Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Why I eat a low fat raw vegan diet

For those unfamiliar with the lingo, a low fat raw vegan diet is a fruit-based diet. Almost all calories are derived from fruit, plus vegetables as a concentrated mineral source. Fruit for breakfast, lunch, dinner - plus salad. 

Most people, when they observe my eating habits, are shocked and skeptical that anyone could tolerate such a "boring" diet, let alone thrive on it.

Five years ago, I was not a vegan. I scoffed at vegan "hippies". I believed that humans were designed to eat meat, that too much fruit would make you fat, and that protein was the secret to health and well being. My diet consisted of oats, tuna fish, cottage cheese, yoghurt, tofu, chicken, shellfish, green vegetables like broccoli and spinach, and the occasional egg. I was working at a gym at the time, and I was thoroughly brainwashed by the high protein propaganda. I avoided potatoes, bananas, and rice, believing that they would make me fat and unhealthy. 

I was eating ridiculous amounts of canned tuna fish, and others' comments about mercury poisoning and heavy metal toxicity sparked my curiosity about the health of my diet. I started gravitating away from seafood, eating more chicken. Red meat was only an occasional menu item, as the rest of my household did not eat it.

I wasn't a huge fan of chicken, and I gradually began eliminating it. Before I knew it, I was eating a mostly vegetarian diet. I had gone off milk several years ago due to lactose sensitivity, but I was still eating large quantities of yogurt, cheese, and eggs (particularly egg whites). I wondered whether a vegetarian diet was actually healthy, and so I started reading in earnest. Then, I came across a documentary called "Earthlings" that ended up changing my life. From that day, I knew that I wouldn't in good conscience ingest another animal product or exploit another being in order to fulfill my needs. 

Switching to veganism prompted more research and a radical shift in diet. Eliminating dairy products was difficult, which I later learned was due to the addictive properties of dairy (particularly cheese). What was more challenging were the hidden animal ingredients in almost every mainstream processed food product. Pasta sauce, crackers, seasoning packets, candy - even veggie burgers. I did make mistakes, where I unknowingly consumed animal products, but I learned from each experience. And quickly learned that a diet based on whole plant based food like beans, grains, and vegetables, was far easier on my sanity (not to mention healthier). I was still a little carb-phobic, so my diet consisted of oats for breakfast, with salads and beans for lunch and dinner, and low sugar fruits like apples and oranges for snacks. 

After about six months on a vegan diet, I started reading about a "raw food" diet - which I immediately dismissed as impossible. Within a few months, however, I decided to give it a try. I started drinking green smoothies for breakfast, which consisted of half a banana, a teaspoon of flax seeds, and a few handfuls of spinach. A woefully inadequate breakfast of barely 100 calories. Lunch was a small salad of lettuce, tomato, and cucumber, and an apple and an orange for snacks. Around this time I also eliminated coffee. Dinner was another small salad. After dinner, I would snack on nuts. And by snack, I mean several large handfuls. It's no wonder - I was barely eating 400 calories during the day.

I didn't realize it at the time, but my under eating during the day was the reason for my gorging on nuts in the evening. I was inadvertently eating a very high fat diet - which led to a few extra pounds on my frame and skin breakouts.

In late 2009, I stumbled upon a website called 30 bananas a day, which promoted a calorie-abundant, high carbohydrate, low fat raw vegan diet. It sounded bizarre to me, but seeing as a high fat raw diet was causing some unwanted side effects, I decided to try it. Or so I thought. My carbohydrate phobia was still in full force, and initially I could only stand to eat around 4 pieces of fruit a day. My half banana in the pitiful green smoothie (now minus flax seeds) along with a few apples and oranges. Gradually I added a couple of bananas to my daily intake. Then five. Then ten. Clearly, I didn't quite understand the concept of carbohydrate abundance to promote health, athletic recovery, strength, and weight loss. I was still under the illusion of "calories in versus calories out" as being the key to health, that thin = healthy.

Eventually, I learned that our bodies are designed to live on carbohydrates. That under eating leads to cravings for undesirable foods that are high in salt, high in fat, or processed. That inadequate hydration leads to mixed body signals and cravings. That under consumption of greens leads to cravings for salt. 

Most importantly, I learned that health isn't all about diet. Health must include enough movement, rest, hydration, sunshine, and positive relationships - and more. 

I will never have the "perfect" diet, because I no longer believe there is such a thing. I do my best, though. I buy from markets when I can. I eat organic greens most of the time. I grow some of my own food. I eat a plant based, whole-food diet. I avoid certain things not because of dogma or because I'm trying to attain some level of "purity" - rather, I avoid things because I don't desire them and/or because I don't like the way they make me feel. 

Once upon a time I wanted to identify as a "raw foodist" and I went to great lengths to sustain this diet. Even if it meant eating a fatty raw food dish over, say, a plate of rice and vegetables. I avoided EVERYTHING that wasn't raw, including minute amounts of dried herbs.

These days, I'm less concerned about labels and "fitting" into a particular group. It's about doing and being the best I can be. 

We might be lured into thinking that diet is everything, if the raw food/vegan Internet community is anything to go by. There's a lot of in-fighting between people who actually have more similarities than differences. Even the "Paleo" and "vegan" crowds agree on a number of points. And each is convinced that their diet is the right diet.

I have more to say on the principles of health and a vegan vs non/vegan diet, which I will do another time. For now, I'll conclude with the idea that there is no perfection in life, and that we are all striving to better ourselves in all areas. Don't put all your focus on one aspect of health at the expense of others - your health can only be as good as your weakest link. I've lived the unbalanced life, and I can safely say that if you're mood is dictated by a number on the scale, or if you feel guilt for eating a possibly non-raw item, or if you repeatedly beg off social events to exercise, or you refuse to associate with people based on their diet .... You need to take a look at your priorities. 


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