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Diet is not Religion

Forgive me, for I have sinned.

Please don’t ever apologize for eating a cupcake, a Twinkie, a non-vegan food, or any other morsel that happens to categorize you as “straying” from whatever diet you’ve chosen.

Guilt is present in so many areas of our lives. We feel guilty when we spend too much on a shopping trip, guilty when we have to say no to a friend’s request, guilty when we end a relationship. Why, then, are we adding to this by associating food with guilt as well? Food ought to be a source of enjoyment, of comfort. Who doesn’t have fond childhood memories in association with food: making Christmas cookies with Grandma, digging into an enormous slice of homemade birthday cake, or eating dessert for dinner? (Please don’t tell me I’m the only one who did this!)

Kids know how to truly enjoy life! But all too often, adults say, “Oh, I was bad” or “Oh I shouldn’t.” Sundaes are called “sinful” and brownies are deemed “diet derailers.” I’m not saying one should eat these foods every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  But I do believe there is a place for treats in a healthy diet. The problem is that many people are trained to see everything as “black and white.”

orthorexia

If you’re interested in a novel of a post, I wrote more here: Orthorexia: The new Eating Disorder. But for now, I want to switch gears and zero in on a particular sub-topic:

Eating a “perfect” vegan diet.

People often send me emails, lamenting the fact that they could never be a “perfect” vegan. But there is no such thing!

I am not a perfect vegan. Even the so-called “vegan police” (those who point fingers at others, saying their efforts aren’t good enough) do not live 100% cruelty-free lives. The fact of the matter is that it’s impossible to live your life and not step on anyone else’s toes. There’s gelatin in book bindings, slavery involved with the chocolate trade, and some animals are even killed in the production of veggies when they run under the tractors. What I’m trying to say is that one shouldn’t feel guilty for feeling like his or her diet (or any aspect of his or her life) isn’t “cruelty-free” enough; we’re all just doing the best that we can in this life. Unfortunately, if one tries to bite off more than he or she can chew (pun intended), one runs the risk of burning out and giving up on doing anything!

There’s also something to be said for part-time vegans or vegetarians (a.k.a. flexitarians). Truth be told, the plethora of vegan items available in mainstream stores today is mostly thanks to these people. There just aren’t enough vegans in the world (yet!) to provide the amount of demand to get, say, Silk Soymilk at Wal-Mart or Almond Breeze at Costco. But with the help of flexitarians, one can now find non-dairy ice creams, mock meats, Larabars, and other vegan goodies outside of Whole Foods.

Even if you’re not ready now–or ever–to give up meat, you can still make a huge difference. Every little bit helps, and sometimes people are more-willing to believe ot trust omnivores than vegans when it comes to product recommendations. For example, if I tried to pass off my 5-Minute Chocolate Mousse to my relatives, they would balk, saying “Oh of course the crazy vegan thinks this is good; she hasn’t had the real thing in years!”

But if my meat-eating dad were to give them a taste, chances are they’d be more receptive. It’s one of the reasons I don’t fret over honey, nor do I beat myself up for eating a food that may contain traces of milk. Some might call me a hypocrite, but I feel I’d just turn more people off to the diet if they saw me scrutinizing every label for hours on end, trying to decipher if “natural flavors” in a certain product are animal-derived. (I’m unsure where I stand on the “veganism and honey” issue. More bugs probably die in the making of my organic kale or broccoli! I don’t go out of my way to eat foods with honey, but I also won’t flip out if I happen to consume it accidentally.)

No matter what you are or aren’t able to do, feel proud of yourself for even wanting to make a difference in this world. I believe that if everyone does as much as he or she feels comfortable doing, the world will slowly become a better place. When I first learned about factory farming, I struggled with the whole “I’m just one person; my not eating meat won’t make a difference at all. No one will even notice” thing. But if you think about it, all the “one persons” add up. If everyone said that he or she were only one person and no one would notice if he or she made an effort to help change the world, then nothing would ever change. Alone, we’re just one person, but when we all come together, we make a huge group, and every one person counts! Plus, you never know who else you’ll inspire. It’s the domino effect.

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Published on July 25, 2010

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  1. Krystina says

    Wonderful, wonderful post. I had an experience where I felt guilty over not being 100% vegan. I went out for sushi and ordered vegetable tempura as an appetizer without realizing that the batter probably contained eggs and/or dairy until afterward. I beat myself up about it for a bit until I realized that there’s nothing I can do to change what happened, so all I can do is move forward and not make the same mistake twice. No one is perfect.

    • The Vegan! says

      Almost the same thing with me. I made split pea burgers with panko bread crumbs as the binding factor and after having most of them realized that the panko had butter in them. I was semi disgusted that i had been eating butter, and felt like I had “failed” at being vegan. But it doesn’t matter! What happened happened, and now I know to check panko for butter. Like you said — just move on forward.

  2. Angelina says

    Very well said. I have been trying to move towards veganism this year. My struggles include a history of disordered eating thoughts, eating out at restaurants and family gatherings. I’m afraid if I cut out certain foods, then I’ll move back into the restrictive mentality that I fought so hard to get over. I live in a small town in Michigan where the meatless options are extremely limited and often pretty bland. When I’m at a family get together, usually everything except the fruit and veggie trays have some sort of animal product lurking in them. I try not to beat myself up, but it’s hard sometimes because I really want to live as cruelty-free as possible.

    • struggling says

      Oh Angelina, I feel the same way! I want to be a vegan, but I also have to make sure my motives are for the animals. I get caught up sometimes in the fact that the vegan diet (if I do it perfectly) makes me feel “pure” and “good” when really one’s diet doesn’t make one a good person or not. I have to ask myself, before I get restrictive, if it’s the best thing for me. I love animals, but if I’m not taking care of myself, who will be there to take care of them?
      Thanks so much for your honesty. It helped me to be honest too!

    • Me too says

      I have a history of disordered eating, too — and I noticed that the first three times I tried to transition from vegetarianism to veganism that the same “feeling” in my brain resurfaced — it felt to me very similar to the psychological/mental feel of my former eating disorder. I spaced out the my attempts to switch to veganism by several years apart each time, but the feeling came back each time, so I would decide for the sake of my own health just to stick with vegetarianism.

      Recently, though, I had a major shift. I was told by a doctor to cut out gluten, dairy, and sugar, and it felt like some of the worst news I could be given (of course, it’s not — but I felt incredibly distressed, deprived, and upset). So, I decided to try to re-orient my perspective and that made all the difference. I found awesome websites like this one and started to get really excited about the gluten-free/dairy-free/sugar-free food I could learn to make, and in that new place of focus, I stopped thinking about the foods I couldn’t have. I was so excited about the new foods I was learning about on blogs that I couldn’t wait to try them out. My food change became about excitement and improvement in my quality of life — rather than about deprivation and determination.

      It’s been a month or two now since I’ve been on this new diet, and the eating disordered feeling hasn’t shown up at all. It might also help that I’m approaching it in less of a black-and-white way; I do allow myself to eat a little gluten/dairy/sugar sometimes. But I think the change in perspective (expansion vs restriction) really was what made the difference for me.

      I’m also taking my own food to events whenever possible so that I can eat and enjoy my own yummy stuff and not need to consider what else might or might not be available there for me to eat.

  3. She-Fit says

    WOW! Great post. I really do think most people see a diet in black and white… which is why they are so unsuccessful. People need to find that balance

  4. Eric Jaffa says

    “Orthorexia Nervosa” is a bogus term from a book by a doctor making fun of people for trying to eat healthy.

    The idea is that placing health above taste means one is mentally ill.

    One could argue the opposite (Indulgence-rexia?), if trying to compare the importance taste vs. health to someone made sense, which it doesn’t.

    “Orthorexia Nervosa” isn’t an official term. It’s not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, and shouldn’t be.

    • struggling says

      I disagree with you 100%. As someone who struggles with orthorexia every single day, I can tell you that it IS NOT BOGUS. It is just as dangerous as anorexia or bulimia. The idea of orthorexia is not as you say to “place health above taste.” It is when the obsession with bbeing healthy becomes UNhealthy. Have you read Katie’s post about it that she links to? It’s really a great explanatory post for people who don’t understand the disease people like me deal with.

      • Been there done that, where's my T-shirt? says

        I agree about Orthorexia being a true disorder, in fact I KNOW it to be a true disorder! I have anorexia nervosa and I’ve been INPATIENT (yes, in the HOSPITAL) on specialized eating disorder units, with people diagnosed (from a psychiatrist specialzing in eating disorders) with orthorexia nervosa … these individuals were JUST as ill as those with anorexia and/or bulimia!

  5. britchickruns says

    I’m so glad you wrote this post – I’ve recently bcome vegan, and sometimes I feel I’m not ‘perfect’ enough (a reader on my blog often points out my mistakes, ie the cereal I was eating uses white sugar…) – but I really CAN’T be a perfect vegan – I can’t afford to buy only non-mainstream cereals or bypass everything that ‘might’ have a trace of milk or use white sugar, it’s just not possible in my current life. So it’s gfreat to hear that IT’S OK!!! Thank you 😉

    • Ilana says

      it’s always okay! just because a blog reader of yours is too busy picking at other people’s “mistakes” to notice their own doesn’t mean it’s not okay! there is absolutely no such thing as “perfect.” you do the best you can for you, and that’s all that matters.

  6. Ilana says

    Oh Katie. You ask to hear my thoughts? You said it all.
    People are quick to throw out the “hypocrite” label but everybody is a hypocrite. Human beings are naturally little balls of walking contradiction and it’s all because we so frequently set up these rigid guidelines by which we feel like we have to live for the sake of, I don’t know, balance, sanity. I don’t like living my life in a box, so I don’t. I don’t worry myself over the fact that I wear leather shoes or that my chocolate might have trace dairy…Life is too long and too dynamic and too huge to try to fit it all into chains and four sides and rigidity.
    Fantastic post, my friend.

  7. Rachel says

    This is a wonderful post, one that should be shown to A LOT of people! Vegans/vegetarians have become negatively stereotyped, but you do have a point that it’s thanks to flexitarians that more vegan-friendly items have become mainstream.

    I’m working towards a vegetarian (and eventually vegan) lifestyle, but granted, orthorexia should be taken into consideration. I disagree with one of your earlier commentors: orthorexia is not officially considered an ED, but it’s as dangerous as one. There’s nothing wrong with eating healthily (that should be everyone’s aim) but orthorexia means spending every minute of the day fretting about only eating “pure”, and restricting as a result. I am currently in recovery from an ED, and can tell you that orthorexia (or at least the obsession with “healthy” eating) is one of the well-disguised traps I’ve fallen into.

    Anyway, thanks for reminding everyone what the true aim of vegetarians should be: to do the best we can to prevent cruelty, in any way we can. No need for self-flagellation!

  8. Serena says

    Awesome post. I totally agree. I’m 99.99999% vegan at the moment (eat honey) but I couldn’t say I wouldn’t eat goat’s cheese if I go to Paris again. . . also I am not “angry” at people who aren’t vegan. I don’t think that’s a good way to be. . .

  9. Jennifer says

    I think this is a great point. I can’t quite get over the hump into full-on veganism… not so much because of cravings but because I feel GUILTY “imposing” on family and fearing judgement. I therefore eat vegan 90% of the time and the rest of the time I’m just meat-free. I still feel GUILTY about it but by continuing to label myself a vegetarian it somehow makes me feel better – at least I’m not being a hypocrite!

    We’re in a society that trains us to feel guilty about food. Even if I hadn’t learned it from the media and friends and family, just going to the grocery store would teach it to me – if there are three options – “regular,” low-fat, and no-fat, even if I want the regular version I’m going to wonder why I’m not getting one of the others, what the difference is, which is better. It’s sad really but it’s a day-to-day struggle. I feel guilty about my food on a regular basis but I deal with it the best I can (I have a very supportive husband!) and do what I can. That’s all we can do.

    PS. Did you see The Voracious Vegan’s post from yesterday? She was talking about this too. Also, if you look at my post from yesterday you may understand my difficulty in becoming a true vegan.

  10. Mitri says

    Fantastic viewpoint. 🙂 When I was vegan, I was more like you in that I avoided the “big stuff” (e.g., obvious dairy products and meat), but I was more lenient if a certain granola bar contained honey or a trace of milk. Unfortunately, my veganism became convoluted with disordered eating, so I decided to challenge myself to eat all the things I restricted. In the end I found I much prefer to eat vegan foods, but I maintain a degree of flexibility just in case my grandma cooks something for me that is not vegan. I had never thought about how “flexitarians” really do drive the market for vegan goods. Everyone is playing a role, perhaps, in their own way. 😀

    • Chocolate-Covered Katie says

      Mitri,
      Kudos to you for your awesome attitude! 🙂
      Your “in case my grandma cooks something for me that is not vegan” note struck a chord with me. When I was in high school, my mom once made me chocolate chip cookies. She was SO proud that they were vegan–made with dark chocolate chips and all. I looked at the chip bag, and even though they were dark chocolate, they weren’t vegan. But I never told her. ‘Cause I was so grateful for her effort and kindness :).

  11. Hela says

    great post, katie.
    i totally agree to everything you wrote here.
    this is exactly how i keep it with my diet and i am so happy with it 🙂

  12. Faith says

    This is so true. I have to be honest, I’m not a vegetarian (high-vegan, but not entirely so) because of only ethical reasons. Yes, they come into play, but the driving factors of my decision were more motivated by health and feeling stronger/my best when I don’t bog my system down with animal products. Isn’t that what life is all about – working to feel your best? Regardless of what you choose to eat (or, conversely, not eat?)

    • Michelle says

      I’m like you Faith – my diet is more driven by health and noticing how different foods impact my mood and energy than ethical/animal rights reasons (not that I go around praising factory farming or anything). I find that eating a mostly vegan diet makes me feel good and why would I eat in a way that saps my energy or negatively impacts my moods?

      Great post CCK!

  13. Stefanie says

    Another great post. I try to adhere to a vegan diet as much as possible but you never can. There can be traces of milk/eggs in anything you eat. When I first went vegan I would beat myself up for accidently eating something that wasn’t vegan but you live and learn. Like you said, all you can do is try your best.

    Thank you! 🙂

  14. Kittie says

    Great post! I find that the hardest place for me to be cruelty free is with cosmetics and hygiene products. I check into the companies but sometimes I buy without researching. I can’t have my laptop at walmart! [Unless I got an iPhone…I bet there’s an app for that ;)] And anyways, WALMART isn’t cruelty free. Oh, the conflict!

  15. MaryZ says

    Love this post…I use to think in the black and white about my diet. It has taken me about a year to realize I don’t want to be a full time vegan or vegetarian. I was struggling to go vegetarian because so many of my friends and family were labeling me as one since my animal product consumption was very little. But then I found I was ‘failing’ because I still wanted that burger on occasion. So, I took the label off of myself and just eat what I crave. I crave mostly veggies, fruit and grains…and on the rare occasion I want a burger, chicken or some other yummy creation, I enjoy it! Thanks Katie!

  16. radioactivegan says

    Thanks for putting this into words for everyone. I think it’s always great to point out that not all vegans are police. Most of us are normal, happy people who understand that life happens; sometimes people slip up or just make different decisions from the ones they used to make, and that’s okay.

    I totally agree with you on the way people interpret a food recommendation from a vegan. I know that my taste buds have changed a lot in the last 3 1/2 years, but I still feel like I can recommend good food. Yet, for some reason, the recommendation from my boyfriend who routinely eats Krystal burgers is worth more to a lot of people. I mean, really? He eats Krystal burgers! He obviously doesn’t know good food 😛

  17. Eric Jaffa says

    The term “orthorexia” was coined by Steven Bratman, MD whose criteria are:
    ===
    “Do you care more about the virtue of what you eat than the pleasure you receive from eating it?… Does your diet socially isolate you?”
    ===

    His criteria aren’t the same as a couple of other Commenters used, those being respectively trying-so-hard-to-eat-healthy-that-one-eats-unhealthy or thinking-about-healthy-food-every-minute.

    Most dieters can say yes to Bratman’s to the first question.

    Most vegans can say yes to Bratman’s second question.

    Therefore, most vegans-who-are-dieting would qualify as mentally ill under Bratman’s criteria.

  18. Lauren (Clean Eats in the Dirty South) says

    THIS. POST. IS. AMAZING!
    seriously, i can’t tell you how many times i hear “i shouldn’t eat that” or “i’d feel guilty if i had dessert” and honestly, the words come out of my mouth a lot of the time too (and i know i need to fix that!). food is supposed to be something we savor, not scrutinize. if it tastes good, eat it, enjoy it, and move on with your life.
    besides, a cookie or two never hurt anyone 😉

  19. Daniel says

    Awesome post! I wrote a nice “essay” post on guilt as well and I also recently wrote one about the gray areas in life and not focusing so much on black and white. You combined so much into a nice little post, I like it immensely! Too many of us (myself included) strive for the “perfect” diet and in the end… are we any better or healthier if we’re spending all of our time letting it control us or creating more stress in our lives?

    Do what works best for you !

  20. Rachel (tea and chocolate) says

    What a great post! So many people have an all or nothing approach to veganism or vegetarianism. Every little bit counts! I love when you mentioned showing compassion for yourself is part of veganism too. There is no reason to change yourself to fit a label. Eating should be something that nourishes more than just your body.

  21. Pure2raw twins says

    Great post Katie and we totally agree. We have dealt with those “vegan police” people, and it has made us stop calling ourselves vegan. We eat to feel good. We eat to heal our bodies. We eat because we love food. We do not eat because we want to fit into some category or something. I hate when people give others a hard time about their diets (we get it all the time), and who is to say what way of eating is better. Vegan or not, people really need to learn to respect others more, and be more open minded.

    Oh gosh I better stop there or I will be leaving you a really long comment.

  22. Justine says

    I have been considering becoming a vegan for some time now, but could never think to give up my beloved yogurt. Sure I enjoy milk, cheese, and butter but I don’t eat them often enough to where I would miss them too much. (I don’t even know why honey is an issue for vegans, is it because of the bees or something? Also, my family thinks I am strange enough for ‘the things I do/don’t eat’ that if I scratched even more things off the list for the sake of animals then they would just send me to the nutter-house. I have always been struck with the initial thought that I won’t make a difference, but then I do remember that there are so many others out there that are thinking the same thing, and that always puts me back into my happy place. It is a terrible thing that we now have people cutting out so much of their diet because of how animals, etc…are treated nowadays, but it reminds me that the world isn’t full of heartless people.

    Also, I don’t know if it is just where you live or if you were just trying to make a point, but even at the ‘smaller’ (ha) Walmarts, there is soymilk and other vegan products, at least in my city.

    Thank you so much for the post! As always it was fun, informative, and very truthful. 🙂
    I’m off to work on a Sundae post! Have a fantastic weekend!

  23. spoonfulofsugarfree says

    Yes Katie! That is exactly what food is! Life is short, so why waste time eating things you don’t like, or fretting over counting calories… Who cares if you eat a little something indulgent? You will love it as long as you cherish it and enjoy it!

    I think the key is to love everything you eat, and cherish everything. Same thing goes with life in general-CHERISH IT!

  24. elaine @ Om Sweet Om says

    AWESOME post! I’ve been vegetarian for almost two years now, but sometimes I do need some marshmallows, gummy bears, and jell-o in my life! There shouldn’t be fine line between what is or is not the “right diet” for you.

    • Melissa says

      This is not to police you, just to help!

      They make veg jello, marshmallows AND gummy bears! I was super excited to find all three. 😀 There are multiple veg marshmallow makers now and they are all SO AMAZING. Yummy yum yum.

      Sweet and Sara makes the most amazing delicious gourmet marshmallows. Chicago Soydairy makes a vegan version of the more “stay-puf” sort of marshie. Both are sold at Whole Foods (at least in my region). You can also find boxed vegan flavored jello AND cup vegan jello at WFM – and vegan gummies, too. Oh, some varieties of normal gummies are also veg. I love swedish fish and sour patch kids! Gummies were always my favorite candies.

      Or buy here:
      http://www.veganessentials.com

      This is just in case you didn’t know and would prefer a veg option. If not, just ignore me! 🙂

  25. The Voracious Vegan says

    Brilliant! Great vegan minds must think alike, Katie, because I just wrote a similar post on my blog called Veganism: Where Do You Draw the Line.

    I had amazing, thoughtful responses about how to do the best we can to change the world, but not beat ourselves up our forget self-compassion in the process.

  26. Katie says

    Great ideas, miss Katie. I couldn’t agree more! I know that personally, if I try to be perfect in terms of food consumption, I’m setting myself up for a lot of frustration, and it usually takes all the joy out of eating for me!! I eat a lot of vegan foods, but I also eat meat on occasion. It works for me, and I think if I told myself “no meat” – I COULD do it, but it would just feel like a self-imposed, reasonless rule that I was holding myself too. Great post!

  27. kaila says

    what a great and insightful post! i believe that peoples diets should be based on what works for them… not what society guilt us into, what our friends and family belives in, but what fits with our values, beliefs, and needs as individuals.
    Keep up the great posts.

    Kaila

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