I once heard someone say “Don’t ever try to compete with yourself in terms of how you looked at age 24.” I thought to myself “I would never want to look the way I did at 24 – ever again.” In fact, my 49-year-old self could kick my 24-year-old self’s butt because I’m leaner, faster, stronger and healthier in every way. I would not want to go back to inhabiting that body for all the money in the world.
By my early ’20s, I had lived for decades on a pretty standard American diet of fast food, pizza, chicken wings, sub sandwiches and “healthy” salads dunked in blue cheese dressing. Diet Coke, regular Coke, milk shakes, candy and cookies. Fruit Loops and fruit yogurt. Later on, sushi, pasta, veggie sandwiches and bran muffins were my favorite “health” foods. The result: No matter how much exercise or dieting I did – I always looked a little (or a lot) puffy, especially in the tummy and the face. Losing weight was hard and required a concentrated effort. I was frequently sick with colds, flu and sinus infections. Later on, I became very sick with what was diagnosed as Lyme disease (see earlier blog) and Candida yeast and a whole bunch of other infections that go along with being chronically ill. I was simply putting the wrong fuel into my body my entire life.
It wasn’t until I got sick and toxic enough to check into True North Health in Santa Rosa that I started to understand what I had done to myself. True North is the premiere water fasting and nutritional cleansing facility on the planet. There, I learned that I was sick because of my dietary choices and really, when you got right down to it, nothing else. In fact, I believe that most people with chronic Lyme aren’t sick because they were bit by a tick. We are sick because we ate a bunch of garbage our entire lives and were possibly bit by a tick and definitely exposed to a whole bunch of critters (Lyme and its many friends) all of which were fed and kept alive by our oily, starchy, mucusy, meaty, dairy-filled diets.
I also learned pretty quickly that the face, body and brain I’d had all my life were not necessarily my “real” face, body and brain. On a plant-based diet loaded with raw living fruits and vegetables I saw inflammation throughout my body start to diminish and my weight began to balance. My mood and energy levels improved and I was no longer one of the walking dead.
The physical changes from eating plants were particularly noticeable in my face, which appeared tighter and more defined. On fruit and vegetables the real me began to emerge physically and emotionally. When I would go back to eating inflammatory foods (as I sometimes did over the course of my transition) the old puffy irritated Beth would come back.
But there was one serious problem that I could not seem to solve that made this a hard path for me to follow. If I stayed on a high raw plant-based diet for too long I would start to detoxify too quickly and experience very unpleasant symptoms. Many others in the low fat vegan world didn’t seem to have this problem. But I did. We are all different in terms of how efficiently we detoxify things like heavy metals and pesticides that are stored mostly in our fat cells – and I am particularly challenged in the detox department due to some complex variations my genetic makeup that guides liver detoxification. (If you are a glutton for punishment and want to know more about how our genes guide detox in the body then research the MTHFR genetic variation and the P-450 chromosome issues. I spent close to a thousand dollars on these tests that told me, basically, that I don’t detoxify like other people). I also had 11 mercury dental fillings removed from my mouth at the beginning of my detox journey after testing HIGH for mercury in my tissue – so that did not help due to the fact that mercury is one of those substances my body has a hard time getting rid of.
Overwhelmed with the detox symptoms as I ate cleaner and cleaner foods, I would fall off the wagon and start eating less desirable foods that would slow down the detox but also cause the inflammation throughout my body to return.
Mercifully, a couple of things were put in my path to help me in that area: detox baths prepared with things like bentonite clay and diatomaceous earth (yes I put the “earth” into my baths now) and a little bit of sea veggies to help me detox my cells and thyroid and add in minerals and other nutrients. Adding in very green smoothies and juices also helped because chlorophyll in greens acts as a nice gentle binder of toxins. And colon cleansing with colonics and enemas has also been very helpful for easing the toxic load on my body despite my genetic limitations. These were all ways I could remove environmental toxins from my body in a controlled but effective manner as I transitioned to healthier and healthier foods. It’s relatively easy to be a purist when your heavy duty detox symptoms end after three or six months of starting a low fat high carb vegan diet. It’s another thing altogether when those same symptoms go on for years.
So, over time with the help of these little protocols I was able to start eating not only a plant-based diet but a high raw plant-based diet and then an all raw plant-based diet – the gold standard for healing chronic illness. I did it very slowly over several years. When I first tried going on a low fat high carb raw diet it felt impossible. The headaches and cravings would kill me. Now, after a lot of cleansing (30- and 40-day fruit only cleanses and countless water fasts and juice fasts over the last several years) I am able to finally tolerate the 80/10/10 diet. If I feel like I am detoxing too quickly I simply add in some avocado to slow it down. But some days I don’t do any overt fats and I do fine. (Overt fats are nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut and oils).
So forget the face lifts and “toning” treatments, the pills, powders and potions for improving your health and your mood and just try some gentle detox and a plant-based diet but do it at a pace that is comfortable for you. And have a vision. So that when you do “fail” you will have a plan to hop back onto. If you keep at it you may not recognize yourself after a few months or a year. Today, my vision for myself is raw. I’m shooting for a year of all raw because I can’t wrap my mind around a lifetime. My body tells me what is possible and this vision feels possible. One of the admins on my favorite Facebook page said to me awhile back “Just stay raw.” It hit me like a stone between my eyes. Yes! Just. Stay. Raw!
With raw and a little bit of fat in the diet I don’t get stopped dead in my tracks. I can just keep on keepin’ on. Before I would get stopped dead in my tracks. For instance, when I was on no-overts island my head told me I had to do three months of no fat at all. But my body had other ideas. My weight got way too low and I didn’t have the energy to take care of my kids. Again, this doesn’t happen to everybody but it happened to me. Was it too much detox? Too little body fat to keep my hormones and body enzymes doing their jobs? I have no idea what made my body say, “No way, stop.” But if you had seen me after a few months on 9/5/5 you probably would have said the same thing. “Just stop!” I was turning into scary skeleton mommy.
So this is what I accomplished earlier this year: I made it through 43 days on a no-fat fruit detox – basically fruits and some veggies – and then took a “break” for a week (fell off the wagon, spectacularly, with some Indian buffet and vegan sushi and got sicker than a dog) and then did another 30 days of no fat raw before hitting the scary skeleton mommy point and breaking that cleanse with yet more cooked vegan foods that made me feel like crap. I was so mad at myself for falling off the wagon but eventually came to see that these periods of “bad” behavior turned out to be great learning experiences.
The main thing I learned is that I if I wanted to be a raw foodist I should have just added in some healthy fats rather than the cooked foods that make me sick. At this point it’s just easier to stay than it is to keep going back and forth between the two worlds and constantly risk illness from cook food exposure. If I was in a dire situation and needed to eat some steamed non-starchy veggies I would do that. But eating 99.9 percent raw works much better for me than having starchy carbs as a that dangerous loophole. And so far I haven’t even needed the steamed veggies.
Cooked starches, aside from giving me inflammation, also seem to be a gateway drug that leads me to more cooked foods, which are generally laden with oils. So keeping it raw and adding in fats as needed to stabilize my body works for me. And I love that just a little bit of healthy fats in the diet KILLS cravings. That is magic.
I’m a full time single mom of two kids who works three jobs. So balancing all of that with managing a chronic illness and the necessary detox program has been a huge challenge. In order to get where I’ve gotten I’ve educated myself on numerous raw dietary approaches and worked with a raw foods coach. In fact, the last time we talked she gave me some invaluable advice. She said, “You are a mom. Please stop doing what people without kids are doing.” So I have to be realistic about what I can accomplish given the reality of my schedule and the fact that there are two little people who need me to be upright and relatively sane. And I had to stop beating myself up because I could not accomplish rigorous goals that my rational mind planned but my body could not carry out.
Now I’ve been on a high carb low fat raw vegan diet for a several weeks and it feels like a banquet compared to when I first started. Among the benefits that I notice today:
- Not only is the diet healing my body at a deep level but I have the physical stamina to take the herbs and probiotics that I need to heal deeper infections. I always mention this one. Yes, it’s boring but for someone diagnosed with a life-threatening infection it’s the SINGLE most important benefit. On raw foods my inflammation is lower and my general toxic load is lower so taking the herbs and bacteria-killing probiotics does not hurt as much as it used to.
- My weight is balanced and I’m able to maintain a healthy weight rather than dipping down into the listless scary mommy zone.
- I have tons of energy for work and play and a new zest for my job, which his now thriving after a year of detox. And I get to help others thanks to everything I have learned.
- I feel centered and balanced and happy most of the time, particularly when I just stick with eating sweet fruits and a little bit of avocado. Like Ted Carr says, if you can rub it into your skin then you can eat it. That seems to be true for me.
- Now I’m concentrating on putting on healthy weight through building muscle rather than creating more toxic fat. My body actually craves exercise and stuff like yoga and dance.
- I have my life back after 10 years of being sick. I was flat on my bad in bed fatigue or dealing with horrible pain (early on). Today I get to live and even thrive. Ride my bike, hike, dance to ZZ Top with my kids, hang upside down from the monkey bars at the playground, crank out blogs and working like three people. These are not things I was doing much before I jumped on the raw diet.
And finally the one that surprises me the most: I tend to care less and less what people think, which is a great benefit since veganism in general – and low fat high carb raw foodism in particular – seems to breed a lot of factions and in-fighting. People judge others unfairly, gossip and throw people out of social groups for eating the wrong thing or saying the wrong thing despite any good they may have brought to a situation or to the world. Most of us are guilty of judgment at times but it’s up to me to get my head out of my ass and not pick up the drug. I see it every day in the raw foods world: No matter how kind and supportive that person may have been in the past others forget that person’s kindness and focus on only what we don’t like about them and begin building walls. YouTube is particularly vicious, but since it’s college for fruiters it can’t always be avoided. So having a plant-powered Teflon around the emotions in a world of un-forgiveness and negativity is a lovely thing. All my adult life, through my involvement in recovery programs, I have gotten to practice extending forgiveness and love toward those who do not necessarily do the same. I do it imperfectly and sometimes it takes a long time. But this path makes it easier. When you feel good inside your body – peaceful, happy, alive – it’s almost impossible to worry about others’ very flawed impressions of you based on their own fears, insecurities and dis-ease. If you don’t react and send up a prayer for them then you are the winner every time. Fruit makes that possible. Start by loving yourself.
And trust me, just to get back to the physical, it’s a luxury problem for any woman my age – 49 – to be trying to figure out how to gain weight on a raw food diet rather than worrying about how to lose it. Another bonus is that I have zapped a lot of toxic belly fat. (Gotta always throw that in because it still surprises me).
Rule No. 1 is never give up! If I had given up each time I failed I would never have learned from those failures and built a successful program for myself. Today I can look back and see that every one of those failures was put to good use. My body told me what to add in or subtract next as did my inner “guides” who gave me great healing messages as long as I was willing to get quiet enough to listen.
Having the support of the ladies on my online support group has been invaluable too. It’s the first time I have had community around this way of healing. It can be such a lonely, misunderstood path if you try to go it alone in the SAD-eating world. Now I have a host of new friends who I communicate with every day. I love to hear what others are eating and doing to improve their health and their lives so please send me a message and say hello!