I recently was engaged in a conversation where I was informed that vegetarianism is what will feed the world, and while I was making a better choice by choosing ethically raised meat, I was sacrificing the environment for trying to achieve optimal health. And boy did that get me thinking. (UPDATE I wish I had this article then: Letter to a Vegetarian Nation). I do not claim to know everything about nutrition, in fact anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely LOVE to learn, and continue to do so on a daily basis. I spend hours every day (non-paid since I’m self-employed) reading and studying every piece of information I can, trying to be as unbiased as possible (which I’ll admit, can sometimes be challenging), to make the best choices I can. I also try to take science and knowledge out of textbook scenarios and apply them to my small life/community, my country and the world in its entirety.
Why do I do that? Because that is how I was raised.
We had 2 rules in my family growing up:
- Family comes first.
- Always do the best job you can.
There were never any asterisks on those rules, they simply were, as they are. Honest, grounded, foundational rules. They provided the framework on which every one of my achievements was built. I nailed job interviews. Got solid grades (not perfect, but the best I could) which opened up doors. Prioritized my family and my (now) husband’s family, who in turn support us through thick and thin and without which, we would not be where we are today.
Always do the best job you can.
This is the biggest lesson I try to impart on my clients. Doing the best you can, with the resources you have available, with the knowledge you have right now. And when you know more and have more? Then do a bit better. It’s easy to get caught up in what my Coaching Teacher called “shoulding” yourself. You know, “I should do this…”, “I should be doing that…”. If we all stopped “shoulding” ourselves and simply started making the best choices we can, right now, the world would be an even more incredible place.
Optimizing Your Health = Sacrificing the Earth?
On the same train of thought, I began thinking about the definition of “optimizing health” and whether striving for that was inherently incompatible with being respectful to the earth and in turn, human kind. For a split second, I started questioning some choices I have made, but instantly shook myself out of that because when I look back to where I started, at the beginning of my personal health journey, I believe with every cell in my body that I am doing the best I can for myself, my family, my environment and my fellow humans. I tried very hard to be vegetarian – oh I wanted to be one so bad. I even started getting repulsed by meat, even though I had always enjoyed it growing up, because I wanted to be a vegetarian. I felt guilty eating meat because I was told it was destroying the environment. I was scared because I was told it would give me heart disease and cancer. And something else happened.
My body fell apart.
Very few people other than my husband truly know what I used to go through. More days than not I was levelled by a migraine by 4:30pm. Nauseated, in tears, writhing on the couch in pain. Nothing worked – alcohol, caffeine, NSAIDs, muscle relaxants, acupuncture, heat, ice…nothing. Digestive pain so excruciating it would wake me up in the middle of the night, I could barely stumble to the bathroom. Nothing would happen, but lying on the cold floor for about an hour was the only way I could tolerate the pain. Destructive self-talk that resulted in a sad relationship with my body and food. Crippling anxiety that threatened my relationships with friends, family and my amazing partner. Anxiety that threatened my relationship with myself and the incredible world I am so lucky enough to be a part of.
Over the course of 5 years, with the support of my incredible partner and family, I slowly recovered my health and found incredible joy and empowerment in the fact that predominantly through food, I was able to literally change who I was. Change what had come to define who I was. Change the path I was down, which was sure to end up in a very bad place.
What were the biggest changes I made?
Here are the foods I eliminated, in order. And not because any dietary philosophy told me to, or a book suggested it. But because over the course of 5+ years, I was an experiment of 1 and I could not ignore the results.
Dairy – which was causing epic digestive pain
Gluten – total body inflammation, puffy joints, not fitting in my clothes
Legumes – debilitating migraines, even in the smallest amounts (ie. rooibos tea, guar gum)
Whole grains – while I can still tolerate them in small amounts, anything more than a few bites results in damage to my digestive tract caused by constipation that lasts for 3-4 days (sorry if that’s TMI)
Corn and alcohol – again, in small amounts these are fine, but both trigger anxiety if I overdo it. Even a few glasses of wine will cause me to wake up the next morning with the weight of the world on my chest.
As you can see, with the exception of nuts and seeds, these foods make up all plant-based protein sources. The foods I was so desperately trying to eat for the sake of my own body and the environment, were slowly but surely breaking me and preventing me from being a contributing member of society.
I unintentionally stumbled into the paleo lifestyle out of necessity. And while many people condemn this lifestyle (and yes, I mean lifestyle, not just diet) for being a way to ease their conscience when eating meat, that could not be further from the truth in my case. When I look back to where I’ve come from, oh my goodness I am proud. I am so healthy, almost migraine-free, free from digestive pain, and my anxiety, while it still likes to rear its ugly head from time to time, hasn’t been in control of my life for a good while now. And that self-talk that was so destructive? It was kicked to the curb about 8 months after making the decision to jump in 100% into a lifestyle that makes me the best version of me possible. And now what is that allowing me to do?
Contribute to my community, help other people and make even better choices.
I had the confidence to become an entrepreneur.
I have the sympathy, empathy and experience to gain the trust of others to allow me to guide them to their own recovery.
I now have the financial ability to purchase ethically raised food to take better care of the environment.
I am able to spend time, creating free content for clients, friends, family and strangers, to help them be better versions of themselves, so they can be better contributors to society.
By living my truth, I am able to change lives.
All because I did the best job I could, with the resources I had at the time, which continued to grow as I continued to learn. So yes, I will continue to eat ethically raised meat, because aside from the fact that it is nutritionally complete (ie. no supplements are needed) it allows me to make a difference in the world.
And my promise to the world, is to continue to do the best I can, to take care of this incredible planet we get to call home and to continue to help change lives to allow other people to do the same thing.