I know people think that going vegan means you’re going to lose weight. I mean, how could a person possibly gain weight when there’s hardly anything they can eat? Lately, I’ve read something even more alarming than the (false) assumption that going vegan will make you thin.
The more alarming thing is that there are “vegan” bloggers who recommend the vegan diet for minimizing or getting rid of menstruation. Why? Because they think there’s something not right or natural about menstruation. It’s a sign of a “toxic” diet they say.
Freelee the Bananagirl is a vlogger on YouTube who follows a 100% raw vegan diet and touts as one of its benefits that she lost her period within one month of starting it. If a painful or heavy period is the sign of a toxic diet, then raw vegan is…you guessed it…clean! Raw vegan blogger Miliany claims that women and girls have been “brainwashed” to believe that losing their periods is a bad thing when, she says, a “non-menstruating body indicates the body is clean.” I’ve already blogged at length about why the whole idea of “clean” eating is a crock.
If you couple clean eating with this idea that menstruation, one of the most natural things in the life of many women, is somehow bad for you, then you can get some idea of how removed from reality the proponents of this type of veganism for this type of reason really are.
Loss of periods, also known as amenorrhea, is a symptom commonly used to diagnose the eating disorder anorexia nervosa. It’s just not medically sound to claim that periods are a sign of ill health.
Dr Jackie Maybin, a clinical lecturer in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Edinburgh, warns against changing your diet in an attempt to alter your menstrual cycle.
“It’s difficult to recommend a strict vegan diet without investigating hormone levels and endometrial health in these women,” she says of bloggers like Freelee and Milliany. “It’s likely that the complete absence of periods—amenorrhea—indicates that ovulation is not occurring and could have a significant negative impact on reproductive health.”
According to this post, Freelees post about using raw vegan eating to eliminate your period is extremely popular even though it was posted over 8 years ago. A more recent clip she posted about heavy periods being bad for you has had over 250,000 views.
I’m vegan. I didn’t lose weight when I became vegan nor did I do it to lose weight. I stopped eating animal products for ethical considerations having to do with the unnecessary suffering and cruelty towards animals that is a systemic issue in industrial animal agriculture. I didn’t lose my period when I become vegan and that’s a good thing.
Vegan is not necessarily about “clean eating.” And clean eating is not necessarily a healthy approach to eating. Indeed, it can lead to orthorexia, which is an eating disorder characterized by an obsession with “healthy” foods.
Medical opinion is that it’s not a great strategy to try to control or lose your periods by eating an excessively restricted diet.
Maybin warns that a very restrictive diet or excessive exercise can also lead to a condition called hypothalamic hypogonadism. “In menstruating women, the brain sends signals to the ovaries to produce hormones to regulate the endometrium. This results in ovulation and, if pregnancy does not occur, menstruation.
“In hypothalamic hypogonadism, the body assumes a state of stress and shuts off the signal from the brain to the ovaries. This reverts the body to a pre-pubescent like state, where pregnancy is not possible as the ovaries temporarily shut down and menstruation does not occur.
“If this state is maintained long term, women can have problems due to low estrogen levels, e.g. risk of loss of bone mineral density and osteoporosis.”
While she says that not enough research has been done to know exactly what effects diet can have on menstruation, it makes sense that a “healthy balanced diet”—i.e. one that does not excessively restrict certain food groups—is good for all women and their periods.
So while I’m not one to recommend against going vegan, I do recommend against adopting fanatical restrictions for the purposes of ceasing menstruation if you’re a menstruating woman.
Have you, like me, noticed an increasing tendency to co-opt the label “vegan” and use it as code for disordered eating?