Two years ago, I was eating a lot of meat. I was following the GAPS healing protocol by Dr. Natasha McBride, which required eating lots of natural fats and organic proteins to help heal my chronic diarrhea, depression, and general digestive pain.
Sure it was organic, local meat, but it was more meat than I had ever eaten previously — in my chickpea and pasta-loving life. I found that this way of eating had helped with my chronic bowel and digestive issues, but after two years of following this grain, gluten, and sugar-free way of eating I felt like it was time for a change.
I kept on reading all these amazing transformation stories about people who switched to a plant-based diet and saw fabulous results like increased energy, better digestion, and healthy glowing skin.
So, as a health-coach who loves food, I naturally wanted to try this different way of eating. Plus, I was still struggling with some mild joint stiffness, low energy, and a weird but harmless rash on my tummy that had mystified my doctors for the last 10 years.
I visited a vegan, macrobiotic nutritional therapist, and received an eating plan and supplement advice. I cut out all red meat, bone broth, and kept all animal protein to a minimum (less that 10 percent a day, but often not at all).
In a typical day I ate brown rice porridge with coconut milk and cinnamon for breakfast with some ginger and carrot juice. For lunch, I ate rice cakes or gluten-free oatcakes with avocado, hummus, and olive oil. I snacked on dehydrated nuts or green smoothies.
Dinner was normally some sort of lentil curry or vegetable stir fry with tempeh, cayenne, and ginger. Then maybe some raw dark chocolate in the evening with tea. I did not go hungry!
I was hoping for new sources of energy, happy joints, and that plant-based glow I had read about in recipe books and blogs. Yet, after my first plant-based week, I got thrush (an infection in the mouth caused by yeast) for the first time in 10 years and my joints felt worse.
I know that sometimes you get worse before you get better, due to the shifts in your gut microbiome, so I persevered. But by week five, my joints were worse, my old stomach pains and cramps were back, and my energy levels were the same, if not worse.
So I ate a burger and felt a lot better.
While I was munching on my homemade burger, I had a revelation: I needed to give myself permission to be me and eat organic meat when I felt like it.
Despite the fact that I didn't get the results I was looking for, I loved my month of being plant-based as it taught me these five important things:
1. My body is unique.
It's OK if I thrive off eating some meat. I realized I needed to give myself permission to be a meat eater and give my body what it needs.
2. Don't compare your diet, cravings or way of eating to anyone else.
Because so many other people transformed their bodies by eating plant-based diets, I was convinced the same thing would happen to me. It didn't.
3. I need animal protein.
In my health coaching practice, I have found that vegetarian or vegan clients really struggle to heal from digestive issues as quickly as those who eat fish or meat. This could be because foods like bone-broth, gelatin and fish/meats contain high amounts of things like l'glutamine, an amino acid that has been shown to help gut integrity and health.
4. The healthiest thing we can do is to listen to our bodies.
We don't need to give ourselves a dietary label. If people insist on a label for how I eat, then they can refer to me as paleo-vegan, taking the best of both and celebrating the common thread of eating whole, real food.
5. Eating plants is always good idea.
Whether you are hardcore paleo or raw vegan, we can all agree that eating more vegetables is one of the best things we can do for our health. You don’t need a label to do this, just grab some spinach, kale, and broccoli, and off you go!
Photo courtesy of the author