May 12th, 2013
Chris and I are in the middle of some big changes to our eating habits and bodies. While it’s been a work in progress for a bit over a month now, I am excited to talk about what we are doing along with my motivations and experience in addition to discussing the unrefined plant based diet which is both so radical and so simple. I think of it was “eating like a gorilla” because all the other primates on the planet eat almost exclusively plants.
For a while now, I had been discontented with the state of my body and health. As little as I blog anymore, I even wrote about it back in January when I went through my wardrobe and was disappointed to find an entire laundry basket of items I’d gotten too big to wear. It was demoralizing. I was frustrated with myself gaining back all but around twenty pounds of what I’d lost in 2010. Worse than the weight gain, I was feeling sluggish, old and unhealthy. Worse still, I couldn’t imagine how I could reverse the trend beyond finding the willpower to eat a very small volume of food while battling hunger and cravings every single day for the rest of my life.
I was caught between a rock and a hard place. The rock being my 4 foot 8 inch frame carrying, as of April 2nd, 259 pounds which is around BMI of 55. Now, I’m not here to argue about wither people can be overweight and health or make any moral judgements about people who choose remain overweight. I believe in body autonomy for all bodies and don’t judge others for making the choices they make. For me, however, there is no doubt my cocktail of medical issues is vastly improved by slimming down. I’ve seen it for myself and, you know, science. I want to be healthy, have all my various body systems function, and avoid illness. I’ll be happy to be thinner for all the vanity and fashion reasons, but I would never have been motivated enough by those things to actually make a change.
But then we have the hard place. Just as much as medical science tells maintaining a normal-to-thin body weight ups the likelihood of leading a long and healthy life, science also tells us it is next to impossible to loose weight and keep it off once you have been significantly overweight. I know from experience I’m extremely unhappy on programs which force me count, measure and track. I feel trapped. I find it triggering for anxiety. I can only manage to stick to it in the short term, but I know I couldn’t make it a lifestyle. Same for “eating less” which is how I got down to 217 pounds three years ago. I’d eaten small amounts of various things all throughout the day and kept hunger away with more Diet Coke than I care to admit. Chris and I had tried the “slow carb” thing a la Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Body (affiliate link) and while I agree many of the principles are sound, it was complicated to do on a budget, plus my food cravings never dissipated.
All those things always felt like a diet to me. They also felt forced. I knew I couldn’t commit to a lifetime of anything I had tried. I knew anything less than a lifetime commitment seemed futile from the outset.
Several months ago, I’d begun eating more vegetables and taking walks on my lunch break, but I didn’t see any change on the scale or in the fit of clothing. Still, I figured those habits were healthy anyway and the walks specifically were great for my mental health.
The seeds of real change came later, like they so often do, with a side of serendipity and planted in a heart ready to accept the advice. They say when a student is ready, the teacher arrives and the old chestnut has often proved itself in my life. It happened to be Easter Sunday over at Chris’ family’s house when his brother Eric put on the documentary “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” which you can watch on Netflix or free on Hulu. It’s the story of Joe Cross – a man with a delightful Aussie accent and a painful autoimmune disorder – getting healthy on a juice fast followed by diet rich in unprocessed plant foods. On the first watching I was slightly skeptical yet curious. I thought about it afterward, too, and talked about it with Chris. We watched the movie again before deciding to order a juicer.
I’m fine with admitting my juice fast phase didn’t last long. I spent about five days on juice and water only and without even coffee before adding in some black beans and cottage cheese in the evening.At the time, I believed I was lacking in protein and while that may have been a small part of the problem, I have come to believe I was going through a physiological withdrawal from refined carbohydrates and sugars. I felt better with a little solid food in the evening, usually some spinach salad along with beans and cottage cheese and after the first couple weeks, I wasn’t drinking nearly as much juice during the day or the large amounts of water I needed the first week just to keep hunger pains away.
I’m also drinking two cups of coffee in the morning. I use a small amount of half and half, but have lost my taste for sweetener in it. So many studies have been done on the benefits of moderate coffee usage as a treatment for depression and my personal experience is it enhances my mood, so any trade off is worthwhile to me.
Weight dropped. For the first month, I lost an average of 0.6 pounds a day. People at work started to notice my glass of green or orange juice, along side a jug for refills and soon noticed how started to shrink. Some seemed interested. I’ve handed out a few juice samples along with recommending the documentary. Plenty people look at me like I’m crazy.
I’m excited about the scale weight dropping, to be sure, but it is things no one else sees which excite me the most. My energy level and mental clarity are better than I ever would have imagined. Of course, those are both subjective indications. I am, at the core, a skeptic. One change has cut through my reservations and sold me on this way of eating as healthful and not just slimming: My skin is so soft. I’ve always had dry spots on my hands, feet, elbows, knees, wrists and ankles. My hands especially would get chapped and painful from using harsh soaps to the point that I will sometimes carry moisturizing bar soap in my purse to use in public bathrooms. I don’t remember a time, even as a child, when I didn’t have these dry spots. Now, I’m not dry or flaky anywhere. It’s a wonder what proving the body with proper nutrition will do.
While Chris and I both were quickly sold on the benefits of juicing, one place “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” left us needing more information was what to eat in addition to drinking our freshly jucied fruits and veggies. Still even Joe the Juicer himself broke his fast after 60 days. Chris went back to the documentary and found Dr. Joel Fuhrman who is featured several times in the film. He downloaded Eat to Live: The Amazing Nutrient-Rich Program for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss (affiliate link).
Never in my life have I been so set against ideas in a book in the first few chapters and so firmly sold on the wisdom of the same book by the last page. I found the first few chapters difficult because they seemed little more than an attach on the overweight person. Living in fat phobic culture, the message isn’t one I find compelling on it’s own, after all average weight Americans – on the whole – don’t eat healthfully or suffer substantially fewer medical problems than overweight Americans. As a country, we eat terribly as evidenced by the sheer number of fast food joints which thrive in our communities.
As I continued to read, I found Dr. Fuhrman began to focus more on food as medicine. Throughout the book he profiles patients of his who have reversed heart disease and diabetes following his diet. He says weight naturally comes off when you eat for nutrition density. This is the same way of eating Alton Brown promotes in his Live and Let Diet episodes of Good Eats. If I hadn’t seen the results for myself, I’m not sure I would have believed much about curbing addition to junk food, but having started with juicing and experienced it for myself, I know I was addicted and now I don’t crave the processed carbs and sweets, nor do I miss eating meat. I can’t go so far as to say I no longer have a taste for any of those foods or none of them sounds appealing, but the deep longing for them which couldn’t be scratched with anything else is gone.
I would not have tried this way of eating had I not been desperate to turn the tide on my health. I want so much for my future in part because I wasted so much of my past. The thought of living with chronic illnesses kept at bay only with the help of medication with powerful side effects is almost as scary as the thought of dying young. I don’t want to simply exist, but to thrive in mind, body and spirit. I’d come a long way on the mind and spirit part, but my physical struggles had been holding me back. As I sit here today, I am around twenty pounds lighter than I was when I started this experiment at the first of April, I’m stronger and more active, and I don’t feel any temptation to go back to my former way of eating. A month is only a drop in the bucket against 32 years of habits, but so far this way of eating has created a positive feedback loop more powerful than those patterns. Even if I slip up, I confident knowing not only that a diet of unrefined plant food is health, but that I enjoy it enough to get right back on.