This piece originally appeared on TheWholeTara.com [Disclosure: I have nothing against veganism, nor am I trying to impose my beliefs onto others. This is simply my experience and how I responded to this lifestyle. After this piece was published, there was a bit of uproar in the community. Here is my response to commenters.] I was asked by several people to write about this topic and my own experience so, hopefully without judgement, here goes. When I thought about becoming vegan at the age of 16 it was nothing more than my innocence getting the best of me and wanting to live as lovely as the girls I’d admire on Instagram who appeared to eat nothing but mangoes and green smoothies on the beach in Australia all day. I liked the idea of eating foods that are extraordinarily colorful and, of course, flavorful and good for you. I liked the idea of not eating anything that once had a breath. I liked the idea of being more rigid and black and white in what I could and couldn’t eat. I liked all of it. And I told my parents I’m going to do it. So from one day to the next, I did. 16 years old and living on my own with a fridge stocked to the rim with every fruit and vegetable you can imagine. I kid you not, the first 4 months of being vegan I ran 12 miles on a regular basis. I discovered ways of making certain foods I’d never known existed (cashew milk, vanilla almond butter?!). I went to the farmer’s market every Sunday and I also bought a Vitamix. I pretty much led my whole life around being vegan and eating clean. Long story short, I can now say that this was certainly not a way to truly live. It wasn’t about the healthy lifestyle that I was living, it was more about the life that I wasn’t living. Aside from finally having that “Instagram-perfect” life, behind the scenes I was declining invites to my favorite sushi restaurants, avoiding social situations with non-vegans (pretty much everyone I knew), and attaching to the foods that made me comfortable rather than the foods that were meant to nourish me. Aside from, unknowingly at the time, being burnt out from what seemed like never-ending hours at the gym and being tirelessly picky with food, I felt detached and void. No longer was it so important for me to want to eat big bowls of juicy watermelon and passion fruit on a boat somewhere, nor was it a big deal for me to have to impress anyone with the fact that I was vegan and living the dream. I began to crave living more of a “normal”, whatever that means, and moderate life. I wanted to go out to dinner and not have to look up the menu beforehand to make sure there was something other than lettuce that I could eat and I was determined to get back my large life that I had before going into my vegan shell. While I understand everyone’s journey with food differs, this was mine and I didn’t like it anymore. I had zero energy. I ate at all hours of the day, since nothing ever made me feel full. I ate almonds and avocado and watermelon and kale like it was my job until I eventually started to develop what felt like an unhealthy relationship to food due to my lack of protein and nutrient imbalances. After about 9 months, I could not wait any longer to eat fish again. I feel worlds better now. I eat a primarily plant-based diet with a little bit of everything else, evidenced by my Instagram. I don’t have a need to please anyone with the foods that I’m eating, or not eating, nor do I push any of my beliefs onto others. I believe in doing what works and feels best for YOU. There’s an unspoken ideal in the online (and real, but more so online) world about being healthy and vegan and eating out of pretty bowls. Be whatever you want to be. Skip the labels. Eat the fish. Drink the milkshake. Just keep it clean. Enjoy your protein with a salad and grill some veggies with that too. Photos by Christian Urbina & Diana Zapata — Tara is a recipe developer, nutritionist, and writer at TheWholeTara.com.