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August 13, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 2 Faves: 0

Is Food Your Religion? A Critical Look at Fanatical Diets

By Rachael Steil More Blogs by This Author

"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).

Ultimate Health

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.


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  • Personally, I'm a pescatarian (which is a nice one word way to explain that the only meat I eat comes from fish, but in reality most people don't know what it means so I end up being forced to explain anyway) and I came to the diet gradually, first eliminating red meat and when that became second nature, white meat as well.

    If I'm asked why I did it, I'll explain that while I actually love the taste of meat, and I am not personally against red or white meat eating, I hate the way the meat industry has changed, the way animals are treated, and what current meat industry and consumption practices are doing to our environment. We have evolved to be predators and livestock has evolved as prey, but with this said, we have not yet evolved to handle the AMOUNT of meat a typical American eats now, and animals have not yet evolved to handle the sort of mass production processes they are currently subjected to. A variety of both human and livestock disease have become more prevalent as a result of this trend. Even the increase in e coli, which typically strikes vegetables can be traced back to irresponsible meat industry practices - cows grow fatter faster on a cheap diet of corn than they would on a more natural diet of grass, but this leads to digestive issues and increased bacteria. Water run off exposed to this bacteria-filled manure meets nearby vegetable farms and contaminates them.

    I truly believe that until consumers refuse to support these practices, purchasing only ethically raised meat, until the cost-cutting measure no longer yeild the profit they used to, things will only get worse. Education is important. This said, I do not stand over people eating steak or enjoying bacon with their pancakes delivering sermons. I don't want to, I don't have the time to, and there's really no point in doing so. People need to be open to a discussion and a flexing of their current views or all they'll do is get defensive and dig their heels in deeper. It goes both ways though.

    I've felt a little judged by vegetarians and vegans for not meeting their level of meat industry avoidance, but actually meat-eaters that give me the most gruff. Maybe it's simply because it's easy and fun to poke fun at the sensitive, conscientious eater minority. Maybe it's because they feel I'm judging them for their habits. Maybe it's because subconsciously, the meat-eaters who take issue, feel a little guilty and they deflect their guilt by calling it silly. Regardless, of the reason though, regardless of the stance, preachery of any sort has little positive effect on people who aren't asking for it. You stand a much better chance of having your beliefs heard and acted upon, if you let your actions speak and set an example in yourself.

  • Excuse me Rachel, did you try to eat Avocado to keep you running?
    Because it's almost impossible to have a raw food diet without avocado. No other vegetable has so much fat so an avocado meal keeps you running even for 6-8 hours without problem. The most important nutrient we need is fat (but good fat) not proteins.
    I have some 3.5 years of raw food diet and I'm more than Ok.
    Other than eating avocado, it's important to know that you need to eliminate stress in order to keep the raw food diet. If you have too much stress that means you have to change your life and to eliminate it: change your friends, job, neighborhood, purpose in life - if needed - or whatever else creates too much discomfort.
    It's a well known fact that stress changes your appetite - did you ever eat chocolate when you had stress? If you don't eliminate stress, then you simply won't be able to resist the temptation to eat processed food - you will feel that you go insane if you don't eat it, in some certain moments. Also, it can even make you throw up the raw food you eat.

    So, first of all, most important is to reduce stress - otherwise there is no chance to keep a raw diet.
    Secondly, it's really important to eat avocado every day. The only alternative I know to avocado is Kolath breakfast (leave integral wheat flour in water for 8 hours) then put on top of it grated apple, honey, nuts, raisin, other fruits - it keeps you running for hours 4-8 hours and it's super delicious but less healthy than the fat of the avocado.

    Sure, the meat was important for humans along history but that's because they did not have the great variety of food we enjoy today.

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