Eating Pain: Can a Vegan Diet Improve Mental Health?
Well, I’ve toyed with posting this story for a while, vegan pals. I’ve been mildly apprehensive mostly because the subject matter is heavy compared to the fart jokes & protein powder recipes I usually post. 🙂
Although I am an “ethical vegan,” I really do pride myself on NOT being the preachy, supremecist type. There’s nothing wrong with the strongly-opinionated activist vegans. I simply prefer to inspire rather than preach. And I’m lucky that my vegan bodybuilding adventures allow me to do just that!
All this being said, I am, of course, STRONGLY against the mistreatment and death of my animal brethren. And I was intrigued to speak with Vancouver-based vegan psychotherapist Linda Dame about how eating animals translates into eating their suffering.
It is Linda’s professional opinion that by consuming the slaughtered animals’ “pain,” meat eaters are thereby creating an unhealthy mental state for themselves. Kinda trippy eh? And yet, it makes perfect sense…
Today on the blog, I’m sharing an excerpt from a paper Linda wrote titled “Eating Pain: How a Vegan Diet Improves Mental Health” and I’d love to know YOUR opinion on the topic.
Also, I’d like to take this opportunity to officially introduce Linda Dame as my new, in-house Jacked on the Beanstalk vegan psychotherapist!
Yes, Linda will soon be the go-to vegan expert behind a regular contributor post titled “Ask Linda” where she’ll answer all kinds of personal questions on vegan health and eating disorders to mental clarity and body image issues. So if you have any questions for her, please do send ’em on over!
And now, without further ado, I bring you Linda’s first editorial exclusive: Eating Pain & How a Vegan Diet Can Improve Mental Health. Take it away, Linda! 🙂
We have all heard the expression; you are what you eat. But have you ever heard the expression, you feel what you eat? I didn’t think so, and that is because the science behind the connection of a vegan diet and mental health is in its infancy. The physical benefits of a vegan diet are vast and are becoming more and more understood and well known. This is good news for the animals. We are only just beginning to expand our awareness beyond the binary of the medical scientific model that bases results on manipulating variables and quantifiable numbers, not subjective experience. However, as more and more understanding of the connection between mind and body develops, so too does the connection between what we choose to eat and what we feel. This is the exciting and expanding new area of health: the mind/body connection taken another step further into cellular science, and it is an awe-inspiring terrain.
What are emotions?
Everything we see, hear, touch, smell, and even feel emotionally is first a chemical reaction. The idea that love is a drug is not a new one. Perception is an interpretation of chemical information. Light waves come in contact with our retinas and a domino effect of catch and release travels along our nerves and across the synaptic gaps in our brains, telling us, in the form of neurotransmitters, what we are seeing and how we feel about it.
This is why and how anti-depressants work. Serotonin, for example, is one of our “feel good” neurotransmitters. Pharmaceuticals can be used to artificially flood our brains via a pill and therefore make us feel good. Another way we can alter emotion is to block the chemical clean-up after a flood. We can block the re-uptake of serotonin, the clearing away of the excess, and force it to hang around and linger, therefore giving us more time to milk its happiness-inducing properties.
All emotional reactions, whether pharmaceutically manipulated or not, are first and foremost chemical reactions.
Do animals feel?
All mammals share the same neurotransmitters. This is unfortunately one of the justifications researchers use for animal experimentation. The differences between animal and human brains lie not in the chemical compounds available, but in the structures of the neural tissue and how pathways are developed and utilized.
Has your dog ever looked embarrassed when caught stealing a cookie? Does your cat get mad? These are absurd questions to any pet parent but in the realm of science they are too often disregarded as gross anthropomorphisms. Of course animals feel. Of course they sense enjoyment and they form bonds and of course they sense fear and pain.
When we feel, and by “we” I mean all mammals*, there is chemical residue stored in our bodies on a cellular level. We are quite literally all that we have ever felt and experienced. Our histories are held in our tissues as chemical compounds. This is why stress can kill. The emotional interpretation of our worlds changes us significantly and permanently.
When what we know about the chemical deposits of emotion is applied to the slaughter industry, we can easily begin to understand how eating death is not only killing us via the myriad of physical health-based arguments (and there are many) but it is also killing our happiness, our experience of freedom, and our joy.
Eating cows, pigs, chickens, or any other animal, or anything they produce in an environment of fear, torture, and confinement is quite literally eating their terror, their pain, their sadness, and their despair. Their bodies hold their lives. Terror is like emotional styrofoam–it leaves an impact on its environment and it never ever disappears. This is one of the reasons Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can have such a long lasting effect, years after immediate danger has dissipated the experience of fight or flight can come rushing back as if the threat were imminent. The experience is still available on a cellular level.
The vegan answer.
Choosing to eat less or no animals or animal products immediately diminishes the amount of pain and anxiety someone ingests and therefore immediately reduces the amount of pain and anxiety felt. If you experience depression and/or anxiety in your life and you eat animals try a three month vegan experiment. Change nothing in your daily life except your diet for three months, eliminating all animal products, and then evaluate your emotional health. I guarantee you will experience movement towards peace and joy. I guarantee you will feel a closer connection to your spirit. And I guarantee you improved emotional health.
You have nothing to lose except perhaps your blinders.
-Linda Dame MEd, MSW RSW, lindamdame.com