Vegan and Depressed?

Let food be thy medicine. You are what you eat. Yes, our diets are powerful. But as much as we’d like to think we know about choosing veganism, we still make assumptions.

I do completely believe that choosing to be plant-based is one of the best choices you can make for yourself, your health, and the health of the world. Even saying that statement feels like a dramatic declaration of immediate success in all aspects of life. As if changing a part of our daily routines will make a tremendous difference.

Which it will, to a certain extent. The sheer fact that you’re eating more fruits and vegetables and less (or no) meat or dairy already makes a huge difference. You’re consuming more vitamins and minerals, fiber, the good stuff that your body needs to thrive. Vegans, especially those who come from a conventional American diet that wasn’t too nutrient dense to begin with, note seeing improved well-being, in sleep and energy, in maintaining a healthy weight, in mental clarity, you name it.

While I do think plant-based foods are very healing, I have noticed during my time in the vegan community (mostly online since I maybe know of two or three other vegans in real life) that misconceptions float around. That we put so much belief into veganism to point that we neglect other diets and options available for our health.

And from the title, I do tie it back to mental health, but this applies for even physical health. Yes, documentaries like Forks Over Knives tote how a whole foods plant-based diet has cured people of heart disease, diabetes and more, we shouldn’t forget the value of science and medicine.

That stereotype of vegans being all hippies living in vans does come to mind here even though really anybody can fall into alternative medicine and pseudoscience. Let me put out there, I am all for natural proven methods of wellness, but I don’t think they should entirely replace traditional medicine, going to a licensed practitioner, and getting a prescription when you need it.

From my many hours of research of all things vegan, I have come across many different people who have said that through veganism, they no longer have symptoms of mental illness, especially anxiety and depression. But we have to be critical when we read these things. These are completely different people, bodies, environments and circumstances. What makes you say what works for them would work for you?

Mental illness can easily be worsened or triggered from consuming certain foods, so sometimes all you need is to exercise and eat a balanced diet to feel better. The endorphins released from physical activity and the nutrients found in plant-based foods can all help balance your body and mind. I’d call that more of self-care and following a healthy lifestyle rather than becoming a full-on vegan.

Now a healthy lifestyle might help in some respects, if your mental illness is more than situational and chronic in nature, just say you’re becoming vegan will not help you. Maybe in a placebo way it would, but not long-term. Especially if your vegan diet is relying upon the vegan substitutes and processed foods. You cannot discount the value of antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, or therapy and counseling. You cannot blame veganism for “not working” and giving up on the lifestyle because it didn’t allow you to never need to see a doctor ever again.

Ultimately, if you want to become vegan, your intentions should come from beyond your personal gains. They should be rooted in making a positive impact on the world, saving animals and the environment. The health benefits are just a bonus. But your diet alone should not replace modern medicine. If we have the luxury of managing chronic symptoms of illness so we can live to our fullest potentials, why would we not choose that for ourselves?

As with anything, it’s about balance. If you want to experiment with certain “super foods” or supplements, go to a chiropractor or acupuncturist, be my guest. But don’t discount the significant progress made in the medical field. We have the power of vaccines that have already eradicating many diseases from our planet. We have put in so much research into understanding diseases and what might cause them. It’s amazing how far we’ve come from trying to balance the four humors in our bodies and throwing the mentally ill into the most inhumane institutions.

So yes, you can be vegan and still depressed. Vegan and still fatigued. Vegan and still requiring a flu shot every year. You cannot approach your health from one angle. If you truly want to take care of yourself, you have to use all of the resources at your disposal, especially the ones that are scientifically proven to work. Of course I am no medical expert. I’m not here telling you how to live your life. I’m here to be a realistic voice for those interested in veganism hoping for full-on miracles. Veganism itself can only do so much. You need to make the choice to take charge and be serious about your health. You deserve it.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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