Tabitha Brown says going vegan 'played a huge role in my mental health': 'Light just overtook the darkness'
The Unwind is Yahoo Life's well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.
Rest assured that a Tabitha Brown cookbook is in the works. In the meantime, the actress, vegan influencer and all-around positive personality is dishing out a heavy helping of wisdom in her first book, Feeding the Soul (Because It's My Business): Finding Our Way to Joy, Love, and Freedom — which yes, also includes a handful of plant-based recipes.
On sale now, the just-released book sees Brown sharing the life lessons she's picked up from overcoming adversity — namely, the death of her mother from ALS, followed by a painful bout with a chronic autoimmune condition that left her depressed and unable to work. Though she credits her switch to a vegan diet with helping her bounce back physically and mentally, it wasn't until she posted an impromptu review of Whole Food Market's vegan BLT sandwich in 2017 — filmed in her car, during a break from driving for Uber to help make ends meet — that she found viral fame and the success she's long believed possible. Now, a bonafide TikTok star, motivational speaker, host and actress with myriad projects bubbling away, the married mom of two is hoping that the experiences she opens up about in Feeding the Soul will help others not "feel alone."
"Everybody needs a friend that can say, 'You know what, honey, I understand what you're going through and it's OK; it's going to be alright,'" Brown tells Yahoo Life in a new video interview. "My hope is that when people read the different stories and different things I've been through, it will make them look at their situation and say, 'OK, I know I must be going through this for a reason' and find the lesson in each journey. Because everything we go through teaches us a lesson; we don't just go through it just to go through it. Sometimes it doesn't happen to us — it happens for us."
Brown says she chooses to find "light and joy" out of even the darkest moments.
"One of the lowest moments for me was during the time when my mom was sick," she shares. "It was really hard to focus on anything other than her and the thought of, Oh my God, how am I going to live without her? I think I had my first panic attack when my mom was sick and I realized [that it was] really weighing heavy on me. But then living through that with her, it taught me that life is so short, I have to pursue my dream."
That dream was to be an actress, with Brown sharing in her book how she loved performing even as a child. But after scoring "a lot of small victories," she faced another setback.
"I got really sick," she says of her undiagnosed chronic pain. "And when you're sick and you don't know what's wrong with you, it really messes with your head. And for me, it caused me to be very depressed along with being sick in my body. I think that was the lowest point of my life, and the darkest time. And I always just prayed, 'If I come out of this, I'm always going to choose light.' And thank God, I did come out of it, and I've been choosing light and joy ever since. We all have times that are a little bit dark, but the thing that we must remember is: They're always temporary and they will pass."
Switching to a vegan diet helped restore not just her physical health, Brown says, but her mental well-being too.
"I was having major anxiety and panic attacks and I was suffering from depression," she says. "And after going vegan and starting to feel better, it's like I stopped having panic attacks. I mean, I was having severe, manic panic attacks, like 50 a day sometimes, where I just couldn't breathe. That disappeared, and the depression just lifted. Light just overtook the darkness.
"Honestly, one day I was in prayer and it was like God reminded me of the old saying 'you are what you eat,'" she continues. "And I thought about the animals. And I don't usually talk about this because I never want people to feel like I'm judging them or making them feel bad about their choices, because that's not my intention ever. But I thought about all the animals. And they have so much anxiety because they're afraid and they know they're going to die. And I was eating the depression and I was eating the anxiety. And when I stopped eating that, [and] I started eating life and plants and things that don't have those emotions, my depression and my anxiety went away. And when I heard God say, 'Remember, you are what you eat,' I was like, Oh my goodness. It made so much sense to me, and it definitely changed everything, so it did play a huge role in my mental health. And when you feel better, honey, your mind feels better too. When your body feels good, your mind feels good as well."
Despite her popular platform extolling the virtues of a plant-based diet, Brown is careful to not preach that others must follow her example. One section of Feeding the Soul shares the importance of her continuing on her first vegan challenge alone after her husband, Chance, bowed out. But she remains optimistic that her enthusiasm for veganism can help the movement grow.
"My hope and my mission is always to simply share my life, so I share what I eat," she says. "I share my journey with the hopes that other people say, 'Oh, I'm kind of curious about that. She makes it look a little appealing. Let me try it.' I hope that people try [veganism] for their health, for the animals, for the planet. Even one meal a day changes how things are... it can help your body, it can help animals, it can help the environment. So my hope is always that I'm making a difference and that someone is willing to give it a try.
"I never say you need to go vegan," she adds. 'No, absolutely not. I would never do that to someone. But our minds can all be open and we can all try something. Even if it's one meal a day, we've done something."
Another important takeaway from Feeding the Soul is having faith in yourself and your dreams, while also recognizing the need to pivot or let go of patterns that no longer serve you. Brown swears by listening to her intuition, and also finds it helpful to create vision boards and lists to help her visualize her goals.
"I always think it's so important to write things down," she says. "My mom used to say, 'You write it down, honey, it'll come up off that paper and into your life.' So it's important to visualize. Sometimes you need to look at something every day to be reminded that this is what I said I was going to do... And you see it and you believe it."
Working that into her morning prayer and meditation is a benchmark of her daily regimen, something she feels strongly that everyone should have for the sake of their mental health. Brown is a firm believer in filling your own cup before tending to others, and in letting go of nagging worries.
"Before bed, I always check in with myself, because throughout the day things happen," she says. "And so I always ask myself, Are you carrying anything from the day into your sleep that did not serve you well? I really have to go over my thoughts and I have to talk to myself out loud. And if there is something, I have to release it. And in the morning when I wake up, I check back in with Tab again and say, Alright, girl, you sure you let it go, or are you still holding on to it? And that's how I get my day started, so that I'm not holding on to things that are not serving me. And if I haven't let it go, [I ask] What is it that's bothering you about this thing? What is it that you need to do to release it?"
Talking to herself out loud while looking in the mirror is another practice she's found useful.
"In the beginning, it felt crazy," she admits. "Well, honey, it's not crazy. It's very therapeutic to have a conversation and check in with yourself. And I do that very often."
Having a quiet moment to "hear my thoughts" — "and, you know, honey, me and God be having our conversation sometimes," she adds — is also key. Self-care for her also includes walks outside with her dogs and "a good ol' glass of wine with a piece of dark chocolate."
The upbeat attitude on display in her videos isn't just for show; Brown says it helps her tune out stress.
"I don't really have many things that stress me out," she says. "It takes too much energy for me to really be stressed or to get angry or negative. I really try my best to live a positive life and mindset."
That includes not taking any criticism from keyboard warriors on social media to heart.
"People are going to always have something to say," she says. "But let me tell you this: It ain't my business. I don't care what people say about Tab. It ain't my business. I don't mind it. I give grace to people."
Indeed, finding empathy is yet another virtue espoused in her book, one of countless hard-won life lessons that have emerged from the struggles she's endured.
"Life is full of so many surprises," she says. "Some of them are great surprises and some of them are disturbing and sad and they don't feel well. It has taught me to be patient. It has taught me understanding that things will not always go as planned. It has taught me that I'm enough just as I am. No matter what may come my way, I don't have to change. I can be who I am and any room that I walk into, I'm supposed to be there.
"And that alone is enough of a life lesson to take me through the rest of my life. Knowing that I'm enough to just go through this life is enough for me... I'm grateful for the life lessons I've learned to get me to this place and into this mind."
—Video produced by Jacquie Cosgrove.
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