Acne and ED, Part III: Un-Becoming Vegan
Update: If you want to read the whole series in order, start here:
As I became more and more invested in my mostly-raw vegan diet, my face become more and more pockmarked and scarred. Despite my pristine diet, the promised detox never came–or else it just kept coming and coming.*
While the PD cleared up around my mouth, the hormonal, cystic acne intensified, and I developed worse regular acne. I had to start wearing bandaids on my face nearly every day, just so that I could go to work without scaring my customers away with my broken, bleeding face. It was horrific, and I was embarrassed to no end.
I honestly didn’t know what to do. I hated myself even more than ever–and, mind you, this is the recent history I’m talking about.
Worse yet, the “vegan glow” had already begun to fade. While my first few months of veganism made me lose weight and feel like I was filled with light and hope, the glow quickly wore off. I started putting on weight again, feeling leaden, bloated, and constantly hungry. I would have mini-anxiety attacks when I couldn’t take my scheduled 15 minute breaks on time at work, because all I wanted to do was just get to my next meal.
And in case you’re wondering my diet looked something like this:
- Green Juice (made with 1/2 pear, 2 stalks celery, kale, swiss chard, and broccoli) and a piece of Ezekiel Low-Sodium Sprouted Grain Bread, or
- Green Smoothie (made with broccoli, kale, frozen berries, vegan raw protein or hemp powder, and a tiny bit of coconut oil)
Mid Morning Snack:
- Apple & 2 brown rice cakes
- Homemade raw hummus (chickpeas, a minuscule amount of tahini, lemon juice and serrano chili peppers) with carrots and broccoli or on a pita with sprouts and bell peppers
- Raw vegan meal replacement mixed with just enough water to make a pudding
Mid Afternoon Snack:
- Apple & 2 brown rice cakes
- Tempeh and stir-fried peppers, broccoli, and kale, with Bragg’s Liquid Aminos and Quinoa
- 2 tbsp raw almond butter with vegan chocolate chips and cinnamon (and if I was still hungry–which I usually was, several servings of dry Publix cereal or two pieces of toasted Ezekiel Sprouted Grain Bread)
Low calorie? Check. Low fat? Check. Animal-free? Check. Besides my nut-butter-and-chocolate-chip addiction (I couldn’t go to bed without having that snack) and the constant need to pad my days with extra bread and cereal, my diet seemed pretty impeccable.
Why wasn’t veganism curing my acne? Why wasn’t I able to fit into my work pants anymore? I started to question my investment in the whole thing.
The camel’s back broke** in May, when I went back to Florida for my little sister’s college graduation. The thought of being featured in a single family photo made me sick–and the impossibility of finding a single meal to eat during that trip made my heart (and stomach) ache.
I subsisted on apples and meal replacement powders nearly the entire time (and I dipped liberally into the container of raw almond butter I had packed in my suitcase). When we went out to restaurants, I bothered the waitresses with requests for substitutions until there wasn’t anything but a few limp pieces of salad left on the plate anyway. (And, of course, I asked for the salad dry, leaving even olive oil and vinegar untouched despite the fact that olive oil is definitely vegan. My fear of fat was stronger than my hunger and sense of taste.)
On the last night, we went out to dinner at a chain restaurant, where the only vegan option on the menu was an appetizer: white bean hummus with pita bread. I had eaten nothing but meal replacements and apples all day, so by the time the meal came, I was starving. I ate the whole thing, sopping up every last bit of hummus with my family-sized order of pita. When the waitress came to take my plate, she actually looked me in the eye and said, in a most condescending tone, “Well, looks like somebody was hungry…”
I went back to the hotel and looked at my bleeding, scarred face in the mirror, ashamed for reasons I couldn’t even name anymore. That was it. I was done.
My mom, a scary-ripped crossfitter and lifelong health nut, had been pushing me to stop being a vegan and try this “paleo” thing she’d been doing since she started crossfit the year before. I had been actively ignoring her for months–I was already exhausted following one diet; I didn’t need another set of rules and restrictions to learn. Moreover, by this point the idea of eating meat made me ill–I knew it was unhealthy, I felt I was above that, I didn’t want to admit defeat…but when I returned to California, exhausted, hungry, and pimply as a schoolgirl–with no other isolate-able reason for my problems but my diet–, I told her I’d at least give it chance.
And thank god I did, because I wouldn’t be blogging here today if I hadn’t.
*When writing of detoxes, medical professionals and their ilk often forewarn of a few weeks of side effects like acne, as the body rids itself of the toxins through the skin. However, I was either so full of toxins that my skin just never healed or else I was just deluding myself and permanently damaging my skin for nine months.
**Metaphorical animal cruelty signaling the end of my vegan experiment?