I’ve been eating things that grow from the ground and on trees for the bulk of my life. I went semi-vegan when I was 15 whereby I omitted all fried foods, junk foods, soda, red meat and poultry. I was that nerd of a kid who rather than hang out with her friends after school went home for a run and to make a spinach salad. I made a big shift from the standard hormonal teenage fare to that of a west coast hippie: brown rice, oatmeal, fish, egg whites, non fat dairy, fruit and vegetables. With the exception of bananas, carrots and potatoes since I was on the no-fat, low carb kick – remember? Also known as the unsustainable weight loss tactic of the 90’s. I had become fat phobic to a fault and was on the verge of what would become my life’s quest to heal through the lens of food. This diet is what broke me in and broke me down. It was an amalgamation of everything I had observed and studied growing up in a household of dieters and while it was drastic in comparison to my old ways – I was at least on the right track from a nutritional stand point (all things considered). Needless to say, the Oreos and classic Italian sandwiches from the corner Corsetti’s chock full of ham, cheese, white bread and extra pickles with a side of Doritos of my past made me feel as average as I was and I had this hunch that what I ate might make me feel exceptional. I left those all too common American habits and the additional 25-30 pounds that came with it for a life of many more surprises.
You can read more of that story HERE.
When you’re young and ignorant, you want what you want. Was I determined? Damn straight. Scared? That set in later. I knew that my gusto for health and wellness would reward me double. The weight loss I experienced in my teens was so quick that my hair and skin tone went with it. Despite the negative repercussions, I got attention, “wow Katie, you’ve lot so much weight,” “you’re so determined,” and, “I don’t know how you do it.” I was also offered my first modeling gig and portfolio. Whether it was positive praise or admiration I was hungry for the acknowledgment (Oh you see me now?). I became so fixated on exercise and clean eating that once my results set in there was no going back. I had a boyfriend too, not to mention the guy that made all the girls jealous. I was winning.
With college came drinking, my high school breakup, a new all too smothering relationship and my mom was diagnosed with cancer. I was 300 miles from home, anorexic, bulimic and out of control. With each new diet craze came new adventures, new commitments, new cures and nothing quite solved the incessant desire to shed what wasn’t there. I became so full of secrets and shame that all I could do was run, hide and pretend like nothing happened. If I looked okay, I was okay. If I had initially chosen my improved diet for animal welfare I wouldn’t have explored other avenues but I was vain and fixated merely on results. My curious inner kitten decided to eat more meat and add more fat both of which gave me digestive issues, horrible acne and caused unwanted weight gain. The new age promise was: the once demonized fat is now angelic and animal protein is our savior. The real question I kept asking was, where is the body of my dreams, not just the one that’s thin & fit but the one that’s peaceful, functional and stable? Had a doctor or worse, an influencer, pointed me to the promise land I was the puppy, their disciple.
Side note: this is the beauty of getting older, wisdom teaches us that intuitive prowess is a skill we can hone and it truly comes from conscious thought; if A doesn’t lead to C then I must have skipped B.
Let’s get to the bottom of it, shall we?
The ruthless dieter tends to resort back to the “what worked for me then, must work for me now,” mentality. While there’s some semblance of truth to this there is also a reason the past is the past and should stay there. One twelve step program, lots of plant medicine (Ayahuasca, Peyote & psychedelics), a yoga teacher training along with a burning self practice, 6 years of farm life replete with yurt dwelling, two babies, a broken partnership, a masters degree and 17 years in Hawaii and I gratefully report back to say: I could have saved a lot of time and energy had I followed a few basic protocols. Those are:
Eat all the fruits and veggies under the sun (especially potatoes, bananas and carrots)
Omit all dairy, meat and gluten – non negotiable.
Repair ones relationship with alcohol, unless there’s a loving moderate approach which I’m grateful I now have after many many abstinent years. It’s just not worth the toxic load, sleepless nights and hormonal imbalance. But a glass of wine can happen here or there so long as I feel like counterbalancing it with a lot of positive self talk.
Initiate therapy sooner.
Eat more mushrooms, more often. Full disclosure: we all need a societal pressure release and most of us don’t need to get out of dodge, we need to be reminded of our minds potential and the limits we impose on ourselves. Read more here (we’ll speak more in depth about this in future posts).
There are some important factors in the how/why choosing a plant based lifestyle affords freedom from food obsession, safety in our bodies and an overall improved approach to living. It was helpful for me to learn some of the concrete reasons why omitting animal foods and gluten was beneficial before I could focus on how I felt. Let’s do that by getting some basics out of the way. It’s more sustainable to eat in a way that supports your values, dreams and goals (even the vain ones) when choosing foods that will nourish you.
Let’s start with the protein myth:
What is protein anyway?
Proteins are large biomolecules consisting of long chains of amino acids, and like carbohydrates and fat, are macronutrients. Macronutrients are compounds that humans (and many other animals) need in their diets to meet their nutritional needs and provide the energy, or calories, they need to survive. Source
A calorie is a unit of measurement: aka the amount of heat energy needed to raise 1 gram of water one degree higher (done in Celsius not Fahrenheit). For example, a medium banana that has 70 Calories yields 70,000 calories of energy. Protein and carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram whereas fat contain 9 calories per gram. Blah blah science science numbers number numbers…
Some research shows that consuming too much protein can overload the kidneys, contribute to metabolic disease, and especially in women lead to an increased risk of bone fractures. This is because the breakdown of protein in the body releases acidic by-products, which can lower blood pH and cause calcium to leach from the bones when protein is consumed in excess. This can cause bones to weaken, leading to breaks.
Science has proven that protein combining [assuming that we must combine rice and beans in order to get a complete protein] is absolutely unnecessary, provided you eat a varied diet with enough calories. Source
And weight gain:
Excess protein consumed is usually stored as fat, while the surplus of amino acids is excreted. This can lead to weight gain over time, especially if you consume too many calories while trying to increase your protein intake. A 2016 study found that weight gain was associated with diets where protein replaced carbohydrates, but not when it replaced fat. Source
Studies have shown that certain high-protein diets that are particularly high in red meat-based protein are linked to an increased risk of various health issues, including cancer. Eating more red and/or processed meat is associated with colorectal, breast, and prostate cancer. Conversely, eating protein from plant foods has been associated with a decreased risk of cancer. Scientists believe this could be due, in part, to hormones, carcinogenic compounds, and fats found in meat.
When researchers [Clinical Nutrition] tracked the weight and dietary patterns of more than 7,000 adults from 2003 to 2009, those whose diets were made up of more than 20% protein (especially animal protein) were significantly more likely to gain more than 10% of their body weight compared to people whose diets contained less than 15% protein. Even scarier: High-protein eaters also had a 50% higher risk of dying during the study period than low-protein eaters. Source
Personal thoughts and feelings: for me, eating excessive amounts of protein without accounting for the lack of carbohydrates resulted in more food cravings. Especially for sugar – and not the good kind. An absence of protein isn’t the solution but not emphasizing protein meant I could focus more on getting complex nutrition through carbohydrate sources (root veggies, potatoes, brown rice, oats, bananas etc) which also happen to contain what I needed from a full spectrum standpoint. And not just my body, all bodies.
I healed my relationship to food in general but mostly to carbohydrates (the diet barrier) when I finally learned basic calorie facts. The body’s physiological response to whole plant foods is: it takes what it needs and eliminates the rest. The more vitamin, mineral and nutrient dense foods we eat, the better.
Think of it like this: variety + abundance = a wide colorful array of foods that feel nourishing while stabilizing our brains and fuel our energy sources 🌈 Don’t mistake my lack of protein emphasis as gospel – I love tofu, tempeh and legumes and revel in the frequent Beyond Meat & Impossible Foods. Over time you learn to become your own best food buddy. When you make peace with what you’re eating, every meal becomes an adventure and a curious quest toward keeping the healthy ball rolling.
The best part, the foods I found myself loving were the most delicious and also helped me lose weight when I needed & wanted to (for example, after pregnancy). And by healthy I don’t mean on the standard medical scale which assumes 20-30 more pounds than I am (where did these arbitrary numbers come from anyway?). A healthy weight for me means I am mobile, energetic, menstruating, thinking clearly and sleeping well – it also means I can sit down for a few hours and pump out blog posts like these. You get to decide what your healthy weight is and this is your permission slip.
Lastly, eating with abandon AND being able to lose and maintain weight is an empowering thing. I can’t emphasize this enough. There comes a point on your journey when eating with abandon is no longer associated with binging. I have this motto: a piece of fruit isn’t a serving size. Don’t stop at 1 apple or orange if you want 3. The body knows what it’s doing and its “container” can literally hold up to 1.5 liters of volume, so why skimp on quantity or quality when your body was designed to digest & assimilate both? Sticking to plant foods makes eating freely more possible for me. I can’t say the same for steak, eggs and butter.
Here’s some awesome food for thought:
We can get just as much or more protein from plant sources – so why must we slaughter animals and take young from their mothers if we don’t have to? The ethical side of plant based eating definitely kicks in over time. While meat might taste good, plants feel good and my experience tells me that feeling good must take precedence. This is the basic tenant of the law of attraction and something a dieter has to learn painfully sometimes = how you feel matters because it determines how you magnetize what you want for your life. Remember: limited thoughts, limited potential.
Fat & Carbohydrates
Generally speaking, no one would argue whether or not we need protein but everyone loves to debate the importance of fat & carbohydrates.
The dirty truth is the brain is made of 60% fat – so by not eating fat we give the brain the royal FU and that’s just mean. And it doesn’t take much! A handful of almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds or a 1/2 an avocado add enough fat for the body to make its magic. The brain is where crucial fatty acids like DHA (decosahexaenoic acid) are produced so without them we experience vitamin deficiencies, mental confusion and hair loss. Fat packs a 9 calorie punch (per gram) which is why we can overdo it so quickly. Fat’s delicious. Fat is crave worthy. Fat is not the devil nor is it angelic. Fat just IS and we need it but in small amounts. Some people love fatty foods so much that they either relent to the overweight or omit other essential food groups to compensate. If you’re like me and revel in the art of eating in abundance and food preparation then making fat the staple of your diet will backfire fast. So sprinkle it in for flavor but let the carbs take center stage. What does this look like? A large plate split in 1/2 with grounding starches like potatoes and brown rice on one side and non starchy veggies like kale and broccoli on the other. Fat and protein can be incorporated in smaller amounts and still be sufficient. This is the best balance for energy production, especially for those of us on the go-go.
Additionally, our bodies & brains thrive on glucose and glycogen, aka sugar. When we starve the body of carbohydrates the brain goes on strike – “HOLD the door, you mean to tell me I don’t get to feel full? Satisfied? Satiated?” There’s one major reason weight loss is hard and often temporary: people don’t know how to feel satisfied so they either white knuckle it in a vain attempt to fit into a certain pants size, or they don’t try at all. Once you learn you can eat an abundance of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and grains AND feel amazing, energetic, positive and well slept the answer becomes so very clear.
Oh and Gluten:
I just don’t eat it. Why? A couple reasons. When I experienced my first 12 step program I was advised to omit flour & sugar. The immediate relief I felt from not consuming bread, pasta or baked goods made from wheat flour was immediate. I instantly learned that flour (especially when combined with sugar, salt and fat) cause addictive like behavior in the brain and make eating comfortably very very difficult. Since then I’ve learned that it’s not flour as much as it’s gluten, so I will use gluten free flours in my personal baking and opt for lentil and bean based noodles and alternative pastas. The difference is as much mental as it is physical.
Also, gluten causes bloating and acne (for me). I tried eating sourdough for years and the results were the same: inflamed skin, lower belly bloating and digestive discomfort. The science will say something to the effect of: “grains are inflammatory” and while some of that might be true, I’ve found that rice, oats and buckwheat (which is a seed) don’t cause discomfort and food cravings the way wheat and gluten do. So I avoid them. I don’t dissect the gluten monster, I just leave the beast alone and let everyone else fight about it.
*Special note: try going gluten free and be careful when purchasing gluten free foods that contain dairy and eggs.
Here’s the dirt:
I healed my relationship to my body through food but I had to heal my relationship to my thoughts, emotions and relationships simultaneously. I had to stop seeking diet trends and following what other people were eating. There was a caveat though. I also had to learn about plant based eating which took research. I had to study the doctors and check out the people making it not only popular but damn attractive – I find those who choose a vegan approach to life to look more vibrant, balanced and happy as opposed to proponents of meat, fat and “hard fact biased, e’hem, fact based science,” as well, kind of unappealing and not those I’d like having dinner with. I had to explore the people who made plant based eating popular (and those who made it unpopular). I had to feel into the experience and make it my own. I had to delve into why people who eat plants lose more weight and live happier lives – work, family and prosperity. I had to see what it was like living in a body that feels peaceful and not at war with itself. I had to understand why calories in does not mean calories out and why those who eat copious amounts of fruits and vegetables and lots of volume still maintain strong and healthy physiques replete with muscle tone. I had to identify what I wanted from my experience with food and my body: and that, my dear reader, is very personal. I had to own my vanity.
The moral, when you know what you want which comes from experiencing what you don’t want, then you can finally sit down and honorably claim: I’ve hit gold and I’m running with it.
Peace out sugar, thanks for indulging