It turns out that becoming a vegetarian was easier than starting to eat meat again. At least it was for me. Mostly because my dietary preferences weren’t just about me and my grocery cart. Being a vegan had become a lifestyle – and part of my identity. And on top of that, my enthusiasm for healthy eating led me to start a ministry (Healthy Moms, Healthy Families) that sang the praises of a plant-based diet. I wrote a book about it, spoke to MOPS groups, and co-facilitated a wellness group at our local church. I honestly loved eating a vegetarian diet and had no intentions of ever eating meat again.
So why – after more than a decade of being perfectly happy eating plants – would I venture back into the meat-eating world? Well, once again, it started with a health issue, only this time it was me.
Truth is I hadn’t been feeling good for awhile. It wasn’t a suddenly sort of thing but rather a gradual slide into symptoms that I finally acknowledged in 2008 – about 10 years into our vegan adventure. Isn’t that the way chronic conditions go…a slow and steady decline until one day you say to yourself…why am I so tired all the time? Why do I feel irritable when there’s nothing to be cranky about? Why do I wake up feeling like I’m 90 years old begging my husband to rub my neck and shoulders? Why am I so cold all the time? And my hair is falling out. And I just don’t have the energy I used to have?
Now, I’m not saying veganism was the sole culprit in all of this. But knowing what I know now, I do believe a lack of healthy fats played a role. Did a vegan diet lower my cholesterol? Sure did. I got that number all the way down to 125 at one point. While that may have sounded like a good idea during those fat-phobia years, I now see it as a recipe for disaster considering cholesterol is incredibly important for making hormones – including Vitamin D which had fallen to an all-time low of 26. (It should be 60-80!)
So after traveling in a motorhome for two years (more on that later) and then getting settled once again, in 2012 I finally decided to get to the bottom of my symptoms. I made an appointment with a functional medicine chiropractor who helped me discover that gluten (+ dairy, corn, and soy) were wreaking havoc with my health.
What? How could it be? I was buying organic wheatberries, grinding them myself, and baking (delicious, I might add) homemade bread. And paying the price. So I grieved the loss of my beloved bread (it truly is a grieving process) and retired my wheat grinder. No more bread – or any gluten-containing grains for that matter. I had to heal my gut.
At this point I was willing to do whatever it took. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. To put this in perspective, I was asked by a friend to teach a cooking class at a local homeschool co-op. It met once a week for 90 minutes and I had to think long and hard about whether or not I’d have the energy to do it. I was taking naps on the regular just stay afloat.
So I did it. I gave up gluten and started meat again. It was hard. The angst was not caused by actually eating meat, but rather by the fact that I’d been such a vegetarian advocate. It was not easy to swallow my pride and turn my back on the message I had been preaching for so many years. But I wanted to be well more than I wanted to be right.
And you know what? I started feeling better! My energy came back (for awhile – that’s another story). I taught the cooking classes for four years straight. This dietary shift wasn’t the whole answer, but it played a HUGE role in helping me get well.
When it comes down to it, all any of us can do is ask God to lead us on the path of healing that’s right for us – and then be brave taking the steps set before us.