Saturday, March 2, 2013


As you may have heard, Alex Jamieson -- vegan author, nutrition coach, and ex-wife of Super Size Me filmmaker Morgan Spurlock -- recently announced that she is no longer vegan.  I found her announcement, while disappointing, also heartfelt and brave, given the generally harsh response to ex-vegans by the vegan community.

Several years ago, I actually had an experience like hers, and, like her, I experienced these cravings for at least a year and gave a great deal of thought to the decision before I acted on them.  I had built an identity around being vegetarian.  I relentlessly debated whether giving in to the cravings would be a good thing, in terms of rejecting the rigid purism of a strictly vegetarian diet, or a bad thing, in terms of compromising my values.  Ultimately, I decided that the cravings were my body's way of telling me that I needed some meat, so, for that as well as for social reasons, I briefly became a poultry-and-seafood flexitarian. I found that I did not feel any better from eating meat, did not particularly like the taste of it, and in fact, did not like how I felt when I ate it.  I could not stop thinking about the fact that I was eating a once-living animal.  The cravings quickly gave way to disgust and guilt, and I became a vegetarian again.  I still feel badly about this brief lapse in my adherence, but perhaps it was necessary in order to recommit to my ethics.

That was, of course, my experience, and others' experiences may be different.  I cannot make the claim that no human being needs meat to be healthy.  All I know is that the even the most conservative authorities deem well-planned vegan diets to be healthful.

But Jamieson's experience raises a question, and it's a question to which I don't know the answer:  When are cravings telling us what our body really needs, and when are cravings lying to us?

I frequently have cravings for chocolate.  It's one of the reasons that I'm not fully vegan.  (I know dark chocolate is often vegan, but sometimes dark chocolate is just too much for me, and I crave a milder, sweeter version.)  I've heard it said that chocolate cravings indicate a shortage of magnesium.  But I take a daily multivitamin, and I recently had my nutrient levels tested and found to be within normal ranges.  I've also heard it said that chocolate cravings are really just sugar cravings in disguise, but I don't buy that.  There's definitely something particularly addicting about chocolate.

So, is my chocolate addiction just that -- an addiction?  Or is there something in chocolate that my body truly needs?  Are meat cravings just like chocolate cravings, or is there something more substantial to them?


  1. Great post!

    When I first became vegetarian, I had intense cravings for meat. It was miserable for a while but I waited it out and they eventually went away. I later realized that the problem was that I just didn't know how to eat a vegetarian diet. I had been cutting things out without replacing them with anything else. Going vegan was actually much easier for me because by then I knew what I was doing and how to find/make foods that I could eat. Since then I have cut many other things out of my diet simply for health reasons and I have found that (for me) as long as I make sure I am eating healthy foods, the cravings for unhealthy foods go away after a fairly short period of time. I don't know how it works for other people but, at this point, I can't even stand the thought of eating most unhealthy foods, especially animal products.

  2. I know what causes my meat cravings: drinking too much! :D

    Seriously, when I'm not overdoing it on the alcohol end of the food spectrum; and when I'm getting basically a good mix of proteins, starches, and veggies; I don't have the unhealthy cravings. I may have desires, but they're manageable. Kind of wistful "I miss X", and if I generally have a vegan replacement for X, I'm happy. Now whether I have the time/money/energy to go get VegX is another story (but living right next to a grocery store certainly helps).

  3. I haven't had such cravings since going vegetarian but, I consider myself very lucky in that. Bravo to you for being so honest about the struggle to stick with your ethics.

  4. I don't believe cravings are always the "body's wisdom" telling us we are missing something. Sometimes they are, sometimes not. Even if your body is trying to tell you something - are you reading it right? There are a lot of things in food. If you're craving chocolate, are you really needing magnesium? Or one of the hundred other compounds in chocolate? Or maybe you're just short on calories, which chocolate is also abundant in? Maybe your body is trying to raise your blood sugar levels?

    I also think there's strong evidence that the processed foods - especially sugars, processed flour, concentrated fats, intense salty flavors - trigger cravings in our body that are related to ancient systems that were designed to be good for us, but are derailed by modern foods. Maybe they were the "body's wisdom" if you live in a tribal society and all the sugar you can get is a banana you have to climb a tree for ... but they don't function that way now.


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