‘Me’gan: The case for a personalized diet

“I feel like I’m having an identity crisis,” I admitted, somewhat embarrassingly, to the dietician sitting across the table from me.

She smiled sympathetically, with eyes betraying pity. In my experience, they always do.

A year ago, I prophesied how going vegan was the best (and only) option for me. And, you know, a lot of other people proclaim it to be the ‘only way’ for environmentally conscious consumers to eat –- touting veganism as a total-body lifestyle that’s easy, less expensive, and less polluting to the planet. Simple, right?

Just become a plant.

While there’s certainly a lot of ‘healthy’ debate over whether a plant-based diet alone results in a healthier body, mind, and planet than, say, a paleo or even a gluten-free diet, I’m writing here today a recent revelation: I don’t believe in subscribing to any kind of restrictive, potentially shame-inducing diet of any kind.

Instead, I’m advocating for everyone to adopt a ‘me’gan approach to consumption — one that’s right for me.

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It was eight years ago now that I started showing signs of anorexia.

You know the drill: anxiety, depression, and bullies set me up for a self-deprecating self-esteem; my personal body image was as broken as my hair follicles and my cracked skin.

A flashback from my phone last week reminded me of what I looked like seven years ago, possibly in the worst weight shape I’ve ever been in. With my body turned away from the hallowed dance mirrors that soon began to haunt me, I honestly didn’t recognize myself at first in this photo.

Those bony elbows and shoulders. A scapula that’s as pronounced as a jigsaw puzzle. 

The girls beside me look dressed up, cheeky and playful — real. I look like a paper doll.

“Ya ain’t a plant.” -Sam Yaw, best friend and trusted truth advisor

A few months ago, I wrote about how my “vegan, no sugar-added, raw foods-only diet” wasn’t really working for me. In fact, my bones were all but breaking again, and I knew it was my abhorrent lack of protein and calcium — and stubborn refusal of dietary supplements — that were setting me up for more set-backs.

I did the personally courageous and forced myself out of my righteous comfort zone. I found myself in the office of another dietician, humbled by years of experience and desperate for answers on how to heal my broken body, again.

Her sympathy and her pity echoed every other professional I’ve encountered since the dawn of my dieting, but this time I knew that my habits were borderline insane. No other ‘perfectly fine’ person was eating as bland or as cautious a way as I was.

Her questions were ones that I expected to hear (“What do you eat?”), but her new diagnosis (orthorexia) was one that I’d suspected (but never wanted to believe) before.

She asked me if I was ready — committed — to change my diet this time around. This time, I agreed: What I was doing to my body wasn’t working.

But to give up my vegan status? That was a tough pill to swallow.

I had grown so fond of the idea of being a vegan that abandoning this newfound community was difficult to grasp, hence my ensuing identity crisis. Less than a year before I had proudly proclaimed my ‘truest’ earth intentions: What kind of a crock would I be if I had to back out of my own commitment? Wasn’t this my ‘cross to bear’, the surest way to living a long and healthy life?

No. Despite my longings for trees and other green-living things, I was reminded by my trusted advisors that I am not, in fact, a plant. Exclusively preferring photosynthesis to processed food wasn’t instantly debilitating — but all the while my body yearned for that egg-filled crêpe on the San Francisco Pier and the promise of a sunny-side-up morning, every morning.

How was this any different, I began to wonder, than denying my body its nourishment back in the days of severe anorexia? Wasn’t I just succumbing to the same, dumb mental trappings I thought I had ferociously whacked away?

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My breakfast every morning: Topped rolled oats and two eggs, omelet style.

So I silently introduced eggs back into my diet — and let ‘nature’ do the rest.

I’ve been an egg-and-veggie kind of girl since the beginning of March, and I honestly feel fantastic most days.

My energy levels have increased. My reproductive hormones are notably less infrequent. I have more stamina for my bike rides and (hopefully soon!) my cardio/mountain-climbing training. My winter-blues ankle injury has improved miraculously, with the aid of dedicated physical therapy on my part.

I’ve also added a single glass of calcium- (and cane sugar-) fortified soy milk, for extra calcium every morning. Letting go of my fear of sugar additives took a little more convincing on my part, but I say moderation is better than starvation. I’m even taking a multivitamin with extra doses of calcium and iron (to ward off anemia), and an additional calcium supplement to meet my 100 percent daily value, every day.

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Seven years later, and so much stronger.

Living with the reality of osteopenia used to leave me feeling helpless and powerless to the poor decisions I made in high school.

But once I challenged my restrictions — and embraced a ‘diet’ that’s working well for ME — I have confidence I can rebuild some of the bone that’s been lost.