How do you do the least harm possible when it becomes detrimental to do the least harm possible?

Over the last twelve months quite a number of the plant-based/vegan diet and lifestyle influencers have come out and admitted that for health reasons they are no longer able to follow the lifestyle they have previously advocated. I do not judge any of them for this. I too have had my struggles on a plant-based diet and have the nerve damage to prove it. What does surprise me, however is how many of the former influencers become full on carnivores. They seem to just walk away from their former beliefs without a backward glance.

I fully believe that a plant -based diet is incredibly healthy and the most ethical and morally correct diet to follow. I know many advocates of plant based eating who thrive and are exemplars of fantastically good health.  But as I have already alluded I, myself have had terrible struggles with being fully plant-based and my health. As such, over the last three years I have spent a lot of time educating myself on how I can be vital and healthy while following a plant-based diet. Cue several courses on nutrition and extensive reading on both plant based living, my two health conditions and empirical observations based on self conducted dietary trials.

Any good nutrition course will recommend minimal consumption of animal based products and encourage obtaining protein from things like beans and legumes, Tofu, nuts and seeds etc. Likewise all the good plant-based/vegan resources advocate taking a B12 supplement and to seek out plant-based foods that have been fortified with it. B12 naturally occurs in animal products like dairy, meat, fish and eggs and without it we would experience weakness, tiredness, nerve damage and vision loss (to name but a few) so it essential if you are plant based to ensure that you are properly dosed.

However it is here that my own tale begins. I was supplementing and consuming fortified products and yet I still ended up with a severe deficiency in B12 and a plethora of other vitamins. The problem being for me that I have both Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and severe IBS. The Hashimoto’s means that I have very low stomach acid and impaired digestion, meaning that my body does not get all the nutrients out of my food; incidentally, B12 deficiency is very common even among meat and dairy eating Hashimoto’s patients. To manage the symptoms of Hashimoto’s and reduce the risk of an autoimmune attack I have also had to make impose further dietary restrictions including eliminating any thing anything soya based, (tofu etc) from my diet. I also can’t consume gluten, alcohol, caffeine, cruciferous vegetables (kale, cabbage, broccoli etc) or (irrelevantly in my case) dairy.

Similarly the IBS has it’s own list of food restrictions, in particular those high in “fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols” – FODMAP, for short. Foods high in FODMAP often trigger an IBS attack (diarrhoea, stomach cramping, fatigue and brain fog) and include various fruits and vegetables, but most significantly in relation to this post, legumes such as beans, chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, baked beans, soybeans. All of which as we know, are the main source of protein in a plant-based diet.

However, like the the foods listed on the Hashimoto’s list rather than just accept that I can’t eat these things I have endeavoured to conduct various food trials over a 3 year period and see what my limitations are. My aim has been to reduce the frequency and duration of both autoimmune and IBS attacks while maintaining a diet that is predominantly plant-based. By the end of 2019 I had a solid idea of what I can and can’t eat. Small quantities of kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils are OK; but by small I mean small and not enough to fulfil my body’s daily protein requirements. Soya is a total no go. In addition to the problems soya products cause with regards to the absorption of my Levothyroxine, they also causes – and there is no nice way to put this-……….bowelmageddon. Which in itself might sound trivial but the ‘upset’ as with an IBS attack can last up to a week and affects the digestion of food I consume post a ‘soya event’. I do not function during these occurrences and am bed bound for the duration.

After much experimentation I have arrived at place that works for me physically. But morally and ethically I feel very much between a rock and hard place. I have reintroduced eggs and in the full interest of disclosure haven’t had a problem with B12 since. I also eat oily fish a couple of times a week and although I am even less comfortable with that, and aim to eventually eliminate it, I accept it is where I am for now. As such, I continue to push my diet and continually test the bounds of how much I can go without further damaging my health. It hasn’t been an easy journey so far and as yet, is by no means over.

I think the lesson here is to adapt when you need to but strive to do the least harm possible. I knew that when I needed to make adjustments for the sake of my health that I didn’t want to suddenly abandon my beliefs. To that end the majority of my meals are still completely plant-based; and invariably when I share food on my Instagram account, I share only plant based food. Not because I am trying to deceive but because I firmly believe that plant based is best.
Love and Light (from a work in progress)

Stella xx

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