On the very triggering, but oh so important topic of diet

As we begin the year of 2022, many of us will make resolutions. One of the most popular resolutions is to start a new diet, or if you prefer, a new way of life that is meant to be more of a commitment than just a diet alone. Often the goal is weight loss or some other means of self improvement. But any resolution could be, and should be, about more than yourself.

Throughout COVID, I have been losing about a pound a month. I have to admit, I hadn’t put a lot of effort into it, but still, I am more than 24 pounds lighter than I was two years ago, and I’ll take it!

I do certain functional fitness exercises and stick to a primarily plant based diet. I have found that it is far easier to be vegan in the warm weather months. Shortbread cookies and chai lattes become too great a temptation when the weather turns cold. I try to limit my dairy consumption to items made with milk from cows, goats and sheep raised on pasture.

I try to be mindful. If I am eating something, I want to be in the moment. It gives my brain a chance to process what I am doing so that it is less likely for me to go overboard. But if I am having a day where I am just really hungry, I don’t deny myself. There are enough days when eating is an undesirable chore, so on days when it isn’t, I savor the moment.

My diet, my lifestyle, work for me. I would try to keep an open mind, but after years of having diets with little scientific evidence behind them forced on me by specialists who have less nutritional training than I do, and hearing others proselytize on fad diets, I did what is 100% right for me.

There is a preponderance of credible, peer reviewed, empirical evidence to back me up on the benefits of plant-based diets for the human body. But the reasons for choosing this diet go way beyond the benefits to one’s body. No other diet can match a plant-based diet for its potential to heal the planet, prevent the spread of zoonotic diseases, prevent antibiotic resistance, and prevent the systemic cruelty to animals that has led us to our empathy deficit, which has made this time that we are living in suck big time!

I tend to think everyone is better off eating mostly plants, but if people eat meat, then it is imperative to be a conscious carnivore. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are super spreaders of disease. I am so happy to see that attitudes are changing regarding meat alternatives, and that more people are trying these. I believe that it is entirely possible that one day human beings may get back on track with evolution and give up their addiction to animal blood.

When I ate meat, I tended to get it directly from farms that I would visit and knew that the animals were treated with kindness. But even when I ate meat, I found that I felt better if I ate a plant-based diet for half the week. In 2017, I was bit by a lone star tick. I credit that tick with saving my life! I went to a pollo-pescatarian diet at first, but then decided to give up eggs after being told that I was borderline allergic. Soon after, I decided to give up poultry, fish, and most dairy products. The results on my kidney health were profound. I was a convert for life!

While I think that consuming wild or pasture-raised meats occasionally is better for one’s physical well-being and better for the planet than buying meat from a grocery store, the best diet for our overall wellness, including our spiritual health, is one that is made up of vegetation. That said, it is also important to be a conscious herbivore. We shouldn’t be mowing down water-intensive tree nuts like they are going out of style. This is the issue I take with many “pegan” (paleo vegan), and raw diets. Well, that and the fact that you would have to be frickin’ rich to consume tree nuts as your sole source of protein. Even the less expensive and more ecological options of sunflower and pumpkin seeds are quite spendy. But in the world of food marketing, protein is now a buzzword, and it is something that people think they are not getting enough of even though many are getting way too much.

There are three macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. When a human being, a primate who is a true omnivore, is directed to give up any one of the three, there will be deleterious effects for most people. But in the short-term, one is likely to experience weight loss, so their health may also improve in the short-term. By saying this I am acknowledging that not every diet needs to be a lifestyle change. Maybe some people became so unhealthy in part because we started urging people who find it difficult to commit to make a lifestyle change instead of going on a diet, but I digress.

In the mid-90s, I went on an extremely low-fat diet where I limited my fat consumption to no more than 10 grams per day. That was the first time I went vegan, because eating raw fruit and vegetables with only vinegar as a condiment along with zucchini or spaghetti squash cooked with tomatoes was pretty much all I could eat to be in compliance with this severe restriction of fat consumption. I lost loads of weight. I weighed less than at any other time in my adult life, but I also had developed an eating disorder. I used to aim for between 300 and 700 calories per day because I read that is what people were given in concentration camps. I became severely depressed and suicidal, and at 5’4” and 136 pounds, I still wasn’t seen as “thin” by a lot of people. The greatest toxin our bodies can take in is external validation, and it was something I was attempting to nourish myself with. I have since found out that cutting toxic people out of your life can help you achieve your wellness goals far better than cutting out any food source.

Anyway, we need all three macros, and we need those pesky micronutrients in varied quantities depending upon our own body’s needs. We are both more alike and more unique than we might think. “You do you” is a nice sentiment to have, but if someone with a liver problem is consuming copper rich foods, maybe a nudge is in order. I am a work in progress… on so many levels. I think most of us are. Self actualization is a journey.

I believe that the absolute best thing you can do for your well-being is to plant a garden. I know that isn’t possible for everyone, but if you can’t have a garden, then start with sprouting. You can easily make a sprouter with a canning jar (best to use one that has some flat sides) and a bit of plastic canvas. It costs less than a dollar to make, and $4 will buy enough mung beans for you to have fresh bean sprouts throughout the year, depending upon how many you want to eat.

When I introduced kids at some of the youth gardens in Stevens Point to mung and adzuki bean sprouts sprouted with these homemade sprouters, they ate them like candy. I never witnessed this with any other fruit or vegetable we served at the garden sites, nor with the salsa or smoothies we made. Fresh bean sprouts, when you don’t let them get too big, are sweet and they are nutrient dense. But what’s more is that there is pride in consuming something you grew. Sprouting is a gateway to other forms of gardening.

When we can see life developing before our eyes, unobstructed from soil, it is magical. It is why I wrote a grant to supply these same youth groups with Aerogardens in the spring of 2016. Seeing life spring forth from something that has lied dormant is exactly what we all need after having to isolate.

So here is what you do. Take the lid from a canning jar and put it on top of your plastic canvas. Trace the circle and cut it out. If you want to sprout small seeds such as radish, you can do this same thing on a piece of screen. Put the plastic canvas or piece of screen in your jar ring. Measure out two tablespoons of dried beans and add them to the jar. Fill jar with water and put your ring with the plastic canvas inside it on the jar. After your beans have soaked for 12 hours, empty the water out by tipping your covered jar over the sink. You can also use this discard water to water houseplants; it is filled with nutrients that will help fertilize your plants. Rinse the beans. You never have to remove the lid you made during any of this. Shake out the water and lay the jar on its side. Rinse your beans/seeds/sprouts every 8 to 12 hours. In about four days, you should have some sprouts that are ready to consume, and that is the only time you need remove the lid.

If you are able to grow more food than you need, consider donating some to pantries. Many communities participate in Plant A Row for the Hungry.

When making a New Year’s resolution, it is entirely within reach to help others while helping ourselves. I have found it tremendously beneficial to shift my focus from myself to others. If I focus on personal goals, I tend to become very stressed out, whereas if I focus on helping someone else, I often achieve the personal goal I was trying to reach without all the stress and worry… and I’ve succeeded in helping someone else.

I’ll close by wishing all MW readers wellness in 2022 and beyond!