Thursday, February 26, 2009

More Food Questions!

Jeez, I should start a food blog or something. Chiada asked me a really interesting question and it triggered a big memory for me about an old friend, that is food related.

"I'd like to know what kind of foods you regularly eat, how you got to eat those foods, how eating those foods makes you feel, if you've lost any weight, do you have energy from what you eat, etc. I've been eating about 70% raw vegetarian in the last 6 weeks and I feel awesome, yet I'm constantly searching the 'Net for more info. So, I'd just like to hear your personal experiences with food and what works best for you and why."

You know, I don't know if I regularly eat any one kind of food and I think that's the key. What works best for me is eating a constant variety. I try to eat locally as much as possible which means a lot of fish, tropical fruit and greens which grow well down here. For the last few weeks I've been eating tons of berries because Florida berries just came in season. I like my food to be as close to its natural state as possible. But I also eat meat and chicken and many other things too. I really believe that variety is important.

I always have a pitcher of iced green tea of some sort in my fridge and I drink it all day, unsweetened. That took some getting used to, but now I don't miss the sugar. That sounds healthy, but then I'll go and eat brie on apple slices or something later. I also can't get enough roasted golden beets and I make brown rice every couple days in my rice cooker. Another thing I make a lot is roasted, sliced sweet potatoes. I toss them in olive oil and sprinkle with salt, cinnamon and cayenne pepper and then roast until crispy on the outside. One of my favorite things to eat is chicken salad with dried cranberries and walnuts.

I haven't really gained or lost any significant amounts of weight. I lost that five pounds I was complaining about last week, but five pounds could just be water. I am five six and weigh 130 pounds. I'm pretty average sized. I wear a size six and I'm happy with that. I have always been very energetic.

So you say you are doing about 70% raw vegetarian. That has to be pretty difficult to maintain and I'm going to be honest with you about this. Long term, I don't know if that's healthy or realistic. Sometimes when people say that it makes them feel so good I kind of wonder if the reason why is because maybe before they weren't eating that amount of fruits and vegetables. Maybe excluding everything else leaves more room for the fruits and vegs they weren't getting before and that's why they feel better. My doctor, who is a real doctor who takes a holistic approach (think Dr. Weil) says that too much raw food is actually really hard on your digestion and not always good and that heat can often break down fibers and chemicals in foods that make even more nutrients available. It's just something to consider. You have to do what's right for you and ask your doctor about it.

In all of my experiences with people who maintain extreme diets long term, I have observed that there is always something else going on with them that has nothing to do with food. I've known a lot of women who were obsessed with the purity of their food and with eliminating large food groups from their diets. All of them had gone through emotional traumas and many had been sexually abused. They were all perfectionists and all of them had relationship problems that went way beyond food. The one thing they all had in common was that they believed that food, or lack thereof, could be a magic bullet that saved them from all of their problems. No matter how perfect or pure your diet is, it will never solve all of your problems.

The people I know who have maintained extreme diets (as I call them) have used their diets as a distraction. They sometimes use the way they eat to make themselves feel better than others who eat less purely. They bestow a crazed faith in their diets that reminds me of the fervor of Evangelicals slain by the spirit. No matter what they eat, what they cut out of their diets - they still aren't happy. Nothing is ever good enough or pure enough so they keep cutting and cutting things that they are allowed to eat.

I had a friend who, when we first met, ate a regular diet. She was fine. She thought she had health issues, but they weren't anything serious or unusual and she never sought medical treatment. She loved animals. She decided to be a vegetarian. She thought being a vegetarian would solve everything and was the right thing to do. From there she became a vegan. Then she couldn't eat anything that was an exploitive crop. Then she couldn't eat anything with packaging because that was bad for the environment. After that she felt that just being a vegan wasn't cutting it. Suddenly cooked food was what had been causing her problems, so she went raw vegan. She had issues with raw veganism because she was buying vegetables and fruits in the store. This wasn't pure enough either. She felt like the raw vegan food was too heavy and that it was extremely unhealthy and fattening. Her problems still hadn't gone away. It had to be her diet. She began foraging. But then she was eating greens and she decided greens weren't healthy. She wanted to be a fruitarian. She became a fruitarian, but still felt badly because she was buying fruits a lot of the time. Then she realized her problem was that she was eating fruits mixed together like in fruit salads or fruit smoothies and this was really bad for you. She aspired to only eat "mono-fruit" or one fruit at a time. There would be no packaging, no cutting and no waste. She'd eat the fruit out of hand and toss the seeds back to the earth. But then this wasn't ok either. She then decided that the only way to be a perfect fruitarian was to eat fruit that had fallen from trees. The problem was we lived in New York and there weren't a lot of fruit trees in the area and there was also that big problem known as winter. Erica (that was her name), was distraught. She felt like she was doing the wrong thing and she would cry because of the guilt she felt when she ate two different kinds of fruit at once or if she had to buy fruit in a store. She used to say all the time about how if she were really pure that she could be a breatharian - a person who didn't need to eat and could live off of air. There were people like that, she believed and they were perfect. If she could just not eat anything her problems would be solved. Finally her parents intervened and she was taken out of school and hospitalized. Some of our classmates said she was having a terrible time in treatment because she refused to eat anything. A few years later another friend told me he had seen Erica squatting in an abandoned building in New York City. I often wonder if she is ok or if she has died.

Erica was an extreme case, but she isn't the only person I've seen who has started off on an innocent vegetarian diet and ended up with an extreme diet. Vegetarianism is the marijuana, the gateway drug, of extreme eating if you go into it trying to solve something within yourself. I think some people get a high from cutting things out of their diets and then when the high wears off they want to cut out more things but the high always wears off and the problems are still there. You have to know when to stop and you have to be realistic about the way you eat. You can't expect that not eating certain things are going to fix you inside or out. Of course in some cases, such as food allergies, celiac or lactose intolerance, cutting out some things WILL help you but you should get tested, get a doctor's advice and strive for balance. There's a difference between switching to soy milk in your coffee and eating only fruit fallen from trees. Be reasonable with how you eat. Allow yourself indulgences. Don't let your diet isolate you from meaningful human interaction and enjoyment of life. Never think that foods or lack of certain foods can cure depression, relationship problems, addictions, mental illness or anything else.

Eat high quality foods that haven't been messed with. If you don't know what that means read Michael Pollan. It's all about balance and variety and simplicity. Love everything that goes in your mouth. Don't waste. If you eat animals, respect them and prepare them with care. Don't eat too much at one time and don't eat too much of any one thing.

It's all about balance and moderation.


Anonymous said...

I have a friend who went off the deep end when she went vegan, although she was kinda strange before that. She didn't eat meat, any dairy, and hated most veggies. I tried to tell her that she has to combine foods like lentils/beans so she would get the proper enzymes, but instead she lived off pasta with salad dressing. She ended up with a whack of neurological problems like panic attacks and agorophobia.
After 2 years, I found an article for her that said that a severely imbalanced diet can cause chemical imbalances in the brain, did she finally smarten up and started eating real food again. After a couple of months she was relatively back to normal(for her) and off all the drugs.
So yeah, I guess I am agreeing with you, LOL.

Unknown said...

Thanks for all that info. And I agree that eating a balanced diet that is reasonable is the best way to go. I don't feel that I have underlying problems that I'm trying to solve with my food, unless you want to talk about my weight. But, as you mentioned, I wasn't eating a lot of vegetables before I did this. My diet was mainly meat, carbs, and a couple of starchy vegetables. Now I'm eating a lot more fruit and vegetables. When I say that it's about 70%, that's because for breakfast & lunch I'm eating mostly raw, and then for dinner I eat something like cooked chicken, rice, quinoa, cooked vegetables, etc. So, I am eating "real food", and meat, and I indulge with occasional sweets and wine and stuff. Anyhoo, I think I'll be okay. But thanks for the warnings.

Wide Lawns said...

Chiada, it sounds like your diet isn't wacky then. I think I was thinking of the 80-10-10 stuff that a lot of raw foodists talk and preach about. I'm still not sure what it means. One thing though is that I find I need protein in the morning. If I just ate fruit for breakfast I'd have to go back to bed. I think it's how my body reacts to sugar. I get tired. I usually have quinoa or eggs or chicken or cheese for breakfast and then I find I have more energy and don't get sleepy. Today I had quinoa and chicken for breakfast which I know sounds weird, but I don't like a lot of breakfasty kinds of stuff. I'm a savory breakfast person.

Anonymous said...

They did a show on 20-20 a while back about people so obsessed about the purity of food that it's really like a form of anorexia.

I have some friends (my sis included) who I just wish would eat a little meat or fish once in a while. I don't believe a strict vegan diet is very healthy.

MtnMama said...

I couldn’t agree with you more. I cringe when I hear someone say “I’ve been bad” or “I am being bad” when it comes to food. (It seems to be mostly women, but I’ve heard it from men, too.) There is a trend in our society to equate habits with virtue to an unhealthy degree. Being anorexic is not spiritually superior. Being able to say “I never eat X” does not make you better than everyone else.

I don’t deprive myself of the pleasure of dessert, for instance. But I don’t eat it in great quantities or with every meal, either. I’ve known people who say that they never eat something, something that they really crave, and then they sit down on the couch and eat a gallon of Hagen Daz (or whatever) all at once. Having a little of something whenever you want it is fine. If I exercise like a sane person I am fine with having some chocolate.

Food is fuel. Variety is important for proper nutrition. The fact that we have found ways to make it tasty and fun is a bonus, and I love to cook, but you are right – people’s relationship to food can be a very interesting barometer of their general state of mental health.

Anonymous said...

Like somebody said once: "Everything in moderation, including moderation"

Dan said...

Can eating the corpse of a dead animal really give life and health to a living organism. Is there adrenaline in the the dead animal flesh. Would that stimulate tired adrenal glands. Can resides and metabolic wastes from eating 3 cooked food meals a day inhibit the function of the adrenals. Are human beings tired because there is always food wastes in the stomach and large bowel? How do you feel after not eating for 36 hours? Can humans even use protein or would amino acids be better for cell repair and maintenance? Are vegetables the best source for amino acids? If eating a 100% raw food diet, being aware of tissue cleanliness and maximizing cell function is a disease. That is a disease I can live with! (8 years 95% raw foods) Dan :)

Anonymous said...

Agreed on all counts, and I'm glad you answered that question honestly and warned about developing eating disorders. Granted, I think people with ED always had a predisposition to them and going vegan/veg was more of a symptom rather than a cause, but it's important to prevent those things from aggravating any further.

I worked in healthcare for a while, and the reason many diets don't work is because many people will try to cut out too many things. Keeping up with their new "diets" becomes too hard and they give up. The key is to maintain variety and to allow yourself to indulge in some guilty pleasures, WITH MODERATION. When something is too unhealthy (say, lots of saturated fat) then substitute it for something else, and cut down on the amount. Total restriction never works.

I'm not too fond of vegetarianism or veganism for the same reason. You ARE cutting some good things out of your diet that are a little hard to substitute. If it is that hard to find alternative sources of those proteins (and especially for veganism, it is), then the diet is not reasonable.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Dan, humans can use protein. Through a biochemical mechanism that breaks them down into amino acids...because that's what proteins are.

Eric said...

"...then when the high wears off they want to cut out more things but the high always wears off and the problems are still there."
What an insightful analysis.
When I was in High School I hung out with these hippy typse that were vegeterians. I decided to do so as well. A girl to impress..go figure.
regardless that did not last and I broke my fast on Jack in the Box Super tacos one friday night.
I have another friend Nicole. Lovely girl, vegan and she moved to France. married a nice frenchman and had a couple of kids. but when she first got involved with the nice boy she had to attend a lot of food events with family. I love the french attitude towards food. they will eat a little bit of everything prepared with care and consumed with patience and joy. With a cigarette between courses. Regardless Nicole had a number of moments like in "My big Fat Greek Wedding". "What do you mean you dont eat Fois Gras? nevermind try the Lamb. She eventually got over the vegan thing and now eats a well rounded diet and is still a lovely and healthy girl.
My point..none really other then we are omnivores and we should embrace that to the extent we can tollerate.

FreeDragon said...

I just try to keep things balanced. This morning I had cookies for breakfast so I ate a salad for lunch and supper will probably be a meat and two veggies and maybe a little bread. I was raised on a farm so I just can't cut out meat after eating it all my life, but I do limit how much beef I consume. It takes 24-48 hours to digest beef so I mostly eat chicken and fish. I love fruit and eat it a lot. I also love chocolate, I just don't eat a lot of it in one sitting. My major diet no-no would be the amount coffee I consume. I drink it every day, two to four cups. I'm trying to drink green tea in the evenings. I have some that smells wonderful but the taste is bland. But I drink it anyway because I noticed I'll sleep better at night and have more energy the next day. I've determined that in this world there is no perfect food even if I grow it myself.

Hilary said...

Very wise advice. I think maybe you should start a food blog. :)

Anonymous said...

Good call on Michael Pollan. The Omnivore's Dilemma is one of my favorite food reality check books. Too many people don't have a clue what REAL food is. Chemicals and preservatives may be delicious but they're terrible for us.

Philippe de St-Denis said...

My wife and I have been vegetarians for about seven years now and feel terrific. We are pretty balanced in our approach to food: we ear a LOT of fresh fuits and vegetables, pulses and grains, and occasionally we have some fish. (I've come to the conclusion that life without sushi is not actually worth living). A vegan diet to me sounds really restrictive and--personally--too much damned work.

One of the most frustrating things about being a vegetarian is reflected in something MtnMama said:"Being able to say, 'I never eat X' does not make you better than anyone else".

Amen, MtnMama! But you'd be surprized how many people immediately get defensive or start showing their ass when you mention (in context!) that you're a vegetarian. It's really lame. Eating the way we do was a choice we made for personal reasons, we're not on any kind of mission or out to convert anyone, but--whether it's guilt or whatever--people react strangely.

Go figure.

JoeinVegas said...

Either you are very observant about how people around you act, or you are a freak magnet, or both. Interesting observations on people that you have known.

Anonymous said...

Ooohhhh widelawns! I love this post. A really, really, REALLY good book for anyone/you to read is "Politically Incorrect Nutrition" I bought it as part of a diet and nutrition course for my RN schooling and.. I recommend it x10. I feel you would agree with most of it and it gives scientific PROOF and data towards everything you've already stated. I'm STRUGGLING for a good question to ask you. I've loved your blog since I found it a couple years ago and I've been a regular reader since.. I also loved your Fridge photo post... a couple years ago I uploaded photos of my Fridge when I lived in Iowa to one of my flickr accounts because I am also obsessed with what people have in their fridge. I think it's great that you're allowing your readers to ask questions.. Hmm.. maybe! What is your first memory? I recall mine! Okay. maybe not such a great question..

Anonymous said...

Great post and good comments! But I've gotta but in a word about sane, healthy vegans. I've been vegetarian, mostly vegan, for almost 40 years. My two kids, in their 30s, have been vegetarian all their lives. They each tried a little meat at around age 9, and quickly decided that it was "gross." They've been strictly vegan for almost 15 years, and my 6-year-old granddaughter all her life. They eat well and do a lot of cooking. You can make almost anything vegan--lasagna, enchiladas, pizza, curries, all kinds of baked goods (with or without wheat). You can have barbecues. When you go out to eat, you have lots of choices in most kinds of ethnic places (Thai, Chinese, Indian, etc.), though the choices aren't so good in many American-style restaurants. (I am sorry to say I never got to the vegan soul food place in the nearest big city before it folded.)

Anyway, my kids (and I) don't have more issues than most people about food or in general, and aren't using a restrictive diet for screwed-up emotional reasons. We live pretty normal lives and are healthy, and I don't think any of us have any dietary insufficiencies. I just don't want to eat anything with a brain and central nervous system and eyes that can look at me; would rather eat stuff that I am less closely related to. A personal choice. My kids' reasons are similar.

Just saying, yeah, people get all weird about food, and some of them may go vegan as part of that process, but being vegan can also be a reasonable and healthy choice.

Anonymous said...

There is a lot of truth in them there words!

I come from a line of women with eating disorders in various degrees. My maternal grandmother, we suppose, had some really bad things going on, but in those days they were not recognized as such.

She was a woman who lived on tea and toast and threw up often after meals because nothing "agreed" with her. She died a mysterious death at 52 referred to as "tangled intestines," which my MD husband thinks was bowel obstruction and adhesions. Who knows?

She also had a life of trauma, living in a loveless, argumentative marriage to a man who needed a wife and she needed a place to live. There was something she was trying to forget, because she gave up few clues about who she was and from where she came.

The war continued to the next generation: my mother and her two sisters. Ugh.

I have a sister who is very self righteous about her diet and now that she has acid reflux, she is even more so. Why? She has successfully cut out a few more of the few foods she allowed herself to consume. She was very upset about having gained so much weight approaching menopause, when everything attempts to go to pot...all the way up to 120! OMG! Now she is back down to 115. Phew.

I have another sister who lives alone and doesn't plan meals. She works 12 hour shifts as a nurse and "never has time to eat." So she gets home from work and shoves food into her mouth while talking on the phone and then goes to bed. Not that she sleeps.

Evidently, she eats, as she has become overweight in recent years and is also fighting a DUI in court.

Me? I faced a very serious illness in my 20's and the prognosis was not great. Told that I would spend my life gasping for breath, I turned my OCD into getting well. Whatever I did worked, because I am often told by physicians that it is incredible that I function at the level I do.

In those years, I was probably anorexic, weighing 98 lbs at 5'4", and an exercise addict, running sometimes 7 miles a day and lifting weights, too. Actually, I felt great, probably high on endorphins from not enough food and too much exercise.

I'm rambling.

My other two siblings? A brother whose preoccupation is conspiracy theories and is out of touch with his family and another sister, a psychiatrist. Of course.

The disease is called orthorexia, obsession with eating only healthy foods. I have to say, while I am at a much healthier weight now, 130, that number makes me crazy. I think about food, what to eat, what not to eat, all day long, but I am, in many ways, better.

It's all about control when there are so few things you CAN control.

Our childhood WAS traumatic, but I won't go into those details.

This is long enough as it is!

So, long story short, there's truth in them there words!

Miss Kitty said...

An excellent post, WL! I was a vegetarian for five years and found just that regular lacto-ovo-veg diet really hard to maintain. (Don't get me wrong, though: if I find an easier, more healthy way to go veg, I will. My intestinal health was shot by the time I went back to eating meat.)

And by the way, there are chikin videos on today's Myrtle Mae Monday. :-)

Anonymous said...

As an adult child of alcoholic parents, I can tell you that my food issues (such as they are) are about control. I have a hyper need to control what goes into my body, both food and alcohol, and look down on people who can't/don't control their food and/or alcohol intake. I observed the negative consequences of lack of control and am terrified of becoming my parents.

When I do overeat or drink too much, I beat myself up so much internally; I am very very hard on myself.

I really don't think I can be any other way. I don't know how.

Anonymous said...

And on that note, every single vegetarian I know is between 50 and 75 pounds overweight. Healthy my ass!

crazy_one said...

People do need a wide variety of foods, meat included. But I will say that manufacters do put alot of crap chemicals into foods for whatever reason. I look at my sister and all the insane "diets" that she has tried. She was on a strict carb diet, which was a little to no carb diet (plus weird supplements like creatine and whey protein, i don't know) while she was training for fitness competitions and literally had to have medical and psychological help. That was extremely hard to go through. She realized that that was not good for her. Now she's a vegetarian, which she admits she need's meat every now and then. So she knows she missing out on something, go figure. I too used to try some fad diets but I found moderation was the main thing. Restricting your diet so severly is mental. We are a part of nature, which is why I point out, why do you think we have two sharp top teeth and two sharp bottom teeth. I'll let you think about that for a second.

And I did see that 20/20 episode about those who only eat raw vegetables. Yeah, I'm not convinced that it's healthy. Not at all.

Anonymous said...

You people have not a clue to what true veganism is. Stop being so insecure, quit being lazy, and do some research. Your horror stories of "vegans you know" are aberrations- for every one you've got, i can point to at least 200 Americans who are more than worse off- dying of heart disease and diabetes, costing our health care system billions of dollars per year to treat.
Visit,, or for the truth. We as humans (the supposed "moral species") have no right to slaughter animals for food as we do. We have no right to kill the planet with the pollution from factory farms. We have no right to cruelly experiment on animals to find cures for diseases caused by our own selfish greed and so-called "need" for animal flesh and fluids that are KNOWN causes of heart disease, cancer and diabetes. These "diseases of the affluent nations" are too often thought of the inevitable consequences of growing old- just as are the automatic pill dispensers of your parents and grandparents that dole out pills by the hour, costing your loved ones their entire retirement income they've worked a lifetime for. We have no right to torture and exploit animals- if not for virtue, integrity, and ethics- then for our own earthly good.
I'm nearly 40 years old and been vegan for almost 10 years. I've been evaluated by my personal physician and US Army physicians on a regular basis. I have optimal nutritional health. I eat a strict vegan diet consisting of a variety of seasonal, whole foods. I can pass the US Army physical fitness test not only for the 37-41 age bracket, but also at the 17-21 age bracket. Oh, I still get get carded for the occasional bottle of wine- eating ethical does wonders for your skin.

Anonymous said...

"Vegetarianism is the marijuana, the gateway drug, of extreme eating if you go into it trying to solve something within yourself."

Come on, now - there are perfectly sane, well-adjusted vegetarians and vegans who just realize our choices are better for the earth. This is an environmental issue, too, and there's nothing wrong with taking that seriously.

Bea Elliott said...

Well my vegetarianism certainly lead me to veganism. I became vegetarian at 47... I had an awakening to realize that I did not "need" to eat animals to thrive. That there was nothing in meat that I couldn't substitute for a healthier and more compassionate alternative.

I continued as an "ethical" vegetarian for 5 years... then I discovered the truth about the cruelties behind dairy and eggs. That was it. Overnight - I eliminated both from my diet.

Funny thing is... when I was drinking milk and eating cheese I had terrible hot flashes from menopause. Within 3 months of a vegan diet (eliminating the hormones from cows milk) - my sweats disappeared.

I also had terrible joint pain in my knees and hands... I thought my early osteoporosis was due to age. Wrong. Dairy products cause bone loss. Calcium is best absorbed through plant foods. Well, cut to the short of it... after eliminating dairy my bones feel better too.

Cow's milk is meant to increase the size of a 60 pound calf to 400 pounds in 6 months time... It certainly should not be regarded as a wise food choice for a healthy human body.

I'm 55 now... healthier than I've been in decades. I also like making my world a more compassionate place. We really don't need to be killing animals at all. It's that simple.

Sydney said...

I'm turning fourteen this month, so I've been a vegan for about six months. I didn't do it to diet, because I was just a few pounds under a perfect weight. I'm not really the type of girl who worries too much about what my body looks like either. I also know for a fact that I have no mental issues..? I became a vegan because people bother me, but animals don't. Also because the thought of eating something from an animal was disgusting and not right at all.

Another thing that's great about being a vegan is that I feel alot better than what I did just some months ago. I'm a little under weight, but other than that my doctor even said I'm very healthy.
So I guess my point is that veganism isn't extreme; it's just morally correct. I think if people would try it for a month they'd feel really helthy.

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