From Here to Eternity…

From Here to Eternity…

I will always be a vegan. Now that I know, what I know. I have seen the remarkable effects physically, mentally, and spiritually.  Sounds dramatic, right?  Well, it has been.  In my early 40’s I was carrying around an autoimmune diagnosis, 40 pounds of extra weight, I was depressed and tired.   Now, not quite 4 years later, my doctor still marvels at my annual blood-work. He is amazed that I am at my recommended body weight and not taking any medications.  Amazed because the Mayo clinic estimates 7 out of 10 of us adults are taking some form of a prescription drug, with many of us taking 3 or more meds…and 75% of us are overweight and 40% of us are obese.   Being sick and overweight has become the new norm.  Therefore it’s not surprising that the US is ranked dead last in the “healthy’ category against 10 other wealthy countries in the world.   How is that possible? 

Well, imagine you are sitting at a table and you keep banging your leg against the chair so long and so hard that it becomes bruised and quite painful.  Finally, someone comes along and says, “Hey, I’ve got a medication that will soothe your pain and another medication that can fix those nasty bruises.”  So you take the pills, and sure enough, the pain goes away and your skin looks better, so you think you’re healed.   But you’re still banging your leg on the chair, and now because the real problem has never been addressed, your original issue has become catastrophic.  Yet nobody ever tells you, “Hey stop banging your leg on the table.” Doctors are taught to prescribe medications for a certain set of symptoms. They are not required to recommend nutritional interventions and, in fact, nutrition is not even a requirement in most medical schools. With the AMA only allowing doctors 15 minutes to spend per patient, it’s not long enough to talk about diet anyway, it’s just long enough to write a script.  Because the truth is there is no money to be made if we are all well, only if we are sick.     

Heart disease and diabetes are directly correlated to an excessive amount of animal protein consumption and are rarely related to genetics. But a good many people believe they are simply victims of their genes, doomed to a life of middle-age weight gain, cancer, heart disease and diabetes.  And we are seeing a rise in colon cancer rates for the first time in people in their 20’s, a disease not normally seen until our 50’s. A recent study by the Pentagon revealed that 71% of young men between the ages of 17-24 (over 24 million) are ineligible to serve in the military because they are physically unfit. And I am sadder, yet, that we are rearing a generation of kids who are not predicted to live as long as their parents…all because of our food choices.

Truth is, four years ago, I never gave much thought to the likes of a cow, a chicken, or a pig.  I only knew that they would eventually become food bought in a store.   I never made a connection that those packs of chicken and ground beef were once living breathing animals. I didn’t know that they were purposely hidden away on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s), because if we actually saw what was happening to them we would be disgusted and appalled.  I felt better buying cage-free eggs.  Though more expensive, I figured cage-free was better because these chickens were allowed to run around in the sun.    What I didn’t know was that baby chicks have their beaks cut off so they don’t peck other chicks in their cramped living quarters.  And that cage-free really just means that tens of thousands of chickens are crammed in warehouses instead of cages, and where there is only 1 foot of space per chicken on average. Many of them sustain painful lesions and suffer from ammonia blisters due to sitting on unsanitary floors.  A sad life indeed. 

I also didn’t know that dairy cows were forced to stand in inches of their own excrement while getting milked 10 months out of a year until they are eventually turned into ground beef.  I didn’t know that most E-coli outbreaks in lettuce and kale stemmed from a CAFO’s waste lagoon, or pools of poop, that pollute our fields, rivers, and streams.  And worse, some of these CAFO’s can make the individuals living by them very, very sick.  Don’t even get me started on Duplin County, North Carolina. 

I have also learned that it takes a lot of money and resources for us to eat these animals.  I didn’t know that lobbyists fought to have our tax dollars subsidize the meat and dairy industry.  I didn’t know that it takes nearly 2,400 gallons of water just to grow just 1 pound of meat.  I didn’t know that 800 million people could be fed with just the grain that livestock eat alone.  And that much of that grain is produced here in the Midwest.  It’s why they call Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, eastern Nebraska, and eastern Kansas the corn-belt because we grow corn for livestock.  In fact, more than 90 million acres of grain is planted here just to feed livestock feed alone.  It is also an area where cancer rates are on the rise and the levels of pesticide use are skyrocketing.   

But that’s not the only thing…about 24% (some argue it’s more like 50%) of all global greenhouse gases come from our support of commercial agriculture. These warming gases are caused by things like livestock methane gas production, and deforestation, or the clear-cutting of trees in order to make room for more livestock.  You’ve probably heard that the Amazon Jungle in South America in on fire.  That is because they are a developing nation that is looking at places like the U.S. (land of the rich and plentiful) as an example. So now they are cutting down trees in record numbers because they have discovered the economic value in cattle production; those companies who own the factory farms are the fuel for the fire.  And those who have long associated eating meat with affluence and prestige inadvertently fan their flames.    

Plant-Based eating has never been shown to cause disease. In fact, it has actually been shown in some cases to halt and even reverse many diseases. It is a way of eating that supports our bodies ability to do its job naturally, without drug intervention. It is better for the animals and better for the planet. I am hopeful the tide is turning and more and more people are waking up, so to speak. I remain mindful that a few years ago, I didn’t know any of this either.  And I am joyful at the prospect that others may follow their own journey because of myself, or countless others like me, that have inspired them to do so.  Being a vegan is one of the greatest gifts this life has given me. 

What Do You Have To Lose?

I hate the word diet.  Hate it.  Particularly when the word is used as a verb.  Diet as a verb implies restriction.  Its synonyms include words like starvation, famish and “to deny.” And like a child who is forbidden a cookie from the cookie jar,  we take a deep breath, push the image of our illicit desires to the back of our mind, and then fantasize about them, until we crack.   After all, we walked for an hour on the treadmill, and our Paleo, Whole 30, Weight Watchers or (insert other) regimine won’t be that affected, right? Wrong. It’s a vicious cycle replayed over and over again by the countless millions of folks who decide every Janaury to get serious about their health, who in the end are destined to fail.

When we think of food as something we can’t have, it defies our natural instincts.  We are hardwired for three basic needs: shelter, sex and food.  We need to be safe and protected, we need a mate, and we need to be fed.  Which is why nearly 95% of diets fail.  They fail because we are looking at things the wrong way.   In fact, according to a study by UCLA, “People on diets typically lose 5 to 10 percent of their starting weight in the first six months. However, at least one-third to two-thirds of people on diets regain more weight than they lost within four or five years, and the true number may well be significantly higher.”   Why do they fail?  Because we are looking at food through the lenses of deprivation and denial.

But what happens when we look at diet as a noun, or drop the word diet and use the word, “lifestyle” instead?  Now,  words like nutrition, nourishment and sustenance begin to resonate.   These words imply satisfaction, health and happiness.  Knowing that you have control over what you eat is very powerful. And knowing that you can eat for the nourishment of your body and actually enjoy savory, satisfying meals, makes it even better!   While I am a huge advocate of a complete plant-based lifestyle, realistically, I know it’s not a lifestyle the majority of people are willing to adopt.  So I recommend taking a look at other cultures around the world. Look for recipes from countries who eat nutritious and delicious foods, and yet enjoy a long and disease free lifestyle.  “New data from the country’s Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare reveal Japan has broken its own record for most centenarians by population for the 46th straight year!”     Japan, and various Mediterranean countries like France, Greece, and Italy, have some of the best foods and are rewarded with the longest life expectancies in the world.  Buy a veggie cookbook that shows you, from soup to nuts (all puns intended), how to cook vegetable based dishes.  I absolutely love the “Oh She Glows Everyday” cookbook by Angela Liddon.

Healthy Heart Food
Super food selection for a healthy diet

Bottom line, get back in the kitchen.  Stay away from McDonald’s and Stouffers.  I don’t need to explain why fast food is a bad idea. But you have to understand that processed “man-made” food is also the enemy. Yes, it’s inexpensive and convenient, but it contains added sugars, preservatives (many of them known carcinogens) and various other things I don’t know how to pronounce.  What’s the alternative?  Take a cooking class with a friend.  Many grocery stores have professional kitchens and offer everything from the basics to gourmet four course meals.   And did I mention they’re usually really fun?  (As I’m typing, a mail notification popped up on my Mac from a  local grocery store offering healthy cooking classes.)  Bust out the slow cooker and make a warm, soul satisfying soup during this Yin season (see note below), create a recipe board on Pinterest, maybe find a favorite blogger whom you would like to learn from.  There are countless blog sites with great recipes.  One of my favorite places to visit is “The Minimalist Baker” blog.  Dana creates yummy recipes with 10 ingredients or less, with  meals ready in 30 minutes or less.  Who doesn’t love that? There are many ways.  Just stop dieting.  Please.

Remember, a healthy, balanced diet includes all of the macro nutrients (fats, proteins and yes, carbohydrates).   Approximately 50-60% of your daily diet should come from complex carbs, things like whole grains, beans and legumes.  If you buy bread make sure it is “whole wheat” and not just wheat.  Just “wheat” has the bran and the germ (peeps, this is where you get your fiber) removed, leaving only the endosperm which is nothing more than starch.  Make only 5-10% of your diet from protein.  Excess protein is stored as fat.  Limit your animal protein to one meal a day.  Nope, you can’t have turkey sausage for breakfast, lean chicken for lunch and fish for dinner.  Too much protein, too much cholesterol and too much fat.  Animal proteins not only contain vast amounts of  cholesterol, fat and calories, they can also contain hormones, antibiotics, and deadly bacteria.   In other words, watch the documentary “Forks over Knives.”

And stop worrying so much about calories (yes, I said it), and add more vegetables and grains to your diet.  Vegetables are very nutritionally dense.  Veggies also keep you full, satisfied, and are full of amazing micronutrients that can prevent and in some cases help reverse heart disease, diabetes, cancer… And yes, they can help you lose weight. Did I mention they are also low in calories and fat?  Keep a giant bag of frozen stir fry veggies in your freezer.  Frozen vegetables are picked and frozen at their nutritional peak, allowing you to enjoy them even when they’re out of season.   They’re also a quick addition to any meal, or can be made to shine as a main dish. And yes Paleo people, whole grains and beans are complex carbohydrates loaded with necessary fiber, and they’re also a good source of healthy plant protein.

Each day, each week, work on making little tweaks to your daily diet until they become a habit. Then move on to making other small changes. In a few weeks you will begin to notice big changes.  Maybe your pants are getting a little big, maybe your joint pain is better.  Maybe you have more energy and feel like going to the gym.  Get creative and try new approaches each week; even the once-a-week cut back on meat is good for your health, according to the Mayo Clinic.  Meatless Monday’s are a great way to bring on the new week.  Studies have shown that if every American just went meatless one day a week, it’s would not only be good for the waistline, but we could save 1.4 billion animals from being factory farmed.  It is also the equivalent of taking 500,000 emission polluting cars off the road.  Yep, just one day a week.

If you’re attempting to change your lifestyle, the MOST important thing is to be kind and patient with yourself.  And as diets often do, they can perpetuate a negative body image, create negative self-talk, and more often than not, have no real long-term results.   Instead, think about changing your lifestyle. Change the way you talk to yourself and talk about food. Work to restore and rebalance yourself.  Maybe start your journey with a good 7-day detox.  I have one that I use and it’s listed in the “My Most Favorite Things” category on the menu bar.   In the end, we are given one body, and one life.  What an amazing gift.


Notes:  In Chinese culture, Yin and Yang follow the principle that all things exist as inseparable and contradictory opposites, for example, female-male, dark-light and old-young (1).  Yin season, or fall and winter, bring about a time of introversion (I love to hibernate), nurturing and restoring ourselves, preparing for the Yang, or the vibrant outgoing spring and summer seasons.