Summer 2010, shortly before I decided to start a blog – this one, which you are currently reading – marks the point when I finally wanted to get better. Having a background of eating issues and allergies for I-do-not-know-how-many-years (long enough, however, so that I only have very vague memories of how it must have been to eat “normally”, in the sense of not being concerned with it), the following years were a journey of ups and downs: experimenting and failing with much of it, stabilizing and adapting, having insights and forgetting about them when life got in the way and then rediscovering them, finally feeling like breaking together and then being reminded of what I had achieved and finding my spirits again, thanks to the kind people I have met along the way.
A recent post by my friend Gel got me to look back at this time in a sum-it-up way, and I realized that the development of my eating habits did not only reflect a search for an adequate way to eat but also the underlying dynamics of my bodily needs. You probably know that I am a big friend of dynamic systems theory, which deals with complex systems that develop in time. Such systems can be understood as networks of elements that all more or less influence each other, so when you intervene at one point, the effects of that intervention will spread across the whole system (depending on the interconnections of elements) and again affect the elements you chose as your starting points, displaying mutual feedback mechanisms. In that sense, if you change your diet according to your momentary needs, these changes will influence not only your body but also your mind (and probably your social sphere), and they will transform your body and mind so that your future dietary needs may not be the same as your momentary needs.
When I first adopted a paleo-style diet, my digestive system was wrecked from year-long consumption of allergy foods and desparately wanted for recovery. This condition translated into elevated protein needs, as mirrored by my appetite for chicken and fish. I later read somewhere that people who recover from injury or illness need up to 2 grams of protein per kg of body weight a day, and this remarkably was about the amount I had to consume daily to make my tummy signal satisfaction. With the time, however, as my body recovered, I not only could eat foods again that would have overstrained my digestive systems before – brown rice and cabbage, for instance – but also my protein needs gradually decreased, which I learned from my reduced appetite for animal protein.
During the time of narrowed food choices and strict paleo eating I had avoided any pondering on the ethical implications of what was doing, because I only wanted to get better and knew that thinking too much about it would get me into moral troubles. However, as my health improved, my concerns surfaced with a vengeance, resulting in researching about animal food production and leaving me so disgusted that I felt unable to touch a piece of meat again. What followed was a knee-jerk dive into veganism that terribly failed, because I was not informed enough and my body was not used to legumes very much. Reluctantly I returned to eating animal foods, but tried to keep them to a low level, while I started researching again, this time on tummy-friendly legume-preparation methods and vegan nutrition. I researched a lot.
When I started my second vegan experiment, I was better prepared – but I still underestimated that my body would need more time to adapt, so I failed even more. However, I was so determined to make veganism work for me that I only gave up when I had reached a state that I could not stomach solid foods anymore. The reason why I tried so hard was not only that I was convinced of vegan ethics, but also that I finally felt a sense of inner peace about what I was eating, although I felt terrible physically. But eventually I had to give in and focus on recovery again (), drinking homemade chicken broth as recommended by the GAPS diet approach, and eating chicken and vegetable soups until my digestive system allowed me to return to solid foods.
In the following months, I ate mainly fish and some legumes, and chicken only now and then, mostly in stressful times (of which I admittedly had quite a lot) when I felt I needed something more “stabilizing”. On the inside, I still felt torn apart, but I tried to make my peace with the fact that I would have to continue eating animals. The hubby and I talked about this sometimes, and I admit I was often envious because his food allergies forced him to be a vegetarian, while mine obviously forced me to live against my moral values. I am not good with living with inner conflict, so I felt very bad every time I thought too much about it.
Being married to Peter changed my cooking in that I started to prepare more legumes and cook vegan dinners centered around vegetables, with extra yoghurt or curd cheese for the hubby and a piece of fish or some seafood for me. At first I ate eggs or a tiny serving of chicken with my meals during the day, but I did not feel overly well with that so I left them out again. Meanwhile, I started sprouting, and by now I always have some kind of legumes in the sprouter and grow some green sprouts in addition.
~ arugula sprouts growing towards the light ~
Having Kath-compatible legumes ready-to-eat at hand all the time enabled me to switch to vegan lunches and to reduce the amount of animal products I ate to a small serving of fish or seafood a day (around 50 to 100 g), which I usually had with dinner. A little later, I had days when I ate completely vegan, alternating with days when I ate some fish or seafood. I lost weight and started to include seeds, tahini, and nut butters in my meals on a regular basis, which worked very well. In the end, I felt better (in the sense of more satisfied and easier with my stomach) after a vegan meal, compared to a fish meal, and suddenly, giving up the little rest of fish was very easy. This was about two months ago.
Since then, I have been eating a vegan diet and it not only works but also makes me feel good overall. I never had a definite point when I decided to eat entirely plant-based in the future, but rather made meal-to-meal decisions according to how I was feeling, and these decisions were consistently made in favor of the vegan option. My diet currently looks like this.
As I have never been a breakfast eater, I usually start the day with tea with almond milk. At first, I ate chopped apples with seeds or nut butter until I got an appetite for something savory, but recently I have started to drink green smoothies again, and usually make a big batch for the whole day at once. Tea or coffee with almond milk and hot ginger water are consumed plentifully during the morning as well.
~ almond milk cappucino ~
~ chopped apple with chia and pumpkin seeds ~
~ green smoothie in my favorite breakfast bowl ~
I am a rather late lunch eater, so this meal usually falls somewhere in the afternoon. It always contains lots of colorful vegetables and then some legumes or quinoa, and is topped with tahini, nut butter, or seeds.
~ carrots, asparagus, and leek with lentils and homegrown radish sprouts ~
~ butternut squash, spinach, and romaine lettuce with quinoa, tahini, and pumpkin seeds ~
Hubby and I eat dinner together on most days, so I usually make a big serving of vegetables, accompanied by sides and toppings of our individual likings.
~ vegetable stir-fry topped with tahini, ground flax, pumpkin seeds, and hemp seeds, plus yoghurt for the hubby ~
~ Indian-style cauliflower and green beans with yellow peas, ground flax, and tahini, plus roasted potatoes and yoghurt for the hubby ~
When I get hungry between meals, I usually have a green smoothie or a piece of fruit, and I drink tea or coffee with almond milk. Sometimes I eat dark chocolate, but most of the times I rather have an appetite for something fresh.
~ this chili cherry chocolate is really nice though ~
So it seems that after a journey of more than two years during which I read – and, in part, ate – my way through the manifold and often controversy world of dietary approaches, I ended up with a vegan diet. But this diet is not just defined by avoiding animal products – it rather integrates aspects of multiple approaches (whole foods, paleo, Weston Pricean nourishing traditions, raw foods, macrobiotics, Ayur Veda, low-carb, and probably some more) which I picked up along the way and found to work for me. In particular, this is gluten-free and soy-free, plant-based vegan diet.
“Plant-based” is meant in a very strict sense here, namely vegetable-based. I aim at eating more than two pounds of vegetables a day, which makes up around 80 % of what I eat, by volume. This is possible by basing meals on vegetables and adding them to smoothies. Then there are some fruit, legumes, nuts, and seeds. I do this because I have had so many problems with inflammation, blood sugar swings, digestion, and stomach pain in the past, which probably all come down to a severe acidity of the body. The large proportion of vegetables guarantees that I have an alkaline overload and do not fall back into this unhappy condition. A second principle I adhere to is variation in the choice of foods and seasonings. I try to eat a large variety of everything, to account for a balanced intake of nutrients across time.
So you see, I am coming from a health point of view in doing all this, but there is more behind it. By the beginning of the year, when I still ate some animal products, the hubby and I sometimes talked about diet, and when I told him a was feeling so bad about eating animals, he wanted to better understand why exactly I felt like that.
A large part of my concerns indeed comes from compassion with the animals I ate. Moreover, I am convinced that eating animals reared under most unfortunate conditions and fed with corn, soy, and antibiotics cannot be healthy – and most often I could not afford to buy organic. I also felt like I was eating all their pain, fear, and suffering as well. Another concern pertains to environmental conditions and the global population. Given the fact that there are around 7 billions of people currently living on this planet, many of whom suffer from undernourishment, and that the food industry (and the meat and dairy industry in particular) consumes an inappropriately large amount of resources – soil, water, and energy – I think that things cannot go on this way, and I feel a sense of responsibility to contribute the little I can to make things better.
This is where Kant’s categorical imperative comes into play, stating that you should “act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction”. This means that you should only do what leads to an outcome you consider desirable if everybody else did the same. And this is exactly the problem I have had with the paleo approach (in the strict sense – so without the heavy cream or bacon included in some kinds of paleo or primal diets) from the very beginning: As much as I think that going back to the way our ancestors ate is a very clever idea, this way of eating nowadays is only for those who can afford it, and sealed for everybody else. Moreover, at the time people lived mostly on plants and animal foods – until about 10,000 years ago – the conditions were dramatically different from today. There existed few humans compared to now, and the planet provided sufficient food to nourish them. These days, however, if all people decided to adopt a paleo diet, it would be impossible to provide them with sufficient animal products.
Taken together, while I still think that the paleo diet is a reasonable approach to health-oriented eating from an individual perspective, I consider it completely unsustainable from a global perspective. In fact, the only solution I currently see for the global food crisis is that a sufficient majority of people start following a mostly vegan diet. And now that I am recovered enough to be able to make choices again, I feel an obligation to decide in favor of the plant-based option wherever possible.
So you see, this is my very personal opinion, based on a lot of deliberation and self-experiments. I hopefuly do not come across as missionary, I just want to tell you what I think. I will never judge anybody badly for holding a different opinion. However, I do believe that a vegan diet is most sustainable and also very healthy when implemented the right way (that is, with an emphasis on vegetables, preferably without gluten, soy, and industrially processed foods, and without any genetically engineered stuff). There may be other ways of eating that are equally healthy, but I do not see they can keep pace with veganism when it comes to sustainability and kindness. In the end, however, my very private joy I draw from all this is that I am finally able to eat a diet that keeps me healthy, gives me lots of energy, and is in congruence with my ethical values.
Now I would love to hear your thoughts on this!