I came to veganism on a slightly different route than the usual. I started by giving up dairy products. My impression is that most people start by giving up solid meat. For me, my path was towards health first-and-foremost, so when I found out that dairy products were highly allergenic, I gave them up hoping to improve my health.
It was tough. I didn't know anything about the facts on vegan nutrition that I know now. I was suffering big time from the notions the Dairy Marketing Board wanted me to believe. I was a nursing mother, and I was very afraid I was literally going to fall apart from lack of calcium, but I was desperate. I had chronic bronchitis, incapacitating arthritis, depression and obesity. I had a baby who cried all the time. I HAD to do something.
When I first gave it up, I was literally too scared to really notice any improvements or persist, so I relapsed. When I did that though, I noticed that I felt less well again and that my baby was crying harder again. So, once more I eliminated dairy products and took a calcium supplement to at least deal with that concern.
I lost some weight, I had a better appetite, my mood improved, I started to feel more hopeful. My baby seemed happier. Things improved. I kept on.
As I said though, it was tough. The cravings were intense. I had literally lived all my life on dairy products, starting as I did in the fifties as one of the many bottle-fed babies so common in my generation. It took years to really lose the intense cravings for dairy products.
As time went by, I learned more about a healthy diet. That helped. Recently, I have learned that when the casein of cow's milk products is broken down in the stomach, casomorphin is formed. Apparently, this opiate acts as a calming influence on baby cows and stimulates the appetite for the high-fat content of milk. Nature takes care of the withdrawal from this substance by having the mother cow in charge of weaning. When the cow feels ready to wean her calf, she walks away and increasingly prevents the baby from nursing. It's simple. The babies are gradually forced into withdrawal from the opiate because they have no choice. It's in their best interest though, making them more alert and inclined to accept their natural, healthy, low-fat adult diet.
The problem as I see it is that humans have figured out a way to circumvent nature. Humans wean themselves from their own milk but then drink a cow's milk, deluding themselves into thinking that they have graduated from infancy because they no longer nurse from their mothers. I think as long as the opiates of cow's milk products are circulating in the blood stream, the fullest development of adult potential is limited.
They way I see it, if a food is exciting, it is addictive.
I struggle still with addiction to sweetened chocolate. It's not just the sugar and it's more than the chocolate, because I'm not interested in either of these things on their own. I gave up coffee, another famously addictive substance, when I stopped eating sugar. I can easily enough avoid coffee, and suffered only minor cravings from that. Chocolate is another story.
I avoided all chocolate for many years after becoming vegan. But when I discovered vegan chocolate frozen desserts, I grabbed them as if they were water in the desert. Then vegan chocolate bars showed up on the market, and I jumped on them too. I had to pull back last summer when I realized how much chocolate I was eating, and how it was starting to replace healthy foods in my daily calories. Since then, I have been allowing myself to have chocolate on rare occasion. For example, at Easter I made a handful of vegan chocolates for each member of the family. I allowed myself to eat the chocolate they put on my pillow each night at the hotel we stayed at recently.
It's a tough one. Avoiding it 100% seems to be what it takes to completely get rid of the cravings, but avoiding it 100%, as with all such total absolute behavior, can create barriers in life. I prefer to create as few barriers as possible, and only when they seem truly necessary.
My husband struggles with addiction to potato chips. It's more than just that they are deep-fried, because he doesn't feel that way about French-fries. Potato chips are the treat they had on Saturday evenings with his parents and siblings after bath time. The kids would all jump on Mom and Dad's bed to have their nails trimmed, watch TV together, and eat chips. It's the food that says "safe and happy" to his primal being! He has struggled between free indulgence and complete prohibition, to the point that he does now as I do about chocolate. He restrains himself from buying them, and strictly limits his consumption to rare occasions.
This system isn't easy, but it's the best one we've found to deal with the whole picture.
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