Food & Drink Magazine

Failure to Thrive: a Confession

By Mollyalice @mollyalicehoy

Those of you who have been following me on Twitter will have no doubt gathered by now that my health has been up and down over the past several months. I’ve been devoting a lot of time and energy to figuring out what’s going on with my body and doing everything I can to help it heal itself. Because of that, this blog has fallen largely by the wayside as I redirect my focus towards taking care of my physical, mental, and emotional health.

failure to thrive: a confession

I figure I owe it to you, my beloved, longsuffering readers, to let you in on a bit of what’s been going on in my life during these past few weeks and months.

Last year (it really was! Will I ever get used to it being 2013?) I went vegan sometime around late August/early September. As summer became fall, I noticed I was feeling a little groggy, foggy, and unmotivated, but I wrote it off as some sort of intrinsic character flaw (as I often do, because I am quick to assign myself flaws). My mental and emotional health also took a few blows in October as I was faced with several personal disappointments and frustrations, so I attributed my worsening depression, declining energy levels, and general feelings of malaise to those events. It went on like this for several weeks until finally, around the beginning of December, I hit a wall.

First, I developed what can only be described as a perpetual headache. My head was throbbing literally every waking moment for weeks on end. The pain often kept me up at night, and was sometimes so intense that it brought me to the point of tears.

I also developed a sudden and debilitating fatigue. I have always been an early riser, but suddenly I found myself sleeping in until 10, 11, 12 o’clock. Upon waking, I felt dizzy and sluggish, and often went straight from lying in bed to parking myself on the couch and snoozing for the rest of the day (even skipping showering some days – something I NEVER do). People kept telling me that I was tired because I wasn’t exercising, but every time I tried to work out, I would end up either literally collapsing, or at the very least, coming close to it. There were several days I couldn’t leave the house and had to cancel appointments or back out of social engagements because I was too tired, weak, or depressed to make myself move. Even though I was exhausted all day, I was also finding it near impossible to sleep at night. I regularly woke up around 1 or 2 and would lie awake until Andy’s alarm went off around 6.

Actual documentation of me being exhausted and waiting for death.

My eating habits also suffered a blow. I began experiencing sudden and inexplicable stomach pains and digestive upsets to the point that I was afraid to eat anything for fear that it would cause stomach cramps. Despite my feeble appetite, I attempted to add more raw foods to my diet, thinking I could improve my energy and digestive health naturally. The more fruits and vegetables I ate, however, the sicker and more fatigued I felt. Everything started smelling and tasting bad to me, even foods I had always enjoyed. What I did manage to eat made my stomach so upset that soon I could barely bring myself to eat anything at all.

For a while I thought all these symptoms might be extremely delayed detox symptoms from adopting a vegan diet. But as one week became two weeks became three weeks, my feelings of exhaustion, nausea, and malaise only worsened. It became evident that these symptoms weren’t going to go away on their own, and there was no way I could keep going like this for much longer.

failure to thrive: a confession

I began furiously researching my symptoms to see what kind of disease or disorder could be doing this to my body. Adrenal fatigue? Fibromyalgia? Hypothyroidism? Hepatitis? Anemia? Some sort of vitamin or mineral deficiency? Nothing quite seemed to fit. At a loss, I finally wondered if my diet was to blame. Even though I was getting plenty of protein and taking a daily B12 supplement, I still felt completely wiped out. I had also been getting inexplicable yet blindingly intense cravings for meat and fatty foods – foods that had never appealed to me even before going vegan. It seemed like my body was trying to tell me something, but why would it be craving a food I neither needed nor particularly liked? Wasn’t avoiding meat supposed to give you MORE energy and vitality? I began a fervid Google quest to see if anyone else had had an experience like mine of becoming weak, tired, or sick on a vegan diet, and whether the diet was truly to blame.

What I found surprised me. It turned out that many people (hundreds, thousands… enough to form an entire online community) had had to abandon their vegan or vegetarian diets due to problems with their health and energy levels. Even prominent vegans and raw foodies had gone through this experience of being essentially forced to reintroduce animal products because of their health – Ashlae from Oh Ladycakes, Heather of Sweetly Raw, and Sara Avant Stover, to name a few. After reading all this new information, I began to suspect that I, too, was experiencing this so-called “failure to thrive.” Armed with this new knowledge, I brought my concerns to vegan forums and discussion boards (MISTAKE) only to essentially be told that, if a vegan diet wasn’t working for me, I must either be doing something wrong or not trying hard enough.

After agonizing over it for a week or so (and doing a lot of crying) I decided that I needed to put my health first and at least try going back on meat, just to see if it made a difference. I hemmed and hawed deciding the right time to make such a reintroduction, until a few nights before Christmas when I had one of my worst headaches to date. I was almost in hysterics because of the pain and the fatigue-induced brain fog. I finally resigned myself to eating a small slice of turkey before going to bed. The next day, I woke up rested and headache-free. I ate an egg, and it felt like I was finally coming to after a month-long coma. Over the next week, I made an effort to eat one animal product a day. By the end of the week, I wasn’t at 100%, but I felt like I could finally stand and walk and pass for a normal human again.

failure to thrive: a confession

One month later, I’m still gluten-free, soy-free, and caffeine-free, but now I’ve fully reincorporated animal products into my diet. I eat eggs and small amounts of meat 2-3 times a week, and dairy maybe once a week or less (I’ve noticed my digestion is better without it, and it hasn’t had much of an effect on my energy levels, so I’ve concluded I don’t need it). There are still days that I eat entirely vegan out of habit alone. I usually only realize it the next day, when I notice my old symptoms returning. A few cubes of chicken, and I feel fine again.

This transition has been hard for me. I’ve been hesitant to share my story because people who convert back to omnivory after being vegan often get a lot of flak from the vegan community. Even though I can’t really count myself one of their number anymore, I still respect and admire my vegan friends, and still think of myself an honorary vegan. Ultimately, I think what it comes down to is this: I liked being vegan. I didn’t find it difficult to be vegan. I would like to be able to go vegan again someday. But right now, I have to put my health first and give my body what it has CLEARLY told me it needs. I still love vegan food – discovering it, eating it, making it, sharing it – and I love all the people I’ve met along my vegan journey. Hopefully they can find it in themselves to understand where I’m coming from and why I’ve made this difficult decision.

failure to thrive: a confession

As for the future of this blog, I can’t really say at the moment. I’ve really enjoyed keeping it up, sharing recipes, and making new friends over the last year, but there have been several changes in my life recently and several new endeavors that will come to consume a lot of my time and attention.

No, this is not a pregnancy announcement!

But for now, I’m putting this blog on the back burner until I can get my health back in alignment. Although I’m feeling better since reintroducing meat, my mind and body still have a lot of healing to do from other, non-veganism related things. I appreciate you all too much to fill your inboxes with half-baked posts and slapdash recipes just because I feel I ought to be publishing something.

Thanks so much for your patience and understanding during this weird-ass time in my life. Even though I’ll probably be dropping off the blogosphere for a bit, I’d still love to keep in touch with all of you through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, or whatever other social medium floats your proverbial boat!

Until then, happy trails to all of you, and I hope to see you here again someday!

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