin B12 in foods don’t differentiate between true vitamin B12 and the inactive analogues (30).”
“We have a rather complex physiological way of recycling it, and we also can store relatively large amounts in our livers- sometimes enough to prevent overt deficiency for as long as three years. As a result, some vegan advocates insist that no one needs to worry about vitamin B12 until they have been a vegan for several years and that we can get by with taking supplements just “once in a while (31).””
The author goes on to explain that the 3-year supply and the “once in a while” approach is not a good idea since everyone’s B12 supply is bound to differ due to individual diets prior to veganism. This is all very scientific technical stuff, but important to know nonetheless. If you are going to be a responsible vegan you should really learn these facts. They do provide a list of B12 fortified foods, such as: nutritional yeast, soymilk, protein bars, and Marmite yeast extract. With that the author warns “it is best to have at least two fortified food sources on hand in case a particular batch of food contains vitamin B12 that is somehow damaged. Do not rely solely on one type of fortified food (34).”
My favorite source of B12 is nutritional yeast. As I’ve stated in my Keep It Stocked page, nutritional yeast is not to be confused with brewer’s yeast. Brewer’s yeast contains the inactive analogues mentioned above so that would actually be hurting you. The bottom line: consuming animals is not the only way to get B12 in your system. Yes, you do need supplements, but honestly everyone should be taking supplements no matter what you eat because of how our food is grown, treated, and prepared these days.
In response to Dr. Besser’s statement about consulting a nutritionist to get the right balance. That’s understandable advice, but I don’t think it’s necessary. I have never had a conversation with a nutritionist and I am perfectly healthy, I had an amazingly healthy pregnancy, and I have a healthy rapidly growing/developing child. I actually surprised the doctors during my pregnancy with my high levels of iron and B12.
You want to know why? I know how to read and I have common sense. I did all kinds of self-directed research from all sorts of credible resources before making this decision for me and my family. I will continue to do so as we grow and get older. I’m empowering you to take control of your own education. Get a library card and visit your neighborhood library often. It’s there for a reason. If you don’t want to or can’t put in the time and effort to research nutrition and you have the money, then by all means find a nutritionist. All I’m saying is, it’s feasible to be healthy on a vegan diet without a nutritionist by your side.
The whole point of this is for me to say stop trying to convince viewers that the vegan diet is something to be feared. For those that know squat about nutrition they will soak that subliminal message up and take it to heart. Giving them the seemingly appropriate fuel to start a fire the next time they encounter someone like me. If you are unwilling to educate yourself on a proper balance of nutrition that is your decision and your health will suffer. Once more…