When the Ethical Writers and Creatives, a group that I'm a member of, proposed that we all do a "What we Eat and Why" link up, I was eager to participate. The questions, What is healthy?, What is morally right?, and What is sustainable?, all come with answers that are different for everyone. They are also often met with an eye-roll. I know I've asked myself these questions, on my journey to live a better life, with multiple answers that have shape-shifted and evolved over time.
My Dieting Journey (eating disorder included)
I started off on a standard American diet. Around the age of 21, I became vegetarian, then vegan, and subsequently developed "orthorexia" due to the pressures that I put on myself to be a size zero for the fashion industry. I am more naturally a size 4, so I used my vegan diet as an excuse to under-eat and make myself smaller for my work. Last year, I was able to recover with the help of my family and friends, and got back to my healthy weight. I realized that I was blogging and speaking up for the health of animals and environment, but I wasn’t treating myself with the same compassion. I decided that, in order to be sustainable for myself, something had to change.
I still wanted to be vegan for ethical reasons, but needed something different that would allow me to gain weight in a “healthy” way. You can read more about the importance of eating less meat for our environment in this post. I listened to a famous vegan YouTuber who touts, "Eat as much as you want, just very low fat and lots of fruits!" so I when I first upped my calories, I went on a high-carb low-fat (HCLF) vegan diet. I should also add that this new diet had a heavy emphasis on sugar being perfectly healthy. (Is your head spinning yet? I know mine is..)
"High-carb, low-fat vegan was actually making me sick."
Soon thereafter, although I gained the weight back and was no longer feeling malnourished, my health began to suffer in other ways. At the time, I truly believed that my new diet was the way to recover from years of under-eating, in a healthy way. In hindsight, any diet that celebrates table sugar and eating pounds of fruit probably isn't a smart idea. In November 2017, I tested positive for hormonal imbalances, had extreme fatigue, and developed Perioral Dermatitis on my face. Obviously, something wasn't working.
Instead of trying to tackle my diet on my own again, I decided to seek the help of an Institute of Functional Medicine Certified Herbalist and Nutritionist. With their guidance, I have been eating a plant-based Paleo type diet, that avoids excess sugars and increases my daily fat intake. (phew!) It appears that high-carb, low-fat vegan was actually making me sick, and the key for me is balance! I truly hope that this new diet helps me achieve sustainable health, and is also sustainable for the planet. Only time will tell.
Whole Food, Plant-Based or Paleo-Vegan?
My current diet is still plant-based and made up of primarily whole foods. Almost all plant foods, except for grains and white potatoes, are also considered Paleo. What makes my diet more specifically paleo rather than whole food, plant-based, is that I am limiting my fruit and bean intake to only once a day, and rarely eating quinoa with no other grains. You may have heard of the term "Paleo" lately and associate it with high meat consumption only. I believe that my vegan diet however, fits into that category as well.
A Paleo diet is loosely defined as a diet based on the types of foods presumed to have been eaten by early humans (1). Since we only have presumptions to go off of, it's my opinion that a vegan diet, as long as it doesn't include grains, processed junk foods, sugars, and alcohol, is also one that our Paleolithic ancestors may have thrived on.
What I Eat in a Day:
My whole food, plant-based, Paleo-type diet (again with the long labels... sorry!) gets the majority of its bulk from non-starchy vegetables. These include leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, green beans, zucchini, celery, cucumber, collards, tomatoes, etc. It also more sparingly includes starchy vegetables (legumes and root vegetables), fruits, seeds and nuts, avocados, unsweetened plant “milks,” tofu, tempeh, and oils. All herbs and spices are allowed, and a big part of my treatment is a personalized herbal tea that I drink twice daily. The biggest adjustment has been cooking myself vegetables for breakfast in the winter, instead of having lots of fruit or cold cereals.
I am also not supposed to have frequent snacks throughout the day, but instead three solid meals. This was difficult the first week, but now my body is used to it. Intermittent fasting (not snacking and having a long break between dinner and breakfast) is said to allow the body to heal faster, because your energy isn't allocated to digesting all day long (3). I feel this has been very beneficial for my health. The saving grace for me, in this diet that makes me abstain from sweets, is that I don't have to give up dark chocolate or coffee. Two of my favorite things. My standard daily meals look something like this:
Smoothie bowl with paleo granola or fresh fruit in the summer. I try to use low sugar fruits such as berries, and apples, as well as fresh greens in my smoothies as well. Cooked veggies and tofu scrambles for in the winter.
A veggie-heavy salad in the summer, including kale or mixed greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, radishes, alfalfa sprouts, overnight-soaked legumes (peas, lentils, beans, etc.), half of an avocado, and freshly squeezed lemon, for my lunch... Or (you guessed it) more cooked veggies or a soup in the winter.
For dinner, my favorite meal is a macrobiotic bowl (sans grains) in the summer, and roasted veggie power bowl in the winter. Check out my post about the macrobiotic diet here.
I try to vary what I eat everyday based upon what's in season and listen to my body when I shop. If I look at fresh corn or green beans, for example, and my mouth starts to water than I know my body wants it. Listen to your body too! The healthier you eat, the more in tune you begin to be with what your body really needs. I have found that, during the summer, a combination of raw fruits and veggies during the day and cooked veggies at night works best. During the winter, I eat more hot, cooked veggies and tofu scrambles for breakfast, soups and roasted vegetables during the day, and cooked vegan dishes at night. I also try to combine my fat intake with salads and cruciferous vegetables so my body can process my meal more easily (3).
I hope this look into a typical day for me has been helpful for you. Everyone is different, so I am by no means prescribing my diet for you, or criticizing anyone who eats differently than me. To say this has been a fun and easy process would be a lie. I do know however, that through this undertaking, I am setting my self up for sustainable health in the long run. Let me know in the questions below if you have any questions, and check out this great book to learn more about a whole food, plant-based diet.
***This is a project through the Ethical Writers & Creatives group. Check out all of our food posts by clicking the links below!
World Threads Traveler: What I Eat in a Day and Why I’m Not a Vegetarian
Conscious by Chloé: A Day of Home Cooked Meals
Sustaining Life: How To Eat Sustainably: Being "Vegan" and Other Decisions
The Wasted Blog: My Week of Meals - Food Inspo for Health Nuts
Honestly Modern: How Much Do You Think About What You Eat and Why?
Going Zero Waste: What I Eat in a Day
My Green Closet: How Eco-Influencers Eat