Photo Credit: Annabelle Breakey/Photodisc/Getty Images
When I decided to go vegan a few years back, it was purely for animal welfare reasons. A vegan diet contains absolutely no animal products -- no meat, no fish, no eggs, no dairy. I’d been vegetarian for the better half of my life, and decided I had to go “all the way” in an effort to do even more for all those cute and fuzzy creatures. But when my body rebelled against veganism, I got a serious wake up call to pay attention to nutrition in a totally different way -- for myself and for my son.
Veganism was a bit of an adjustment, but I got the hang of it pretty quickly, especially with the many delicious I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Animal items on the shelves these days. But after I got pregnant, my body seriously wanted some animal products, so I caved. (And boy, did I cave: I ate Big Macs every day for a week, before settling back into good old vegetarianism). After I had my son, I eventually fell back to being vegan -- no more milk or eggs. Again, it felt great at first -- ethically and physically. My conscience was squeaky-clean, I thought, and my body felt refreshed and energetic.
But less than a year later, I started to have some health problems. I started having extreme dizzy spells and, not to get too graphic here, major digestive issues. It was an incredibly scary time, mostly because my doctors seemed unconvinced that my problems were due to nutrition, but also because I constantly worried that I would have an “episode” while out with my little boy, and be unable to take care of him. I had an entire workup -- and I mean entire. If you need someone to describe what, exactly, the inside of an MRI or CAT scan machine looks like, or what an EEG feels like, I’m your woman.
Turns out, I was developing a B12 deficiency. I had never bothered to take vitamins, figuring that I was a healthy young person, so it was unnecessary. (The irony is not lost on me, given my profession as a writer and editor for TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com). Eventually, I was given B12 shots, put on iron supplements, and I started taking multivitamins, omegas, and, just for fun, probiotics. I started feeling better. Oh yes, and I quit being vegan (and vegetarian), too. Now I eat fish, poultry, and eggs, but no dairy.
The whole debacle got me thinking about the choices we make, and how we pass them on to our kids. Is it right to raise our children with restrictions -- dietary or otherwise -- because we believe in something? How do we raise our kids to make their own choices while not pushing our own beliefs on them? My son, who’s now two and a half, is still a lacto-ovo vegetarian, as he’s always been. He eats lots of eggs and dairy, and I make sure he gets enough proteins, fats, and carbs (we’re still working on veggies). He also takes children’s multivitamins, complete with omega fatty acids for his growing brain. As much as I can, I try to buy organic products and humanely raised animals, to quiet my own personal and ethical concerns.
I don’t know if I’ll be vegan again, though in theory I’d like to be someday. Right now, being healthy and giving my body what it needs to function at its best is my main concern. This is even truer for my son.