My dad hugged me and said “I hope you start feeling better…maybe you should stop trying so hard to be healthy.” They were leaving from an Easter visit during which I was tired, short-tempered and maniacal about my diet.
He saw what I’ve been observing, but denying, for almost a year now. It’s possible to over-healthify your diet.
I embarked on a vegan diet in 2011 after reading about and hearing all the benefits. I ate up (literally) “Forks over Knives,” “The China Study” and “Thrive,” by former triathlete Brenden Brazier. I faithfully read the No Meat Athlete Blog and then learned more about the cruelty of how animal products were produced. I was promised faster recovery times, more efficient digestion and a clear conscience. I was full in – and I wanted others to be too. I stopped buying any animal-derived foods for the home and schooled my kids on the evils of eating animals. My influence paid off and my husband gave up meat and has stuck to being just a pescatarian (over a year now). I had FOUND the lifestyle for me.
Except, I didn’t feel good.
Oh, I did at first. I had clean energy and a feeling of virtue. I would poo-poo anyone who said I couldn’t get enough protein or B12. My omegas are fine, I thought – after all, I’m taking a vegan omega 3 supplement as well as eating flax and walnuts. After all, I know nutrition and I KNOW how to get what I need.
Except, I didn’t.
All last year, I found myself in a state of overtraining and extreme fatigue. I wasn’t satisfied after meals and felt weak. My joints ached and my irritability levels flared. Race times plummeted.
So, I started reading again.
It’s as if the examples found me. I read about vegan athletes who had the same symptoms and reluctantly added back in animal sources of protein with great result. I read about life-long vegans or vegetarians who progressively lost energy and vitality and returned to eating fish and beef and felt reborn. I also started to read about people who’d found extraordinary results from a Paleo plan. I jumped in – cutting out beans, soy and all grains — instead, feasting on eggs, fish, nuts and, of course, lots of veggies. I felt slightly better…but then, after a week or two, I didn’t.
Again, armed with a desire to feel better, I read Chris Kresser’s “Your Personal Paleo Code,” and fell in love. I completed the primal reset and added in some dairy – my beloved Noosa yogurt and full-fat cottage cheese from grass-fed cows. I even tried bullet-proof coffee for a week – blending grass fed butter and coconut oil into your morning coffee to create an energy-boosting drink of immense proportions (delicious, but no miracle, at least for me. Purists will criticize my recipe, I’m sure.) Nothing, nada. Still dragging and experiencing digestive distress and weight gain. Dragging so much that energy drinks were becoming my best friend – not Rockstars and Red Bulls, mind you…the “healthy” ones full of guarana and yerba mate. (“healthy” is used facetiously here) These further messed with my sleep and made my looked-forward-to early mornings a chore.
I went on the FODMAP diet – a variation of the GAPS diet – which limits certain foods with specific sugars, including apples, pears and beets. I tried no dairy, more dairy – no eggs, skipped nuts, abandoned peanut butter and hummus (horrors, I know). Nothing. Still no change.
So, here I am: a visit to the doctor, multiple blood tests awaiting results and an increase in my thyroid medication dosage.
And – surprise – I’m making dietary changes.
My first instinct was to go on an elimination diet – but really? What is there left to eliminate? Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? That’s all I’m doing.
Instead, I’ve decided to be utterly radical. I’m skipping the neurotic healthy eating.
Now mind you won’t find me in the McDonald’s Drive-through anytime soon. My kitchen still has the trappings of healthy – chia seeds, leafy greens, salmon, nutritional yeast. But, I am also fully embracing the noosa – plain, with a little maple syrup or honey, oats, bananas and apples (all foods I’ve denied myself for whatever reason) Peanut butter in my whey protein smoothies (grass-fed, of course). I ate brown rice yesterday for the first time since 2013. The animal-derived foods I buy (still haven’t gotten to the beef, yet) are all humanely raised and free of hormones. I’m heading the route of “Nourishing Traditions,” a book that praises the greatness of just eating real, unadulterated food. Unrestricted.
It’s been shown in studies that the stress of dieting can be enough to prevent a low-calorie diet from yielding results. I bet the stress of trying to eat right to find maximum health causes stress-related disease.
I’m going back to the simple advice of food purist and author Michael Pollen:
Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.
And it feels good.