By Dr Tracie O’Keefe DCH, published in New Vegetarian & Natural Health magazine Winter 2001
When people ask me what are the psychological benefits of veganism they often want a packaged answer of statistics and authoritarian opinions. The answer, however, is much more self-evaluating, holistic and wider ranging. People become what they eat. What they eat not only affects their behaviour, but how they eat portrays their values, beliefs, and attitudes.
By veganism I mean not eating or using any kind of animal products. I’m sure many of you will recall Gandhi saying, “The health of a nation is reflected in the way it treats its animals.” Statistically veganism is the better option from a health point of view, but in a live fast-die hard society, why should it be a better psychological option?
Penny rang me up and asked if I helped people with bulimia and how long would it take to be treated. When I said around six sessions she asked why other therapists were talking about her staying in therapy for at least a year. I told her I could not comment, but I would say that I worked with feeding her mind via hypnosis and feeding her body with what it craved.
Alongside restructuring her memories of horrific child abuse during hypnotic sessions we also made a pact that she would do things differently for a while. All meat, chocolate, tea, coffee and sweet drinks were removed from her diet. She was then to go raw over a period of a month, eating no cooked food, and she was to eat 90 per cent fruit, sprouts, vegetables, salads and around 10 per cent nuts all day long.
We reprogrammed her mind via hypnosis so her hands and stomach started to work differently and together. Busy fingers carefully selected only the very best, freshest nutritional material to put into her gut via her mouth – that was their job. They rejected most of the products they picked up in the supermarket until the choicest was located.
Penny stopped vomiting immediately, put on no weight, which was one of her worst fears, and was ready to begin to find a way to start liking herself and examine the way she treated her body, mind, choice of partners, between following her passion of salsa dancing.
Bulimics think they want more food and they do. When they go raw in a well balanced dietary way their brains are more likely to get the messages that they are full because the messengers in the food have not been damaged by heating or processing. Raw food vegans eat small amounts all day long at spaced intervals and it is perfectly suited to helping people who have had eating disorders. They do not have to eat big meals, are continually drip fed nutrition, and satisfy their cravings
Roger had spent several years in prison after being prosecuted for fraud in equities dealing. He said that all his colleagues were doing it but he had been the unlucky one who had been caught. Prison had been a terrible shock for him with the drugs, rape and constant violence. He had lost everything.
He was looking for himself, he told me on his release. Everyone on the outside had moved on and he did not have the money to move in that social set anymore. In examining his life he wondered how he could eradicate the nightmares of violence he had encountered for years in prison. In hypnosis the answers that his unconscious mind kept coming up with was to spend his life trying to dissolve violence. When I challenged him, when he was awake, about the violence against animals he said he had never seen it that way before. “But I do not want to be a crusader,” he said, “I only want to change my life.”
The next week when I saw him he was very angry with me for giving him something extra to think about besides his own problems. If the violence against animals was not such a big issue, I asked, why was he so angry? Many therapists do not challenge their clients for fear of loss of income – not me. I don’t mind if my clients have an intense dislike of me as long as they are doing the work.
I never saw Roger again but I got a postcard from somewhere very tropical about a year later where he was teaching water skiing saying, “Don’t smoke, Don’t drink, Don’t eat meat or fish, and definitely Don’t like therapists. Having a great time.”
Some vegans, of course, suffer from psychological disturbances such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. There is currently no scientific evidence to say that they are less or more likely to be immune from these disorders. But what I can tell you, from my own observations, is that raw food vegans generally have a more stable psychology because they are not exposed to processed sugars, food additives, heat processed fats, denatured starches, and excessive caffeine and tannin.
Depression has many causes, including physical, psychological and social but for the majority of people it is to do with lifestyle. When people get into psychological trouble, instead of talking it out, they present themselves to a doctor who gets out a bag of pills. Drug companies make a fortune out of ignoring the real causes of many so-called depressions and it multiplies from being a folie a (accent on a) deux to becoming a mass hallucination. In an ever faster world, people want a quick fix.
Physical and psychological health must be based on a foundation of taking care of our nutritional, physical and social needs. If you put poor quality food into your mouth then you have less chance of becoming, staying being well. Some vegans, as well as meat eaters, often do not take care of their nutritional needs and end up eating junk food. In order for a person to have energy which helps them to feel good, the food they eat needs to be quickly metabolised so the body can get on with its usual business of repair and renewal, and that can only mean raw. Nature knows how to feed us far better than some overweight executive of a food manufacturer stuffing old crops in a box and then covering it in ice.
Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food (Hippocrates)
Our psychological make-up is also based as much on our philosophy of life as on physiology. If we look at ourselves from time to time we find that it’s time to change the way we think. It naturally follows that if the whole of our lives are less full of violence of every kind then we will find inner calm more easily. Just watch children who watch violent television programmes and see how they emulate what they see. Many vegans believe that if they murder something to eat it then they are eating its misery.
Veganism can never be only about health, statistics, the latest research or ecology, because it is a journey that a person travels that sets them apart from the majority. The spiritual adjustments that go along with the readjustment of values, beliefs, and attitudes have nothing to do with the new religion of science – they are purely existential.
We must all travel our own journey whatever that leads us too. Everyone’s spiritual path to enlightenment is different from another’s. I hope in choosing your path, you have found your portion of Nirvana.
Dr Tracie O’Keefe DCH, BHSc, ND, Clinical Hypnotherapist, Psychotherapist. Counsellor, PACFA registered Mental Health Professional and Naturopath In Sydney. You can get help by booking an appointment with her at Australian Health & Education Centre.