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Is my vegan diet causing memory and focus problems?
November 23, 2008 3:22 PM   Subscribe

My diet is almost totally vegan. I can no longer think straight and my memory is getting worse all the time. I'm struggling to regain mental clarity and control. I'm not willing to give up veganism. But I need solutions.

For the last three years I've been practicing a vegetarian diet that is almost totally vegan. I occasionally eat dairy and egg products when other people cook for me as a concession to the difficulty of cooking vegan without experience. That, and I love cheese.

My decision to practice a mostly vegan lifestyle is morally motivated by my feelings about animal treatment. So I don't plan to ever go back to eating meat or fish of any kind. And more and more I'm cutting out dairy and eggs as I prepare more meals at home and seek out vegan friendly restaurants.

The problem is that I've noticed that my mood, mental clarity, and energy levels are poor these last few years. And I noticed the same thing when I was vegetarian about 10 years ago, but my diet was quite loaded with bread and cheese back then, so I figured that accounted for it.

I can read the same paragraph 5 or 10 times before realizing that my mind was elsewhere the whole time and I don't remember what I've read for the last few pages. The feeling that comes with this is the same thing all day long in all activities. My days end up being like a scattered random series of events that I'm in control of, but don't always remember initiating.

My memory has gotten so poor that I can watch a movie that I saw just 6 months ago and absolutely know that I saw it and remember scenes after I see them happen again. But I can't remember anything about what will happen for the rest of the movie at any point. In my programming work I struggle to remember the names of functions and the structure of the framework I'm using, or the code I've written already. In the past I used to be able to remember whole stories in great detail and keep complex programming structures in my mind while I worked on them.

I'm in my head all the time.

My Diet:
I currently take Omega 3 supplement in the form of Flax Seed Oil with added vegan source EPA. I have a spoon full of Lecithin daily, usually with pulpy OJ that makes the lecithin granules almost disappear. I take a high quality but low dosage whole food vegan multi. I take a B complex. And occasionally I take C, B5, Magnesium, and Zinc supplements also.

I have about a cup a day of Soymilk and tofu maybe once a week. Though that will likely increase soon since I just got a Soymilk Maker to save on costs. I'm a little worried about all the contriversy about Excessive Soy consumption.

I do eat a lot of bread, and consequently a lot of Gluten and high starch food. A friend of mine only buys "Sprouted grain bread" saying that it doesn't have the same tiring effect on her after eating that more refined and non-sprouted grain breads do. That stuff is very expensive ($4 or $5 a loaf) though, so I haven't tried it at home.

Due to not living near a good source of fresh foods and usually eating single course meals, I don't eat a lot of greens or other fresh veggies. I eat cereal for breakfast every day. And I eat a lot of dishes with beans and rice. Usually it's black beans or chick peas. Onion and green pepper are about the freshest I get with veggies.

I drink about 6 beers a week (one or two at night occasionally) and a few times a year I might actually get drunk. I drink about 3 cups (8 oz)of coffee per day mostly to keep from getting withdrawal headaches and because I like the taste. I don't think it helps with my clarity. It may even hurt.

My activity levels:
I work from home and almost never leave except for shopping or dinner with friends.

My exercise habits are that a few times a week I'll do a few sets of push ups and maybe sit ups. I stretch almost every day. And I walk my dogs in the yard a few times a day for 5 or 10 minutes. I haven't worked up a sweat in months.

Stress:
I sleep well most of the time, getting about 8 hours a day on average. My schedule is mostly consistent but I take naps occasionally when feeling particularly down.

My business has been crushed by the real estate economy the last few years and the stress has been overwhelming at times. The business hasn't gotten better yet, but I've settled into a pretty constant stress level. My lack of energy combined with the stress often leads me to feel depressed and hopeless.

What I try already:
I've taken the strategy of isolation from friends and family and even business associates in order to combat the growing challenge of mental distraction that seems to consume entire days and weeks with almost nothing to show for accomplishment. In the process I've given up my personal homes, my vehicles except for an old van, and most of my possessions like my tools. I've broken up with two good girlfriends and resisted new relationships from forming. Thinking about all that adds to the feeling of depression. But if I regain control of my mental clarity, I expect it will be worthwhile and recoverable. And I'm not much help or fun to be around when I'm stressed and scatter brained anyway.

I'm at my most clear when writing something like this or writing to a friend or in my journal. But it's incredibly time consuming. I limit my writing so I don't end up doing it all day long.

I've dabbled with Meditation, but as with exercise I've lost focus to develop the habit and it's a rare thing for me to sit still doing nothing unless I'm going to sleep.

I have almost no emotional content to my feelings lately. I'm holding on to sanity for the most part. But the days are passing and I'm aging with nothing changing for the positive in my life. I only keep going on the hopes of something more interesting being around the corner. But daily motivation to do anything is such a struggle that it's seeming less and less likely I'll get over the hump to that more interesting life I've enjoyed in the past.

The major potential factors I see as being responsible for what I consider borderline schizophrenia and severe memory loss are Lack of Exercise, missing nutritional elements, and stress.

I'm trying to fight the stress by simplifying everything in life and removing the distractions so I can focus better and get back in control of my daily life.

I'm trying to satisfy my dietary needs while staying vegetarian, but there's so much conflicting information out there that it's confusing and I may be missing something critical.

Exercise is probably the area I have the most trouble with. I just never have the energy to "feel like" doing it. I know it's sort of a chicken or egg argument. But I find it so incredibly boring that it takes a ton of motivation to get me to even spend 5 minutes working out. And the whole time my mind is screaming out to be doing something productive instead.

The challenge:
I almost hate to waste the time of readers here with all of this. I feel like I already answered the question of how I can improve my clarity and get my brain back. Diet and Exercise. Just do it. Stress will take care of itself if I take care of myself... But there is obviously something missing. Every time I try to do something, I do it once and the next day I forget, or don't feel like it, or get distracted by something new to try.

How can I become consistent in doing something that works? What mental perspectives may work well enough to stick with this rattled brain long enough to develop good supportive habits? Are there any quick fixes in diet or otherwise that may help in the mean time?

Thank you.
posted by davathar to Health & Fitness (63 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
I am not a doctor, and you might want to visit YOUR doctor with a run-down of the memory and mind problems you have been suffering. Lots of things can cause these, and a doctor can help.

That said, vegan diets are often deficient in Vitamin B-12. Try supplementing with extra B-12 and see if that helps. A B-12 deficiency can cause fatigue and mental fogginess.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:26 PM on November 23, 2008


Listen, with what you're describing to me, it sounds like you should go to your doctor immediately, as in this very second. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.
posted by Electrius at 3:30 PM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I have to say that most of the research on social connection and isolation would suggest that you have it the wrong way around - that you will become sharper of mind (as well as happier) if you increase the amount of interaction you have with other people. It makes intuitive sense to think that isolating yourself from people would leave you less open to distraction, but it doesn't work that way because your thoughts just rush in to fill the vacuum. De-isolate yourself.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 3:32 PM on November 23, 2008 [6 favorites]


Your vegan diet isn't doing you any favors (not because it's vegan, but because it's really incomplete) - but I think your diet might be the least of your problems, and that you should see a doctor and describe your situation just as you have for us. Since you've already taken the time to outline your health concerns, I'd suggest printing your question out and taking it with you - a doctor will be able to help.
posted by moxiedoll at 3:34 PM on November 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


Are you sure you're eating enough?
posted by HFSH at 3:36 PM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think you need protein supplements. Yes, everyone telling you to see a doctor is correct, though I don't think this is an "EMERGENCY ROOM NOW" situation, but I've known plenty of people on restrictive diets that have ended up with symptoms similar to yours, and it turned out to be lack of protein (and possibly lack of iron). One started eating fish and seafood, another started drinking smoothies with extra protein. Try that, and do see a doctor, but try that while you're waiting to get into your appointment.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:42 PM on November 23, 2008


Given that you've lived with this for years it's probably not imperative that you see a doctor immediately without trying to first improve your lifestyle in ways you've admitted to already.

I'm not a doctor either but I think you're probably suffering from a bit of depression leading from relatively poor diet and too much time alone and/or in front of the computer. I'm not a vegan but I get similar symptoms on the (albeit rare) occasions when I haven't been exercising AND I haven't been eating terribly well.

Try that, but also get some blood work done to make sure something isn't physiologically wrong.
posted by jimmythefish at 3:42 PM on November 23, 2008


I nth the "print this out and go see a doctor" suggestions, but thought I'd add that what you're describing sounds a lot like what some friends of mine went through before discoverng that they couldn't process gluten. That's only a suggestion. Go see a doctor.
posted by nímwunnan at 3:47 PM on November 23, 2008


If you're vegan and you only eat tofu once a week and don't eat much in the way of vegetables, what are you eating? I agree with the posters above who've said your diet is deficient, not because it's vegan but simply because it's deficient. I think you need to eat more food, more fat (avocados are a great vegan source of fat) and I think you might need to drink more water. I feel fuzzy-headed when I'm dehydrated.
posted by kate blank at 3:49 PM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's your diet - I've been having similar memory problems and mental fogginess, and I eat differently than you do. I'm going to see a doctor about it sometime soon (if I don't forget). I've been pretty socially isolated as of late (lots of exams and such) and I do think that this might be contributing it to it. So I think it's definitely worth having a professional examine you.
posted by god particle at 3:50 PM on November 23, 2008


I'm not going to say "eat meat" because I think it's possible to eat vegan and be healthy

But if you're going to make that decision, you have to take some responsibility. You eat a small amount of protein - not as much as you need. You don't eat a lot of vegetables. Eating beans is good, but not enough - it sounds like your entire diet revolves around bread. It's no wonder your body isn't working.

It's true there's a lot of conflicting information, but you're not even following the info everyone agrees upon: eat a lot of fresh vegetables (and fruits). And honestly, almost anything sounds better than your current diet. Go see a doctor and a nutritionist and sort yourself out.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:51 PM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I eat a primarily vegan diet (let's say I "cheat" every couple of weeks on a slice of pizza while drinking or such) and if anything, since being vegan, I would say it's made my head clearer and more in touch with my emotions. So I don't think it's our diet. Well, I think it is your diet, but not so much that it's vegan -- I think you need some dark green veggies and you need to eat more, period. (And cutting back on the gluten/grain may help quite a bit.)

But I also think seeing a doctor would be a very good idea. You sound more than a little depressed, which I think is probably the cause of memory/focus problems. And if you're depressed, you may not realize that you are hungry and your body isn't getting what it needs.
posted by darksong at 3:52 PM on November 23, 2008


First off, you're not wasting the time of the readers here. We're gluttons for your kind of punishment. ;)

I have to tell you that your post put me in mind of this essay (please disregard the ostentatious buy-my-bookism of the site).

Basically, if you are so focused on a restrictive diet that your quality of life and social interactions are starting to suffer, that sounds a lot like "orthorexia nervosa". Not that you're trying to starve to death, as in anorexia, but that you're so concerned with eating "right" that you're doing your body some harm.

I think seeing a doc is probably a good idea. Best of luck.
posted by Sublimity at 3:57 PM on November 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


http://archives.starbulletin.com/1999/11/19/news/story4.html

No idea if this turned out to be true or not, but if you're a guy you might want to cut out the soy milk.
posted by rr at 4:02 PM on November 23, 2008


Nthing seeing a doctor, but also get out of the house regularly. Find something, take a class, join a group. You aren't getting any mental variety and stimulation. And try to get some real exercise, as well. Try walking your poor dogs a mile or so a day, if they're young and healthy and well-socialized.

You actually sound depressed, but I am not a doctor and a doctor will need to check other things.
posted by dilettante at 4:02 PM on November 23, 2008


Please see a doctor.

It might be the diet, or it might be something else.

A good doctor should be able to help you with a diet that respects your convictions.

On the flip side, please value your own life, of which there is only one, more than the lives of "animals" of which there are millions, and millions more to come.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 4:06 PM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


(Do you smoke lots of weed? Because the kind of fog you mention can come from that, too, and if so this would be a really good moment to cut back.)

Anyway, here's my take on things:

First, your health and sanity trump pretty much all other ethical issues. You can't help anyone (or the planet) if you are too damaged to help yourself. And I had a bunch of vegan friends back in the day who gave themselves real health problems by eating really restrictive diets. It's not that you can't be healthy eating vegan, but it takes a lot of work and attention; being a "junk food vegetarian," which is pretty close to your situation, is a seriously unhealthy way to eat.

So I would strongly suggest that -- as a temporary experiment -- you put some fish/red meat/eggs back in your diet ASAP (and ideally some salads, too). That will ensure that you are getting more calories, more iron, more fat, and more protein, along with loads of trace minerals and so on, than you are now. Set the ethics aside for the moment -- the goal here is just to get you back into fighting form, as it were. Once you are feeling good, then you can get your diet in line with your morals, but right now I don't think you are doing yourself any favors.

Second, I completely agree with the above people saying that your isolation strategy is counterproductive. Exciting things happen with human interaction -- we are intensely social creatures, and sociality feels good.

Third, you need some more movement in your life. I'd suggest (unless you have mobility issues) just starting with walks around the neighborhood, maybe with your dogs if they like walks. Fifteen minutes twice a day is a lot more than you are getting now, and if it feels good all you have to do is make it twenty minutes, or half an hour. Personally, I get a lot of productive thinking done while walking, because I'm absently looking at trees and gardens and cars on the street, and my brain is free to make connections and come up with solutions to problems. (Carry a pen and paper if you worry about losing those ideas before you get home.)

Fourth, I agree that seeing a doctor is a really good idea. I don't think you need to call an ambulance and go to the ER, but a visit to your primary care physician, or a good free clinic if you don't have insurance, might be able to make some connections between the issues you are facing that anonymous (but well-meaning) people on the internet might not.
posted by Forktine at 4:07 PM on November 23, 2008


rr - soy has been eaten by many cultures for a long time without noticeable mental effects. While anything in excess can be potentially harmful, I don't think that scaring the OP off one of his (or her?) only sources of protein through hearsay is necessarily a good idea. A cup of soymilk a day is hardly excessive, and anyway, it sounds like there are much bigger problems with this diet than that.
posted by you're a kitty! at 4:13 PM on November 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


I know you're supplementing your diet with the B-complex, but these symptoms sound like a potential B12 deficiency. These deficiencies can occur in people who include animal products in their diets, too, so it's not necessarily just due to being vegan.

If you can see a doctor, you should. Many B12 deficiencies are not due to a poor diet, per se, but due to a lack of enough intrinsic factor in the stomach to properly absorb the nutrient. A B12 deficiency can cause neurological damage. You should at least rule it out first.
posted by peggynature at 4:23 PM on November 23, 2008


You described me 100% when talking about your cognitive issues with memory and attention. However, if there is an opposite of vegan, that's what I am. So your diet may or may not explain it, but probably isn't helping anyway.

But if you ever deal with your memory and attention issues let me know - it's a total pain in the ass.
posted by falameufilho at 4:27 PM on November 23, 2008


Get a B-12 test -- I think that even if you're in the low end of the "normal" range, you should probably get b-12 injections. Good news - they're not very expensive.

Since you're foggy, I'll tell you what a doctor probably would: you'll likely be prescribed a series of _six_ monthly injections. They're little and easy, and again, not expensive.

I know all about this because I'm doing it. I do believe that the B-12 is helping my cognitive processes, also.

Get the B-12!
posted by amtho at 4:28 PM on November 23, 2008


In case you don't know this already - B-12 is the one vitamin that's not present _except_ in animal sources, so strict vegans can often lack it. A deficiency takes a while to show up, though, since your body stores a lot of it.
posted by amtho at 4:29 PM on November 23, 2008


What you've outlined is very disturbing to say the least, given that you've had progressive mental function decline over the past few years and have yet to seek relevant medical attention.

You sound like a great candidate for Korsakoff's syndrome as you seem to eat mostly refined grains, and probably drink more than you self reported.

Perhaps you should put aside your ideaology on eating for the moment, and make a serious effort to fix what has been chronically degrading your mental function these past years. Or did you not realize that what you're experiencing is caused by potentially irreversible damage to your neurons and glial cells?

Oh almost all your lifestyle choices are risk factors for early onset age related cognative decline. See a doctor and make your health the #1 priority of your diet instead of saving animals you have only an imaginary relationship with as you sit in front of a computer all day.
posted by zentrification at 4:29 PM on November 23, 2008


Go and see a doctor. Any bread heavy diet is no good at all. There is no need at all for bread really.
posted by fire&wings at 4:42 PM on November 23, 2008


B-12 B-12 B-12 - The side effects of a b-12 deficiency are exactly what you described. Odwalla chocolate shakes are made with soymilk and have 100% of your daily b-12 - for an increase in your intake that tastes good... (I still think you should go to a doctor NOW).

Also, you really can't be vegan and not eat vegetables! Eat them! I have always been a picky eater and didn't like very many vegetables, but when I went vegan I made the effort and have grown to love them, and I eat a huge salad just about every day. You are NOT overeating soy, IMO. But you are not eating enough vegetables.

Go see a doctor! You can try veganism again when you are healthy.
posted by SputnikSweetheart at 4:43 PM on November 23, 2008


vitamin b12--we need it, humans are omnivores and the only natural source of it is meat.

i would also go to a doctor and get a referral to a nutritionist. if you are deeply committed to a vegan diet, then you will have to get help to stay healthy. if you cannot maintain a healthful vegan diet (which you do not currently have), you'll either have to change your shopping habits--make the effort to go to another neighborhood and stock up on fresh and frozen vegetables--or change your diet.

it's admirable that you care so deeply about animals, but restricting them from your diet at the cost of your own health makes no sense at all. at least consider reintroducing eggs and dairy into your diet, and maybe even fish. (even if you disagree with aquaculture, at least fish have tiny brains and probably don't suffer as much.)
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:44 PM on November 23, 2008


Also - many doctors are very anti-vegan and may not look past that to the true causes of your health issues... many cities have directories in local, vegetarian/vegan papers that list vegan-positive nutritionists and doctors. I would say, at this moment, your vegan diet isn't doing you any favors, but you want a doctor who will, instead of just saying "Eat meat" go into the real causes of your problems.
posted by SputnikSweetheart at 4:48 PM on November 23, 2008


Ask a friend for help. If you have a friend who cares about you and that you trust with this kind of thing, ask them for help with accountability in sticking with your decision to take better care of yourself.

The best situation might include mutual accountability ("I've done my X, have you done your Y?"). Reminders and, to a lesser degree, accountability, can be done through apps and widgets and what-not, but ignoring those can be rationalized away much more easily than ignoring a committed, adaptive human.

If you try this, choose wisely (maybe a family member you're close to?) and don't let resentment/feelings of being nagged build up. Stay aware of the fact that you asked for the help.

While a doctor is probably a good idea, things to try might be varying your stimuli more (more time outside, even if it's just taking longer walks with your dogs) and eating more fresh fruits/veggies. Even supermarket produce is better than no produce.

Oh, if you're working form home, make sure you differentiate between work hours and personal hours.
posted by itesser at 4:51 PM on November 23, 2008


I'm a vegetarian when eating out and a vegan when eating at home. My mental and physical faculties are considerably sharper than they were when I was an omnivore. Being vegan is irrelevant to your situation. Eating shitass food and sitting around on your ass are what your problem is, imo.

As for exercising, what worked for me was to join a boot camp. I had had gym memberships and exercise videos/equipment before but never used them. I joined a 3-times per week bootcamp for $200 a month where other people not feeling motivated to exercise gathered with me and two personal trainers who led the class. After 2 months and 12 pounds lost, I now continue to exercise on my own as I enjoy it because I was shown how to do it correctly and have seen its benefits. Had I not joined the camp, I'd still be fat and miserable.

Same goes for diet. I used to be a bread and cheese vegetarian way back when. I solved the problem by taking 3 cooking classes which showed me that cooking really isn't that hard. I now regularly buy cooking books and throw vegan dinner parties.

In short, I'll be the doctor who you complain to when you do something that hurts and he says, "well, then don't do that." In other words, stop doing the nonsense that you know is the problem. Every minute of your life you have the chance to change and EVERY action you take is a choice of your own choosing. Accept that--don't just admit it--and start making proper choices.
posted by Manhasset at 4:53 PM on November 23, 2008


Wow. I didn't expect so many responses so quickly. Thank you all for the input!

In response to the many doctor recommendations, I did see one about two years ago and then again a year ago for this. He did blood work and found everything to be in normal ranges including Iron and B vitamins. The next visit he said again that I need to exercise more and prescribed adderol to see if it helps with focus. It made me feel like I drank a pot of coffee every day for a while and that had an effect, but I wouldn't call it better focus. I tried different dosages for 2 months like that and then broke the habit because the side effects were rough and I was seeing no real benefit.

Different doctors may offer different suggestions. And I may see another one soon if I can't figure this out. But I've never had much faith in doctors for this kind of thing. I'll probably seek out a nutritionist instead if it comes to that.

When I say I eat a lot of beans and Rice (good protein and probably plenty of it by most standards), I should add that I usually include some tomato based sauce, spices, healthy oils like olive or flax, and some kind of vegetable like carrots or broccoli or spinach. Granted, veggies are a small part of my diet, but I'm definitely getting enough calories. Bread is in my diet from toast, cereal pasta and other normal things that I ate just as much of when not vegan.

As for social isolation, I tend to agree that the stimulation of human interaction would be healthy. But I just don't have the energy or money for it right now. I am living out in the country far from a city and right now all I want to do is finish some projects that I've been putting off for years. That's what I've dedicated this winter to. And I'll be very disappointing in myself if I don't accomplish it.

I feel like I smoke lots of weed. But no, I haven't. I'm slightly overweight at about 5'10 and 185 lbs, but most people would consider me fit in our culture.

The suggestions to worry about my health first and distant animals later are all well intentioned I'm sure. But when I made the decision to give up meat, I knew the risks and did a lot of research on proper vegan diet. I have no interest in going back to meat again as I did 10 years ago. My decision to avoid contributing to the poor treatment of animals simply requires that I find other solutions.

The b-12 shots seem like a good idea. I had forgotten about that option.

I appreciate all the responses so far. It's showing me that perhaps this condition I feel myself in is a bit worse than I can tell from inside of it. I am worried about this continuing to degenerate.
posted by davathar at 5:04 PM on November 23, 2008


I don't eat a lot of greens or other fresh veggies

Any happy vegan will tell you that these are the centrepiece of any healthy vegan eating plan. So that's the first thing to fix, right there.

I am not vegan, but if I go through a few days of can't-be-bothered making stir fries or soups or salad, my mind goes to mush. Christ only knows what I'd be like after three years of that.

Due to not living near a good source of fresh foods

Make your home a good source of fresh foods. Tomatoes, zucchini and lettuce are dead easy to grow in pots. Mung beans are dead easy to sprout. Start growing and regularly eating those, and I guarantee you'll feel better than you do now.
posted by flabdablet at 5:12 PM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Coincidentally, I have for the last two weeks been altering my diet to include many more fresh vegetables than before, and I've noticed a distinct improvement in my ability to focus. No other changes in my regime, so that's what I'm putting it down to.

It certainly can't hurt... no doctor in the world is going to tell you to eat fewer vegetables.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:24 PM on November 23, 2008


Apropos the b12 thing: if you used to be a meat eater or a lacto-ovo vegetarian, it takes a long time - years - to run down your stored levels. It is perfectly possible for you to have had reasonable levels two years ago, and low levels now.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:26 PM on November 23, 2008


Your vegan diet is pretty weak. In fact, I'd call it terrible. Vegetables need to be the largest part of your diet, not the smallest. If you did proper research on a vegan diet, you already know that you need to be eating lots of different kinds of leafy green vegetables, whole grains, and a variety of legumes and nuts. Frozen vegetables and fruits are just as nutritious as fresh. Red Star nutritional yeast provides B12, but natural sources of calcium are also necessary for your nervous system. You'll also need to spend time in the sun for vitamin D and eat kelp or other seaweed for iodine (or table salt).

Supplements are not the answer. You need to eat a variety of whole foods and stop messing around with pills if you want to be healthy. I've known many vegans who have gone vegetarian because they felt weak and stupid, even though they ate pretty well. So you have to really put your research to work and eat a varied and complete diet if you want to be a healthy vegan.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:30 PM on November 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


Granted, veggies are a small part of my diet, but I'm definitely getting enough calories. Bread is in my diet from toast, cereal pasta and other normal things that I ate just as much of when not vegan.

I highly doubt this, and doubt even less that you're getting enough nutrients from your current diet. You need dark, leafy greens, and tons of them. Try keeping a food diary for a day or two to see how many calories you're actually consuming and to observe the actual food patterns in your diet.

I'm slightly overweight at about 5'10 and 185 lbs, but most people would consider me fit in our culture.

Slightly overweight and completely sedentary wouldn't really qualify for anyone's idea of fit, and I'm a believer in the Health at Any Size movement. In fact, your doctor suggested that you exercise more and it doesn't sound like you're doing it.

The suggestions to worry about my health first and distant animals later are all well intentioned I'm sure. But when I made the decision to give up meat, I knew the risks and did a lot of research on proper vegan diet. I have no interest in going back to meat again as I did 10 years ago. My decision to avoid contributing to the poor treatment of animals simply requires that I find other solutions.

Remember that you, too, are an animal. It sounds like you're suffering, physically and mentally. Treat your body with the kindness and compassion that you would offer other animals. Take care of it. I don't know that this will necessary entail giving up Veganism, but punishing yourself, and your body this way doesn't do anything to decrease the amount of suffering in the world.

As for social isolation, I tend to agree that the stimulation of human interaction would be healthy. But I just don't have the energy or money for it right now. I am living out in the country far from a city and right now all I want to do is finish some projects that I've been putting off for years. That's what I've dedicated this winter to. And I'll be very disappointing in myself if I don't accomplish it.

You're not going to accomplish anything if you're malnourished and isolated and completely unable to focus, to boot. Your physical, emotional, and mental needs are important--they're the necessary basis on which we build successful lives. I'm sorry if this is harsh, but you really need to realize the importance of taking care of yourself on a fundamental level. That supersedes any "project", really.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:38 PM on November 23, 2008 [6 favorites]


As for social isolation, I tend to agree that the stimulation of human interaction would be healthy. But I just don't have the energy or money for it right now. I am living out in the country far from a city and right now all I want to do is finish some projects that I've been putting off for years. That's what I've dedicated this winter to. And I'll be very disappointing in myself if I don't accomplish it.

I'm as guilty of this as you are, and I realize it's tough, but I think you're shooting yourself in the foot or overlooking the big picture here. It sounds like your focus issues are really getting in the way of accomplishing things. Spending some time/money on human interaction and exercise (maybe both at once, if you find the right situation) will likely help you be less depressed, more alert and more productive. Think of it as sharpening the saw.
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:50 PM on November 23, 2008


I drink about 6 beers a week (one or two at night occasionally) and a few times a year I might actually get drunk.

Also, try cutting back on the nightly beer and see if that helps. It's not really the best thing for mental clarity, particularly if you're not eating enough.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:59 PM on November 23, 2008


Due to not living near a good source of fresh foods and usually eating single course meals, I don't eat a lot of greens or other fresh veggies. ... Onion and green pepper are about the freshest I get with veggies.

Everyone, whether they eat meat or not, needs to eat plenty of vegetables every day. Vegetarians even more so. And vegans as much as anyone.

Stop nitpicking about which vegetables are "fresh" enough. Just eat vegetables, any vegetables. Any grocery store has to have a produce section. If you really don't live by any store with a produce section, get canned or frozen vegetables.

Buy a good vegetarian cookbook for ideas about how to prepare them. (Deborah Madison's book -- recommended in that thread -- is vegetarian but usually shows how to alter the dishes to make them vegan.) Master the (very easy) art of sauteing veggies in olive oil with onions and/or garlic + spices and/or herbs.


I currently take Omega 3 supplement in the form of Flax Seed Oil with added vegan source EPA. I have a spoon full of Lecithin daily, usually with pulpy OJ that makes the lecithin granules almost disappear. I take a high quality but low dosage whole food vegan multi. I take a B complex. And occasionally I take C, B5, Magnesium, and Zinc supplements also.

I have no expertise in nutrition, so this is just a wild guess, but look at the above paragraph. Isn't it a bit ridiculous? Whatever happened to FOOD? You know, plain old fashioned ingredients like fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, olive oil. I'm not against vitamins or supplements, but it seems like you're trying to use them to cover all your bases, and in the meantime you've forgotten to EAT FOOD. As a human being, you should be eating large amounts of food every day.

Full disclosure: I'm a vegetarian and am skeptical of veganism.

And I'll add, as a vegetarian: trying to reduce cruelty to animals is great. I try to do this too. But if it means being cruel to yourself, it's not worth it. I have no doubt you can stay at least a vegetarian (if not a vegan) and work on your problems, but PUT YOURSELF FIRST. One of the components of being a good ethical vegetarian is setting an example for other people to show them: "Look, being a vegetarian/vegan works -- it's a bit of a sacrifice, but it's not that bad." Right now, you're doing the opposite -- you're showing the world that veganism doesn't work and is miserable. Realize that this severely detracts from whatever good is accomplished by being a vegan. You're one person who's a vegan, but you might inadvertently convince 10 people never to try veganism if you keep on going like this.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:03 PM on November 23, 2008 [4 favorites]


Just chiming in to say that I eat an almost-completely-vegan diet, and I have lots and lots of vegan friends. Some of the vegan people I know have various health issues just like anybody else, but I certainly haven't noticed any sort of trend towards ill health. It's definitely not the "vegan-ness" of your diet that's the problem - but I suspect that not eating any fresh veggies is a BIG problem! Get some frozen ones!

From what you describe, your symptoms seem very much in line with depression, rather than any dietary lack. But either way, you need to see a doctor.
posted by Cygnet at 6:28 PM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Protein deficiency and probable vitamin deficiency. Your diet consists of beans and rice, with the occasional green vegetable added in. You know who else eats like this? People in third-world countries--who cannot afford anything else and are dying of starvation and vitamin deficiencies because of it.

The protein in beans and rice is not complete. It does not contain all the essential amino acids. It is not difficult to eat vegan--just eat like you do, a diet of cereal and bread and soy milk. It is difficult to eat vegan healthfully, and it requires a lot of nutritional knowledge and cooking skills. You are a pretty shit vegan and you need more vegetables, less grains, and some form of protein supplementation, whether it's tofu or some other soy product. You don't really have the luxury of worrying about soy, dude.

I mean, you say you've given up your homes--are you living out of your van due to your veganism? Is your resistance to buying more vegetables and eating sprouted grain bread and less Wonder Bread really worth abandoning your homes and social life? Wouldn't the extra couple bucks for Ezekial bread and some money on frozen broccoli be an improvement?

People say it's not your diet, because they eat vegan and they're fine--but I bet they're not living primarily off of beans and rice. If you want to be vegan, be a competent one. Otherwise, you're just literally killing yourself off to "save the animals".
posted by schroedinger at 6:28 PM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Jaltcoh: You make an excellent point about setting an example for other people to try vegetarianism. In the last few years several of my friends have eaten less meat as a direct result of my influence and the education I've shared with them. One girlfriend went fully vegetarian after years of complaining how much of a pain vegetarians are to have dinner with. And I feel horrible that I may be setting a poor example for more people.

Some minor points to other responses:

B12 is naturally occurring in a soil microbe that animals eat. But humans wash off our food. That's why we only get it naturally from animal sources. It's included in all multivitamins and b complexes, but doesn't absorb well when taken as a supplement. I don't know why they haven't figured out how to make it absorb well. Iron is similar but not as bad.

The supplements I take are really just to "cover the bases" like you said. But I try to get most of my nutrition from food. I am just not too good at it yet. I agree that I could eat a lot more frozen or even canned veggies. I just haven't taken the time to learn yet. When I lived in the city until August, I was eating out often enough to get more variety than the last few months.

I seem to have misrepresented how limited my diet is. I cook something from scratch just about every day. And I try new things all the time. I make Indian, Mexican, and Italian style dishes often. But most are based on a bean or grain with a sauce. It's what I like to eat and how I know how to cook. I realize I need to diversify.

But this topic is just about buried anyway. So I thank everyone who gave support, advice and the occasional prodding. Tonight I had homemade chili with rye toast. Beans, celery, onions, tomatoes and spices. That's pretty typical. But as I'm seeing more clearly, not good enough.
posted by davathar at 6:39 PM on November 23, 2008


davathar wrote: "B12 is naturally occurring in a soil microbe that animals eat. But humans wash off our food." Here is what the Vegetarian Society has to say about that...

Human faeces can contain significant B12. A study has shown that a group of Iranian vegans obtained adequate B12 from unwashed vegetables which had been fertilised with human manure. Faecal contamination of vegetables and other plant foods can make a significant contribution to dietary needs, particularly in areas where hygiene standards may be low. This may be responsible for the lack of aneamia due to B12 deficiency in vegan communities in developing countries.

... I am nobody's nutritionist or therapist. While I wish you good health and every happiness I have no specific advice for you beyond what nearly everyone here has said. And that is to print out what you wrote and take it to a medical authority. You will have more options if you seek several opinions from medical authorities with different backgrounds and perspectives.
posted by eccnineten at 6:55 PM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


schroedinger:
I owned a few houses before my business collapsed under the weight of too much debt while the market in my niche area dropped by about 40% from 2006 to 2008. I think I could have gotten out of the houses earlier if I had better focus to move faster and produce more income at the time. So it is strongly related. And thanks for reminding me of the name of that bread. I couldn't remember it. :-)

I rent. There isn't enough room to cook in the van.

I realize that I asked the question with a focus on my diet and only mentioned the other factors of stress and exercise as additional considerations. But I am a bit shocked that so many people, especially the vegetarian responders, indicate that my diet is so likely a cause of the current challenges. Prior to writing this, I considered my diet fairly well rounded, but that I was perhaps missing some critical thing like glucose intolerance or Iron deficiency or b-12 or whatever. I expected some suggestions along those lines.

Maybe it's just the tendency for people to read into things a bit that caused the strong responses. Or maybe I've been a bit blind. But I do know that I'm sick of not really living. I want this winter in the remote countryside to be one of growing strong again.
posted by davathar at 7:00 PM on November 23, 2008


I'm a vegan, and to be honest I've never experienced any ill health that could be reasonably traced to my diet. So to answer your question, it's probably your diet, but not necessarily your vegan diet. It's definitely possible to be a healthy vegan, but I think you need more help than can be fit into one metafilter post.

So: read up on nutrition. Please. You can get a wealth of resources just by googling "vegan nutrition." The basic rules are the same for vegans as they are for everyone else, though: consume a lot of fresh vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains. It's not particularly hard if you know what you need, nor is it impossible to do on a budget if you have a little creativity and a good cookbook or two.

Also: you mention depression, which in my experience can mess with your mental acuity too. The coping mechanisms you seem to be employing - staying in, not getting exercise - go completely against the conventional wisdom about treating depression. If it's at all possible for you, consider getting help for that in conjunction with eating better and taking better care of yourself in general.
posted by AV at 7:00 PM on November 23, 2008


You also might want to make sure you're getting enough sunlight.
posted by amtho at 7:09 PM on November 23, 2008


I've been vegan for 8+ years, and recognise some of the symptoms described - lack of concentration and mental fatigue - but I've lived a sedentary life with too much smoking and drinking for as long as I've been vegan, and blamed my decline on that as well as my personality.

I started eating tofu and fresh greens three to four times a week six months ago, and took up running with the C25K program, and am now both smoke-free as well as the shit as far as mood and energy goes. "the shit" as in a good thing, btw. I'm as healthy now as I've ever been, and with better mood comes more enthusiasm, and so on.

I do bloodwork anually and had low-but-within-normal results for B12 last time around, everything else looking dandy. Actually going in tomorrow for another checkup.

Previously my diet contained more pasta & rice, with plenty of lentils and beans. I still eat that but try to use whole grain pasta and wild rice, and add more greens (whatever is cheap / in season) and forgo bread as a staple. (unless it's smothered with Marmite or peanut butter) If you're still eating eggs I guess protein might not be a problem, as I think it was for me, but it needs to be subbed if you want to go vegan, and you could do worse than adding tofu.

Depending on your disposition, alcohol might be bad for you - if you drink 1-2 beers every night you might have an addiction problem - but as far as quantity goes you're nowhere near my level. Apart from crushing hang-overs, I haven't noticed any lasting side-effects of alcohol on concentration and mood. (I'm sure there are brain cells that would disagree though) Of course, YMMV.

I'm generally not a jolly person and become depressed every now and again; I wouldn't exclude the possibility of a dietary connection (lack of testosterone, for example) but I chalk it up to an "artistic family trait" more than anything else, since I've had such moods since raw-meat-eating teens.

As an experiment, skip the coffee and use caffeine pills instead. At least on me the effects are widely different, and I actually feel "normal" on 400mg caffeine in pill form, but only jittery after the same amount in coffee; Pills work, coffee doesn't. If you like the taste you could always wash the pills down with decaf.

Join a vegan cooking circle, invite your friends for dinner (You buy & I fry, if you're poor) and meet a nutritionalist; Check out C25K - it's not for everyone, but you seem to fit the bill quite well. Get on SSRI meds or somesuch to get out of your own head for a while, this could all be a depression and the diet incidental. SSRI is a vacation away from your worries, literally, and might be the thing for you.

Your seclusion from friends and fear of others isn't helping you much - yes, if you're vegan you'll get shit from people the moment you catch a cold or get dizzy, suck it up - so I'd recommend you to start the hell over. What were you eating and doing the last time you felt fine?

Animal rights are a cause worthy of sacrifice, but unless you do the vegan thing correctly you're either gonna get dissuaded and quit, or mess yourself up. I really don't want another link to an sensationalist article emailed by my mother - god bless her omnivorous heart - about depressed vegans ending up in vans.

Good luck.
posted by monocultured at 7:12 PM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


But this topic is just about buried anyway. So I thank everyone who gave support, advice and the occasional prodding. Tonight I had homemade chili with rye toast. Beans, celery, onions, tomatoes and spices. That's pretty typical. But as I'm seeing more clearly, not good enough.

It doesn't seem buried at all to me. You asked "Is my vegan diet causing memory and focus problems?" and the general consensus has been yes, your diet probably is, and yes, your vegan diet might be.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:39 PM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Strongly: the focus on your diet isn't helping you. Most people are answering with responses about your diet, because that's how you framed the problem, but your problem is likely not completely dietetic. I agree that the diet you're eating isn't well balanced. But I also think it's a red herring.

There are so many classic indicators of depression in your self-description that I think you should have a doctor evaluate you for it ASAP. Yes, diet can certainly be a factor in causing depression; but depression is also, likely, a factor in your lack of willingness to learn about and plan a complete diet - and it can certainly masquerade as the same symptoms a poor diet would cause (lack of energy, lethargy, weakness, foggy brain, inability to concentreate) without actually having anything much to do with your diet.

And an inadequate diet in combination with depression would make you feel...well, exactly as you feel.

Read your words below, distilled into a list. You're experiencing:

  • isolation from friends and family and even business associates
  • the growing challenge of mental distraction that seems to consume entire days and weeks with almost nothing to show for accomplishm[ent.
  • loss of] personal homes, my vehicles except for an old van, and most of my possessions
  • broken up with two good girlfriends
  • resisted new relationships
  • thinking about all that adds to the feeling of depression
  • I'm not much help or fun to be around
  • I have almost no emotional content to my feelings lately.
  • I'm holding on to sanity for the most part.
  • I'm aging with nothing changing for the positive in my life.
  • I only keep going on the hopes of something more interesting being around the corner.
  • daily motivation to do anything is such a struggle that it's seeming less and less likely I'll get over the hump

    That stuff is depression - pure and simple. Whether or not its cause is partially nutritional or not is beside the point - it needs to be treated. I count a couple of major life changes, a few serious disappointments, some financial worries, and a general lack of self-interest and interest in life among your complaints there. It's serious. You shouldn't have to feel this way, and at some level, I think you're willing not to - because you're seeking a solution. But, honestly, I don't think the solution is completely your diet. A nutritionist experienced with veganism could probably be of help in planning a diet with you that would cover your nutritional bases - but I think that will end up being just one prong of a successful multi-pronged approach that may include exercise, monitoring, journaling, meds, changes in routine, and/or therapy...depending upon your care providers and what they think.

    So yes - go to the doctor and bring this list. Keep an open mind. You may be identifying a problem as nutritional that is really global in scope, and very important to an improved quality of life for you. Don't start with too narrow a frame; don't assume you know what the problem is, or that any of us here know what the problem is. Talk to a pro.

    Good luck, hope you can take action very soon to feel better.

  • posted by Miko at 8:02 PM on November 23, 2008 [9 favorites]


    Have you ever been tested for anemia? Something to think about if you're having energy problems.
    posted by answergrape at 8:05 PM on November 23, 2008


    Sorry for your health problems. I have no idea what is causing them - sorry! It could be diet, it could be something else entirely. It sounds like you already have a lot of good ideas to improve your general health, which could very well help mitigate the symptoms you describe.

    I would like to register disagreement with the premise of this discussion, which is that a vegan diet can be as healthy as a meat eating diet if you're careful.

    I think that's right backwards. There are far more known negative health effects associated with diets heavy in meat and/or dairy than there are associated with vegan diets. As Cygnet says, quite frankly, you have to be just as careful to eat a balanced meat/dairy as you do to eat a balanced vegan diet! You should feel great about being vegan, not nervous - by being vegan you've lowered your risk for a whole host of diseases that afflict hundreds of thousands of people each year. Personally I think you're going overkill on the supplements, but it probably won't hurt you, just lower your soluble $$.

    And btw, beans + rice = plenty of essential amino acids. Please don't fall for the protein myth. If you eat a varied diet, which you seem to describe, protein is NOT something you need to worry a lot about.
    posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:06 PM on November 23, 2008


    Have you been screened for depression? The lack of exercise and human contact could make anyone depressed. Have you seen a therapist?

    Also, it really sounds like you are malnourished. It sounds like most of your diet consists of starches, which is just not healthy for anyone. Even beans have more carbohydrates in them than protein.

    Are you at least eating frozen vegetables? These can often be better than fresh vegetables, since they are frozen at their most fresh. Try and make it so that at least half your plate at any given meal is covered with veggies.

    As for protein - if you live in the country, could you find a small farm where you can meet the farmers and see how the animals are treated? Maybe you could buy eggs from them? You don't have to support Big Ag to get a bit of protein in your diet.

    A good friend of mine who was vegan went through something very similar. She was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, was sick for almost a year, and saw lots of doctors, to no avail, until she saw a great homeopathic nutritionist who got her on a regime of leafy greens, eggs and sprouted grains. She made a complete recovery and is finally back to her old self.

    And yes, you really just have to make the time to get out and see people. Your long-term wellbeing is more important than any project, especially if you think your symptoms verge on schizophrenia!
    posted by lunasol at 8:07 PM on November 23, 2008


    But I try to get most of my nutrition from food. I am just not too good at it yet. I agree that I could eat a lot more frozen or even canned veggies. I just haven't taken the time to learn yet.

    Cool. There's really nothing to learn, though. Go buy a can of corn or peas or whatever you like and eat it.
    posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:10 PM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


    Sorry for commenting again (or not commenting right the first time) but I can't stop thinking about you. This worries me:

    What I try already:
    I've taken the strategy of isolation from friends and family and even business associates in order to combat the growing challenge of mental distraction that seems to consume entire days and weeks with almost nothing to show for accomplishment. In the process I've given up my personal homes, my vehicles except for an old van, and most of my possessions like my tools. I've broken up with two good girlfriends and resisted new relationships from forming.


    I cannot believe that a healthy person would *choose* to isolate from friends and family in order to be happy. If you did - that is the wrong choice. What seems more likely is that you have found yourself distanced from family and friends and you are retroactively justifying it by saying that it's good, that you can get more done without them. We humans need relationships - it's absolutely vital. More vital than B-12 and amino acids (and we need those, too). It seems like things have been falling apart for you, and that for you to see these fruits of depression as Deliberate Actions will just push you further and further from a happy and *truly* productive life. Which is why - as I said - you should see a doctor. Not just because your diet is subpar (which it is, and which can vicious-cycle with your depression) - but because you are not thriving on any level, and your situation is such that things can get worse and worse.
    posted by moxiedoll at 8:28 PM on November 23, 2008


    The diet might be part of it and still not the whole story. Stress and depression and so forth can start from something small and build on themselves until they seem out of proportion to their initial causes. As for diet, it can't hurt to eat better than is strictly necessary, just to be safe. Seeing a nutritionist might be a good idea because as far as I can tell nutritional requirements and reactions actually vary across people. But for the rest of it... I think there's no way to deal with it except trial and error. If you want to try medication, try something for depression instead of ADHD. When you say you're clearest when writing things like this, which nobody's going to grade you on and you're sort of doing for fun (in a way), that suggests that depression or pressure really might be the main problems. About exercise, there are a lot of different things you can try. Just going for a walk is a time-honored and non-frivolous activity, and swimming is good for drastically taking you out of your usual perspective for a bit. But there's no way to know what'll fit you. Therapy might be good; if it's hard to even make it regularly to appointments, there are books that might at least be a start. (The Feeling Good book keeps getting recommended here.) You forget things, but don't beat yourself up about it. You're sick, someday you will be better. Be encouraged at the things you do remember. If you don't finish your projects but end up less stressed at the end of the winter, that's a winter well spent. Can you make this be your project?

    Easier said than done, I know.


    Feel better.
    posted by trig at 8:42 PM on November 23, 2008


    I suggest eating more spinach and other green, leafy vegetables. Spinach by the bag is cheap and its easy to make salads with.... Rice and beans are good for protein... Maybe try rice milk instead of soy... in general eating a "balanced" diet, even if it includes the occasional meat and dairy product (although unnecessary) is better than an unbalanced vegan diet. Try to reduce your gluten intake. Your daily stretching and light exercise seems pretty good, but break a sweat doing something at least once a week.
    posted by senorpuma at 9:16 PM on November 23, 2008


    In response to the concerns over my isolation, I've always been somewhat of a "loner". I usually have one or two close friends and spend most of my time alone. I've usually been quite satisfied with my alone activities. Though I also highly value time spent with my good friends. My very favorite activity is probably staying up late having a deep conversation with someone on the same wavelength. The feeling of connection is great.

    Many people have said that my decision to isolate myself this winter is ill chosen if depression is an issue. That may prove to be true. And I can certainly attest to occasional feelings of wanting to go out and be with a friend in the last few months. But that feeling passes quickly. I write to an old friend who now lives in China or to another who lives in my last city or to an ex girlfriend, and I experience a bit of longing to see them in person, but also satisfy the need to connect a bit. And I didn't mention it specifically, but I live with a family member and while the conversation is rarely what I would call a connection, I'm also not alone.

    The isolation was a choice specifically out of incredible frustration that I couldn't seem to get anything done in my work with all the distractions of the office where I worked until a few months ago. And also to significantly limit my expenses so I could go for a while with zero income until I finish this next phase of work. I currently live 4 miles from a town with a population under 2000 in northern state. There is no noise from neighbors, no one else in the office to bug me with questions ever half hour, no phone ringing, and the kitchen is downstairs.

    It's boring as hell and I can't wait to get back to living in a city again. But it's my winter 2008-09 experiment to see if living a minimalist lifestyle in the peaceful country with almost zero responsibility can help to reduce my stress and internal distraction enough to allow me to find clarity again.

    So far it's not working so well. I agree to improve my diet. I'll be visiting family for the holiday this week and I'll make a point of including lots of veggies in my meals. I'll even get over my disgust over the comment every vegetarian gets of "I'm sure they have salad" and I'll start eating salad. I actually enjoy it. I just have gotten in such a habit of single course meals/snacks that I rarely make one.

    I also have just made a schedule for exercise and started it tonight. I will break a sweat every day in some way.

    I don't think I will go to a doctor or any professional unless those simple things have no positive effect. Finding one in this area is too much a challenge and I don't really have the budget to pay for medical advice right now.

    To help with perspective, I'm not suicidal. I'm not even unstable. I'm just incredibly frustrated with my lack of ability to focus on my work and a little afraid of long term consequences of memory loss. I'm in my 30s and have accomplished and lost lot already. I'm licking my wounds in business. I'm taking a break from socializing. I'm attempting to regroup and remedy my internal challenges.

    Yes, I agree that depression is quite likely something I would be diagnosed with. They might even toss in a few other diagnoses. But where do you draw the line at for a condition to be worth involving a medical professional? Do you go to the doctor for the occasional sinus infection? Or tough it out unless it becomes pneumonia?

    The depression isn't new these last few months, and it isn't serious. Like many have pointed out, there have been a lot of problems and stresses lately. Those are passing. Let far more needy people tie up the doctors.

    I pride myself on my independence. I don't mind asking for advice and I often get a lot of value from it. I also value the advice I could get from a professional. That's why I saw a family doctor about this twice already. I just don't think it's time yet to see another doctor.

    This is my method of dealing with the challenges. I'll take the feedback you all have given me and make a few adjustments with the help of some printed out checklists to help me remember. And I'll monitor my results.

    Thank you all again. It's hard to respond to your suggestions without agreeing to them all when I know how well intended they are. But like many have mentioned, I can't fully describe all the factors in this medium. A professional could get a much better grasp in person. If I think it has gotten that far, I'll find one.
    posted by davathar at 9:33 PM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


    Seconding Miko.

    Exercise, sunshine, getting good human interaction/contact at least every day (and smiling, waving, seeing another friendly person stranger or not, at least 5 times a day).

    I don't know if it's your diet, it looks like depression.

    Still, diet stuff - quit the coffee for a bit. Depending how much bread you have, drop it, wheat etc and have more pulses & vegies for a bit (just to make sure your diet isn't too refined grain heavy).
    And yeah. Unfortunately, I know a lot of people who after a few years, have had problems with vegan diets. There's a high rate of 'relapse' to vegetarianism. As in, yeah, it could be a dietary deficiency that has built up over time.

    But honestly, I don't think it's your diet as much as your lifestyle. Y'know, moderation in everything? And balance? People who produce better, tend to have more time set aside just for play, for exercise, for socialising. It allows them to function better.
    I'm trying to keep this in mind myself, because it's true.
    posted by Elysum at 9:36 PM on November 23, 2008


    But where do you draw the line at for a condition to be worth involving a medical professional?

    When you are functioning at a low enough level to interfere with your ability to work and to have relationships. When it gets bad enough that you ask strangers for advice.

    The depression isn't new these last few months, and it isn't serious.


    Depression's always serious in that it robs its sufferers of productivity, energy, and progress in their lives. If it isn't new, that's all the more reason to treat it - you've been underfunctioning for a longish time.

    Let far more needy people tie up the doctors.

    Doctors aren't a limited good; your seeing one doesn't take away someone else's opportunity to see one. I understand that dealing with the medical profession can have its frustrations, but you pride yourself on your independence, you're capable of doing your own research, and you're an advocate for yourself - even here. So you could certainly navigate a relationship with a doctor, and there are solutions for primary care help if you haven't got funds right now.

    One thing depression makes you do is rationalize your negative choices - "It's too much trouble, other people are in worse shape than I, I'm not worth it, it wouldn't help anyway, I'm sure things will get better when ____ happens..." It sounds like you are an old hand at doing this.

    There are a lot of things you can do on your own - personally, I swear by exercise as it dispatched my episodes of depression quite quickly, and without meds. But I was consulting a doctor as part of my self-treatment, and the doctor kept me responsible for monitoring it. You don't have to accept any treatments you don't want, but keep in mind that getting assistance from professionals, medical or otherwise, is more than all right and it doesn't mean you're not independent - precisely the opposite, it means you act responsibly and in your own interest when you need a professional's perspective to take care of yourself.

    I honestly think you don't realize how bad it is, or how bad it has gotten, and are perhaps numbed out and used to feeling this way. So here's my suggestion. You're reluctant to get professional help, but you feel you can put yourself on a program of improved diet and exercise and see whether that helps. Great. So the key part for you is to establish a timeline. I think it would be reasonable to expect an improvement in mood from excercise and improved nutrition within 2-4 weeks. Pick a date 2-4 weeks from tomorrow. Each day, at the same time of day, assess your energy and mood. Maybe twice a day. Write it on the calendar. Use a 1-10 system. How do you feel on Monday, November 24? Morning: 3. Afternoon: 5. Something like that.

    If, after your established time has elapsed, you don't see a significant improvement in mood, then that would be the point at which you fulfill your promise to seek help. You've given your self-treatment plan time to work that way. If it has worked, great, hopefully you've recovered some energy and are well on your way to healing by keeping up those self-maintenance efforts. If not, though, stop stalling and just get the help. Save yourself time and save the love and energy of your loved ones who are probably concerned about you.
    posted by Miko at 9:56 PM on November 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


    But most are based on a bean or grain with a sauce. It's what I like to eat and how I know how to cook

    And that's all fine - and it sounds like stuff that would and should go really well with a fresh garden salad, as soon as you've established your pots of fresh garden. Once you've got four or five different kinds of lettuce growing, you will find that you can just tear a leaf or two off the outside of each plant every night, and that's the base of tonight's salad The more open lettuces like cos and red oak leaf are much better for this than the closed-head kinds like iceberg.

    Spinach, silverbeet and parsley are also good cut-and-come-again crops that respond really well to regular harvesting of outer leaves. When you harvest parsley, take the whole outermost branch - break it off right at the main stalk.

    Parsley, chopped fresh tomato, lemon juice, olive oil and a little soaked cracked wheat makes tabbouleh, which is delicious and nutritious and more-ish and easy.
    posted by flabdablet at 3:10 AM on November 24, 2008



    in general i think people who are healthiest and happiest are living in moderation... ie they spend some time alone, some time with friends, some time exercising, some time eating a wide variety of foods (not saying that has to include meat, but a diet that includes the same thing over and over isn't ideal for health) etc.

    although i understand the romantic idea of living out in the country, focusing on work and getting a lot of shit done, i am certain that if i were to do that i would feel sad and lonely and demotivated and isolated within a short period of time.

    granted, i'm an extrovert, but studies have shown that physical contact with other people is important to health. not saying you should take somebody home from a bar or make shallow friendships for the sake of having a friend, but i don't consider it healthy to not interact with other people regularly either.

    if it were me, i would continue leading the same work-focused life during the week, but on weekends i would take a train/bus/drive to a city. while there i would exercise in a class led by an instructor. i too find a lot of forms of exercise incredibly boring, but things like yoga, martial arts, swimming, certain sports, etc. are more interesting to me because there's something to learn and do vs. running in place like a hampster on a wheel. plus some of those things are things you can practice at home after an instructor teaches you the basic technique. then i'd do some social stuff centered around my interests. i'm sure you're interested in more in life than just being vegan, but as an example i'd join an online group of vegan people and go to their weekly dinner/brunch meetups or something.
    posted by groovinkim at 12:22 PM on November 25, 2008


    I was pretty much on a vegan diet for a couple years. At first I felt good, lost weight, felt empowered by my new diet. Then, for no apparent reason, my body just started freaking out. And I mean I was eating HEALTHY. Lots of veggies, almost no wheat or processed foods, plenty of proteins from nuts, hummus, beans, etc. Then my body just couldn't take not eating animal protein anymore. I was thin and fit, but I felt horrible because I just wasn't consuming the right kinds of foods. I realized my body felt much better with higher body fat. (It was hard to gain weight back as a woman, but worth it in energy levels). Even adding back eggs wasn't enough for me, I started eating meat and dairy again in moderation and I just leveled out after awhile.

    I don't think this is the answer to your depression, but I am certain that when your energy levels get that low, your body is giving you major signals to change something. Some bodies and lifestyles do fine on vegan diets, most people don't, especially if you grew up a meat/dairy eater because your body really adapts to animal protein.
    posted by Rocket26 at 5:35 PM on November 27, 2008


    It sounds like with your diet aside, you may have depression. Depression isn't often regarded as seriously as it really is. I come from a family where depression is a rampant mental illness and I've seen it enough times to know that Depression alone, with diet and living habits aside, can decrease your memory, tear you away from social circles, and leave you feeling helpless. In addition to asking you to see a doctor for the nth time, I would ask you to see a psychologist too, who can hook you up!

    My sister, for example, is the epitome of someone who eats healthy and who gets more than enough exercise, and yet she still suffers from memory and social problems. As Hendrix said, Manic Depression is a frustrated mess.
    posted by BettyBurnheart at 9:41 AM on December 6, 2008


    I thank everyone for the replies and helpful advice. I realize that I framed the question rather tightly and that may have inaccurately portrayed the problem I was dealing with. I do try to watch my diet closely, but other factors were likely more at play here.

    I am feeling much better after basically taking a month off from doing any meaningful work and just relaxing and thinking about life. I was somewhat depressed when I started this thread and through exercise and taking the time to regain perspective, I've gotten out of it. I've still got work to do on developing good habits for my overall well being. But I'm back to more of my normal self and not so cloudy in the head.

    Some study of Buddhist teachings and a lot of quiet time in reflection played a large role in my being able to relax. And I am now a lot more secure about getting back to being the productive member of society that I've been for the last 15 years. In fact, I intend to do a lot more this time around.

    Most importantly, I'm setting out on a path that I intend to enjoy in it's own right. My goals are motivated by the excitement I expect to have in accomplishing them and the impact I think they will have in the world. Money now plays it's largest role only in how it is needed for some of the business activities I have planned.

    Thank you again.
    posted by davathar at 4:28 PM on January 2, 2009


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