March 16, 2012 by marieelia
When I was vegan (ages 21-22 (yeah, that didn’t last long)), I was extremely unhealthy. I made the decision to eat a vegan diet based on some poorly informed political beliefs, not out of real concern for my health; therefore I ended up eating what I call the “But It’s Vegan” diet. Again, this is no reflection on other people’s beliefs or practices or motivations. All I can say is that I had a vague idea that being vegan was healthy, but since I had no nutritional IQ, I was eating really poorly. My protein source was often beans, but it was also often over-processed soy products and fake meat. My freezer was stocked with sugar-laden processed Tofutti—but it’s vegan! My dinner was often just cheap pasta with jar sauce and no vegetables—but it’s vegan! I also found out that the cheaper the product (like store-brand cookies, etc.), the more likely it was technically vegan—they were too cheap to use real dairy.
Many vegans eat a balanced and healthful diet; I absolutely did not. And I sometimes find myself in the same mindset when eating a gluten-free diet. It’s actually not that difficult to eliminate or drastically reduce gluten, but it can be difficult to be mindful of consuming too much dairy or sugar, or just to refocus from “don’t eat this” to, rather, “try to eat more of this (greens!).” I can make a really delicious flour-less peanut butter cookie, and there is a time for that kind of treat, but once you start falling into the “but it’s gluten-free!” trap, you can end up in a rut, forgetting to eat mindfully and healthfully.
Because I’m not outright allergic to gluten, I give myself the treat of a truly delicious dessert or freshly baked bread, and I think it tastes even better for not eating it every day. But rather than thinking, “Don’t eat that, can’t eat that,” I try to stay in a mindset of opportunities: What could I eat instead? What haven’t I tried? What am I really craving right now? Sometimes, if I’m craving sugar, it’s just that I’ve let myself go too long without eating, and I’m crashing. Sometimes it means I’m feeling sad, and I think a treat will give me an emotional boost. Sometimes I really just want something sweet. There are alternate responses to each of those scenarios, and I try to listen more closely to give myself what I really need. That, to me, is gentle nutrition.