Why I’m no longer vegan – ditching the labels

Eighteen months ago, I went vegan. It was a snap, overnight decision. I’ve been vegetarian on and off for pretty much all of my life, Lola came to me having watched a documentary and said she wanted to go veggie again, so I said I would too. THen I decided to take it to the next level and go vegan. We’d had a couple of years dairy free when she was little, and we were trying to clear the eczema up that she suffered from, and I found it really hard that time around as I missed cheese too much.

This time was different. I relished the restrictions it put on my diet, even though there are so many vegan substitutes available now, in the beginning, I stayed away from them entirely. Over the last year or so, I’ve added them in, eating vegan cheeses and yogurts, dairy free chocolate… It’s actually really easy to be vegan now, even when you are eating out as most places offer vegan options.

At the time I went vegan, I was in the midst of a really bad bout of depression following my marriage break up. I was a mess, and although I talked online about it a little, I kept just how bad it actually was hidden. One thing I am really good at is putting on a front, and not letting people see just how broken I am, although I think a lot slipped out without me planning that time around.

One thing that I kind of skirted around, but didn’t outright discuss was my history of eating disorders and the way I was currently feeling. Within weeks of my marriage breaking down, I was noticing that I was hugely restricting my food intake. At first, it was because I genuinely couldn’t eat –  I was so distraught, I felt so sick, and my stomach was in knots that I literally couldn’t eat. But slowly, it morphed into something else. Controlling food has always been my go-to when things are tough, when my world is spiraling out of control it is one thing that I know that I can control.

The depression and anxiety, coupled with all the stress left me feeling not enough, not worthy enough, not good enough, not anything enough. Some part of my brain believed that controlling what I ate would make things better. While I didn’t see it at the time, my decision to go vegan was entirely tied up in all of this confusion.

Being vegan was something that I had always aspired to, I totally agree with the ethics and my body definitely functions best on a more vegan-based diet, with little wheat and not much sugar. I had a few people comment that going vegan was just another way for me to control things, something that at the time I vehemently denied. I insisted it had nothing to do with the matter.

The first part of 2017 was tough. I ate very, very little, my weight dropped dangerously low and quite honestly, I don’t actually know how I made it through my days and managed to keep most of the plates spinning. Somewhere around the middle of the year, things improved a little. I stopped being so controlling with my diet, I ate more than once a day and gradually built up to more normal portion sizes. I was still strictly vegan, I was also gluten-free and sugar-free. I felt stronger physically and food wasn’t dominating my mind quite so obsessively.

I added new foods into my diet, I occasionally had ‘treat’ foods and felt like I was fine with a capital F. I convinced myself that my eating disorders/disordered eating weren’t linked in any way to my veganism.

Then six weeks ago my world tipped upside down, in a good way. I met someone and putting my heart back out on the line broke me wide open. Things that I thought I’d dealt with popped back up, and I found myself really questioning everything. I began to wonder about my eating, while I’d told myself that everything was fine, that I was no longer controlling things through food, I began to wonder if that was really true. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that in some way, they were tied together. Going vegan when I did gave me the perfect excuse as to why I was eating differently – at home in front o my kiddos, as well as out and about, or at other peoples houses. It gave me a reason to take my own ‘safe’ foods, to eat separately or to turn down food. I didn’t have to explain that I couldn’t eat a whole portion as that was more than I would eat in a week, or that I didn’t eat cake because SUGAR. It kept me safe basically, or at least I thought it was. In reality, it was keeping me in the grips of messed up eating, of not believing that I deserved to eat, to be nourished, to fill my body with good foods but also with treat foods. If I had to eat foods other than those on my ‘safe list’ I would still freak out, trying to decide if I could have one square of chocolate would lead to panic attacks.

The past week, I have removed any labels from myself. I’ve removed any restrictions from my diet. I’ve eaten some meat, I’ve eaten fish, I’ve eaten dairy, I even ate a hell of a lot of takeaway pizza one night. Having a ridiculously understanding boyfriend helps, who gets why I am freaking out when I have eaten, who takes the thought out of what I’m going to eat each night so I don’t have time to talk myself out of it, who encourages me to try new things and reminds me I am ALLOWED to eat and enjoy it.

So for now, I am not vegan. I am not vegetarian. I’m removing all labels and just re-learning to enjoy food, to let my body be nourished, but also to let the rituals and enjoyment of food to nourish my mind.

I’m still eating a mostly plant-based diet, real foods with little-processed stuff {apart from that pizza which tasted like heaven}, I’ve eaten bread and pasta but realised that my body prefers gluten-free, limiting the sugar and crap. It’s about learning to listen to my body, to heal from the inside out and to figure out what feels right for me.

I can imagine there will be a time in the future when I go vegan again, and now I’ll still eat vegan most of the time, but what I need is no labels, no restrictions, no control. It’s actually ridiculously scary to strip away all the food rules I’d built up – but also really freeing. I’m looking forward to learning to love myself no matter what or how much I have eaten.


  1. Rachel

    August 15, 2018 at 17:01

    Oh Polly, hugs for the shit stuff and bigger hugs for the good stuff – yay! But even bigger yay to no labels, on anything, ever, just be you and be happy. Eat meat, don’t eat meat, eat cheese, or not, these are the little things, you are the big things. xxxx

  2. Ali

    August 30, 2018 at 19:46

    I loe reading this, and really appreciate your honesty too. I went vegan late last year, and quite quickly realised for me it was an excuse to massively restrict my eating again, it’s hard not to fall into traps of restriction with a diet that is restrictive. It’s so good you’ve realised and that you have someone supportive by your side – makes such a difference.xx

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