Is Food Your Religion? A Critical Look at Fanatical Diets
"Let the life force of raw food unlock your inner energies!"
Or something like that. The raw food gurus preached over and over about the living enzymes and "life force" of fruits and vegetables in their raw, natural state; how cooked food was "poison," how we must spread the word and our wealth of health.
My holy grail - the raw food diet would save me from sickness and disease. It would give me more energy and vitality, and best of all, help me to lose more weight. I bowed down to the health principles, tried to follow every "rule," felt pure and holy for making a step towards saving the planet and its animals. I scoffed (in my head) at people who ate their "cow pus" (milk) and "animal carcass" (meat). What ignorant, ignorant people. What poor, sad animals. If only more people knew about true health.
Back to Meat
While the raw food diet definitely has merit (and stands superior to the standard American diet filled with processed food), it has its flaws, too. Apparently just fruits, vegetables, and minimal nuts and seeds weren't enough to satiate my body, and I found myself tearing down the kitchen in the hopes of finding relief from the cravings that consumed me. But I continued to bow down to the laws of health, continued to ultimate veganism.
I'm not here to tell you that veganism destroyed my health, or that it was the wrong path to take. And I know raw food veganism is quite extreme, but I did try to stay vegan even when I went back to cooked food. I was still bingeing; I couldn't seem to turn off my appetite.
Low and behold, protein is the most filling macronutrient. That meant I could end a meal of chicken breast, broccoli, and potatoes verses the Rachael who could go on and on stuffing her face with beans (which, surprise surprise, are actually much higher in carbs than protein) and vegetables and still not feel full. I don't doubt that you can get protein from vegan and vegetarian diets, but it definitely requires eating more of those vegan or vegetarian protein sources just to feel full (at least for me).
I do not hate those who are vegans. I do not think I am healthier than them because I eat meat again. I do not doubt that vegans and vegetarians alike can build muscle. But don't tell me I "just didn't do it right" or give me a spiel about how I'm an animal-hater when I choose to value my own physical health and most of all, sanity, over sticking to vegan principles, by eating meat again.
Meat Made Us Human
The biggest principle that pulled me out of raw food was when I found out that cooking made us human. This is because our bodies were finally able to ingest sufficient calories (and not spend all day chewing on raw vegetables and foraging for fruit). But our human brains didn't completely develop into the human brains we have today until we began eating meat, too. Without meat, we would not be human:
"It's high time that we get real about our meat eating. Humankind owes its survival, in great part, to the animals we've eaten. To argue that meat eating is wrong negates the sustenance that has enabled us to be here so we could have something to argue about in the first place. And yet our our overreliance on animal foods is clearly imbalanced and our relation to the animal kingdom is killing us. Our drive to mass produce meat is dramatically polluting our environment and stealing away valuable land and water from developing nations. It's also making our cows "mad." The inescapable truth is that eating a creature raised and sacrificed without honor and care invokes disease upon the human family." -Marc David, Psychology of Eating
Hence, we must find a balance with our meat-eating ways. I agree that the way we treat our mass-produced farm animals is horrific and appalling (just read the "Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan). If we choose to eat meat, it's best to go for the organic, local, grass-fed protein sources. Happy cows, happy food, healthier bodies.
So I should be eating Paleo, right?
Nah, even that didn't work its wonders for me. Paleo, or eating mostly meat, saturated fat, vegetables, some nuts and seeds (peanut butter doesn't count - it's a legume) and fruit, just wasn't cutting it for me. I missed my oatmeal and peanut butter (as well as a host of many other "non-paleo" whole foods). For my own sanity, I had to include some more whole foods back in my diet.
I strive to buy organic, grass-fed meats from the local farmers market. I emphasize eating lots of raw vegetables (life force, people!) but include cooked ones in there, too (cruciferous vegetables wreaked havoc on my stomach eaten raw ... never again!). I eat fruit, I include some oatmeal, and yes, I eat the "forbidden" (i.e. chocolate, cake, treats).
Do I claim to have the healthiest diet in the world? No. As many of us have come to understand, we are all different, and different ways of eating work for different people. I don't preach a certain way of eating (and never did, even when I was vegan) because of this. Our environments, lifestyles, and genetics help shape what and how we eat. Sure, experiment with veganism if you so choose. Try out paleo if you want. But keep your eye on your own plate and enjoy the food before you, rather than criticizing others for what they eat.
If anything, the vegan, vegetarian, paleo, and raw food diets usually emphasize non-processed foods. If that's what we aim for, it may just be the best we can do for now. If you feel the need to preach your diet, do the preaching with your plate. Lead by example, but don't force people to change their ways, which will only be met by more resistance.