There are a ton of diets out there. From low fat, to low carb, to raw, vegan, paleo—the list goes on. On one diet, fats are the devil. On another, oil is a magical elixir. Every diet has some accomplished physician backing it up or some story about how it’s backed by human evolution. So what are we supposed to believe? Don’t worry. I’m not here to tell you that my way is the answer. It might be. It certainly is for me. But eating is a very personal thing. Every piece of food you eat has a story—a personal reaction with your body, a relationship to the earth, to those who cultivated it, and to the life cycle of living things. The right diet for you depends on you and your body’s interpretation of that story. Here are my keys to a good diet:
A good diet…
Keeps the doctor away
If you’re getting sick all the time, look at your diet. I used to constantly be sick—sinus infections, coughs, stomachaches and so forth—but since giving up dairy and wheat, I haven’t felt healthier. It’s been over a year since my last cold! Clearly, a vegan, gluten-free diet works for me. But it doesn’t work for everyone. Some people go vegan and their bodies can’t handle it—no matter what the studies or I or anyone else says. So listen to your body and decide what it really wants from your food.
Is full of vegetables and water
From the very first health class we all took, we’re told to eat our vegetables and drink tons of water. There is no conflict on this. Absent some rare disease-specific diets, every mainstream diet out there advocates eating lots of vegetables. They are low calorie, sugar, carb, high fiber, high vitamins, antioxidants, water-content, cancer-fighting; basically they contain all the good with none of the bad. And water is the best detoxifier there is. So eat your veggies and drink up, because this stamp of approval is here to stay!
Keeps your conscience clear
Ever since I was a child, the thought of eating animals was very difficult for me, even without knowing about poor farming practices. However, I was always told that eating meat was the right thing to do, so I did it. It wasn’t until I went to college and learned about factory farming my first year that I finally gave it up altogether, and my conscience never felt clearer. And while for the first 4 years of my diet I was extremely unhealthy (I ate a ton of processed/fake meats and sugar), I felt much better than I did when eating meat. Even though my body hadn’t started healing, my conscience had. There’s something about me that strongly empathizes with animals—sometimes more so than with humans—and I just can’t eat them. That’s what my gut tells me—both figuratively and literally. Your gut though, may tell you something different. It may tell you not to eat GMOs, not to eat exported food, or to be very cognizant of the labor going into your meals. The point is that you need to live with it. Find out what’s important to you, and stick with it.
And keeps something else clear too…
Alright— I have to be at least a little blunt here. If you’re not having regular, solid bowel movements, something is wrong with your diet. And keep in mind that a lot more goes into a good poo than you think—check out Dr. Oz’s segment to get a better idea!
Above all, it’s important to remember that you are the best judge of your own health. Listen to your body and your brain!
“A Journey of a Thousand Mile Begins With the First Step” –Lao Tzu
I frequently get the question from friends, family members, and blog visitors—“Alana, I’m ready to get healthy. Tell me how to eat like you.” The truth is, I would never advise anyone to switch immediately from the typical American diet to my diet— a nearly raw, vegan, no refined sugar, and gluten-free lifestyle. Getting there takes time, and transitioning too abruptly can have serious side effects on your body. But what I can recommend is that you take five easy steps to getting there. Perhaps these steps will lead you to an even greater dietary change, or maybe this will define your new lifestyle. Either way, it’s all about what feels right for you. Here are the first steps I took when transitioning my diet.
Listen to Your Body
Everyone’s body is different. The only way you can know what you should be eating is by listening to yours. Eat your meals very slowly, chewing each piece with intention, that way you can notice how it makes you feel and you can truly recognize when you are full. When you are done, set a one-hour timer on your phone reminding yourself to assess how you feel once you have fully digested. Once the timer goes off, do a personal inventory of your body. Do you feel tired? Gassy? Bloated? Energized? You will be surprised at the things that make your body tick, and be more inclined to get rid of them once you are more aware.
Slowly Replace Processed Sugar
In my ideal world, processed sugar would be thrown into a pit to be used to make punching bags! Processed sugar has been proven to cause diabetes, candida, and a myriad of other health conditions. To make things worse, it has addictive qualities similar to those of tobacco. However, getting rid of processed sugar altogether–particularly given its addictive qualities–can be extremely difficult and lead to withdrawal (I experienced it myself when first transitioning). I recommend spending one day counting the amount of sugar you eat normally. Track it on the website myfitnesspal.com if that makes it easier. Then, try cutting that number in half, or even by a fourth if that’s too difficult. Stock up on stevia, which is a low glycemic natural sweetener made from the stevia leaf, and start using it as your go-to sweetener for teas, drinks, coffee, etc. Keep some in your bag in case of emergencies. Look for products in the grocery store that use coconut nectar, stevia, or dates as their base for sweetness instead.
Don’t Drink During Meals
While water is extremely important, you should be using your time in between meals to drink as much water as you can. During meals, you should minimize your water intake so as not to dilute the production of digestive enzymes. You want multiple enzymes to be produced while you are eating so that you can fully digest your food, feel full, and reap all of the nutritious benefits of your food. So keep the water intake to a sip or two during meals and save your big gulps for afterwards.
Monitor Your Meat Consumption
Several studies have proven the harmful effects of meat—acidity, heart disease, obesity, cancer—the list goes on. While I understand that a completely vegetarian diet is not feasible for everyone, I recommend taking at least one day a week to eat vegetarian. On that day, try a new vegetarian restaurant. Some great restaurants in the NYC area include Quintessence, Caravan of Dreams, Blossom, and Peacefood, among others.
Read and Research
When I first decided to change my diet, I became largely inspired by the writings of nutritionists who were able to teach me how to do it safely. These nutritionists taught me that a proper diet is not only a cure for weight-gain, but also for skin-diseases, aging,cancer, and fatigue. Check out Kimberly Snyder’s the Beauty Detox Solution and Alejandro Junger’s Clean Program. Also check out some blogs filled with recipes and transitioning tips, such as living maxwell, food babe, and kimberly snyder.
I hope this helps you on your journey towards getting your body on track!