The emotional/social challenges of veganism and coping with anxiety
Transcript of the No-Bullshit Vegan podcast, episode 85
Val the Vegan Therapist on emotional/social challenges of veganism and coping with anxiety
Karina Inkster: You're listening to The No-Bullshit Vegan Podcast, episode 85. Valerie Martin, AKA Val The Vegan Therapist, is on the show to discuss the importance of navigating the emotional and social challenges of veganism, whether having a vegan therapist is important If you're vegan yourself, and her favorite techniques for coping with anxiety.
I'm Karina, your go-to, no-BS, vegan fitness and nutrition coach. Our guest today is going to offer some valuable insights for anyone who is vegan or vegan-curious, by sharing with us some effective techniques for coping with anxiety (and given the world situation right now, who the hell isn't anxious these days?) Now, we're also going to discuss dealing with some potential emotional and social challenges associated with veganism, which I think is something I don't think is discussed enough. The conversation usually seems to center around the potential physical or nutritional challenges of veganism. This was really interesting for me to dive into, and if you're vegan yourself and looking at getting some counseling or going into therapy, is it important to have a therapist who is vegan? We discuss cases where it might be important and cases where it might not be.
Valerie Martin is a psychotherapist, coach, and yoga teacher based in Nashville, Tennessee. She's also a Ravenclaw, Enneagram seven (which I had to look up by the way, it's a personality type called The Enthusiast), anti-racist ally, intersectional vegan and animal advocate and Work That Reconnects Facilitator. Valerie's mission is to support the vegan and veg curious communities in their mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing, so they can live more vibrant lives and be stronger advocates for animal and human liberation. She offers one-on-one virtual coaching, and hosts the Vegan and Vibrant podcast and private community. Val's favorite vegan meal is chicken “drumsticks”, mac’n’cheese, and greens from Imagined Vegan Cafe in Memphis. Hope you enjoy our discussion.
Hey Val, welcome to the show!
Valerie Martin: Thank you for having me. I'm so excited to be here.
Karina Inkster: I am excited as well. It's great to have you here. I'm really looking forward to discussing some vegan related topics that have never been discussed on the show before in its entire history. I am super curious, before we get into our topics du jour, I am curious about your vegan story. How did you first come to veganism? I always ask my guests, most of who are vegan (of course not everyone, but when they are, it's just kind of a good background story.) I’m curious about yours.
Valerie Martin: I've been vegan a little over four years and I was kind of one of those people where it was very gradual and then all of a sudden, all at once. I know some people talk about having that "overnight light switch" moment. I did experience that four years ago, but it was many years in the making. I can send you the link for your show notes, but I did a little spoken word poem that basically is my journey to veganism.
Karina Inkster: If you could, I’d love to share that.
Valerie Martin: It's really fun. I don’t do a lot of creative writing, but I'm really proud of this one. It started little; the seeds were planted. My uncle being vegetarian, I'm a child growing up in Texas, ‘what are you? I don’t understand!’ You know, surrounded by the normal, meat-eating (especially in the South) sort of thing. I had vegetarian friends over the years, and never felt super comfortable. Eating meat was never my favorite part of a meal, but I was very much comfortable in my cognitive dissonance, and then uncomfortable. I would shove that down, and you know, I did flirt with vegetarianism on and off over the years. Never, in any of that, I must have not been really seeking out information. I just thought, " Oh, I'll just get these Morningstar things and eat that. “ Never ever until four years ago did I hear anything about the dairy and egg industries, and all the other stuff.
If you'd told me five years ago, "you're going to go vegan for the rest of your life”, I would have laughed in your face. I thought 'why would anyone ever give up cheese? That's absurd.' I've always been a foodie, and coming from my own eating disorder recovery experience, I always thought that I never wanted to feel restrictive with food again. That, to me, has been one of the hugest pieces of liberation, and why I’m out there hash tagging "anti diet vegan" is because I don't feel restricted with food.
Four years ago, during a loving kindness meditation that I was doing, at the time I worked at a residential treatment center that happened to be spread out over 2000 acres of cattle farms. We've got these buildings all over the place. They were no longer the same ownership, but we were spread out on this land with these cattle pastures. I'd be driving from one building to another building on our campus, and I'd have to sit and wait because somebody was moving all the cows from this pasture across the road, to this pasture, and pigs too. I remember the dissonance starting there. Then, I’m doing the meditation one day, thinking of the cows, and thought “ dammit!”
I went and bought some vegetarian cookbooks, and thought, “ok, I’m going to try this again”. Every time I would do it, I would feel super deprived and eventually give up.
But that time, I came across Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, and thought, “oh crap”. He actually doesn't really get into eggs and dairy shockingly in that book, but it opened the door. I finally watched all the movies and the documentaries and stuff. That made it easy. That was kind of the end of it. It's been really great. I didn't necessarily expect my husband to come along with me, but at the same time, he was always that guy who, even though he was in his own world of dissonance of grilling steaks and stuff, he wouldn't kill a spider. He'd always take any bug and rescue it, and take it outside the house. It wasn't surprising once he kind of consumed all that information with me. That's been really nice, kind of being in that together.
Karina Inkster: That’s amazing. You never know. It always starts with (it doesn't always start, I should say); the long lasting change always starts with us on an individual level. I feel like it's not going to be super productive to harass people or nag them if they're your spouse. That approach doesn't work. You basically have to just have your own experience like you did. You did your own erasing of the cognitive dissonance, if you will. Then other people are going to notice, especially if you live with them, especially if you're sharing, cooking duties and such. So that's great to hear. I mean, it doesn't always turn out that way and we can't really expect that it will. A lot of our listeners are new vegans, or if they're thinking about going plant-based, we can't expect that automatically everyone in our lives is going to be vegan all of a sudden (but it's kind of an extra bonus when they come along.) So that's really good to hear.
Valerie Martin: It is. That's part of the "attractive-ism”. I have been, as I’m sure you and anyone who's been vegan long enough, has probably been a part of someone's story of going vegan, which is always so cool. I even think of the people in my life that I just know are way more open to eating vegan foods because they've tried it with us and they realize it is really good. "I will go to this restaurant again.” That's all cool to see how, even if people don't necessarily come along or right away, you are still planting seeds and who knows what will happen.
Karina Inkster: Exactly. You know what, there's probably people out there who have you, or possibly me, as part of their vegan story, and we don't even know. You never know, you just got to keep doing your thing. If you have any sort of online platform, sometimes even just doing your own thing and people at the gym are noticing, people (like friends of friends), you never really know. I kind of like that whole concept of knowing there are people that we for sure have impacted that we know of, but there are other people as well. Not saying just you and me, but are all of our listeners that have been positively affected by what we're doing, which is pretty exciting.
Well, let's get into what you do. We have a lot of topics that, again, have not been discussed on this show before that I find super interesting. They're very vegan-centric. Not everything we talk about is vegan-centric on this show. Sometimes it's about fitness. Sometimes it's about myth busting in the general nutrition world, but today it's all about veganism. You are Val The Vegan Therapist. Before we get into this whole concept, what is it that you do with your clients, with your patients? What is it that you are helping people with?
Valerie Martin: This is the cool thing about the work that I do. There's the piece where I want to focus on supporting the vegan community, but then there's also the fact that I just have a private practice as a therapist in Nashville. Most of my clients may not even know that I'm vegan. Sometimes I do have people specifically reaching out to me for that reason. It's cool that I have a website that's very easily find-able, and people sometimes say, "Oh my gosh, I'm so excited to have this opportunity." There are a lot of people who I'm supporting. I work mostly with adult women, anxiety, depression, relationships, shame and eating disorders, and trauma. And so those people might be vegan. They might not be. It's just super rewarding work getting to help people kind of heal, and gain better tools for relating with their own challenging experiences, thoughts, and feelings. I love that I have the opportunity to specifically reach out to this segment of people, but it's not exclusively vegans that I serve. That would be a pretty tough thing, especially in a local practice. Who knows maybe one day, I'll just be doing fully coaching online, and I can work with people wherever. For now, the bulk of my “ work” work is in my local therapy practice that is mostly not vegan clients.
Karina Inkster: You never know the way things are going now with everyone working online, and folks in general being more open to the concept of having a coach online or a therapist online, you never know. You could have an entirely vegan practice at some point. Based on your website, which I have gone through, it's pretty obvious that your website at least is branding itself as "I'm the vegan therapist." When people are Googling vegan counseling, vegan therapy, you would come up. What's the deal with having a vegan therapist as a vegan? I mean, does it matter? Why is it important?
Valerie Martin: My answer to that is sort of, maybe. For some people, it really matters. For others, and I've even asked some of my ethical vegan friends and they’ll say "my therapist's not vegan. I don't really care.” Since I’ve been vegan, I’ve worked with professionals of all different kinds who are not vegan. But if I have the opportunity, especially the more that I am really trying to get plugged into activism work, I really do (take that opportunity). If there's someone who aligns with that part of my values, great! They can also give me what I need, they can help me with what I need help with, and then of course I would want that. I sort of liken it to how some folks who are Christian, they may be able to get help with anxiety and depression from a therapist who's not Christian, but they might find it really beneficial to work with someone who shares that worldview or that lens. I kind of view it similarly with veganism.
There's sort of two segments of vegan folks who I think might look specifically for a vegan therapist, one being those folks who are say, 'yeah, this is really important to me, even if I'm not even coming in here talking about vegan related issues, just that I know you get that. I know you share that value of seeing animals as beings who are worthy of protection and respect and all of that. Then the other segment are folks who maybe are having specific challenges related to their veganism, and I see that in a number of different ways, whether it's feeling isolated and alone, because maybe they live in an area or have family members or friends who just don't get it. We see that especially in that newer to veganism transitional phase.
Then there are people who have had a lot of trauma, like one of my previous podcast guests who had worked in a primate research lab in college. It was a traumatic experience and she has PTSD from it. Understandably, it'd be ideal for her to work with a vegan therapist who really got why that was a traumatic experience for her. Some folks feel a very heavy guilt and sadness for the plight of animals in the world, even if they're no longer contributing to it. Folks who identify as empathic or highly sensitive person (HSP) need some support from someone who gets that, and doesn't vilify that sensitivity.
Karina Inkster: That makes absolute sense. I mean, from personal experience, I have a counselor who happens to be vegan, but we never talk about it. It never comes up. I went there for a specific case, or a specific reason, which was anxiety, and developing my toolkit around that. I kind of like knowing that she gets it. It’s always in the background, so it has actually never come up in sessions, veganism. We just both know. We're on the same page, we're both vegan, and it's kind of nice. I can totally understand if I had challenging situations that were directly related to veganism, I would for sure want someone who gets it, and who lives it, or who has lived it for awhile. I like what you say. It kind of depends. It depends what the reasoning is. Sometimes it's not important, but sometimes it can be super important.
In those cases where veganism is important or when it actually comes up in the work that you do, what are some of the things that you work on? I know that navigating these emotional and social challenges can be difficult in a lot of different ways, especially when it's people who are very close to you, who might be just completely not getting it, or who might be trying to undermine someone's efforts to be vegan in the first place. Maybe you can kind of go into what the importance is of navigating these vegan specific challenges, and what those challenges might be in the first place.
Valerie Martin: I really think that there's such an opportunity for us in the vegan community to be talking more explicitly about these challenges, the social challenges and the emotional challenges, both of transitioning to veganism, and then also of maintaining that. I was thinking about all of that. I haven't read her new book, but Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s new book, Joyful Vegan, is essentially about a of that. She's not a clinician. I call her my fairy godmother, my vegan fairy godmother. Some may not stay vegan, and those might be the people who are purely coming in for a plant-based eating approach for wellness, and it's understandable why maybe they don't stay vegan. Even people who do get plugged into the climate or the animal pieces of veganism, sometimes they're not staying vegan because there are these challenges that are happening.
If all we're doing is telling people, "here's where you get your protein”, and that kind of stuff, we're not helping them figure out (for example) what to do when they go to a friend’s house. They just feel like none of them understand anymore and they're just like grilling out and on the barbecue, like it's just any other day. (In that situation), I just feel like I love these people, but I'm very confused because I see them as loving, progressive people. Now I'm just sitting here watching them eat carcasses. That's a little dramatic, but you get what I mean? We know that that transition can be really challenging. Even after the transition, if you do have family or workplace or other challenges where it's really difficult, or you feel dismissed and not included, that can be challenging.
I think of my husband, who works in in public schools, and the PTA does so much great work, they want to come in and feed the teachers. It’s great. They don’t have to do that. They know that he's vegan and they'll say, "we got this salad for you." There's salad and two vegetables on it. There are all these social and emotional challenges, and for people who are in relationships where their partner does not choose to be vegan, that's just really hard because obviously, I can't speak to that myself. I don't know how I would handle that, but I have helped other folks navigate that. I know some people who very successfully navigate that, and I know other people who've gotten to a place in their veganism or in their activism where they just say, "I just couldn’t. I couldn't have someone in that role in my life who did not see this the way that I do.”
Recognizing that neither one of those people is wrong, that it really has to be individualized. Those are some of the things. Like I said, just how do we cope with knowing everything that's going on out there every day? For the person who that weighs really heavy on, how can I validate that? Jidda Krishnamurti said, "It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society." I totally understand why you're feeling that heaviness and that sadness. How can we learn some skills to be able to hold that and still move through your life, and find joy, and find freedom from some of that heaviness, so that you're not in it all the time? That's just not sustainable.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely. That's a really good way of putting it. We're going to get into some specifics around coping with anxiety in a bit, because I think a lot of us right now in the world are dealing with that. What are some specifics here? I mean, I don't want you to get into a whole hour long, 'what's your history’ kind of thing, but just for our listeners to get a more solid grasp of what this might look like in practice: say that I am someone who is from an area like….for example, I have a new client from Kentucky. He doesn't know any other vegans. He's living in a place where most of his friends grill giant chunks of carcasses on the weekends. He's got a lot of people who don't understand where he's coming from, and he's actually coming from a lot of different places: environmental reasons, health reasons, and ethics altogether.
Let's say you're in this situation, and I'm sure a lot of our listeners are. When we're recording this, we just passed Thanksgiving for people in the US, so there have been a lot of these kinds of situations where you're the only vegan. You don't know any other people who are in that realm with you, and you also have this additional layer of family members and friends who don't get it. Let's say I'm in this situation. What are some things that you might help your clients with, or some skills or some mindsets that these people could possibly work on?
Valerie Martin: I think the biggest thing with this and not to sound too simplistic, but the biggest piece I think is you do have to find people who get it, right? Get that part of you. That doesn't mean that you just have to go and cut out all your existing friends, because now you're thinking "Oh my God, you're this horrible murderer!" I mean, maybe there will be certain types of situations that you think, "I'm just not going to come over, if I know they're going to be grilling or hunting or whatever”. It's not about replacing people, but it is about adding to your social support system. People who get it. As many aspects of social media are problematic, which we know, that's one of the things that I go back to about why I still do it, is I have met so many amazing vegans on social media, some that have become very dear personal friends, and some that are just acquaintances, and you may connect online about something.
It’s not like you have to replace all your friends, but having some people who get it is huge. Of course there are tons of Facebook groups. There are tons of great vegans on Instagram and in other places. I think that's huge, for people who are lucky enough to have it. If you live somewhere like Kentucky, if you're in Louisville, I'm sure there's like a Louisville Vegan Facebook group. But if you're out in the middle of nowhere, Kentucky, it might be that from a geographical standpoint, the closest group like that may be hours away from you. That's not ideal, but you can still make those connections with people near and far.
One of the things that I want to create as a part of the Val The Vegan Therapist thing is I do want to work toward creating more community, because Facebook groups are great, but especially when they get to thousands of people (that’s a different story.) There's a vegan mental health group, and it’s a train wreck. Not that the people are a train wreck, but it's obviously not the kind of thing where there’s an attempt to have it administered, managed, or moderated by mental health professionals, who are going to respond. These people are in a very dark place, saying all kinds of stuff that sometimes bring up trigger warnings. These people need mental health care and they're just going and posting in a Facebook group. That's hard. Groups are fine for some things. I think they serve people, but I'd love to create a smaller community like group coaching, I was thinking I was going to do a “Vegan Church” thing where Sunday mornings (non-religious, but maybe spiritual), but all about just connecting with people who get you: sharing readings, sharing videos, whatever. That is something that's a part of my vision of doing with this, is just more opportunities to create vegan community, especially for people who don't have the luxury of having that in their immediate social circles.
Karina Inkster: That's huge. One of the things we do with our clients is we just have a fun group chat. It's not on Facebook; it's within the software that we use for our fitness coaching. Sometimes that is a lifeline for folks. We have a client in Saudi Arabia, there's one in Dubai, and one in Japan, where apparently it's actually really difficult to be vegan. A lot of these folks don't know any other vegans in their lives. It's not even like Facebook, where we have different threads and different posts; it’s just one discussion. All of our posts go into the same place, but we're sharing recipes. A lot of our clients are in the States. My assistant coach Zoe and I, we’re both in Canada, but it was just Thanksgiving in the States. We had a lot of talk around that. A lot of our clients were experiencing their first major holiday (even in the pandemic world where we're not having massive gatherings). It's still important. They're experiencing their first holiday as a vegan in a family that isn't. What you're saying, I think is really important and it might sound simplistic ("whatever, it's Facebook, no big deal”). It's huge, especially if you're somebody who doesn't have those connections at all in your life.
Something as simple as this group that we have, which is even simpler than social media, it’s literally just one thread, and it helps. It makes a huge difference for our clients. It's not a massive group where there are thousands of people, but 55-60, numbers like that. These folks are from all over the world, and it's been great to connect. That's huge, what you're saying. If you're in a situation where you might have some antagonistic family members or friends, or there are awkward situations where you wonder if you can continue to go to someone's house, something like an opportunity to connect with others who just get it is huge.
Valerie Martin: Yes, and especially around what I was talking about with the feeling, how I used to feel deprived and I was having to white knuckle my way through even being pescatarian, just because I didn't know how to frame it differently. That's one of the things that I really wanted to keep spreading that word about is "no, it doesn't have to be hard”. People just assume it must be so hard. Once you kind of figure out your hacks, and obviously I have a lot of privilege, so if I want to buy a vegan “Turkey" sandwich meat, I can do that. Now I could also just live on rice, beans, vegetables and bananas and stuff.
It's obviously easier for me than someone with less means, or less access to good grocery stores, but it doesn't have to be this hard. It’s a shift from that mindset of "I can't eat that”, and "Oh, I can't eat anything here”, to an empowered place of "wow. You know, I'm recognizing the smells coming in through my nose. I find that really appealing, but I choose not to eat that because it is so not in alignment with my values." That to me feels so much more empowering, especially because I know I got pie waiting for me at home that does align with my values.
Karina Inkster: That's a good way of putting it. This idea of reframing is a good one. I think what you're saying is a lot of people may assume about veganism, or maybe even come into veganism, with this mindset of avoidance. "I can't have that anymore. Ah, crap. That used to be my favorite food, now I can't eat it anymore" versus acknowledging that, sure: we all might have cravings. I mean, when I first went vegetarian, which was a long time ago (21 years, I can't even remember) anyways, a long time ago.
I went vegan in 2003, so it's been a while, but I remember craving beef jerky of all things. That is the meatiest, chewing on a stick of animal thing that you could possibly crave. Right. But what you just said about thinking, "okay, so I'm acknowledging these things are coming in, I'm smelling these things, and I'm noticing that this is around. I might even be craving this food, but I'm making the choice because it doesn't align with my values. I'm making the choice to eat something else instead. That I think is maybe switching people onto this abundance mindset of wow: there's actually a bunch of plant-based foods I've never eaten before! We've got all these new things. I didn't know what tempeh was, or nutritional yeast, or all the basic vegan staples. Before I went vegan, I had no idea. I'd never heard of amaranth before. Is that something that you work on with folks? Do you have clients who are vegan and who are still kind of stuck in the avoidance mindset?
Valerie Martin: I don't know that that's a specific challenge that I've personally had to help people navigate through in my work; rather people I've met or known personally, who've been interested in going vegan. I always say "call me, if you run into a problem where you're thinking ‘My God, I used to love queso’, I can send you an excellent thing you can make in your blender in five minutes. Helping people realize that there are so many resources for how to replace those foods that you love. I think it's actually helpful that I used to have these horrible misconceptions, you know, thinking vegan ice cream is gross, and vegan cheese is disgusting, and the truth is, (and I'll tell people this still even with all the amazing options), there's still ones out there that do not taste good.
So know if you try some and it doesn’t taste good, that doesn't mean that vegan ice cream can't be good, or that vegan cheese can't be good. It just means not that brand; let me find out what a better tasting option is. We are so fortunate in this time that we live in to have so many good options and more being created all the time. I have a resources page on my website that has a lot of like brands I recommend and stuff like that. It hasn't come up a lot in my professional work, but it is something I'm very passionate about. If you're running into a roadblock, I probably have something I can share with you, of how I figured out a way around that so I didn't feel like I was missing out.
Karina Inkster: That's amazing. That's actually pretty important. I think that the food specific resources are the sticking point for a lot of people. How do I make dinner? What do I do with food prep? What am I going to eat for breakfast? I like that you have a resources page on your website actually. We're going to link to your website in our show notes. (Just FYI, make sure you check out the resources page!)
We recently did an episode that delved into eating disorders. I don't want to get into it in super detail, but it is part of what you do and it is part of your own story. How does that piece come up in the work that you do right now?
Valerie Martin: Well, one thing that I can say to just kind of piggyback on the conversation you had with Devon was yes: it's super important to be aware of your motivations or anyone's motivations. I don't want to discourage people, obviously, if they want to try vegetarian or vegan alternatives to things. I do think, and this is part of my spoken word thing that I mentioned, but I was the 16 year old who thought “I don’t eat meat', and that was restricting. I was trying to not have to eat as much food. Having that as part of my history means if I have an eating disorder client, who is vegan, I suggest we talk it through. Of course there's ways of kind of discerning and teasing apart those motivations, and that's important.
But as you guys talked about too, I really want the treatment world to get up to modern times because having worked in treatment, and I know most places that don't support that. Of course they don't support it, because they're not giving them a vegan ice cream option, but it's dessert night, but it'd be so easy to do that! I really am very excited that there are treatment centers that are now kind of shifting that perspective, and saying they fully support ethical vegan clients. Like I said, the other piece of it for me is just helping to break down those stereotypes that vegan food is second best; that you would only eat it if you were disordered in some way, because like it's so gross.
It’s delicious. You can have rich food; you can have delicious, fried food. I'm very much (into) health at every size, intuitive eating. I'm not a health food vegan. I love vegetables, and I want people to be healthful in their bodies. I want people to feel good, but I think there's a lot of potential, and a lot of people in the vegan world who can be kind of fat shaming or orthorexic “ish”; they’re talking about clean eating and moralizing food. I want to be a different voice. I want to help people realize that you're not bad for eating the pie.
Karina Inkster: Exactly. Oh man. I am ashamed now, to admit that I used to use the term clean eating, and this was 2013-ish. That was the cool thing for trainers to say. It's so horrible to me now. Of course I never use it in any of my messaging. I don't use the term junk food. You don't have good and bad food.
Valerie Martin: Treat foods, play foods…
Karina Inkster: I like play food. That's good actually. There are no good foods. There are no bad foods, but it's one of those things that seems to evolve. I feel like the professionals who are working with folks who may have disordered eating patterns or full-blown eating disorders, they're not quite at the point yet where veganism is fully understood in that context. I feel like it's the same in the fitness world, which is still crazy to me.
I mean, both these situations are crazy to me, but it's the same where you still come across professionals (qualified fitness coaches), who don't understand how to be plant-based and also get super ripped if that's what you want, or really strong, or be an endurance athlete, any of these options. I think what you're saying goes along with some change that we need in the industry itself, to be not only more accepting of veganism, but also to understand how it fits in with folks who might have challenges like eating disorders.
That's where you would come in. For example, I assume that's something that you could help your clients with because you get it. You do know the background and you've been there yourself. You can ask questions like those Devon was talking about (like) what is your motivation? Let's talk about where this is coming from. I think that's really important to keep in mind is that there's no one size fits all approach. It depends on where someone is currently. What's the underlying motivation for being vegan, for example? I think there are a lot of parallels here; the whole diet and nutrition and fitness industry kind of needs makeovers when it comes to veganism, which is crazy. It's taken so freaking long!
Valerie Martin: When I found you, I was just so excited because you know how rare it is in the fitness world, to be someone who is weight inclusive, or weight neutral, or whatever terminology you want to use. Someone who can recognize how even though you didn't know this before, and you've continued learning, and exposing yourself to different voices and all of that. Now, you wouldn’t use a term like clean eating. That is so encouraging to me. I just had on my podcast the other day, a vegan dietician who doesn't really work specifically with eating disorders, but she's very into health at every size and intuitive eating, all of that, anti-diet. In those two fields, particularly of nutrition and fitness, I would say the vast majority of practitioners are not coming from that perspective. Every time we find someone who is, I'm just so excited.
Karina Inkster: That's awesome. What we were also talking about in our episode with Devon was that there are a lot of high profile vegan professionals out there, which is great. It’s definitely something that's becoming more common to see someone who has veganism front and center, and they're a therapist, or graphic designers that I know who work with vegan clients. Also, of course, the fitness and the nutrition professionals. Within that realm, there are still a lot of potentially problematic things. A lot of the vegan fitness professionals, like other fitness professionals, are still coming at things from a very judgmental (I want to say) perspective, where it's aesthetics over everything. It's either you’re 100 hundred percent whole foods, no oil, or you're doing it wrong, you know? There's still work we need within veganism. It's not just about solving veganism, I don’t think.
Valerie Martin: I would say that vegan coaches, nutritionists, et cetera, are just as (if not sometimes more) guilty than the general population, because with them, "we have found the path, it is only plants, and none of these oils and none of these salts”. Ok...hold on. Our liver does a pretty good job filtering some things out.
Karina Inkster: Detoxing is not a thing. Well, let's pivot real quickly. We're almost out of time, but I want to touch on this, because I think it's a really important topic for the times right now, which is anxiety management. A lot of us are in a situation where we’re thinking, "what is happening in the world??" We might have these vegan-specific challenges to deal with, while also dealing with holidays, the pandemic, people possibly being sick around us...this is a lot to deal with right now, political situation aside, you know? What are some of your favourite, go-to techniques (I know this isn't going to be a one-on-one individualized answer obviously) for anxiety management, for coping with anxiety? Everyone is pretty anxious right now, including me.
Valerie Martin: These are relevant for anyone, whether you're vegan or not, whether it's a vegan related issue or not, anxiety is a universal experience and we need ways of skillfully working with it. One of my favourite approaches for therapy and just for life, comes from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT. There are a lot of great books out there. One is called The Happiness Trap, and it’s around the idea in our culture, we do tend to vilify "negative emotions”, then the more we resist persists, and we get really frustrated with ourselves for being anxious again. We’ll think ‘what's wrong with me?' We try to stop the thought and it just gets bigger.
That’s kind of the idea of the acceptance; opening up to, and pulling in another term from DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), to develop some distress tolerance. There are a lot of different skills. People can Google 'distress tolerance skills' and find some great things, but really it's about how I sort of train myself to become not necessarily comfortable, but willing to sit with uncomfortable emotional experiences, because we live in this culture that says the second you're uncomfortable, go eat something, go buy something, go do whatever, distract, pick up your phone. It's a different way of looking at your painful or uncomfortable emotional experiences or thoughts, to learn what it feels like to be with that. There's absolutely a time and a place for distraction and distraction skills. I'm not saying go and sit with the 10 out of 10 anxious feeling, and just be with that.
Sometimes, we need to go for a five minute run. I'm just going to shake it off and go watch a cat video or something. All of those are fine and we need to build our distress tolerance. There's lots of ways of doing that. Mindfulness comes in there too, because ultimately, what does it even mean to be with this uncomfortable experience? It means I can notice I'm having the thought that I feel really stupid for having just said what I said, and I'm noticing my cheeks are hot, and my heart is racing, and my stomach is queasy. That's different than going, "Oh my God, I'm such an idiot. I'm such an idiot." I notice I'm having the thought, that I am stupid for having said that.
It's what we call cognitive diffusion.
When we get fused with these unhelpful thoughts, then we can't necessarily just turn it on and off like a faucet, but we can do things to help us diffuse from that. You even talked about this with Ed, or anxiety, naming that and separating from it can help us to get a little bit of distance from it so we can go "Oh, okay. Feeling in chest, thought that I'm stupid, ok…” (instead of just being so hooked into all of it.) That's kind of a little bit of a combination of cognitive and a bit of somatic, body-based mindfulness stuff. Then in general, going directly to the body when we're feeling anxious is super helpful, because we can't think our way out of our anxiety a lot.
Karina Inkster: I’ve tried…it doesn’t work!
Valerie Martin: It doesn’t work. Some of those reframing things; getting the distance can help. Those are a kind of what we call 'top down regulation'. You were kind of coming from that cognitive angle, but bottom up approaches, that's where things like yoga and particularly something like legs up the wall, is super regulating. It's activating the parasympathetic nervous system, or kind of the "brake pedal" of our nervous system. Doing things that activate that, even simple bilateral movement, like touching your opposite shoulder with your hand and just gently tapping side to side, that’s a kind of bilateral stimulation.
Another one that I that I love is called ‘Stopping the World”. It's just finding your gaze. Somewhere in front of you, find a spot and then expand your awareness to the periphery, as far as you can in both directions. Sometimes I like to hold my fingers up and sort of wiggle them, to where I can expand them as far back where I can still see them there. It's amazing how doing some of these strategies that are things you can do in 30 seconds to a minute, can really regulate your nervous system, to where at least you might have (the thought of), "now I can more skillfully work with this situation, but not until I go to the body first”, take breaths, tap for a moment or do EFT tapping, which people can look up online if they're interested in that. I just love strategies that take that bottom up, working directly with the body kind of approach.
Karina Inkster: That is amazing. We could do a whole podcast series!
Valerie Martin: We could, just on this!
Karina Inkster: You know what my counselor once said? Accepting your anxiety does not mean you agree with it. The acceptance portion for any sort of so-called negative experience, negative emotion, or negative thought, does not mean you agree with it. I think that the overarching mindfulness acceptance kind of level, plus some of the bottoms up approaches that you just mentioned: very physical, maybe some breathing, maybe some bilateral movement like you’re mentioning. Those things together, I think, make a huge difference. It's kind of one of those things where to people who haven't tried it, it sounds like it might not work. You may think, "yeah, well, what is it going to do? Just tapping on my shoulder, big freaking deal.” Combined with some of these mindset and overarching approaches, I think it could make a huge difference.
Valerie Martin: Yes! It really is shifting the paradigm and shifting your lens on it. Another image that I love: if we can remember back to childhood, and playing with those Chinese finger traps on your finger. The more that you try to brute force it, the more stuck you get. That's often how it is with anxiety. Accepting it doesn't mean you like it, or you're agreeing with the anxious thoughts. It means that you're acknowledging anxiety is happening. I can picture my little fuzzy friend is here, but the more that I focus on him and go, "Oh my God, go away, go away, go away”, the more anxious I get, instead of just learning that fuzzy friend will be hanging out here for a little bit. There are things that I can do to support myself. Maybe there's some riding the wave. Maybe there's calling a friend, but not having that super internally combative sort of approach to it.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely. Last year, when I had what I call 'the anxiety shitstorm’, which was pretty major, hence the counseling and the whole bunch of things that I've done to manage it. I called my anxiety Barry, which I think I mentioned in my interview with Devon, and that was my goal. He's this persona; my friend and I came up with a whole idea of how he looks. He's got a comb over, and he's wearing a seventies suit that doesn't fit very well. He's got a whole thing. I wasn’t going to kick him out immediately, because that wasn’t going to work. I'm going to learn to exist alongside Barry for a while, and maybe work on a couple of things at the same time, but he's still hanging out over here.
He's in the same room; he's not necessarily on his way out, which I'm cool with for the time being, but it really helped. I think a lot of these techniques could come in handy in a lot of situations, whether it's vegan related, whether it's full on anxiety for other reasons, I think those are brilliant. We could totally do a whole not only episode, but also a series on those. Why don't we leave it there for today? Where can our listeners go… what’s the hub of all things Val?
Valerie Martin: Well for this audience probably valthevegantherapist.com and @valthevegantherapist on Instagram. I have my podcast, Vegan and Vibrant, that you can find linked at my website. I do have other websites for my “normal" therapy practice and other stuff, because that's what you do when you're an Enneagram seven: you have four websites. That (valthevegantherapist.com) would probably be the place to look if you're a vegan or veggie curious.
Karina Inkster: Perfect. Amazing. Again, we'll link to this in our show notes. We'll have all your social and your websites there as well. It was so fantastic speaking with you. Thank you so much for coming on the show.
Valerie Martin: Oh, you too. I had so much fun!
Karina Inkster: Val, I really appreciate you making the time to speak with me. Thanks again, and listeners, make sure you check out our show notes at nobullshitvegan.com/085 to connect with Val. She also has a response cheat sheet guide for hard conversations about veganism that you can download for free. You'll find the link at our show notes. Again, that's nobullshitvegan.com/085. Thanks so much for tuning in!