From Women’s Health
There’s a joke vegans love to roll their eyes at: How do you know someone’s vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.
Sure, not every vegan is like that. But for vegan influencers like Yovana Mendoza, formerly known as Rawvana on YouTube (because she followed a raw vegan diet), that outspoken, often ride-or-die dedication to her vegan diet was not just her personal ethos–it was her brand.
“The vegan community tends to be very passionate,” says Yovana, who at one point boasted as many as half a million subscribes on YouTube (2 million on her Spanish language channel) and 1.3 million Instagram followers.
But that fervor can quickly turn against you—something Yovana learned after she was seen eating fish in a now-viral video posted by a fellow vlogger, resulting in a huge outcry from her followers. “I was in shock and felt confused and ashamed at the response,” she says.
It’s not unusual for vegans to struggle to stick to their strict diets, says Lisa Moskovitz, RD, the CEO of NY Nutrition Group. While it can be a healthy choice for some, restrictions can also lead to nutrient deficiencies over time, which can sap energy and weaken the immune system. A deterioration in health and well-being is often what leads people to ditch veganism, she explains.
But for the influencers who are making a living by preaching the benefits of their diet via YouTube videos, #sponsored Instagram posts, and books, the decision to quit veganism is tied up in so much more than their health.
Here, the stories of how three women decided to quit veganism, coped with the backlash, and found peace with their diets once and for all.
Yovana Mendoza, formerly Rawvana on YouTube, promoted a strict raw, fruit-and-vegetable-based diet she labeled “the Rawvana lifestyle” for years until she was busted in a 2019 viral YouTube video for eating fish.
When I was 23, I started thinking about my purpose in life. I knew something was off. I was drinking a lot of alcohol and smoking half a pack of cigarettes every day. I was addicted to caffeine, smoking weed, and taking anti-anxiety pills. I never really felt good.
I decided to go raw vegan in 2013 after trying a two-week raw food detox eating plan. I loved it and decided to continue eating that way for good. I started posting recipes on my blog that April and sharing YouTube videos in July and slowly started to build a following of people interested in the raw vegan lifestyle.
Going vegan changed my life in so many ways. I became conscious of how the foods I put into my body affected me, where my food was coming from, and how our food choices impact the planet. It became a big part of my identity. I took things to the extreme right from the beginning; I wanted to live up to the vegan label and be part of a community.
I was raw vegan until 2016, when I began to crave some cooked foods, and decided to listen to my body. I was very open with my followers and filmed my first cooked vegan meal for my YouTube channel. I received a bit of backlash, but most of the feedback was supportive. People know sustaining a 100 percent raw vegan diet is difficult.
I felt really good for the first five years I was a vegan. But around September 2018, I began experiencing symptoms of what turned out to be small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), where an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine causes malabsorption of nutrients and digestive issues. I was officially diagnosed in January 2019.
Anything I ate made me super bloated. I had constipation or diarrhea for days on end. I had no energy and slight anemia due to low iron levels.
My doctor told me I had a 30 percent chance of recovery if I stayed vegan and took antibiotics. Or I could adopt a SIBO diet, which is lower in fiber and includes some animal proteins. I went with the latter.
It was hard for me to admit veganism was no longer working for me. I’d put veganism on a pedestal, because I thought it was the diet that would save my life and the planet. But my health was not living up to what I was preaching.
I started with eggs in January 2019 and introduced fish a couple of weeks later, then chicken and meat a few months later.
In March 2019, I was on vacation in Bali with a couple of other YouTubers, and one of them posted a 10-minute video of us touring the country. Near the end of the video, the camera panned toward my plate at a restaurant. I tried to cover my food with my hands, but people quickly identified the fact that I was eating fish.
The backlash definitely hurt me. People called me a fake, a liar, and much worse, and filled the comments sections of my posts with fish emojis.
I think a lot of people felt betrayed and that I should have told them before I started eating meat again. But I wanted that space for myself without others commenting on my decision. I wanted to go through that process on my own to see if it actually improved my health first—which it did.
The vegan community tends to be very passionate, so they were loud. I get it. It’s their belief system. I was in shock and felt confused and ashamed at the response. But I decided to learn from this situation and grow, evolve, and reinvent myself.
I laid low for a month on Instagram and came back to YouTube four months later, after I changed my public name from Rawvana to Yovana. I’ve lost more than 120,000 Instagram followers since the video came out, but my YouTube channels are almost back to their original numbers posting videos about my favorite healthy smoothies and even non-vegan recipes. I believe I can help people even more now, after all I’ve been through. I’m so grateful for the amazing social media family that’s stuck with me this whole time.
It’s taken time to heal from SIBO. I still have a slight buildup of methane in my digestive system, and some foods are still off-limits. But my diet these days is pretty balanced.
People ask if I’m vegetarian or pescatarian, but I’ve decided I don’t want to put label on my diet anymore. I’d say that 80 percent or more of what I eat is plant-based. I’m a very intuitive eater. No foods are off-limits anymore, even grass-fed beef.
I believe in the healing powers of a plant-based diet, but I think every body is different. Our bodies are changing constantly, and it’s really important to adapt. Eating eggs, meat, and fish helps me to feel more balanced. I might consider going vegan again in the future, but not any time soon. I feel really good.
Alyse Parker rose to fame as a vegan Instagram and YouTube influencer. She shook up fans in March 2019 when she announced that she was eating animal products again.
I decided to go vegan about five years ago. I was 19 and in college, drinking and eating a lot of processed foods. I was in a dark place physically and mentally. I saw videos online about people embracing a raw vegan lifestyle and was inspired by how healthy and happy they looked.
Overnight, I went raw vegan and started doing meditation and yoga. I felt better within days. Over four and a half years, I ended up trying every possible form of veganism—high-fat, low-carb; high-carb, low-fat, you name it—to keep it exciting.
When I first became vegan, I looked to YouTubers for guidance and inspiration, so eventually I decided to start my own channel. Within three years, I had more than half a million subscribers and more than 200,000 Instagram followers. People turned to my channels for my “What I Eat In A Day” videos and my honest takes on all sorts of other lifestyle choices from smoking marijuana to growing out my armpit hair.
But over that time, I also developed some gut and digestive issues, like gas and bloating.
The last year that I was vegan I had fatigue, brain fog, and loss of appetite. I couldn’t focus or communicate. I was taking 15 supplements a day, but I was definitely under-eating for about six months because I didn’t have an appetite.
Blood work showed I was deficient in a lot of vitamins, like B and D, and I had low testosterone levels. I also had high candida levels, or fungal overgrowth, in my blood (a condition that’s more common in people who are hospitalized or have weakened immune systems).
I was finally inspired to reintroduce animal products after friends told me they’d experienced more mental clarity, and better healing from injuries after doing the same. I started with just eggs. I felt stronger and more clear-headed right away.
But when I officially announced to my followers that I was eating animal products again in March 2019, most of my fans were really upset. It was really hard. I lost 50,000 subscribers. People felt betrayed and that I was lying to them, and they uploaded at least 100 videos hating on me.
I chose not to read comments for the first week to protect my mental health, but I still felt nauseous and fatigued from the stress and anxiety. My mental state for the next six months was the worst it had been since I was a teenager. Changing yourself is hard enough. Getting bashed by hundreds of people on a regular basis during this personal transition added a whole new level of challenge.
The key to navigating the intensity of social media is having effective practices for emotional wellbeing. I started talking with a therapist and sought support from multiple mentors who I still consult with regularly today.
I didn’t post a response video standing up for myself for three months; when I did, I learned that a lot of people wanted to hear my side of the story.
I’m still really honest on my YouTube and Instagram channels (although I’ve lost about 30,000 subscribes on Instagram; my YouTube audience is still growing), but now I know that if my followers react negatively to something, I need to respond quickly. If I’m honest, and tell people how I’m trying to fix the things I’m struggling with, they respond well. They understand I’m just trying to optimize my diet and get healthier.
These days, I try to abstain from gluten and processed sugar, but I otherwise eat intuitively with a balanced omnivorous diet. I feel the best I ever have. On a typical day, I might eat a smoked salmon bagel with cream cheese for breakfast, a small salad for lunch, and sushi for dinner.
It feels really freeing, empowering, and healthy after years of extreme and restrictive diets to not constantly worry if food is hurting me. I’ll never rule out going vegan, but I have no desire to in the future. We’re all on our own journeys. We should be compassionate with each other.
Alexandra Jamieson is a chef, author, and former YouTuber who co-created the documentary Super-Size Me. She was vegan for nearly a decade, and authored three books about veganism before announcing her decision to quit the diet.
I decided to go vegan in 1999, when I was 25. I’d been getting very sick in my mid-twenties and was having migraines almost every day. My regular doctor just prescribed painkillers and Prozac, but I worried this was just masking my symptoms instead of addressing the cause of my issues.
I went to an integrated doctor who told me to cut carbs, sugar, caffeine, and fast food. I then began researching healthy eating and came across the book Diet for a New America. It was the first time I’d ever heard of veganism. I thought it sounded so healthy and good for the planet and animals, so I decided to try it.
Within two weeks my headaches were gone. The brain fog lifted and I had energy again. It really changed my life. I even signed up for a professional chef training program that was focused on 90 percent vegan foods. About a year later, I met my now-ex-husband Morgan Spurlock, who’s a filmmaker. Our conversations led to the 2004 movie Super-Size Me.
Nine years later, as Morgan and I were separating, I was stressed, and my health had deteriorated. I was exhausted and getting my period every 16 days. I craved meat. I remember going to dinner and salivating over a friend’s hamburger. I worked with a doctor and did all the things you’re supposed to do, like IV treatments and supplements. But my body was falling apart.
I went back and forth for over a year, eating meat secretly, then going vegan, then feeling exhausted and then eating meat again. I was torn. Physically, I felt so much better eating meat, but emotionally I was a wreck.
It was terrifying because my entire personal brand and career was built on being vegan. I’d written three books, Living Vegan For Dummies, Cooking Vegan For Dummies, and The Great American Detox Diet and had worked as a vegan chef and holistic health coach for nearly a decade. I felt like a fraud. I worried that I had endangered people by recommending veganism. But I finally decided to quit veganism altogether and announced my decision publicly on my blog 2010.
There was a lot of backlash. My email inbox was filled with mostly very angry emails from vegans. It was terrifying. It felt like I was targeted by cult because I stepped out of line. I lost a lot of friends, but not everyone.
A lot of vegans secretly reached out saying they had health problems but felt like they couldn’t tell their loved ones who were vegan. I joke that I became a vegan confessional booth. One woman told me she was having a hard time eating meat again because people have hurt her but animals never have.
Around that time, I learned through genetic testing that I had the MTHFR gene variant, which has been linked to difficulty absorbing iron, and I was chronically dangerously anemic. To this day I have to take iron supplement, but my iron levels are still really low. My doctor told me there was no way I could go fully vegan again.
Today, I’m an omnivore. I eat based on how I’m feeling. Sometimes that means eating steak or chicken liver pate. Sometimes I go vegan for a week or two.
Now, as a life coach, I help my clients find clarity about what they need to be happy and healthy. My viral blog post about quitting veganism eventually became the fodder for my fourth book: Women, Food, and Desire and my Her Rules podcast on iTunes, which is all about self-care and overcoming obstacles.
Food is a deeply personal and intimate thing. It’s a cultural identity and one of the main ways we connect with our family tribe.
When we change our food behavior, other people take it very personally. It helps to be very clear that your needs are important and your wellbeing is valuable.
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