‘Food is a drug, eat responsibly’. The end. Well, at least I wish it was that easy. The reality is it’s just the beginning. We are entering a time where we are now questioning the how’s, when’s, why’s, what’s about food. We are knee deep in a time where we are surrounded by food related disease manifested in the form of obesity, heart disease, ulcers, diabetes, IBS, celiac disease, and more. That food is a drug is more important now than ever. And it is our responsibility, as consumers to know how what we eat affects us. But what does that mean? What represents eating responsibly? Veganism? Vegetarianism? Atkins? Paleo? Zone? Raw? To each their own opinion and this one is mine: eating responsibly means understanding your body’s needs and providing it with right nutrition that supports it and you- to look, feel, and perform better. It’s bio individuality in action. In my efforts to better understand MY responsibility I decided to do a mini experiment, how do 3 diets Vegetarian, Vegan and Paleo stack up in MY body? Is one diet better than the other? And more so is one diet better than another when it comes to performance?
At first it sounds a little crazy, why change a good thing? I had gone Paleo or what I call Zoleo (Zone + Paleo) a couple of years ago and it has truly become a lifestyle, one that wakes up, travels, exercises, works, and sleeps with me. But more recently I have been asked about my opinion on Veganism and Vegetarianism. At first glance my opinion is that there is much mixed opinion around these diets, ranging from “its stupid” to “it’s the only way to go”. Books like “Skinny Bitch” and celebrities have popularized these quote unquote diets. Conceptually I get them, but experientially I have no idea of their effects (in my body). In my experiment, I spent one week expanding my animal protein sources to include pork and beef to my already protein rich diet of fish and chicken, then one week being strictly vegetarian and one week going vegan. Oh and the whole time I tried to adhere to the one thing I strongly stand by, gluten free. Although a week is hardly enough time to draw any sound conclusions, I certainly learned a great deal about MY body.
Overview: My 3 diets
Week 1: Paleo: Eat fruits, veggies, nuts, protein
Week 2: Vegetarian: Avoid meat and eggs.
Week 3: Vegan, no dairy, little grains.
Response in a nutshell: First impressions.
Week 1: Barbecued steak with red wine… as carnivorous as it can get (at least in my book). It was a delicious meal. Over time I started feeling slow and lethargic.
Week 2: Indian food, salads, and lots of cheese. Every meal I was left unsatisfied. My body was craving something and I didn’t know how to satiate it. My protein came from tofu and legumes and I filled up on veggies but something was missing.
Week 3: Vegan?! Where is my food? Veggies, quinoa, and more veggies. My brain was bonking and I was always hungry. It was a blood sugar roller coaster and I wanted off.
A teacher of mine at the School of Integrative Nutrition said something that has stuck with me “You begin to look like what you eat”. I was diligently observing my body, attitude and behavior throughout my experiment and to my surprise noticed that I did indeed begin to look and feel like my food. I felt sluggish from all of steak, felt a bit airy from the veggies and a bit dry from vegan foods. But more than anything I noticed that the food I ate had a significant effect on my lifestyle and attitude. The major driver in this process was blood sugar. Part of the reason I typically ate a paleo diet balanced with proteins and carbs is that it keeps my blood sugar balanced, I tend to feel satisfied and can think sharp, react responsibly, and sleep well… overall happy. With the vegetarian diet I was feeling a little weak and moody, I wasn’t in control, I wasn’t as satisfied with food and found myself indulging in foods I typically avoided like gluten. The true test came in week 3 when I went vegan. All bets off. My head hurt, my mind and body were tired and I was hungry all the time. I almost felt like my body was revolting, I broke out in hives and seemed to have an allergic response to the new lifestyle. There was no avail to blood sugar management. So does this hold true for everyone? Certainly not, there are plenty of people who are vegan and respond just fine. I’m just not one of them.
Balancing blood sugar and having enough fuel for your brain and body is extremely important and more so if you are an athlete. Could I ride 100 miles on a vegan diet, probably not, could I lift heavier weight on a vegan diet, nope? Is protein vital to your performance? It plays a big role in efficiently burning fat for fuel and providing ample supply of glucose to the brain, as well as energizing the body to keep on utilizing the muscles. However it’s an “individual” thing. I know plenty of people who are vegan and ultra-marathon runners and heavy lifters.
The major difference between these three diets is that they all have varying sources of protein, which drives blood sugar management. The commonality is they all promote fresh and healthy foods. The best one really is determined by each individual and their responses to the diet. There’s no easy way to figure it out other than trying it out and testing, writing it down helps. For me I discovered that the little animal protein I do get is just what my body needs to continue functioning and to stay grounded and strong. For others Veganism does the same thing. Bottom-line, what is right for you should make you feel good, look good, and perform great!
My experiment ended and the verdict is… I am a quasi-carnivore; I certainly do not do well with steaks but do need a little bit of animal protein to keep me balanced. I also have a new appreciation for veganism, it’s not easy to eat that way and it certainly makes you more aware of your food. Now that I have experienced these three diets, I can confidently talk about them and help my clients!
So does your food make YOU look, feel, and perform great? Why?