Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Thousand Mile Journey Begins With One Step...

I've been all over the planet when it comes to food.  I have a love-hate relationship with the stuff.  I really hate carbs but I really love fruit.  I see my relationship with food as a journey that started many years ago.  It began with one step...

One afternoon, when I was 13 years old, I saw this episode of Degrassi Jr. High:

Even though this episode is more about journalistic integrity then it is about animal rights, something struck a chord with me.  I wrote letters to PETA and ASPCA asking for information on cruelty to animals and received tons of information in return.  Although I didn't wear a lot of makeup at 13 years old, I determined never to wear anything tested on animals... a conviction I still hold to this day.

A few years later, I decided to embrace vegetarianism.  I could not imagine killing animals for food.  I used to picture it in my head... the slaughterhouses, the hatcheries... I even visited a turkey farm once and I still can't eat turkey to this day.  The idea of eating meat was disgusting to me.  Flesh, fat, blood... (I'd better stop writing all the nasty stuff now or I'll go back to my veggie ways!).

Being a vegetarian presented a number of challenges throughout the years.  I went to Bible school in England for six months when I was 19.  The school was actually situated on a farm, so the food mainly consisted of meat at least twice a day.  Obviously, I didn't partake of that so oftentimes I was left eating mashed potatoes topped with Taco Bell hot sauce when chili con carne was served or just French fries on Fish 'n Chips Fridays rolled around.  I survived on bread and cheese that I used to hang out my bedroom window because it was cold enough outside to keep the cheese from going bad.  How I managed to gain weight while at Capernwray I'll never know.  Hefty bowls of crumble and custard probably didn't help.

No one else in my family was vegetarian, so I got used to eating sides.  My Thanksgiving meal consisted of mashed potatoes, stuffing and creamed corn- my plate colored with yellow, white and brown.  The food was and is always delicious.  I'd constantly pick pepperoni off of pizzas or try to eat around meat when it was in something I couldn't avoid eating.  Heck, I married the son of a butcher!  Meat is a big thing in Mark's family. He put up with my inability to cook good meat for a long time.

A few years ago, I started making the shift from vegetarianism into raw veganism.  Raw vegans eat only uncooked fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.  People on this diet look healthy, lean and vibrant.  Whether or not they actually are healthy is another story for another time.  I tried to incorporate as much raw into my life as possible.  I bought all the appliances- a BlendTec, an Exaclibur dehydrator, a juicer... I concocted tons of delicious and some not-so-delicious raw foods and I lost weight.  Unfortunately, as many raw vegans find, this lifestyle is difficult to maintain because you are hungry all. the. time.  Even when you eat a ton, all you are eating is carbs and if you oxidize carbs like I do, you burn through them like a baby burns through breastmilk- incredibly fast.  I initially lost weight on this diet but ended up gaining it back when I started eating cooked again.

Enter veganism.  I read T. Colin Campbell's book The China Study and became totally convinced that eschewing dairy as well as meat and eggs from my diet was the way to go.  Casein causes liver cancer dontcha know... It seemed like the perfect middle ground between vegetarianism and raw veganism.  I started listening to tons of vegan propaganda.  I said things like "I don't eat animals or their bodily secretions."  I didn't impose my veganism on anyone, but I felt very judgmental toward those who continue to eat animals.  I bought the Earth Balance, Garlic Aioli and Grain-based "meats."  I tried meat substitutes like soy and seitan.  And I ate a lot of rice, pasta, bread and potatoes.

I joined Weight Watchers but their calorie-restricted, low fat approach proved to be a total failure for me.  I know it works for others and that is wonderful.  But it didn't work for me because calorie-restricted, low-fat diets don't work for some people.
I got fatter and fatter...

How is this possible?  I'm a vegan for crying out loud!  I am supposed to be one of the healthiest people on the planet and yet I'm ballooning up!  I don't drink soda and I don't eat animals or their secretions!  Why am I fat?  Why does my liver hurt?  Why am I pre-diabetic?  I have no energy and a headache almost everyday.

Blah blah blah blah blah...

I went to my doctor who diagnosed me with fatty liver disease and told me I needed to try and eat eggs at least and better yet, some meat.  She said "Check out Nourishing Traditions" (a book I already owned) and take cod liver oil.  You need to eat protein.  No, beans do not count because they are so high in carbs.  Nuts are good, but if you're trying to lose weight, eating lots of them won't help you.

I thought- okay, I can do a vegetarian version of NT, right?  I started soaking my grains and nuts.  I made sourdough bread.  I started eating yogurt (yuck!).  But I didn't lose weight.

Then I found Carrie Thienes, founder of Northwest Holistic Nutrition.  We worked together for several months and she helped me so much.  Basically, Carrie shot straight with me- I need to eat more protein and fat and way less carbs.  I'd carb-loaded my way to obesity.

"Would you consider eating meat?" she asked me.

Oh man!  This was what I was afraid of... but at this point, I was feeling so bad that I didn't care.  Carrie told me I needed to basically hit a low-carb, Atkins-like diet if I wanted to lose weight and start feeling better.  Instinctively, I knew she was right.

"Yes," I answered.

A few weeks later, I visited my brother's restaurant, the Lazy Dog Cafe, to eat my first meat in 17 years.  It was difficult, but I ate what I ordered and I haven't looked back.  Sure, there's been a large gross-out factor to overcome, but that's dissipating every day.

What happened to my vegetarian convictions, you ask?  Well. honestly, when I realized that my vegetarian diet was making me sick, I decided to put myself before the animals.  There are ways to be a responsible animal consumer- eating grassfed organic meat, drinking raw milk, buying pastured, free range eggs... Supporting small, local farms encourages the adoption of more sustainable farming practices.  When there is a greater demand for organic, grass-fed meats and raw milk, suppliers will have to change their ways to meet the demand.

There's a lot of bad information floating around out the health and environmental benefits of vegetarianism.  The results of The China Study have been called into question by folks who have analyzed the raw data and have come to significantly different conclusions than Dr. Campbell.  In fact, many prominent vegans and raw vegans have returned to meat or dairy consumption around the same time I did.

So where am I today?  Well, I'm about to take a new step in my "thousand mile journey."  I've discovered paleo...

Paleo?  What the heck is paleo?

Very simple, people who follow a paleo diet consume meat, veggies, fruits, and some healthy fats like coconut, nuts, avocado and olive oil.  They do not consume grains or legumes of any kind, processed food, sugar (natural or otherwise) or dairy (the exception being butter or ghee).  It seems restrictive, but I don't think so.  The basic idea is this: At every meal, eat protein, tons of veggies, and a little healthy fat.  If you're trying to lose weight, keep the fruit and nuts to a minimum.

This is a very low-carb diet, similar to Atkins except without the fake sugar and cheese-a-thons.  I'm excited to try it.  Between now and the Apostles' Fast (when I have to go vegan again, ggrrrrr....), I'm doing the paleo thing.  I will follow the Church's fasting rules on Wednesdays and Fridays though, but believe it or now, I can still be mostly paleo if I eat tons of veg any maybe throw a little legumes in there for filler.  We'll see how it goes.  I'm excited!  Everything paleo I've tried over the last week or so has been freaking delicious!  A few recipes have included:

  • Thai-Inspired Stir Fry with Spring Vegetables from the Simple Food for Spring e-book that I mention below
  • Carnitas from the same e-book paired my own concoctions for Mexican coleslaw and Salsa Fresca
  • Paleo-Tacos from Sarah Fragoso's blog Everyday Paleo .

So as you can see, I've been around the dietary world.  I'm sort of thinking I may have found my home. Wish me luck and please, please pray for me.


  1. Why do you "have to" go vegan for?
    Anyway, my friends have a blog with an interesting article about how foods are labeled "organic", "free range", etc. here: and the May issue of prevention had an interesting article on chicken farms. Anyway, I enjoyed reading your post! I'm always curious to know why people choose vegetarianism, veganism, etc., so thanks for sharing :) I hope you are feeling better and getting healthier with the diet changes.
    Love, Sarah

  2. Thanks a lot! You do realize I will have to go relive my past and start watching Degrassi again!! I had both of the awesome hairdos in my teens - the sweet shaved head with bangs and then the in your face bleached spiked... LOL

    I am following a Weston/Paleo diet myself. However, I tend to get a little nutty when I limit too many carbs. I need to find a good balance there.


  3. My body turned on me when I turned 40. That year it was like some alien took over and NOTHING I tried prevented weight gain and a general downshift in my health. Last year I totally changed my diet to a more "paleo-ish" low carb way of eating. I lost 15 pounds last year and I'm still slowly losing weight - but the biggest improvement has been my state of mind and health. I have pretty much eliminated grains from my diet - with one exception. When I visit the Orthodox mission in my area, I DO have a piece of the blessed bread when it is offered after the Liturgy - because it is blessed, after all! :)

    Good luck with your new way of eating.

  4. Awesome blog, Jen! I didn't know you had one! I am so proud of the courage it has taken you to move through a lot of deeply held convictions---but the greatest conviction is that your health is the most important thing (spiritual, mental, physical).

    It is hard to be Orthodox and Paleo....but I've found that eating mostly steamed veggies and some protein powder (like hemp) with some green powder and coconut milk is a nice filler to go with all the veggies...almond butter too. Oh, and for big fasts, as far as I'm concerned, "chicken is the new shrimp". I'm SERIOUS. Shrimp is full of toxins, freakin expensive, and chicken is cheap (even the organic, free range is half as much as shrimp per pound!) and chicken is the most pleniful meat on the planet, according to some magazine my hubby recently showed me :) (how's that for an intelligent reference of the literature?!?!?)

    Anyway, it's great to get an update and it's been a pleasure to get to know you on this whole journey!



  5. Ah yes... paleo on fast days is kind of a drag. I know I said in my post that I'd be starting the whole "Just till the Apostles Fast Challenge" today but... hello! Its Friday! Unfortunately, for me, that meant eating some bean soup and watermelon. BUT I am going to find some non-meat ways of eating on Wednesdays and Fridays if I can. I've spent $100 on Questbars and I love them... but I can only eat 1 per day before I start feeling yicky.

    I'm actually thinking about getting the whole family on board with this. My son eats so much bread and my daughter drinks milk like its soda. But they actually both really love meat so that's a good thing. I'm not cutting out cheese, but I think cutting out gluten will be a good thing.

    Thanks for commenting Carrie! I hope to steer some more business your way too. Your encouragement and your program really made a difference for me and I am so grateful.