In college, my best friend was a vegetarian. She was – and still is – impossibly hip and smart and so convinced me without trying to stop eating meat. It sounded like a good idea at the time. My previous diet was by no means healthy: cereals and milk for breakfast; sandwiches for lunch; and maybe another sandwich or pizza for dinner. Very few vegetables, lots of carbs, dairy, and meat. Miraculously, I was not overweight!
When I switched to a vegetarian diet, the only thing that changed is that I gave up meat. I didn’t add in other types of whole grains or cruciferous vegetables to supplement the sudden drop in B-vitamins that occurred. It was at this time that my health really went downhill.
It wasn’t necessarily the vegetarianism that made my health suffer, but rather my version of vegetarianism that caused the problems. You see, I wasn’t really a vegetarian, I was a carb-avore. My diet became almost entirely sugar-based: dairy (lactose sugar), fruit (fructose sugar), and refined grains (sucrose sugar).
When I finally sought help for my health, a change in diet was in order. I still didn’t start back with the meat, yet, though. I did add in more eggs and fish at first. I temporarily gave up cheese and sweetened yogurt, opting instead for kefir (a fermented dairy drink to rebuild my gut lining).
The biggest change was including more vegetables. I got to know all about leafy greens (kale, spinach, mustard greens, cilantro and other herbs, etc.) and how to cook them to make them taste delicious. I tried – and liked – sea vegetables (cucumber and sprouts in a nori roll is a great snack). I learned how to make my own soups with nothing but an onion, olive oil, some garlic, water, salt and whatever veggies you have in the fridge. I never felt healthier and more balanced in my life! My skin was flawless and I had tons of energy.
Then, about 6 months later, things took a dive for the worse again. This time it was a different problem. I had no energy. I had lost so much weight that I didn’t have a menstrual cycle for a year. I met my husband at that time, and he now remarks at how unhealthy I looked then; my complexion had turned a sallow-yellow color. I remember at one point back then going to the gym, sitting on a weight machine and not even having the strength to lift my legs so I had to leave without even working out!
One night, on my way home from work, I drove past a Whataburger. (I know, I know…) I could no longer resist it. I had to have meat.
…and I felt much better.
The moral of this story is: there is no one perfect diet for any person. Your nutritional needs change throughout your life, and it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms that your diet needs an adjustment.
Most people tend to get into “eating ruts” where we are eating the same types of foods day in and day out. It’s usually after years of being in an eating rut that signs of nutritional imbalance can show up.
In Chinese medicine, we use the symbolism of the Yin-Yang often.
- Yin can signify “deficiency”: fatigue, paleness, cold body temperature, weakness, immune-deficient, etc.
- Yang can signify “excess”: skin blemishes, infections, hot body temperature, loud voice, hypertension, etc.
- Yang foods can balance a yin condition: animal protein, whole grains, sea salt, yogurt, nuts, oils
- Yin foods can balance a yang condition: vegetables, fresh fruit
Other things to remember:
- Some Yang foods are highly inflammatory and should be avoided or limited if there are health problems: sugars, artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, gluten, regular cow’s milk, artificial cheese, butter, and creamer, alcohol, fried foods, overly spicy foods, and table salt
- It’s more about balance than “all-or-nothing”: eat what you feel like eating, but taking full responsibility of how you know your body will react to that food. Fully participate in every meal. Don’t eat while you’re distracted by the computer or TV. Really feel how each bite gives your body energy – or takes it away. Food changes our energy. That’s why we eat. When you feel the change in your energy after eating or drinking something, you automatically know if it was the right or wrong thing for you at that time. Instantly, dieting becomes not about will-power, but about feeling and deciding how you want to feel.
So how about you? Have you ever experienced a time in your life where you had to change your diet for some reason? How did it turn out? Let me know in the comments below.