vegans & body image: katie

Welcome back to Vegans & Body Image, the biweekly series in which vegans share their stories and thoughts on body image in general, and what effect, if any, veganism has on it.

Katie Medlock is an Ohio-based vegan blogger I met at Vida Vegan Con. She works and lives for the benefit of humans and animals alike, and our world is lucky to have her.

katie_medlock_body_imageKatie, 27, female, thin side of average (yet curvilicious), 5′-7″

I’ve been vegan for over 5 years, with 2 months of pescetarianism before that. I went vegan for the animals and am quite the bleeding heart.

For the most part, veganism is more closely tied to my personal morals and ethical decision making than my body image. As I moved forward into veganism, I did notice changes in my body (less of a roller-coaster regarding my weight and bloaty-ness, for instance), yet the big changes did not occur until I shifted more toward a “clean eating” vegan diet instead of primarily convenience foods. These changes have most recently manifested in the way I feel my body function. (More energy! Less gas! Steady metabolism! Fewer food comas!)

For the past 3-4 months, I have enjoyed my return to participating in CrossFit as a form of exercise. Currently, I attend 3x/week and receive a good deal of support from my coaches when it comes to being vegan. They’re truly fabulous and check in with all of the athletes about their nutritional needs and “supportive eating” routines, and I’m no exception. It’s really wonderful feeling, as if my being vegan is not only tolerated, but encouraged. (One of my coaches even recently switched to being mostly vegan!) My decision to return to exercising and having a regular routine of fitness is mostly rooted in wanting to change my desperately lazy ways. I feel more energized and stronger day to day, and (to be honest) also am liking my journey toward a leaner, slightly more muscular physique.

When I was 19, I struggled with a restrictive eating disorder for the better part of a year before it began manifesting as binge eating and depression. Throughout my twenties I have been able to build on the strength I achieved during my initial recovery period and am able to find empowerment in many different things—not only how I perceive my body. In a way, veganism helped launch this newfound strength, in that my ethical foundations were fortified, as was my confidence in assertively living by my own moral code.

To boil down the most important elements of overall “health,” as I see it: providing my body the nutrition, rest, and movement it needs to function at its best, as well as attending to emotional and social needs.

At times, I feel the need to embody perfect health to fight the stereotype of a pale, meek vegan. Not only are there pressures to be nutritionally healthy, but to also break down the stereotypes that vegans can’t successfully live active lives without passing out or having their protein levels bottom out. Living as an unintended example of the picture of health is a difficult task, as I am often the only vegan that people around me know! I try not to succumb to such pressures and remind myself to live my life for me. Two years ago I was actually diagnosed with hyperlipidemia (total cholesterol = 279!!) and, after attempting to lower my levels naturally, am now taking a prescription drug to counteract my bad genetics. Ain’t nobody perfect!

I like to advocate for people to make the best food decisions they can—FIRSTLY, for the world and living creatures with whom we share this planet, and secondly, for one’s own personal health concerns and goals.

Thank you, Katie!

 Read others in the series, and please share your story. Find more info here or email me at VegtasticVoyage@gmail.com.

vegans & body image: janessa

Welcome back to Vegans & Body Image, the biweekly series in which vegans share their stories and thoughts on body image in general, and what effect, if any, veganism has on it.

Janessa Philemon-Kerp is a Portland blogger, one of my Vida Vegan partners, and one of my favorite Portland finds. A native Oregonian, she’s lived and played all over the world, and she’s one of the most genuinely positive people I’ve met.

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tibbyphotography.com

Janessa, 33, female, squishy & soft

Raised as a vegetarian, I turned mostly vegan at 22, and went the whole soy-hog at 28. In the early ’80s, white meat didn’t count as “meat,” so I ate chicken and turkey until I was 9.

I’ve never purposely eaten hamburger, steak, or any other red meat. I’m a born pastatarian. Drawn to foods like pasta, breads, and desserts, learning how to eat and like vegetables was something I actively worked on in my 20s. To this day, I’ll still typically pick a pasta salad over a kale salad. My appetite is not large, but I can put a lot of food away if there’s a plate of tacos or a bowl of popcorn sitting in front of me. I eat for enjoyment probably as much as I eat for nutrition.  My diet generally consists of cereal, smoothies, salads, tacos, fake chicken, desserts, pasta, and champagne cocktails.

Growing up, my mom did her best to keep me active and signed me for group sports like soccer, basketball, and softball. One of her favorite stories recalls watching my entire fourth-grade team chasing a soccer ball down the field in a match…then turning to see me slowly following behind, chasing a butterfly (it was pretty!). In middle school, I was on the basketball team for two years. I made one basket.

Needless to say, I’m not naturally athletically inclined. I like playing sports, and I enjoy working out—but the thing is, I enjoy eating and drinking SO MUCH MORE. Given the choice of a hike or Happy Hour, I really struggle with picking the former. Now, if you tell me you’ll bring snacks, I’m much more inclined to lace up my hiking shoes.

Since my 20s, I’ve been an occasional member of the gym, and sometimes even think about doing sit-ups at night. I’ve owned two workout videos: Tai Bo with Billy Blank on VHS in college, and Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred. I stay active day-to-day by riding my bike and walking a lot. My career in hospitality and restaurant management means I’m on my feet a majority of the time.

I find that my definition of “healthy” changes. Sometimes I feel perfectly healthy–I have all my limbs, I eat and drink a lot, but I also move a lot; other times I know I could eat a more balanced diet and exercise more. Healthy to me means eating food that is good for you, enjoying the food you do eat, and staying at whatever activity level makes you personally thrive. Healthy comes in every shape and size.

Being vegan and finding a vegan community has led me to discover new types of food, and I find vegans in general appreciate food an extraordinary amount. It’s so much fun to go out to eat with a group of vegans! In the past, I’ve felt like I’ve needed to look my best to really showcase what a vegan diet can do, but honestly, the amount of energy I have and the way I enjoy my life showcases how happy I am living a vegan lifestyle.

Thank you, jpk!

 Read others in the series, and please share your story. Find more info here or email me at VegtasticVoyage@gmail.com.

vegans & body image: jenna

Welcome back to Vegans & Body Image, the biweekly series in which vegans share their stories and thoughts on body image in general, and what effect, if any, veganism has on it.

Today’s profile is from Jenna Carton, who runs an Eating Disorder Recovery Tumbler and a vegan meal delivery service up in Edmonton, Canada, called VegPalette.

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Jenna, 24

I’m recovering from anorexia and bulimia. I went vegetarian in grade 6 and then vegan once I hit high school. That means I was vegetarian for 4 years and have been vegan for 8 years. Eating animals and animal products had upset me from a young age, and the core of me had always felt resistant to it.

As someone recovering from an eating disorder I’ve had to fight with many doctors and personal supports in my treatment program. I’ve been told time and time again that I am not “sober in my eating practices” unless I am willing to eat whatever is put in front me. This in itself has baffled me because, as a activist, I also take steps toward educating the general public about not eating highly processed “foodlike products” containing GMOs and preservatives. I guess you could call me a naturalist—but this is my belief system, not my disease. It’s taken over two years of fighting to fully come to terms with this.

When I was at my sickest, I had begun exploring raw veganism, and from there, raw fruititarianism. I wasn’t doing this because it was more ethical or environmental; I was doing it to lose weight. The websites and books I turned to promised me I could maintain an extremely low weight and eat whatever I wanted as long as it was raw and I avoided “toxins.” My eating disorder latched onto this and my life spun out of control. I’ve heard that raw foods have helped some people recover from EDs so I don’t want to discount that. This is simply the story of what happened on my journey. I eventually recovered by working with a holistic nutritionist (who was a vegan and a recovered bulimic) and working a 12-step program.

My outlook on wellness has changed drastically before and after my recovery. Prior to my recovery I was basically addicted to weight-loss products of the “natural” variety. I did the Master Cleanse so many times that I have permanently damaged my digestive system. Jogging (which I have loved since I was a kid) became a destructive tool, and I would wrap myself in plastic wrap and jog on the treadmill to “sweat off pounds.” When I began my 12-step program, exercise was also something I had to surrender all control of. I don’t think I would have done it, either, if I had not been in a car accident. It’s a year later and my physiotherapist still calls the shots on what I do. This has been a blessing in disguise because I have learned how to train in a healthy way. Yesterday I completed my first race since recovery and I solely did it for the sake of having fun with my partner. As I reflect back on my thought patterns I know that this is truly what it’s like to be healthy. Health is not a weight; it’s a state of being. For me, that means striving to keep my anxiety low and my mental health in check. My one and a half years of sobriety is coming up and I still work a hard program daily because it’s the only way I have found that I can live my life.

I still have loads of resentment toward the way we view veganism and beauty. Sometimes I feel like a “failed” vegan because I am not thin enough and I have to remind myself that’s my disease and not really me. Recently, a vegan dietitian was in town presenting a lecture on plant-based diets and her slide show was packed full of thin athletes and women laughing while eating salad. I found this extremely triggering and afterwords I wrote her a letter voicing my concerns. Believe it or not, she wrote back and agreed to change the images! My goal is to continue writing letters and working on my blog for recovering vegans where others can write in for advice.

In the eyes of industry, Beauty is just another word for Money, and as long as people are interested in yoga, veganism, gluten-free foods, and the like, we must fight to keep our lifestyles and our values from being exploited. Even the smallest change in attitude can help the people around us and make the world a better place.

Thank you, Jenna!

 Read others in the series, and please share your story. Find more info here or email me at VegtasticVoyage@gmail.com.

vegans & body image: lisa

Welcome back to Vegans & Body Image, the biweekly series in which vegans share their stories and thoughts on body image in general, and what effect, if any, veganism has on it.

Today we have Lisa Febre, a Los Angeles & Las Vegas blogger who also appears in the T.O.F.U. Body Image issue, having penned an article on vegan dining in mainstream restaurants.   

lisa_febreLisa, 39 years old, petite and fit after one pregnancy. 5’4″, 120 pounds

I have been vegetarian/vegan for 23 years (since 1990), but it wasn’t a straight path. In 1990, I was a sophomore in high school watching my first PETA videos and was horrified at what I was seeing. That same day, I became lacto-vegetarian. There was a lot of resistance from my parents, my mother in particular, because she was the one doing all the shopping and cooking. Even though I had the best intentions, I could not sustain a 100% meat-free existence. There was a lot of pressure and guilt associated with not eating what was offered, and on occasion I would “slip.” At that time—and for a long time—I did not fully grasp the connection between dairy and meat, so I continued to eat dairy and, occasionally, eggs. When I went off to college and was finally able to control my own diet, I experienced something very new to me: a vegetarian community. Strength in numbers was something I’d clearly needed all along, and something I firmly believe every single new veg*n needs to find.

In 2007, at the age of 33, I finally made the leap to veganism. The dairy connection finally clicked into place and that was it: No more dairy ever again. In retrospect, I can see that’s where my vegetarianism went wrong, in that I and my family viewed it as a diet, or worse, a fad diet. But veganism quickly became a way of life. It defines who I am. On the short list of roles I play: mother, wife, yogini, vegan, musician—vegan has to be there.

I do actually put quite a bit of work into my body, but not as media would have us believe “work” entails. I am a dedicated yogini with a 15-year, daily practice of Ashtanga Yoga. This, compounded with veganism, is truly a way of life. Yoga begs for a healthy attitude toward the fuel you put in your body, and veganism easily delivers. I take a B12 supplement, but that’s about as far as supplements go with me. I live an exceptionally clean lifestyle. I have minimized exposure to chemicals in our home, buy organic produce, avoid GMOs, and do not eat anything that comes from a box, bag, can, or jar. The downside is that this practice makes me more sensitive to chemicals in other people’s homes, and lower-quality foods often make me ill.

Going vegan actually made a huge difference in my body image. The feeling of “lightness” that some vegans describe really made all the difference in the world to me. My yoga practice deepened once the fats were expelled from my joints, my head felt clearer, my skin and hair became healthier, progressively my seasonal allergies have all but disappeared (which I know can’t be proved it’s because of veganism, but the relief did coincide with cutting dairy), and my mental health seems more even.

“Healthy” is not about weight for me, it’s about my attitude. When I’m feeling healthy, everything falls into place: my weight, my general outlook, my activity level. I feel open and aware, introspective and empathic at the same time. There’s a vibrance to my body when I’m feeling healthy. I have suffered from depression, I have experienced the deepest depths of despair, and can only say that “healthy” is so obvious to me it’s difficult to put into words, like describing “green” to a blind person.

I have been lucky in that I don’t suffer from an eating disorder, but would consider myself a restrictive eater. To me, this term means that I eat the same thing day in and day out, and to break this pattern can leave me feeling stressed or guilty and, if I’m not careful, can lead to even more restrictions in the days to follow. I am fully aware of this behavior because it did get out of control during my depression–I went from 120 to 102 pounds because of my self-imposed restrictions. At a healthy point in my life now, I recognize my behaviors and can quickly negotiate my way out of destruction. I used to be deathly afraid of going out to eat for my blog (so many calories!), and would restrict for days to follow, but now I work through those stresses and fears and have found much more constructive ways to deal with these feelings.

I think there’s a negative view, sometimes, of people who are fit, and then that’s exacerbated if they’re also vegan. It starts “Of course you’re thin, look how much yoga you do,” then quickly descends to “and you’re vegan (sigh),” like I’ve done something to wrong them. I haven’t really seen the positive side of people’s views of vegan bodies. Either people are looking at me like I might be secretly sick, they can’t believe I’m even alive much less able to walk a straight line, or they are comparing me to themselves with a tsk. There’s no winning. I think it’s as important for us vegans to look healthy as it is to live healthy.

Unfortunately, our outward appearances affect people’s views of this lifestyle. If we are happy with our choices, it shows, and it forces others to reassess their own negative and suspicious views of veganism. Sometimes it feels that for each person who supports our veganism, a hundred will condemn and criticize; it’s important to have a thick skin and let those comments go. Personally, I am proud of my choices, of the way I live my life, and the effect it has had on my body and spirit. And the strength I’ve found in this lifestyle gives me the courage to stand up again and again for what I know is the most compassionate choice there is.

Thank you, Lisa!

 Read others in the series, and please share your story. Find more info here or email me at VegtasticVoyage@gmail.com.

 

vegans & body image: joni

Welcome to Vegans & Body Image, a biweekly series in which vegans share their stories and thoughts on body image in general, and what effect, if any, veganism has on it.

Today we have Joni, the Orange County–based author of a handful of cookbooks, including The Best Veggie Burgers on the Planet and (swoon) Vegan Food Gifts. She’s super fun, and her smile is some sort of energy-producing marvel.

joni_marie_newmanJoni Marie Newman, 37, “more cushion for the pushin,” 5′-7″, hovering between 275 and 290 pounds

I’d been an off-and-on vegetarian since high school, and I made the vegan plunge in 2005 because I knew it was the right thing to do. For my health, the health of the planet, and most importantly, the health of the animals.

When I was young, I was a swimmer, water polo player, and lifeguard. I worked out a minimum of two hours a day and sometimes four in the summertime, five days a week, with competitions on the weekends. Once I got into college, I did not keep up that lifestyle and the weight began to pile on. In my 20s I wanted my swimmer’s body back, so I got a trainer and began working out at least two hours a day, five days a week, and I lost a lot of weight. Not quite down to my 16-year-old self, but pretty close—175 pounds looked really, really good on me. But I got a new job in a new location and was unable to keep that rigorous training schedule, and the weight piled back on. If I do not work out for at least two hours a day, I cannot maintain a “proper” weight. I probably screwed up my metabolism as a child athlete, which set me up for failure as a grownup. If I want to be thinner, I need to work out a lot. Because, for the most part, I eat a well-balanced, pretty clean vegan diet.

I have tried Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers, Overeaters Anonymous, cleanses, raw foods only, and many online weight-loss support groups. I have had a gym membership for the past 15 or so years, but I don’t use it as often as I should. I’d rather hike with the dogs and walk outdoors (especially by the beach) than in the gym, but I love to swim and sit in the hot tub, so I keep that gym membership.

At one point I was taking Fen-Phen and was totally addicted to ephedra, and I was totally and completely devastated when it became illegal. I’ve never had surgery, although I did attend a lap-band consultation and seminar, because at one point I thought something must be wrong with me.

I thought I was an overeater, so I began attending OA meetings. After hearing the other stories and leaving each and every meeting feeling even more horrible than when I got there, I realized I did not have a disorder, per se, but I did have an unhealthy relationship with food. Before I found veganism, I was completely out of touch with where my food came from. What was in it. And how my body used it for fuel and nutrition. Now I know where and how my food is grown and/or produced, and I understand so much more about nutrition. And while I still certainly eat for pleasure, I also am quite aware of what goes into my belly.

Although I am primarily vegan for ethical reasons, I won’t lie; I really hoped it would help me lose weight. And I did lose, at first, because when I took the vegan plunge, I did it with a 10-day Master Cleanse, followed by six months of raw foods only, along with working out like crazy and eating way too little, to prepare my body for my wedding later that year.

Having always been a “bigger” girl, I feel as though I did have a fairly self-confident and positive body image, vegan or not. It wasn’t until I was vegan, however, that others had something to say about it. I had always heard the comments, “Baby got back!” and the like, but once people knew I was vegan, it was more like, “Oh, really? But, you’re so, er, um, fat.” Yeah. People say that to me. Often. But I still don’t really give a frick what people think about my body and I still rock a two-piece bathing suit, because I want to.

“Healthy” means something different for everyone. Personally, I do not equate weight with health. One can be healthy at any weight. To me, healthy is feeling good in the skin you’re in, being able to do the things you love to do. To be balanced in life, body and spirit. In a physical sense, the last time I ran my blood work, I was platinum*, which is the best possible score you can receive, in all categories except BMI. I also very seldom get sick. When all my coworkers have colds or whatever else is going around, it generally skips me. I credit my veganism.

That being said, I would like to be a bit less heavy so I could do more of the things I love to do. Sometimes my size does prevent me from buying the cutest clothes and going on the best rides at the amusement park. So, for me, healthy would be about 50 pounds lighter. And yes, I strive for it. I know what I need to do to be healthy for me. Get back to that gym to get stronger so I can be all that I can be. So that my strong muscles will use more of my food energy as fuel.

I have no real responsibility (nor does anyone else) to look or be a certain way for anyone or any cause, but I often feel as though I should look better (read: thinner) to be a good vegan ambassador. Especially with all the talk about the health benefits that come along with adopting a “plant-based diet.” I also feel (although I know I shouldn’t) that being a big vegan casts a negative view of veganism. Somehow, I think that people may feel that if they go vegan, they will end up like me. Even though I’m the same me I was before I was vegan.

When it comes down to it, I am first and foremost vegan for the animals. Any health benefits I have gained from veganism have been a bonus. My body image issues are my own, and I feel like they are pretty much the same issues many women have regardless of being vegan or not.

*I work for Whole Foods Market. Once a year the company pays for anyone who wants to run their blood work. Your numbers fall in one of four categories: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. The better your score, the bigger discount you can receive at Whole Foods. It’s pretty awesome, completely voluntary, and a great way to inspire team members to get “healthy.”

Thank you, Joni!

 Read others in the series, and please share your story. Find more info here or email me at VegtasticVoyage@gmail.com.