There have been a series of announcements in the past few months from famous vegan YouTubers about their decision to start eating animal protein again for health reasons. As you can imagine, it’s stirred up a big boiling pot of judgement and criticism. Rawvana, Raw Alignment and Bonny Rebecca all released 35+ minute videos explaining how a series of worsening digestive, mental and other health related issues lead them down a path of abandoning the vegan lifestyle (permanently or temporarily) in search of a cure.
I watched all three of these videos with an open mind and mild curiosity. As someone who was vegan for over 2 years (including a short 4 month stint eating raw vegan), I can relate to these ladies’ stories. That’s why I want to share an important message to anyone out there who has or is considering leaving hurtful and critical comments.
Why? Because these women are first and foremost human beings, deserving of empathy, compassion and understanding. You absolutely do not have to agree with their decisions, but lashing out at them or making broad sweeping generalizations about the vegan community does nothing but continue to spread negativity and hate. And I think we can all agree that we do not need more of that in the world right now.
First, let’s look at why someone might go vegan, as there are two distinct categories in my mind.
The main reason why many people choose veganism is because their belief systems fundamentally go against consuming animal products (fish, poultry, red meat) or byproducts (eggs, dairy, cheese, etc,). People in this camp support the rights of animals and are against animal cruelty practices, including testing done on animals in the cosmetic and beauty industry. There’s also a bit of environmentalism and a focus on reducing our carbon footprint at play, too. As you can imagine, there is a lot of emotion and moral conflict tied up in this belief system and it can be very, very difficult to separate their emotional attachment from the “vegan diet.” In a way, the vegan lifestyle is a crucial part of their overall identity and are almost inseparable.
Another reason why people choose to go vegan is because they believe it is an all-together healthier diet. These are the supporters of a plant-based diet, and many of these people have even gone raw vegan for a short period of time (myself included) because of the supposed benefits of eating whole, fibrous fruits and veggies in their natural, uncooked form. There is research out there that shows cooking veggies and other foods breaks down the essential nutrients, which is true on some level, but there are still ways to prepare cooked food without losing key nutrients such as steaming vegetables or lightly sauteing them. The difference in those that choose veganism for health reasons is that their core belief system is less intertwined with the issue of morality regarding animal consumption.
The biggest link between all of these ladies — and many many others out there — is that they all were at a point in their lives where they had no choice but to change up their diet, and it was not a decision they came to lightly or easily. I highly recommend you watch the videos your self, but I will quickly recap them for you.
The influencer behind the Rawvana YouTube channel, Yovana Mendoza Ayres (age 29), came under intense attack because of the way her followers found out about her switch from eating plants to animal protein. She was on vacation in Bali and was seen on video with a plate of fish in front of her. You can imagine the uproar this caused on social media. With over 2 million subscribers to her Spanish language channel and another 500K on her English language channel, she has become a trusted influencer and expert in all things raw and vegan, sharing recipes and healthy skin and beauty tips with her community. She released the video apology after the incident, but her reputation currently carries a dark stain. Right or wrong, I’ll let you decide, but her story is worth listening to. Yovana explains that she had over the years developed a variety of health problems including loss of her period from being underweight and suffering from constipation, exhaustion, candida, SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth), etc. After doing research, listening to doctors and feeling quite desperate to heal, she came to the conclusion that she needed balance in her diet from protein, fats and carbs, and so started with fish and eggs.
Similarly, the YouTuber behind the Raw Alignment channel, Alyse Brautigam, found the vegan diet during a time of darkness. Alyse also runs Raw Alignment, a website/business focused on spreading love, growth and new experiences with others. She shares in her video that during college she had a very poor diet consisting of candy, chocolate, BBQ, fast food, etc. and veganism changed her life and helped her break her addiction with adderall and adopt healthier habits. However, after some time (over 4 years), she began noticing a degradation in her health. Some of that is attributed to mold toxicity in her home environment in Hawaii. After moving away from Hawaii to Colorado, while her mold-related symptoms improved, she began experiencing other chronic symptoms like head and nasal congestion, intense brain fog and an inability to articulate her thoughts coherently. She also developed some digestion issues as well.
And lastly is Bonny Rebecca’s story. Her and her significant other (Tim) both found each other and veganism at crucial points in their life. But years later (about 4ish), they both began experiencing a series of health related issues that started out pretty minor like poor complexion/increase in acne/dry skin, etc. and became an increasing impedance on their overall quality of life such as constipation, abdominal pain, problems digesting food (likely SIBO although Bonny never specifically confirms that). Their journey was long and winding and they saw numerous doctors from conventional to naturopaths to dieticians, and spent a lofty bulk of money on various testing. At one point, Tim was on antibiotics for a year, and once he went off those antibiotics, his symptoms came back full force — and in fact, more extreme. If you want to know how antibiotics can wreck your good gut bacteria, I wrote a post on that. Time after time they refused advice from doctors to start incorporating animal protein (eggs and fish) into their diets until they reached their breaking point.
With all that said, I fundamentally believe that animal protein is vital to our survival and our ability to live a happy, healthy life. But there was a time where I didn’t think that way because I was searching for a cure. After my spine surgery in 2012, my health took a major hit. I was having problems going to the bathroom and eating foods I used to eat previously, which led to chronic constipation and digestion issues. I did not have the knowledge I had then and I was young — in college — and broke, meaning I didn’t have the funds or access to the right resources. I thought I could fix my problems with food and I found the Paleo diet. It helped for a while, but frustrated that this “cure all” diet wasn’t in fact curing me, I started to think that maybe I was over-consuming animal proteins. I had also done some reading (and watched endless Netflix documentaries) on the poor treatment of animals and how bad the conditions were of conventional farming and meat production. After that I never wanted to look at a burger again because factory farmed meat and fish? Gross. It didn’t occur to me to look at sustainable and eco-friendly forms of farming or meat consumption, like wild caught, grass-fed/grass-finished, organic, pasture raised, cage free, free range, etc. Instead, I turned on meat and became raw vegan for 4 months and then transitioned into a vegan diet for a few years. You can read about my story in more detail in this post I wrote a while back.
Things did not get better, and what I found out was that four years after going vegan, I was wildly nutrient deficient, including B12, which many vegans/vegetarians lack, I was eating too much fiber (my body could not handle legumes) and I was not getting enough protein in my diet. In fact, it was during this timeframe that my symptoms got worse, and I developed leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome and SIBO.
After really getting smart about my health, and switching away from conventional doctors trying to prescribe me prescription drugs and OTC laxatives, etc. I found an integrative gut doctor to set me on the right path. But before that, I started doing my own research on the benefits of animal protein for overall gut health/functioning. I came back to the Paleo diet and did Keto for a while too (low carb, high fat, moderate protein), but my focus this time was to source high quality meat, fish and eggs, and to focus on eating whole, organic fruits, veggies, seed/nuts and a moderate amount of protein. I cut way back on the processed meats like bacon, but I needed to make sure I was eating the right macros for my body (fat, carbs and protein) and I couldn’t do that on a vegan diet.
Here’s the thing — protein is essential for our bodies to function because it contains the full chain of essential amino acids — the building blocks of our bodies. And you can only get that amino acid profile from animal proteins, not plant proteins.
Not to mention, quality animal protein sources are much easier to digest than vegan protein sources because animal protein has much less, or no, fiber. Fiber is a good thing, but it is insanely tough for your body to break down, so when you have a pre-existing gut issue, like SIBO, your body rejects fiber and it becomes incapable of breaking it down. Animal protein is also full of gelatin and collagen – two CRUCIAL things we need to keep the lining of our gut health and sealed. I fully believe I developed leaky gut syndrome (or intestinal permeability) because my body went too long without collagen/gelatin. What happened is that because my gut did not have the right nutrients, gut bacteria and collagen needed to function properly, and food particles started leaking out into by bloodstream (where they don’t belong) and set off alarm signals in my body like inflammation and an autoimmune response where my body started attacking itself.
I’m obviously simplifying this for the purposes of this article, and I could spent another 2,000 + words explaining the benefits of animal protein, but that’s not what this article is about. It’s about compassion, empathy and giving people a break.
The irony behind all of this is that those in the vegan community show immense compassion for animals, but some have been quick to attack these women for their choices. What we all need to remember is that yes, these are social media influencers that get paid to share their thoughts and expertise with the masses and monetize their content in order to make a living, but at the same time, they are real people — just like you or me — and they have struggles, feelings, opinions, and the right to express those and to live their life’s free from harsh judgement.
Now, there’s a delicate line to tow between being deceitful and dishonest and simply maintaining privacy and personal boundaries, and I am not discrediting that. But do I think these ladies purposefully lied to their audience? No. What I do think is that they needed time to process these drastic lifestyle changes, to internalize their thoughts, feelings and path forward before sharing personal news in a highly public forum. We all deserve that right. It’s unfortunate that Rawvana’s Yovana did not get to tell her story on her own terms, and it may frustratingly look like she gave a forced apology, and in some ways she did, but if 2 months is what it took for her to process her decision and figure out how to share the news with her community, don’t we owe her that common courtesy?
And if you don’t agree with her decisions, or her channel….here’s a thought: stop following her and move on with your life. There are plenty of people out there sharing nutritional advice that are not certified or educated on the topic. That is the blessing and the curse of the internet and of free speech. Why waste time and energy writing hate comments to someone who you dislike on a topic that does not positively serve you?
If you really want to take power away from someone, the best way to do that is to NOT give them your attention.
We are creatures of evolution. The same person you are today is not the same person you were 10 years ago and you will likely be a different version of yourself 10 years from now. Our core belief systems are steadfast, but our bodies, our personal preferences (like taste in music and men), dietary habits and our health all evolve. You see the emotional struggle of these women in each of their videos as they experience a very extreme moral dilemma.
It’s easy for us to shame these women and to start spewing out studies and statistics and stories of why they need to eat a big fat steak, but the reality is that when it comes to changing behaviors and thought patterns — that shit is really hard. Would you be able to convince a Catholic that there’s no God? Unlikely, and it is their right to believe in whatever higher power they choose. When we believe something so deeply and it becomes a part of our self identity, no amount of education or persuasion or criticism will matter. We have to come to the realization on our own terms and time. Sometimes we may never get there. The best that those around us can do is present the knowledge in the most non-threatening, but persuasive way possible and let it sit there until we’re ready to take action. Forcing someone to do something will only send them running either away in the opposite direction.
I will end by saying this: It’s not about whether or not you believe in the benefits of a vegan diet. I certainly do not. It’s about how you respond to a way of being and life that you don’t agree with. You have absolutely no idea what someone is going through until you go through it yourself, and even still, your journey will not be the same as theirs. But I have been where these women have in terms of living with incredibly painful and devastating digestion and gut issues. Visibly, you may look fine, but on the inside are broken. You are not yourself — your cognitive functioning goes out the door, you spiral downward into depression and isolation, and you feel completely and utterly trapped.
I’ve spent endless morning, afternoons and nights sobbing, hurting and wishing for the day when all of it would end and I could just be myself again. Because that’s the worst part. For the past 3+ years I have not felt like myself for a single second, and that’s one of the most frustrating feelings I’ve ever experienced for too long of a time. Joy is sucked from your soul. Relationships disintegrate. You have no energy, motivation or desire to do anything or go anywhere. Eating out is a nightmare, hell, leaving the house is a nightmare. Eventually, you stop living your life because every waking second of every minute of every hour of every day becomes an endless nightmare. If you’ve ever experienced constant constipation, you know how miserable it is. It’s like someone inflated a balloon in your lower stomach and filled it with sand. I’ve been in some very dark places, and it’s now, about 9 months into my healing journey that I can finally see the light. And this gives me joy, but more importantly, it gives me compassion. So, if you’re reading this, that is my message to you: show compassion. The world needs more of it.