Thoughts on Going Vegan and Feeling Judged

Thoughts on going vegan and feeling judged.I had big plans to shoot a bunch of workout videos for the blog this week but my body had another idea. If you follow me on Instagram you’re already painfully aware from my stories that I’ve completely lost my voice (sorry for scarring your eardrums these past couple days!). My throat has been a bit scratchy for a couple weeks now due to springtime allergies and teaching without a mic Tuesday morning just put me over the edge—it’s been all downhill since then. Luckily I don’t teach again until Tuesday so I have plenty of time to rest the ol’ vocal chords.

Since videos are out of the picture, I figured it’d be a good time to update you all a bit on how my food choices have been gradually changing and some thoughts I have about it.

Going vegan without the label

I’ve mentioned it in passing and you can probably tell from the types of recipes I’ve been posting lately: I’m slowly, and in a very imperfect, unforced way, going vegan. Emphasis on “going” (work in progress). I currently eat eggs and very occasionally fish so I’m not there yet, but that’s the direction in which I’m moving. I’ll do a blog post going into the “why” behind it soon, but today I want to talk about the reason I’m actually a little uncomfortable associating myself with the word “vegan”. I get defensive. I don’t eat animal products but I’m not a veganI’m not like that.

For me, this distaste stems from the association of vegans with judgement. Holier-than-thou attitudes. Throwing buckets of paint on people wearing fur. Bashing meat eaters on YouTube. Trying to force their diet on others through shame tactics. This association for me probably has to do with the fact that my first introduction to the word “vegan” as a kid was in watching PETA protest red carpets and yell/act aggressively at people wearing fur.

The vast majority of vegans are far from this extreme. I know this, yet the negative connotations stay deeply ingrained and I can’t help but want to disassociate myself from them. I’m much more comfortable with the term “plant-based”. Crazy how powerful words can be, right? Yet we are the ones who give them meaning in the first place. In this lies the issue with labeling people, but that’s a tangent for another day. 😉

Ultimately, I just hate the thought that anyone would feel as if I were judging them for what they choose to eat. And I think some people do feel that way when they hear the word “vegan” (ironically myself included!). There have been times when I’ve sensed an immediate switch to defense-mode with people justifying why they eat meat upon finding out that I don’t anymore.

Feeling judged because of food choices

Have you guys ever felt this way? Ever had an experience where you felt judged or shamed because of what you were eating? It’s the worst! I was actually at an event with a group of bloggers a year or so ago and still remember this seemingly small incident clearly because it rubbed me the wrong way hard. You know how at some sushi restaurants the seaweed salad is a dark green/brown color and then at others it’s the neon green color of the slime Nickelodeon dumps on people at the Kids’ Choice Awards? Both equally delicious, but the radioactive green color probably means there are artificial dyes in the seaweed. So is the natural color variety better for you? Yeah. But will it kill you to eat the bright green stuff once in a while? No.

So at this event I order seaweed salad with my sushi and when it’s brought to the table it’s neon green. I honestly didn’t think twice about it. But this other blogger scowls at my dish and through her disgusted grimace says to the person next to her, “I just would never feel OK putting that in my body. Look at it.”

My response:

I’m kidding. I didn’t suggest we go fight in the parking lot. But I was so put off by her comment! I thought it was just the rudest, snobbiest thing. And then I felt all self-conscious eating my seaweed salad. I was surprised at how upset it made me. How one little comment could make me feel so bad about myself and what I’d chosen to eat. Who was she to pass judgement on me? Gwyneth Paltrow?! My blood was boiling through the rest of dinner. When I got back to my hotel room I just kept thinking about how I NEVER want to be the reason someone feels this way. And it’s something I often stress about when I post food-related stuff to the blog and my social media accounts.

***For the record, I wish I had pulled her aside and let her know how her words made me feel. I’m sure she’s a lovely person and we would have had a great conversation from which we both would have walked away understanding the other a little better. But I didn’t. Maturity takes time, OK?! 😉

Sharing my experience, not telling you what to do

I’m really happy about this gradual shift in my food choices (again, I’m not fully plant-based yet!). I feel downright incredible actually. And I’m excited to share more on the blog about why, how, the challenges, etc., etc.

Food choices can be a heated topic because there’s so much that goes into why we eat the way we do beyond taste and survival. Emotions, religion/spirituality, health, society, environment—the list goes on. We should be mindful of what we eat and how our bodies feel because food can be our greatest medicine or truly our worst poison. For that reason, we should learn from others but ultimately always do what’s best for our own body. Know that when I share the occasional blog post on my (evolving) plant-based diet, I am never implying that it’s better than however you’re eating. I want to encourage you on a journey to find what makes you feel your best, not my journey.

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  1. I totally understand where you’re coming from. I had lunch with a friend who said my lunch looked good, and wanted to know what was in it. When I told her it was Thai vegan curry with tofu she said she couldn’t believe that I’d eat “that stuff”. On the other hand I had lunch with another friend who’s vegan who was completely okay with my eating a chicken stir fry.

  2. Right there with, I’m dropping most of the animal products now.. and it is hard when people comment “Oh, you don’t eat meat!!??” and off they go. Sigh… for me the hardest part is hubby, who is absolutely NOT a vegan in any way, shape or form, or does he ever intent to do so. He takes my choice to not eat meat in an almost personal way, even though it has nothing to do with him.

  3. Jessica says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I have been 95% “vegan” for the past 10ish years, and feel shame about telling new people a lot of the time. I completely agree regarding the judgemental and in-your-face attitude that is portrayed, and how most don’t actually fit this stereotype. Even after a decade of being plant based, I still haven’t mastered the art of telling dinner hosts or company of my dietary restrictions, or turning down food that I would prefer not to eat. Would love your thoughts on how you overcome this obstacle without feeling judged or, equally, coming across as judgmental.

  4. You do you! You go [vegan], Gurl!! 💪

  5. I could have written this post — I have slowly eased myself into a vegan diet for health reasons. (95% there – haven’t gotten myself off the random dessert here and there.) I told two of my closest friends and one said “Why? You have to buy all the special food!” … I still don’t really know what she’s talking about. But it made me feel so judged, so for now I’m going to keep it quiet. If someone notices I’m not eating something–rarely–I prefer saying I’m eating a plant-based diet. I think most people don’t know what that means, so they’re ok with it?

  6. Maeghan says:

    Hey Nicole!

    Thanks for sharing this post! I am actually experiencing the exact opposite of this right now. I have been vegan for the past four years and recently was diagnosed with arthritis in my right knee, which is being remedied through surgery. Before I found this out, I had also been experiencing extremely low energy levels and feeling exhausted all of the time despite a balanced diet, daily exercise, and ample sleep. I decided I wanted to start incorporating animal-based products back into my diet to see how it would impact my overall daily health as well as to maintain the healthy joints I do have. When I told people I am close to, who are also vegan, they were really upset by it. Telling me they didn’t understand why I would make this choice since because vegan was something I felt so strongly about. They made me feel really terrible about my decision, but I eventually just had to tell them this is what I felt I needed to do for my health. It wasn’t like I just woke up and decided I didn’t want to be vegan anymore. I made a decision that I felt could have the potential to improve my health, especially now managing arthritis. I have slowly incorporated a few eggs here and there, some Greek yogurt, and even have had fish a few times. It definitely doesn’t feel natural to me at this point because I haven’t eaten these things in so long, but I want to continue to see how my health is impacted. I’m so glad you feel like a plant-based diet is the best option for you and will allow you to live your healthiest life. Being vegan was so amazing for me and I always loved how creative recipes were when cooking without animal products. If you need some suggestions for great recipes, my number one suggestion is Oh She Glows. I turned to this blog over and over again to find healthy and great tasting recipes. I also really enjoyed Healthy. Happy. Life. It is really unfortunate that diets have become so idealized and divided. It is definitely uncomfortable and hurtful when you feel like you are being judged for your food choices. I think the best diet for people is the one that makes them feel their best and allows them to live their healthiest life. I also think diets can change over time and that’s okay. I’m still trying to figure out what my “label” is now that I’ve started eating animal products again. Ultimately, I think I may just forgo the labels and just be considered an intuitive eater haha. Best of luck to you! I hope you feel so amazing living a plant-based life!


  7. I just wanna talk about sushi says:

    Oh come on, bright green seaweed and bright pink ginger all the way! Anyway, I think it’s great that you’re so thoughtful about what you do with your soapbox, best of luck with your vegan exploration!

  8. I relate to this sooo deeply, thank you for posting this! My husband and I decided to see if we could go a month without eating meat last year and found it super easy so haven’t since. In the past few months, after A LOT of thought and research, we’ve transitioned to completely plant-based. I’m loving it! But I completely relate to what you said here in terms of labeling myself due to the negative association with the word vegan. I haven’t yet “come out” to any of my close friends or family about my new eating choices. So many of my loved ones are foodies and were already pretty dismayed by us just cutting out meat. I find myself lately preparing inner monologues to defend why I’m doing it, which feels so weird because at this point I find being vegan so much more defensible than the way I used to eat. I’m going to do my best to be kind and articulate when I inevitably will have to explain myself because I do hope, if anything, I can change their perception of what “vegans” are like. Anyway, just woke up thinking about this and then saw your post and had to comment. Happy for you. I’ll continue following you on your journey. 🙂

  9. Love this! I’m a vegetarian (for 6 years now) and try very hard to be vegan as much as possible, however, I still do eggs and cheese. But again, trying to cut back on those. It is so amazing to me that when I tell people I’m vegetarian, I automatically have to go into defense mode because a comment is ALWAYS made. I’ve have yet to tell somebody I’m a vegetarian and either nothing or “cool” is said. I can’t seem to figure out why what I put into my mouth has to be narrated or commented on by people who put something different into their mouth! It’s SO FRUSTRATING. Been loving your recipes though! 🙂 Can’t wait to see more! Especially since you’re an athlete, would love to here more about your protein choices and intake! I still have trouble getting enough protein and have to drink shakes if I want to be sure I’m getting it!

  10. Agree 1000%. I originally started to remove meat from my diet as a cooking challenge to myself. And the first time I bought almond milk instead of cow’s milk was because I noticed the shelf life was way longer and I hate to toss away bad milk that I couldn’t drink fast enough. But then I realized that I felt great eating a mostly plant-based diet and so now that’s pretty much the way I eat all the time. I don’t see myself ever eliminating fish or eggs (love me some salmon!), and if I visit my parents and my dad grills a piece of chicken that looks really delicious, I will totally eat that, too. But people don’t understand what they can’t neatly label, so they end up coming across judgmental and it sucks to be on the receiving end of that. Why can’t I just eat what I want to eat?!

  11. Stick with it girl! I was a vegetarian for a few years and then realized that I hadn’t been eating dairy for digestive reasons, and found that I prefer tofu alternatives to eggs most days, so I had unintentionally become a vegan haha. Because I live alone and have an ultra-picky eater boyfriend, the impact of my veganism has been pretty limited, and many of my friends also eat super mindfully. I personally don’t give a flying f what other people eat, so I try to never be preachy (even though I believe a plant-based diet is healthier and has a much lower environmental impact). There are definitely those vegans though who are in it for the conflict and love to belittle others based on their beliefs and food choices. Forget them! Remember why YOU are doing it, and don’t let anyone make you feel bad or uncomfortable because of their behaviors. If you are ever looking for good recipe resources, check out Oh My Veggies!

  12. you do you, girlfriend! Also, my husband spent most of our vegas trip saying that quote “cash me outside” (in the most ridiculous and annoying voice) – dying laughing as i read it here- had to send him a pic haha

  13. alicefrichards says:

    Yassssss–I relate to this so much! I quietly became a “weekday vegetarian” (the term I’m choosing to go with since I’m still eating cheese with my salads, and meat occasionally) and I honestly feel so great about the decision for a variety of reasons. I enjoy the flexibility to chose whether I’m going to order meat at a restaurant, but my self-assigned label is definitely helping me more mindful when considering my food choices.

    And I’ve definitely experienced food judgement, so I feel you on that point as well. Once I was at a coffee shop with my running group after a workout and I got a muffin…and one of super fit my friends looked wistfully at my muffin and said “wow, I remember when I used to eat carbs.” As she drank her green smoothie. I felt so offended, and I feel like it was probably a similar situation where she didn’t even necessarily mean to sound judgey (she was obvi just jealous of my delicious muffin!) but it totally stung.

  14. I loved this post, it is a good reminder to consider how things can impact others. I feel like this comes up a lot in feeding kids, that parents feel judged or have defend food choices for their kiddos. I think we have to make the food choices that make the most sense for us, but remember that it might not be the perfect diet for someone else.

  15. Katherine says:

    Good for you for eating a plant-based diet! I’ve been vegan for three years and vegetarian before that since 3rd grade. Just do you and hum a little Taylor Swift because the haters are gonna hate whether it’s meat-eaters taking your choice as a reflection on them, vegans reminding you to stop eating eggs or random girls against a probably delicious seaweed salad.

  16. I totally relate to the fear of being judged. I try to have the “just do me” mindset but it defiantly can be hard for my people pleasing tendencies. I have so much respect for you!

  17. I totally understand the negative connotation that comes with the label. At one of the first yoga retreats I lead in Santa Barbara I met an amazing blogger who used to be a vegan food blogger. Due to health issues, she needed to start incorporating animal products. I mean, the girl had done her research, did she the best she could as a vegan, but her health issues kept popping up and she was a thyroid cancer survivor and so she wasn’t taking any chances. When someone from the panel of the Weston A Price Foundation suggested looking into incorporating animal products into her diet, she almost lost it but she was like, ‘I was desperate.’ So she switched up her eating, went vegetarian, wrote a truly heart-felt post about it and how she struggled with the decision to begin incorporating animal products….and got actual death threats from vegan readers. Like to the point that she had to shut her blog down AND MOVE.

    I personally have also received supremely hateful comments on my post about how I switched from vegan/vegetarian lifestyle of thirteen years to the GAPS diet (probably the most opposite of a vegan/veg diet that you could get), citing gut health reasons. So I feel like vegans get a bad rap because there are some scary ones out there haha (just like with anything, I suppose).

    At the end of the day, I realized I just needed to do me. I needed to do what I felt was best to find optimal health for me. I know that the GAPS diet and my current diet (nothing special, whole foods, grass fed meats, organic veggies/fruits, little to no processed foods) doesn’t work for everyone, and what others follow likely won’t work for me.

    However, it’s so funny you write this because I literally have a draft post in my blog folder called “Can you be a healthy vegan or vegetarian?” A truly click-bait title, I admit, but basically I just wanted to share what I did (or rather, what I didn’t do) during my 13 year vegan/veg lifestyle so as to help others not make the same mistakes I did which I believe lead to really poor gut health, arthritic issues, acne, and more. I don’t have the balls to hit publish yet because I know some people won’t get it and I’m not ready to deal with that backlash yet, but maybe I will once I hash it out a bit. Essentially, I was a lazy, naive vegan. Part of it was that I was really young and just didn’t know better. Part of it was that I saw a lot of factory farming videos and watched a bunch of documentaries (some of which had a lot of propaganda that I didn’t recognize at the time). And, if I’m being honest, a bigger part was that I just wanted to be skinny, and…. if I’m being truly honest, saying, “I’m a vegan” was like a socially acceptable way to say, “I’m restricting what I eat.” (Again, my story, and I know this does not in any way represent other vegans. Remember – I was young and naive.) Anyway, I didn’t know anything about nutrition, how the body works, how our bodies digest foods in their various states, etc. I essentially just cut out meat and replaced it with “meat-like” soy-based products. Or I had beans, either out of a can (yikes) or un-soaked and quickly cooked (double yikes). I was a shitty vegan, I admit it. Sugary cereal for breakfast with “milks” full of sugar (great for my inflammation levels, haha) and carrageenan (there goes my gut!), zucchini “noodles” for lunch, a snack of trail mix (raw nuts, I recently learned, can deplete your body of micronutrients as they’re super tough to digest unless sprouted), and maybe a salad for dinner. I was seriously under-eating, not eating food in a form that was easily digestible, and I was easily fooled by marketing and wound up buying processed “foods” simply because they were labeled vegan.

    I know you live and breathe wellness and health and have been a vegetarian for a long time, so obviously you know your stuff and are feeling amazing – and that is wonderful. I’m so happy for you – and I hope this long comment (sorry!) doesn’t offend – I truly do not mean it to – I just mean that for me, I sucked as a vegan/vegetarian, and I know that a lot of people don’t have the luxury of nerding out on health/nutrition stuff all day like you and I do (full time blogger perks!), so my hope in that post that I haven’t yet published, was to just encourage people to really look into how to properly prepare foods, how to eat enough given the dietary limitations so that they have enough energy, how to make sure they’re hitting their micro and macro nutrient levels so they can feel their best, and how the body’s digestive system works so that they don’t make the same mistakes I did.

    There’s a great book coming out this week called Vegetarianism Explained by Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride which will be addressing all these issues in a super scientific yet easily understandable way (at least, that’s what I’ve heard). I’m looking forward to reading it. I don’t personally intend to go back to the vegan/vegetarian lifestyle, but I am supportive of everyone on their own path towards finding optimal health and wellness. <3

    • Oh my gosh OF COURSE you didn’t offend me—-thank you for taking the time to write this!! I’ve talked to so many people (you now included) who were vegan/vegetarian for a while and have gone back to eating meat for various reasons and I’m all for that if it makes you feel better. I think listening to our body and how it feels and reacts to different diets/lifestyle choices/etc. should be our number one guide in our individual health journeys. I feel great eating how I do now but am 110% open to incorporating more animal products back into my diet if ever down the road I feel chronically fatigued, weak or sick. That’s another reason I hate to label my diet–I think of it as a fluid thing, not a fixed set of rules. That book Vegetarianism Explained sounds awesome BTW–going to look into it! 🙂

  18. Caitlin says:

    I’ve been vegan since 2013, and just lately have dropped the label, although I have zero interest in the consumption of animal products because I have just gone so long without them they’re now super foreign (and gross)(oh and with so many great veg products on the market there is absolutely no reason for me to want to choose otherwise). The things that’s struck me the most as a plant-based eater are the comments I get from people who eat more of the Standard American Diet. Things I would never say to them and judgement I would never pass, and yet it’s okay (but not really) for them to say it to me, and still vegans as a whole are generalized as being super combative and extreme. Quite honestly it’s always been the other way around, at least from my experience. I follow the rule of, if you want to know more…you can ask and I’ll share openly and kindly, otherwise you do your thing and i’ll do mine.

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