Thursday, January 17, 2013

Too much sugar! Or is it?

So Monday marked one full week of being 100% high carbohydrate low fat raw vegan.  Yay!  I'd do a little celebration dance, but I'm currently drinking 8 bananas, 5 medjool dates, and 2 cups of frozen mangoes and pineapples.  Do you know what that looks like?  I'll tell you what that looks like.  It looks like a blender completely full of yellow smoothie.  I mean, all the way full.  There was about 1/2 an inch of empty space in the top of the blender.  This equals a little over 2 quarts.  That is my breakfast.  How many calories were in my breakfast?  About 1300.  How long does it take me to drink my breakfast?  About an hour.  Wait...doesn't that smoothie contain too many carbs?

Ah, carbohydrates. Let's talk about carbs, shall we?  As the mother of a one-year-old (OMG, how can she be one year old already?!), I do not have the time to go over the differences between complex carbs and simple carbs, how the body and specifically the brain depend on carbohydrates for fuel, or how, during times of insufficient carbohydrate intake, the body can convert stored fat into glucose for use as fuel (a process called "gluconeogenesis"), producing toxic byproducts called "ketones" in the process.  No, that's not what is important right now.  You can read all of the above in the nutrition section of any good, basic anatomy & physiology textbook (and indeed, I recommend you do so).  What I want to talk about right now is my own personal experience with a low-carb lifestyle versus a high-carb lifestyle.

My beautiful mother, like most American women, has made an effort to take care of her body for as long as I can remember.  I can remember doing step-aerobics with her when I was a little girl, eating some of her cabbage soup when she and my grandmother did the cabbage soup diet together, joining our local Curves gym together, and cutting out bread, pasta, and potatoes with her when she started the Atkins diet.  I have never been one of those lucky people who could eat whatever I wanted while never gaining a single pound.  I've struggled with my weight since puberty, and my yearly school photos show a steady increase in weight all the way through middle and high school.  The few times I managed to lose weight were during major life upheavals that led to severe calorie-restricting due to stress.

As you can see from the photos below, I have been struggling with my weight for a long time now.  Before finding a high carbohydrate low fat diet, I simply couldn't understand why dieting and exercise wasn't working for me.  Sure, I could restrict calories and lose weight, but I could never keep it off.  As soon as I stopped restricting calories, the weight piled right back on.  And I could never restrict calories for longer than a few months because I would get lethargic and depressed.

1998 (14 years old)

When my mom went on the Atkins diet back in 2000, I saw her lose substantial amounts of weight, and so I tried it with her.  However, I was not a big meat eater, and so though I lost a little bit of weight, it was mainly due to calorie restriction, and after a while (of essentially starving myself on salads, canned green beans, and a little bit of cheese and milk), the cravings for carbohydrates became so unbearable, I binged hard and gained the weight back plus more.  My mom, however, has an admirable amount of willpower, and she maintained an Atkins diet for a couple years.  She maintained her weight loss, but started exhibiting strange symptoms: she was exhausted and weak, couldn't sleep, experienced periods of nausea, and had a strange sweet/fruit smell to her breath (signs of ketoacidosis).  Eventually, she couldn't stand feeling so sick all the time, and reintroduced the occasional higher-carbohydrate food, but the fear of starches has stuck with her to this day.  She now maintains her weight by daily exercise, eating small amounts of low-fat meat, and eating large portions of fresh fruits and leafy greens.

2002 (17 years old)

In October of 2003, I went vegetarian for moral reasons and have not touched meat since.  However, during those early years, I was the only vegetarian I knew, and I had no idea what to eat.  I basically lived off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cheese pizza, spaghetti marinara, macaroni and cheese, and mashed potatoes with lots of butter and sour cream.  I loved salad and ate it a couple times a week, but was smothering my lettuce in olive oil and vinegar dressings.  I basically ate a high fat, high carbohydrate diet devoid of anything fresh.  I didn't grow up in a fruit-eating household, so I almost never ate fruit.  Eating this way, my weight skyrocketed to the highest it has ever been and pretty much stayed that way until February of 2008 when I lost a large amount of weight due to extreme stress.

2003 (19 years old)

2004 (20 years old)

2006 (22 years old)

2008 (25 years old, after losing about 20lbs due to stress/calorie restriction)

The very next year, however, after adopting a high fat low(er) carb traditional foods diet (rich in organic grass-fed butter, organic grass-fed milk, raw organic cheese, yogurt, nuts/seeds, fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut, salads, and an abundance of cooked greens and grains, no potatoes, hardly any fruit), my weight steadily went up again.  I was so, so frustrated!  And I was craving sugar like crazy!

2009 (26 years old)


Then one day in early 2011, I watched a video called "Food Matters" in my nutrition class in midwifery school.  In the documentary, there was some crazy guy named David Wolfe (I don't agree with his nutritional recommendations, but I do thank him for introducing me to my current lifestyle) who only ate raw foods.  Whoa!  What a concept!  And one that made enormous amounts of sense to me.  So, as what normally happens when I become interested in a new concept, I dove in head-first and researched like crazy.

I discovered a whole new world of alternative living.  My first intro to raw food was the "gourmet raw food" lifestyle that most raw foodists live.  There I found elaborate recipes based on nuts and seeds such as raw vegan tacos, raw vegan cheesecakes, raw vegan pizzas, even raw vegan burgers and fries!  Whoa!  And I found Ka Sundance, a raw foodist who, along with his wife Katie, were raising their four children on a raw vegan diet.  I was so very hooked.

Then, in April of 2011, Nick and I went on a 30-day raw vegan challenge.  I compiled recipes and made weekly meal-plans and grocery lists.  We loved every minute of it and started shedding weight immediately.  However, this gourmet raw way of living still seemed unnatural, as we were smothering our dishes with tamari (a form of soy sauce), eating a lot of cacao (raw chocolate), and using copious amounts of agave nectar and maple syrup to sweeten our desserts.  I couldn't help but think...if raw veganism is the most "natural" way to eat, then why do I still need all these condiments?  And that's when I discovered the 80-10-10 Diet, aka Low Fat/High Carb Raw Veganism.

The 80-10-10 Diet was unlike anything I'd ever heard of.  Not only did it advocate consuming a diet made up of 80% of calories from carbohydrates (oh my...yummy!), but it also proposed that we get those calories from fruit.  From fruit?  Really?  Isn't fruit just a snack or a dessert food?  Dr. Douglas Graham thinks not, and indeed, he believes that fruit is the perfect human food.  So like our closest relatives, the bonobos and chimpanzees, Nick and I began eating a diet completely full of the most delicious food on earth...FRUIT!  And after only a week, we both felt better, physically and mentally, than we had ever felt in our entire lives.  More energy, clarity of mind, strength, stamina, happiness and joy!  Who would ever believe that all these positive things could come from simply eating nothing but fruit and raw leafy greens?  We are most definitely believers now!

2011 (after going raw vegan!)

And most of you know...I became pregnant!  You can read all about that journey in previous posts.  For now, I will stick to the nutritional side of my pregnancy.  In my first trimester, after only a month and a half of being raw vegan, I had morning sickness that was not bad enough to cause vomiting, but was definitely bad enough to cause major food aversions.  I couldn't eat anything except fresh pineapple and plain boiled potatoes for the first trimester.  Every once in a while I could stomach some citrus or bread, but it was rare.  And so Nick and I decided to stop eating 100% raw throughout my pregnancy until my food aversions went away.  We knew that we were vegan for life, however, and so I consumed a cooked vegan diet throughout my pregnancy and felt pretty good except for some restless leg and acid reflux (which I've had all my life since childhood).  Eating as much food as I wanted, I gained 35 pounds during my pregnancy and had almost no swelling even in the very last days of pregnancy.

2012 (39 weeks pregnant; I weighed one pound less here than I did at my heaviest back in 2004 not pregnant)

About 6 weeks after the birth of my daughter, I went 100% low fat high carb raw vegan again.  I felt absolutely incredible!  I lost all the baby weight plus more in about 3 months and my energy levels were good (though not as good as they could have been...turns out I was anemic from heavy blood loss postpartum, but I did not find out until later, and I have since remedied this via supplementation).  Nick also went raw with me again, and lost another 10 pounds.

2012 (my daughter was about 4 months old here)

Unfortunately, due to finances (or lack thereof), we could not afford to continue eating 100% raw, and so we switched to a high carbohydrate low fat cooked vegan diet, aka "The McDougall Diet".  I was very worried that starting to eat cooked again would lead to weight gain (because carbs=evil was still somewhere in the back of my mind), even though I had done a modest amount of research on the very subject and read studies that showed that the only way people were able to gain weight on a low fat high carbohydrate diet was to be massively overfed (some 3500 calories over their caloric output), and even then the subjects in the study spontaneously burned more calories during the 9 days of over-feeding, so the researchers had to keep increasing calories to maintain an over-feeding state.  And when the weight gained (4.6 kg) was analyzed, most of it was muscle growth and water weight (Glycogen storage capacity and de novo lipogenesis during massive carbohydrate overfeeding in man).

But then the months went by and I ate, and ate, and ate.  I ate a lot because I'm a breastfeeding mother and I was hungry!  We ate the food that we could afford, which was mainly rice and beans, pasta, rolled oats, and vegetables.  We were able to afford some fruits, mostly bananas, and we sometimes splurged and made our own bread.  Our friends and family would shake their heads in disbelief when they saw the size of our carbohydrate portions (like large dinner plates full of spaghetti!), and they couldn't believe it when we didn't gain weight.  But the fact of the matter was, we didn't.  Not one pound between the two of us.  We ate more food (in regards to volume) at one meal than some people eat in a day, and still we did not gain weight.  The proof is in the (fat-free vegan) pudding.

But, after having experienced eating a high carbohydrate (high fruit) raw vegan diet, eating all the pasta I wanted simply paled in comparison.  I knew that once we were more financially stable, we would switch back to 100% raw.  So on January 7th, we did just that.  And on January 12th, we celebrated our daughter's first birthday raw vegan style, complete with raw vegan raspberry pie for Ariana, who absolutely loved it.

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We have already experienced amazing changes.  Further weight loss (another 5 pounds for each of us), energy-levels increasing, skin clearing, and better digestion.  I'm so excited to be continuing this journey.  Nick and I have decided that as long as we only see benefits, we will continue living this lifestyle.  I'm not usually the biggest fan of labels, because I believe that words have power, and labels can be used in either a positive or negative manner.  But I have to admit, it feels good to be a raw foodist again.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome! I actually went on a one week-only fruit cleanse...I felt so awesome. I didn't need as much sleep...I worked 8 hour days and would come home with loads of energy to go exercise! Right now, I'm in the process of eating cleaner--learning slowly but surely. I love reading your blog!