From Vegan to Paleo:
A Lesson in Body Wisdom and Holistic Health
I love to eat fruits and vegetables and am passionate about cooking food that nourishes the body, mind, and soul. My journey has taught me some difficult lessons about what it means to truly be healthy. Over the years, what food and cooking mean to me has deepened and matured in complexity. Food connects me to culture, to community, to mother earth, to politics, to health, to spirituality, and to life. Cooking food has developed deeper meaning to me than just my enjoyment of it.
As a nutrition consultant and professional chef I’ve been obsessed with food for most of my life and I hope that sharing part of my story can help you navigate better through your own journey with food.
I know I have my mother to thank for making sure there were always fresh fruits and vegetables in my diet everyday. The variety of different foods I ate as a young child allowed me to start developing my palate early in life. Studies have shown that feeding your child a healthy diet increases the chances of that child eating healthy as an adult.
Veganism And The Start of My Culinary Journey
I dreamed of going to culinary school, but being a first generation Taiwanese American, my mom told me I could do what I wanted after graduating college. Like many other animal lovers out there, I felt I needed to change my diet to match my morals and decided I would become a vegan when I left home for college at the University of California, Berkeley.
For the next 5 years of my life I didn’t wear leather, I didn’t use any products with animal derived ingredients, I didn’t eat refined sugar because I learned it was filtered through charred animal bones, and even stopped going to the movies after seeing an episode of Six Feet Under, talking about gelatin coating film reels. You could say I was dedicated, or perhaps it was a way for my ego to think I was “doing good”.
Being vegan became a huge part what I thought was my identity and I decided I wanted to be a vegan chef so completed a plant-based farm-to-table culinary program in Portland, Oregon the summer before I graduated college. I felt as if l had renewed my vows with veganism that summer, it felt so great to be surrounded by other vegans as we immersed ourselves in all things vegan.
The liberal mindset in Berkeley further cultivated my interest in sustainable agriculture, and I thoroughly enjoyed the years I spent working at farmer’s markets and doing cooking demonstrations.
Embracing Change And A Health Evolution
I immediately enrolled in Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts upon graduating from college, sure that my next step was a certification in holistic nutrition. During the program, about 5 years into being vegan, I started suffering from more and more health problems. I was cooking and eating all the healthiest foods but felt increasingly mentally and physically unwell. I was depressed, spacey, irritable, and constantly sick in one way or another. I suspected it had to do with my diet because my symptoms would worsen after I ate, they ranged from bloating, stomach pains, overwhelming sleepiness, to serious rashes on different parts of my body that oozed puss and prevented me from doing normal activities.
Blood tests showed I was extremely deficient in Vitamin D and B12 (both nutrients come exclusively from animal sources and are vital to proper brain development and immune function), and a food allergy test showed my body had become allergic to many of the foods I was eating almost everyday.
Everything made perfect sense once I dove into the research. Study after study, I learned the dark side of a vegan diet and how dangerous it can actually be. However, being insistently stubborn, I did everything I could to stay vegan including weekly shots of B12 injections into my bum.
I didn’t want to accept that I was unable to sustain on a vegan diet.
Letting go of what my ego wanted, even though it seemed to be rooted in good morale meant accepting the diet I thrive on was not the one I was attached to the idea of.
Not everyone can be vegan. Animal protein is can be therapeutic in some cases, especially when it is from a happy and healthy animal allowed to live a fulfilling life where it grazed and roamed in the way that nature intended it to do (here is a great article on nutritional deficiencies linked to vegan and vegetarian diets).
Discovering the world of sustainable meat gave me relief that I did not have to sacrifice my morals for my health.
Seeing every hardship in my life as an opportunity for growth and learning helps me stay on the right track. Facing my inner demons and acknowledging how past traumas influence my life today, with forgiveness, has been part of my healing process. Being vulnerable takes courage, but being able to be honest with myself and others allows me to feel more deeply alive.
Ego or what is sometimes referred to as the Small or False Self always wants more, to have more beauty, to be the best, to control everything, and always win. It dominates instead of listens. It also is the source of doubt and fear, thinking that you are not good enough, not fit enough, or doing enough to be better.
Honoring Our Unique Body Needs
Figuring out what your unique body needs takes patience, experimentation, doing some research, dedication, persistence, love, compassion, non-judgment, and acceptance. Self-awareness is key. Paying attention to how you feel before, after, during, and between meals is a good place to start. Being present in the moment and embracing what you encounter in a positive way will help make the process easier.
Your perfect diet is dependent on many different factors such as: your genetic background and predisposition to certain diseases like diabetes, your food allergies and intolerances, and your ability to digest particular foods; the bottom line being that each person is biochemically different. It is important to be aware of how your body reacts to changes you make in your diet as you discover what ratio of protein, fat, and carbohydrate works best for you. You will know you have established the right balance when you feel vibrant and energized between meals.
Often more important than what you eat is how you think about food. Tuning into your inner wisdom and remembering to eat for health but also pleasure is crucial in an educated yet intuitive approach. Your enjoyment of a certain healthful food increases its benefits for you while force feeding yourself things you really don’t enjoy because you have heard it is healthy for you can do the opposite.
My fondest childhood memory happened one summer when a colony of bees built an underground hive on my backyard lawn. I spent much of the summer sitting next to the hive mesmerized and in awe of the amazing creatures. I felt a special connection to the bees and I know it may sound bizarre but the bees allowed me to very gently pet their fuzzy little bodies as they went about their business.
It was an unforgettable experience that I feel carries the essence of nonduality, or my understanding of it at least. That oneness or connection I had to nature, the respect and non-threatening energy the bees felt from me, me appreciating them without trying to control them, being present and allowing them to carry out their intended purpose, I believe this kind of consciousness is fundamental to attaining my optimal state of being, and can be applied to how I approach my diet. Easier said than done, however, it’s in embracing the process that allows me to flow.
A few more things to digest:
Here is some nutrition information on animal proteins and also fats, both of which have received a bad rap and are crucial to optimal health. Also, a few words on the role of holistic medicine in modern day society, ancestral health, and functional medicine.
Animal proteins provide the highest amount of concentrated protein and usually contain some healthy fat as well. We need adequate amounts of protein to stabilize our moods, build muscle, and maintain proper hormone regulation. Choose organic, pasture raised animals and animal products to invest in your health as well as in the health of the animals. You’ll avoid toxins such as pesticides and added hormones and rest assured the animal was treated humanely. And if you’re feeling adventurous, organ meats such as liver and heart actually offer the most concentrated source of nutrients in animal protein, and are usually lower in price.
Eating fat is not what makes us fat; the clarification lies in eating the right kind of fats. These would be fats in their natural state, such as in nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut, animal fat, fatty fish, butter, egg yolks, and olive oil. Fats are healthy and necessary for the proper functioning of our brain and nervous systems. Well-known nutritional psychologist Julia Ross informs us, “The body yearns for fat and won’t stop eating until the fat arrives”.
Consuming enough fat actually helps to curb carbohydrate cravings and stabilize blood sugar levels. Poor-quality fats are what you need to stay away from. These include processed industrial seed oils of all kinds (often referred to as vegetable oils and include soybean, safflower, corn, or cottonseed oil), all hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats (also known as artificial trans fats) and oils, and oils in fried food.
Avoiding processed foods will greatly improve your health for the vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids that have often been removed or lost in the process of changing whole foods to processed foods are exactly what we need for proper functioning minds and bodies.
Holistic medicine considers each complete person, physically and psychologically, in the treatment of disease. This can be extended to the concept of holistic nutrition where we need all the parts: protein, fat, and carbohydrate, with all their essential vitamins and minerals, in their whole form in order to complete a fully healthy diet. Ideally, this would be enough to sustain a healthy individual but as creatures of adaptation we must take into consideration modern society and all of its pollutants, chemicals, and toxins that have reached the origin of nutrients, the soil. Moreover, lifestyle and habits must all be taken into account, from the thoughts we choose to think to the amount and type of exercise we choose to partake in.
I also subscribe to ancestral health which looks at health from an evolutionary perspective, considering how our ancestors ate and lived, examining the absence of chronic disease in hunter gatherer populations, and using the data to improve upon and benefit our modern day lives. Of course we can’t live like cavemen, we’ve come a long way with incredible advancements in medicine and technology. However, chronic diseases are currently the leading cause of disability and death in the United States, and this growing crisis is on the rise worldwide.
Chris Kresser, a globally renowned leader in functional and integrative medicine, informs us that the mismatch between our genes and the modern environment is the primary driver of chronic disease. I believe it’s important to be aware of this evolutionary mismatch and explore what parts of our modern day lifestyle and diet may be harming us, so we can change the trajectory and thrive.
Functional medicine is an evidence-based field of health care that understands the body is an interconnected whole, and recognizes how important these connections are in health and disease. It is an investigative and individualized approach that treats the patient, not the disease. In contrast to conventional care, functional medicine alleviates symptoms by addressing the root cause of a problem, rather than immediately suppressing symptoms with drugs or surgery. Symptom based care seems to have strayed too far off in many cases, suppressing symptoms may be helpful short-term but it can often exacerbate the problem long-term.
Are you interested in learning more about ancestral health, functional medicine and what it can do for you? Do you want support with your unique diet and health goals? Are you ready to learn fun, creative, and effective ways to gain a sense of ease, freedom, and greater well-being in your life and that of your family’s? Schedule your complimentary discovery session with me today.