Why I Was Forced to Stop Being Vegan

At the beginning of the 2018 academic school year, I accidentally became vegan. And although at first I was against the very notion of veganism, I soon became  obsessed with it. It turned into a source of personal pride, to nobly decline delicious food and snacks, and slowly it manifested itself into my very identity: I was Izzie, and I was vegan. It was great. Right?

Right. Except it wasn’t. Because what I declined to mention in my first article about veganism was how limiting the food options were for me since I am allergic to tree nuts and legumes, two main sources of protein for anyone following a vegan or plant-based diet. So I was Izzie and I was vegan and it was great, except that over time, my body was deteriorating from the lack of nutrition from a vegan diet.

Although I didn’t know it, by the time I ended my vegan stint  I was B12 deficient, zinc deficient, Vitamin D deficient, and anemic from the lack of iron in my diet. Additionally, I was hyperthyroid, which meant—due to an endocrine imbalance my metabolism—that I burned calories at higher levels than normal, meaning that I needed to have a higher intake of calories in general just to stay healthy.

But it wasn’t my weight changes that made me stop being vegan. It started with my kidneys.  

I have a genetic disposition to having an inordinate amount of urinary tract infections (UTIs), but in November, antibiotics weren’t enough to stop the infection from moving into my kidneys. In addition to my UTI symptoms, I had a fever, back pain, and nausea. After health services sent me away with a new prescription for a simple UTI, I decided to go to an outside care provider, which is where doctors confirmed that I had pyelonephritis: a kidney infection.  

The next major infection was in my ear. It started as an outer ear infection, and after receiving ear drops that should have cured me, the infection went towards my middle ear. On the day of my first Organic Chemistry exam, I woke up in extreme pain and still took the exam, but the next day I could barely walk, talk, or stop crying from the pain. What I later learned was that the infection had gotten so bad that my ear canal completely swelled shut, allowing pressure to build and build inside my ear, which caused my eardrum to burst. I had to have two tubes put in my ear and was prescribed steroids, painkillers, and antibiotics. I was told I could have potential permanent hearing loss (luckily I didn’t).

This ordeal completely wiped me out, but even though my doctor and my nutritionist were telling me that veganism was affecting my health and lowering my immune system’s ability to fight infections, I didn’t listen. I continued my “enlightened” diet and told myself that slight health consequences were worth it for me to keep up with the label—until last week, that is.

On Monday, I noticed a raised hard bump just under my nostril that seemed like a bad pimple waiting to develop. Thinking nothing of it, the next day I awoke to a slight fever and general malaise, so I rested for the day and expected to feel better. But when Wednesday came and I looked in the mirror, I realized that the entire lower half of my face was completely swollen and painful, like I had just done a really poorly constructed Kylie Jenner Lip Kit. Horrified, I went to Health Services immediately, where they identified that the thing I had thought was a pimple was actually an infected cyst. It was so far underneath my skin that the only indication of it on my face was that little raised mound by my nose. The doctor gave me antibiotics, but when I woke up the next morning with my entire face so swollen that it was almost unrecognizable, I knew that something was wrong.

I ended up going to the hospital and having countless injections of steroids and lidocaine into my face, as well as biopsy. But the pain never went away, and doctors still don’t know how long it’ll take for my body to heal itself.

Suffering from only one of these illnesses would have been a different story. But after three major, debilitating, and painful infections, I finally heeded my doctor’s advice and am working to incorporate non-vegan protein sources such as fish back into my diet. I still plan on being mostly plant-based, and although it is unfortunate that I’ve been forced to quit veganism, it’s definitely fortunate for my goal of not dying at twenty years old. So now I am Izzie and I am not vegan, and I’m sure it’ll be just fine.