Change is Good

You may think a dietitian has it all figured out for herself/himself when it comes to eating. Not so! It’s beneficial to constantly tweak and adjust eating habits. We’ve all heard the quote: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  Basically, when something stops working , it’s time for a change!

When I began noticing lower levels of energy, particularly during runs, I became (extra) curious about my own nutrition.   According to the nutritional composition of my diet I was getting everything I supposedly needed, but I was frustrated with feeling like I was eating right and not feeling as good as I had. That little voice inside of me who loves to question things spoke up. Could there be nutrients (possibly unidentified yet) in animal products that I am missing? Would I feel better if I ate them? How could I ever be okay with doing this due to all I believe in? After a lot of serious thinking I decided I was ready to begin experimenting with adding animal foods back into my diet to see what would happen.

I have been eating animals now for about the past seven months and I never believed I could say this, but it feels right and totally natural. Don’t get me wrong; I still eat a whole-foods, plant-strong diet– only now it includes animal fats and proteins (mainly eggs, cows, chickens and pigs) from mostly local farms  where I have met the farmers and seen the animals.  I’ve been on a few tours from amazing farmers passionate about what they do!  Their animals live lives that you would expect a farm animal to lead. They eat what nature intended and are not given growth hormones and antibiotics.  They have the freedom to roam, peck, forage and graze.  They enjoy the warm sunshine, the breeze and plenty of open space.

If you are vegan, you will likely not understand this. I know when I was vegan and read all those ex-vegan stories I couldn’t wrap my head around how a vegan could possibly change. I thought it was a switch that couldn’t be flipped back.

I was vegan for over twelve years and pescatarian for the past two. To go from believing in something so strongly to seeing food from a new perspective felt like losing my religion. For a while I was somewhat lost but at the same time I had a sense that I was doing something healthy for my body and was on the right path.  I didn’t get sick. My body did not reject animal flesh. In fact, I felt extremely nourished. Everything digested normally, right from that first bite of Chris’s beef stew. I didn’t feel guilty (or I would not have attempted this).  Yes, I am finicky about what I am eating.  I have a problem with factory farmed meats– making me particular about what I buy and avoiding most restaurant meats.  I do still feel strongly about the injustice with the way most animals are raised for food. Animal abuse still tears at my heart, as does the destruction of the earth and the way so many humans have little reverence for nature, animals, real food and living a healthy lifestyle.  I’m not trying to sound like a food snob; those are just things that are important to me.

But what about all those pro-vegan books on my shelf that say how healthy it is to avoid all animal products?  I flipped through them all and they only irritated me with their outdated and often just plain incorrect information.  The fact is we are omnivores and we can live healthfully on vastly different foods, from 100% vegan to mostly animal-based.  Nobody knows the answer to the ‘what is the healthiest way to eat’ question.  And that is a question I get asked all the time.  If only there were a simple answer. We crave that list of good/bad foods to make it easy but it doesn’t exist.  I want to emphasize that there is no single ideal diet.  I think most of us instinctively know this but it’s so buried under a constant flow of contradictory advice.

Despite what certain books, the media and health experts may convey, in reality, very little is known about the best way to eat.  What’s true: What we eat affects our health. What’s not so certain: Exactly which foods to include/avoid. Hence all the diets out there— vegan, vegetarian, wheat-free, low-carb, low-fat, paleo, fruitarian, raw food, and the list goes on, each having their own set of food rules to obey.  With all the confounding variables in nutrition science, we must remember that nutrition is by no means an exact science. When somebody wants to prove a point- that their diet is best- there will be ways to find “science” to back up their theory. However, taking a closer look at the details of research studies will often point to their limitations and flaws, and more often than not, the only certain conclusion being that more research is necessary.  Isn’t it fascinating how very different angles to eating can have identical promises of reduced risk of disease, increased health and weight loss?  Unfortunately, these ‘diet plans’ make people believe that it has to be their way and no other.  Just because one way of eating works for one person doesn’t mean it is going to be the right thing for you.  Have you ever considered that you may be your own best nutritionist if you begin to pay attention to how food affects you?

I’ve left my blog for about seven months trying to sort out my new eating habits. I didn’t know what I expected to occur with my changes—and to be honest, the difference is subtle but it’s there. A sense of increased well-being and peace is present. I’m sleeping better. I have more energy. I can run again without struggling for my breath. I feel a beautiful new connection to nature and the circle of life. That is enough for me to continue with what feels good to me.

Right now I am interested in building my strength and embracing this life. Selfish? Maybe. Maybe not. When I stop feeling okay with what I am doing, that’s when I’ll look for an alternative way of eating. Who knows, maybe I will even go back to the vegan lifestyle if I feel it’s right for me. But right now, I really like living without a diet label or food rules. I feel freer and happier with my choice to eat anything. I happen to opt for healthy foods because taking care of my body and being happy are meaningful goals of mine.

I’ll end with a link to a brief, yet amusing article that we all can enjoy to help remind us to lighten up a little with our obsession with nutrition and diet trends:

Paleo, vegan, gluten-free– The only certainly about health trends is their reversal.

If you want to be vegan, I still think it is a great idea. I felt healthy for over twelve years. Some people feel fine their whole lives without consuming animals; other people instinctively know they can’t give them up at all. We are all unique and what is important is to know yourself and listen. Also realize that your nutritional needs change throughout your life depending on variables like the seasons, your age and your activity level.  There is no one size fits all diet—it’s about what makes you thrive and feel balanced. If what you are doing is working, then be grateful and keep it up. If not, go ahead and make a change.

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