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When I became a vegan, I experienced all the health benefits I'd read about: my body reached a healthy weight, my skin glowed, my energy levels flourished. I remember those first several months, waking up each and every day with a vibrancy that came from my insides. I had a thirst to live, to explore and to do, and the best part was that I possessed an ownership over my health in a way I had never felt.
As time went on, however, my energy levels fell back down to where they were before. Sometimes they fell lower than before. I started feeling less satisfied by my restricted food options, and found myself mindlessly snacking more. I began experiencing intense cravings for protein and fats, and I satiated them with imitation meat products: veggie burgers, meatless meatballs, sundried sausages, etc., etc.
It took me a while to give up my vegan label. I wore it proudly even on my most fatigued or unsatisfied days, because for me, the word vegan automatically implied that I was healthy. But why?
As a vegan you can fill up on french fries, Oreos, and processed imitation meats.
Many gluten-free goods come loaded with refined gluten-free flours, sugars, and fats.
Paleo devotees can gorge on processed deli meats, fatty creams, and pork rinds.
I am in no way, shape, or form trying to make the claim that being vegan, gluten-free, or Paleo is unhealthy, nor am I saying that everyone who follows these diets consumes junk foods. I'm arguing that being vegan, gluten-free, or Paleo — as labels — doesn't make you healthy.
So what does make you healthy? Incidentally, it's what these four diets have in common: real, whole foods.
Whole foods retain all of their natural fiber, phytochemicals, and other health-promoting nutrients in a carefully interwoven state, without any added fats, sugars or sodium. This serves as the material and information your body needs in order to protect itself and continue to run with strength and efficiency. By eating a diverse, whole foods diet, you're not only able to meet your nutritional needs naturally, but you're also filling your body with the nutrients most processed foods are stripped of, while avoiding dangerous additives that can cause side effects, food allergies, weight gain, and decreased absorption of minerals and vitamins.
Where you choose to go from a whole-food base depends on your body and your mind. For some, a little bit of dairy won’t hurt; for others it will weaken the immune system, cause bloating, and lead to unhealthy cravings. Some won’t be able to come within inches of gluten; others will find it totally and completely nourishing. What you eat the majority of the time is what determines your health, so fill your life with real, clean (organic!) plants (fruits and vegetables).
If you can, take the time to test the waters and find out what foods love your body as much as you love them. After starting with a base of plants, always — ALWAYS — stick to real, whole foods.
A healthy body is more important than a diet label.
A healthy mind is more important than a diet label.
A healthy spirit is more important than a diet label.
"I choose the foods that I put into my body with love and acceptance. I digest life with joy and gratitude."
Read that again.
Say it out loud, listen to the words, and allow it to sink into your being.
Now go out and practice it.