PART I: BODY IMAGE ISSUES
When I was younger (13-16), my period wasn't an issue at all. I hardly even noticed it; no cramps, no back pain, super light flow, etc. When I became vegan at 16 years old, it stayed the same. Then I got into raw food when I was about 17 and - here comes the eating disorder phase of my life - I started getting really obsessive and strict about what I ate. I exercised for about an hour every day but thought I could survive on just a few pieces of fruit. I loved how it made me feel at first, but eventually I started becoming weak and getting constant head aches. I remember my mom being worried, my parents saying I had to eat more, going to school with just a sliced mango and strawberries for lunch and wishing I could eat what my friends were having. I became underweight and I stopped getting my period... for eight months. At the time, I was still in my "RAW FOOD IS THE ONLY HEALTHY DIET" mindset so I was happy to say goodbye to the uterus gunk and slight discomfort it's shedding brought every 28 days. Of course, I look back now and wanna slap myself in the face. Getting our monthly flow is a sign that our bodies are functioning normally. If your period stops - but not because you're pregnant - it is a serious red alert that something is wrong; usually it means that you do not weigh enough and/or you are not consuming enough calories. At this point, I still wanted to lose weight; I didn't think I was thin enough. Why? Because the bodies I wanted to look like were the photoshopped, perfectly toned ones in magazines and other forms of media. Read this post from Janurary 2012 where I try to hide my guilt about eating a sandwich. Yeah, it got bad.
Here it goes: the typical girl-with-self-esteem-issues-caused-by-society story. But that is exactly what it was. I didn't stop and think for a second that every body is different, and they are ALL EQUALLY beautiful as long as they are healthy. It took me a long time to accept that my ideal and healthy body weight doesn't look like all the women's on TV. I have learned that when I eat the healthiest I can, and live the best I can: my body is a bit curvy! Even though I am eating clean 99% of the time and exercising pretty hard almost every day, I am not particularly lean, I ain't got no thigh gap, and I have cellulite! SO WHAT. I love my body now, because it is the body that living well has given me. As long as you treat yourself right, you should love yourself no matter what you look like. Because at the end of the day the very specific body types we idolize are never intrinsically beautiful; they change with time and culture (a few hundred years ago, this was the epitome of beauty). Even now I sometimes wonder: what am I doing wrong? I eat all the right foods, I work out all the time... but I don't look like her! Then I remember that I am not doing ANYTHING wrong; human bodies simply vary as much as our personalities. Why WOULD every one of us have the same body? No reason, because there's this little thing called genetic variation. If every one of is lived the exact same lifestyle, we'd still all end up with different-looking bodies. It's nature, babe. So live healthy, eat enough (of wholesome, plant foods), get sweaty sometimes, and embrace whatever body that lifestyle gives you, because it's damn sexy. If this were the Renaissance or even the Marilyn Monroe days, the girls on magazine covers now would be trying to stuff their faces with cake to look like the bodies that were put on the pedestal at that time - curvy, busty women who had pasty cellulite on their asses. It would basically be the reverse of what is happening right now. At the end of the day: it's still just people trying to change their natural bodies to look like something they're not, because they think that whatever one type of body the media says is beautiful, is the ONLY one that is. Well that just ain't true. Am I saying that skinny people will always be skinny and "heavier" people people will always be heavier? No.
I am saying that whatever body a healthy lifestyle provides you with is your ideal weight and shape.
Celebrate it. Work it. Love yo-self. This goes for all humans because you better believe that men have problems with body image that are just as damaging. These days when I think about what beauty and sexiness mean to me, I think about ability and not appearance. I am one of the strongest, fittest girls I know, and I am pretty confident I am stronger than my male partner (we both agree, by the way). I can push my body to do half-marathons, one legged squats, push ups, and whatever else I want - and that is one of the best feelings as well as a major motivation for me to love a healthy lifestyle so much. Being fit - however that may look on your body - is freedom. I've moved past caring about what I LOOK like, now I realize all that matters to me is what I can DO with this gorgeous body.
It took me a fair amount of time (most of a year) to realize that losing my period and feeling weak all the time was not sustainable or good for me. I wasn't happy anymore. Gradually I began incorporating cooked foods like steamed broccoli and tofu back into my diet, WITHOUT feeling guilty about it. And eventually I was eating a normal, whole foods vegan diet again. I had gained back weight, had energy, and felt strong. This when my period returned. Unfortunately, it sucked. It came back more painful than it had ever been, with a heavier flow, cramps, and lots of back pain. I'd have trouble sleeping and I'd get headaches. I thought: "Dang, this must be what everyone else complains about!" I thought I was finally getting a regular period! Maybe not... It stayed pretty painful for about a year but I reflect on that now and realize that it was because that entire time I was in a very stressful relationship. Stress has a major effect on your hormones. When that relationship ended, so did the excessively painful periods. Now my period really IS normal; it lasts about 5-6 days, I can tell when it's coming because my lower back gets sore, the first 2 days I have back pain and crazy emotions, but after that it's smooth rolling, my flow is light and cramps are unusual. I guess you could say I have a healthy period, but it's on the light side, and I like to think this is because I eat clean and vegan. Processed foods like sugar and white flour can really eff up your time o' da month because they screw with your hormones. If you aren't vegan already but your period sucks, I would definitely recommend trying to eat more whole foods and see how that changes things.
I actually see my period now as a time to celebrate my womanhood and primal, fertile self. Many ancient cultures and tribes saw the menstrual cycle as holy and sacred, and when people were bleeding at their time of month, they were given special huts to meditate and reflect in (WHERE THA HECK DID THAT TRADITION GO, I ASK). I love to research what is going on in my body during this time. It's pretty darn amazing and I think all us should be proud of what we go through 12 times every year. But that's just the feminist in me speaking. If you went through the same lame sex education system I did, you probably have no clue what is goin' down during your period. Also - another feminist outburst - school doesn't teach us girl #$%& about our genitals, and the word "clitoris" in our society can be paralleled to "Voldemort" in the Harry Potter series: people are scared to say it. If you don't know where or what your clit is, PLEASE find out. It's gonna change everything.
PART II: STAYING VEGAN ON YOUR PERIOD
Here's what ya really came for. I am writing this post because when I am on my period every month, I sometimes will crave foods that are not vegan. Usually it's eggs, organ meats or chicken. Ew, right? Please don't hate me or freak out. It should go without saying that I would and will NEVER eat these foods. A meal is never worth murder or abuse. Duh. This why I am vegan. However, I can't deny that I DO get these cravings. I personally don't feel guilty because I understand it's a physical thing, not a reflection of a weak moral compass or anything like that. Clearly my body just wants something that those animal foods have in high quantities, but that doesn't mean plant foods don't also have that "something" my body is craving. Yesterday night, I REALLY wanted a plate of chicken. I thought it meant I needed protein, but eating a package of tofu did not sound appealing at the time. I recalled chicken - and meat in general - is high in iron. I added some Vega powder to my smoothie and ate some iron-rich foods for dinner and the cravings went away. Done.
My point is: when you crave non-vegan foods on your period, it is because your body wants whatever those foods are rich in. Usually it's protein, iron, or B vitamins. You know how we all go mad for chocolate when it's that time of month? That is because cocoa is high in iron and magnesium (but also because we want sugar to make us feel better... that is a whole 'nother story though). I always make sure to eat lots of dark - preferably raw - chocolate during this time. Cacao is even higher in iron and magnesium than cocoa. I honestly see it as a health supplement just like taking a vitamin in the morning. I also make sure to have a B-complex regularly. And I eat lots of protein! Beans, tempeh, tofu, Gardein products if I feel like it. If you are craving sweets, eat as much fruit as you want and make or buy dark chocolate, or make any of the raw vegan desserts I have on this blog. If you are craving eggs, dairy, or meat: take a B vitamin, and eat greens, tofu, beans, figs and nuts. Consider buying a nutritional supplement mix like Vega; it provides a terrific amount of iron, protein, B vitamins and so much more. Obviously getting this stuff from whole plant foods is ideal, but I see my period as a special time where supplementing really comes in handy.
That brings me to a very important point: I LISTEN TO MY BODY. I have made the mistake of trying to keep my normal diet while on my period, even though I really don't feel like it. What do I mean by this? My body is like: "Em, you aren't even hungry... just don't eat dinner!" while my brain is like "You gotta eat, girl! You always have a huge dinner bowl of steamed veggies and rice!" I have learned that listening to just my body works best while on my period. The last few cycles when I have been bleeding (including this one), I have had almost no appetite but am endlessly thirsty. So I drink as much water as I want, and have a smoothie for dinner instead of the big, lightly cooked meal I usually enjoy. But it's just as plausible that I could have a massive appetite, so in that case I would devour as much food as I wanted. Keep in mind drinking lots of water is important even if you aren't thirsty. And if you are hungry: eat as much as you want, but make sure to eat healthy food! Don't cram down processed junk but instead make a huge meal of lightly cooked veggies with whole grains, bread or noodles. Or whatever you feel like. If you are craving pizza: by all means, make a pizza! Buy or make a whole wheat or gluten-free crust, then top it off with a healthy vegan sauce and tons of veggies and dairy-free cheese. Seriously, whatever you are craving, there is a healthy vegan version. Just Google whatever it is with "vegan" in front of it. Vegan ice cream is a thing, and it's SOO GOOD. If you aren't hungry: I'd still suggest getting in enough calories to keep a stable metabolism for when your appetite returns. Smoothies, juices or soups are best for this because they don't take a lot of effort to consume.
Well, that wraps this up! Please comment on this post to let me know your thoughts or questions. Much love! Stay fertile, my friends.
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