Food as Medicine: Why Veganism isn’t the Key to Health

I am sure I am not the only individual with an eating disorder who finds herself subconsciously wandering into the library’s diet book section. Just like yeast thrives when exposed to the proper conditions, my eating disorder thrives when it is submersed in an environment of nothing but books that worship weight-loss. I remember though that there was one book that sucked me in the most when my eating disorder had completely consumed my thoughts. It was a book on veganism. It promised that by bidding farewell to the foods that make up our American culture (animal-based products), you would be rewarded with a stick-thin figure and years of good health. Now that my mind is working it’s way back to a healthy state, I am beginning to realize that veganism is in no way a diet that is sustainable or health promoting to the human race. If you are a vegan that last sentence probably made your face turn as red as an apple and steam come out of your ears. You probably think I am an uneducated consumer, a mindless moron, or a corrupt supporter of the dairy industry. Let me tell you right at this very moment that I am none of those things and believe me, I never will be.  Just take a chill pill and give me a chance to share my point of view and maybe just maybe, it will make you change yours.

Veganism is an extreme form of vegetarianism where consuming or even wearing a product that comes from an animal is considered hairacy.  Supporters of this movement have made remarkable claims like vegans have an incredibly decreased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and have even alleged that a vegan diet can REVERSE physical ailments. In order to support these fantastic assertions, many vegans turn to a well-known study that is pretty much their bible. It’s called “The China Study”. Basically this study looked at the diets of individuals residing in Chinese villages and examined how their diets affected their overall well-being. To summarize everything up, the study pointed their finger at animal products and high-protein diets as the cause for a majority of the diseases plaguing us today. Now, there is a problem with that assumption. Let’s look at the African Maasai tribe for a second. This interesting group of people live in Kenya and Tanzania and their diets are stuffed with fat and animal-based protein. Despite this high-fat, high-protein diet, the Maasai people ARE NOT pushing up daisies like The China Study suggest they would. Why is that? Maybe it’s because animal products aren’t as bad for us as plant-based diet extremists have told us.

Animal-based products contain tons of nutrients that are extraordinarily difficult to obtain in a 100% plant-based diet, especially when you are talking about zinc, B12, calcium, and iron. Now I bet a ton of vegan activists are currently shouting at me, saying that all of these micronutrients can be obtained through a plant-based diet.  I am going to be the first one to say that vegans CANNOT obtain all these nutrients through their diet alone. Many of the micronutrients I listed are either not found in plant foods at all (B12) or our found in very little amounts. If they are found in very little amounts, a lot of the nutrients are less bioavailable than if they were consumed through animal-based products instead. For example, let’s look at calcium which is extremely important to bone and tooth formation, blood clotting, muscle and nerve actions, and even metabolic reactions.  The recommended daily value of calcium per day is over 1,000mg and as you know, dairy products contain an incredible amount of calcium. If you were to cut out dairy products from your diet and just rely on plant-based sources, it would be rather difficult to get that amount. Though kale, turnip greens, an even beans contain some calcium, a lot of it cannot be absorbed due to the phytates and oxalates that these foods contain.  When you do not get enough calcium in your diet, a lot of health problems can occur including osteoporosis.

So if you only get one thing out of reading this post, remember that animal foods are nothing to be afraid of. They contain vital micronutrients and macronutrients that support health and longevity.  If you are a vegan or considering adopting a vegan diet, please remember the dangerous consequences of this choice. Though I believe a vegetarian diet can provide essential nutrients if done correctly (because you can still eat dairy, eggs, and sometimes fish), I firmly believe a vegan diet cannot possibly give an individual everything they require to thrive. To learn more about the importance of including animal-based foods in your diet, check out the links below.

1. Nutrition Importance of Animal Source Foods

2. Dangers of Vegan Diets

3. 5 Risks of Raw Vegan Diets

 

Food as Medicine: Could It Be Your “B”?

We all know that having an eating disorder is no “walk in the park” for our bodies. Every time we starve ourselves, uncontrollably stuff food in our mouths, and stick a finger down our throats; we are inflicting some form of bodily harm on ourselves. We’re hurting the one muscle that gives us life – our hearts. We’re destroying our stomach and throat. We’re wrecking the bones that give us our very structure! But what so many people don’t realize, (sometimes even DOCTORS neglect this), is a certain type of devastation that is silently occurring inside you. With each passing day, you may feel a little bit more fatigued, your lungs may begin to feel like they are constantly deprived of oxygen, and you may even notice a slight tingling sensation in your extremities. Odds are, you would probably just ignore these seemingly innocent warning signs and continue on with your daily life. But what you don’t know is these very symptoms are the symptoms of a merciless and sometimes even fatal disease caused by something that is very fixable – a vitamin B-12 deficiency.

Vitamin B-12 (which is only found in animal products) plays a crucial role in our well-being. Its vital jobs include converting folate coenzymes into the forms needed to complete metabolic reactions (like the synthesis of DNA) and keeping the myelin sheaths that insulate neurons up and running. When one is deficient in B-12, this results in the cells becoming unable to conduct the reactions where folate is required and also causes the destruction of the myelin sheaths, ultimately resulting in paralysis and even death. Since individuals with eating disorders undergo times of severe starvation and sometimes ban animal products from entering their bodies, a B-12 deficiency is extremely likely to occur. Slowly and innocently, the tell-tale symptoms of a deficiency will appear. These symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, palpitations, mouth sores, weight-loss, menstrual issues, tingling or odd sensations in the extremities, sporadic diarrhea, random mood swings, and even confusion.

If you notice any of these notorious symptoms begin to manifest, I urge you to go to your doctor and ask for a blood test in order to check your B-12 levels. B-12 deficiency is treatable, but if you refuse to go to the doctor and get treatment, some of its effects can be permanent and even deadly. I know that for a lot of individuals with eating disorders, going to an MD is a terrifying prospect. But do you really want to continue to suffer? Do you really want your life to be cut short? No, you don’t because every single person on this earth was put here for a reason and YOU DESERVE TO BE HEALTHY. So get on your phone and make an appointment. It’s time you do something for you, not your eating disorder.

To learn more about B-12 deficiency and its devastating effects, please watch the documentary I attached to this post.

Food as Medicine: Fats

dietaryfat

Fats. It is a word the strikes fear into most people with eating disorders. Why? Because for some reason ED seems to think that eating an avocado or drizzling some olive oil on our salad will result in massive weight gain due to the fat content of these foods.  Today though we are going to change that thought process and challenge ED as we uncover the truth about fats, an important macronutrient that plays a crucial role in our diets.

Fats (or if we want to sound all scientific, we can call them lipids) come in all different unique varieties. I mean think about a food label for a second. You’ll see saturated fats, trans fats, and unsaturated fats like monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat all listed. But though all of these lipids are unique in their own special way,  there is one thing they all have in common – they are triglycerides.  Now I am pretty darn sure the term “triglycerides” sounds familiar. Maybe you heard your science teacher droning on about them or you could have possibly caught your doctor spitting out the word while speaking in medical jargon. No matter where you heard it, I am sure you are just dying to know what on earth triglycerides are. Well, triglycerides is just a fancy shamcy word for the lipids that mostly make up the fat content in our foods. Each type of triglyceride has a glycerol base and then has three fatty acids (which are the building blocks of triglycerides) attached to them.  Now the type of the fatty acids attached to the glycerol base determines the type of lipid. Sometimes the fatty acids attached to the glycerol have single carbon bonds, allowing all of the carbons to be bound to a hydrogen. This is called a saturated fat because all of its carbon bonds are saturated with hydrogen. Because of the structure of the saturated fat, they are heavy and dense which allows to be solid at room temperature.  Now unsaturated fats, as you may have guessed, are not saturated with hydrogen. They actually have some carbons that contain double bonds so the hydrogen can’t pack itself in there. Depending on where the double bond is located on the fatty acid determines whether or not the fat is considered polyunsaturated or monounsaturated. A monounsaturated fat would have one double bond between the carbon atoms while a polyunsaturated would have more than one double bond between the carbon atoms. Since hydrogen isn’t stuffed into these types of lipids, they are a little more flexible. This flexibility they possess allows them be less dense thus meaning they will be liquid at room temperature.

Notice how the unsaturated fat model has a kink in it.  This allows it to be more flexible.
Notice how the unsaturated fat model has a kink in it. This allows it to be more flexible.

Ok, take a deep breath. I am now done with all that brain boggling chemistry. Now that we now some of the general structure of some fats, let’s figure out what on earth the role fats play in our diets.  Fats are actually a super concentrated source of energy and when your body doesn’t have enough glucose, it turns to fat as a back-up. Fat also helps out with the absorption of certain nutrients as well as provides protection around vital organs and helps with temperature regulation. Lastly, believe it or not fats are what form the fatty center of our cell membranes.  So, yeah, fats have some important occupations in our body and notice that NONE of its jobs is to make us fat.

 So now let’s go back to the different types of fats I talked about. You know that one paragraph where I rambled on and on about the structure of triglycerides? You hear a lot in the media about fats and which ones you should or should not eat? But there’s a heck of a lot of conflicting information out there. I mean, take a look at the Atkins Diet for goodness sake. They say it’s A-OK to eat a jug of lard if you do so chose and hey we all know that lard is stuffed with nothing but saturated fat.  And of course there are folks way on the other side saying that even eating a morsel of fat will sabotage your weight-loss efforts. So what is a person to do? What are you to believe? Well, let me break down the current knowledge for you. At this moment, it is recommended that we limit our intake of items with saturated fats. Saturated fats are usually found in a lot of animal foods and studies have shown that eating saturated fats in excess can result in some cardiovascular problems.  I am not saying you have to give up your cheese, just don’t eat a block of it a day! Unsaturated fats on the other hand have been shown to stabilize cholesterol levels and reduce one’s risk of cardiovascular disease. Good sources of unsaturated fats include nuts, seeds, avocados, and even fish!

good fats

So hey what do you know! Fats aren’t bad for you at all! They play a ton of important roles in bodies and we need to eat them in our diet to achieve maximum health. That doesn’t mean though you can chug a bottle of olive oil or eat a 1 lb bag of almonds. You just need to eat fats in moderation, like ANY OTHER FOOD GROUP.

Food as Medicine Series: Proteins

protein

Proteins are worshiped like a god in the diet industry. They have been dubbed as the key to achieving that model-like physique so many of us have dreamed about. But from a scientific standpoint, what really are proteins and are they truly the answer to all of our weight-related issues?

Proteins are not just a single, whole substance. They are actually made up of a little something called amino acids. I bet you probably heard about these fellas in 7th grade science class.  In order to keep our bodies running in tip top shape we need a total of just 20 different amino acids. Since our bodies are pretty amazing, we can actually make 11 of these amino acids. What about the other 9? Well, we have to get those from our diet.  If you are consuming a balanced diet, you have no need to worry about getting those other 9 amino acids.  But if you are letting your diet fall by the wayside and you aren’t consuming enough of just one of those 9 amino acids, you are going to have a problem. Your body will first do its best to try to conserve the most of the amino acid it can, but that’s obviously not a long-term solution. Soon your body will slow down the production of proteins and then eventually it will begin to break down proteins faster than it can build them. That’s when your health is going to start heading south.

Alrighty, now that you understand what proteins are made of I bet you are just dying to know why on earth our body needs protein. You can think of proteins as little bricks, making up important structures in your body.  They also have some other additional jobs like helping to balance water, pH, acids, and bases as well as forming hormones and enzymes, playing a role in our immune system, and forming glucose when your body doesn’t have enough carbohydrates to use.  The one function I want to touch on that relates to eating disorders is the formation of glucose from the amino acids that make up proteins.  You see, our bodies main source of fuel is carbohydrates and our bodies use those carbs to make glucose so our cells have energy. But in times of starvation, sometimes our bodies just don’t have enough carbohydrates to utilize. This results in our bodies having to take amino acids from muscles to use as glucose, which not only wastes one’s muscles but also can produce edema.  Another thing proteins do is after you eat them, they cause a feeling of satiety or fullness.  This is especially attractive to individuals looking to drop a few pounds and it may cause people to think that loading up on protein will be their saving grace. But before you start eating a big lump of steak at each meal and mixing protein powder with everything, here’s what you have to know . . .

The foods that our highest in proteins tend to be from animals. A lot of animal proteins are laden with unhealthy fats and lack the important nutrients, phytochemicals, and fiber found in plant-based sources of protein. Also studies have suggested that high-protein diets suck the calcium right our of your bones. This is especially dangerous for those of us with eating disorders, since an effect of starvation is osteoporosis or osteopenia.  Lastly, there has been evidence that suggests the a diet overflowing with protein can really take a toll on your kidneys because of the extra nitrogen that they are forced to excrete.  The key thing to remember is that most women just need 46 grams of protein per day and most men require about 56 grams per day. To put that in perspective a 3oz piece of chicken breast provides a whopping 26.7g of protein and fresh 3oz piece blue-fin tuna provides 25.4g. So as you can see, getting the right amount of protein isn’t hard at all and it’s actually really easy to get MORE than what you need.

So just remember that protein is an important macronutrient needed for a variety of functions in your body, but that doesn’t mean loading up on it is the healthiest thing to do. Even though it does contribute to a feeling of fullness, eating too much protein has some negative side effects that can really take a toll on your health. I guess the moral of the story is to not see high-protein diets as a miracle weight-loss method and to instead see it as a vital macronutrient that should be eaten in an amount that is right for your body.

“Do You Really Have to Come Over?”

There are people in this world who are calm, collected and I rather enjoy being in the peaceful presence of these individuals. But there are beings that are impulsive, brash, and rather obnoxious. I don’t know about you, but hanging out with one of these types of folks doesn’t sound like a dream come true.

Unfortunately though for the next two days, I will have to do just that. My house will be polluted with the boisterous voice of one of the most impetuous individuals I know. Who is this person? I’m sad to say it is my aunt.

Though I know my aunt really does love me, we don’t have what you would call a spotless history. When I was just barely tall enough to see above the bank counter, I would watch helplessly as violent wars would break out between my mom and my aunt. The ammunition used in these bloody battles were not just cruel words but, punches and slaps. I can’t describe in words how difficult it was to witness your own mother and aunt literally beat each other. I mean how could adult sisters do such a juvenile thing? I wish I could answer that question, but all I know is that those events of violence strained my relationship with my aunt.

As years went by and I got older, anorexia entered my life. My aunt and grandma visited when I was at my worst point and it was a terrible experience for me. My aunt would not stop judging my food intake and would continue to make rude remarks. I just remember that being extremely anxiety provoking and actually, despite her comments, I would find myself forcing myself to consume less calories. Maybe that was due to the stress of her presence.  When I was in recovery, I went to my grandparents and I was bombarded with her comments about what I was eating. She would continuously say that I looked “healthy” (which to an anorexic means I look fat) or that I was “eating better than before.”  Sometimes she would even have the nerve to criticize me when I would refuse cake or dessert. She would say, “Aren’t you better by now?” and I held back my anger each and every time those words came out of her mouth.

I honestly don’t know how I am going to survive these next two days. I am not feeling well,as you guys know, so the idea of having a critical and obnoxious person around doesn’t sound great at all!  My aunt seems to have no filter when she talks.  Whatever she thinks comes right out her big, fat mouth.

I’ll try my best to look on the bright side, but currently things are looking pretty darn dim.

Food as Medicine Series: Carbohydrates

healthy carbs

As individuals with eating disorders, we all know our relationship with food is rather complicated. No matter if we are an anorexic, bulimic, binge eater, or disordered eater; in our eyes food is one of the few “effective” coping skills we possess.  That is exactly why I decided to produce a set of nutrition posts that I shall dub the “Food as Medicine Series”. My goal in these posts is to educate each and every one of you on the basics of sound nutrition and to completely alter how you look at each of the different food groups. We’ll begin by looking at the macronutrient that has suffered quite a bit of criticism in the world of dieting – carbohydrates.

I know that carbohydrates can be a major fear food group for those with eating disorders. This is completely understandable considering the fact that over years carbohydrates have been accused of everything from our nation’s inability to wear skinny jeans and chronic weight-related illnesses like diabetes. But what if I were to tell you that these accusations were completely ludicrous and that there is no reason to be plagued with intense guilt when you consume a slice of bread or a serving of pasta? Well, that’s what I am about to do.

 So let’s start off with answering a basic, but common question – what exactly are carbohydrates? No, they are not some malicious substance looking to sabotage your waistline. Actually they are an important type of biomolecule (any molecule produced by a living organism) comprised of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen in a ratio that is quite similar to water.  The inclusion of carbohydrates in your diet is paramount due to the fact these molecules play a significant role in your body.  They are your body’s main source of fuel, especially if you are talking about your central nervous system which requires a constant supply of glucose (an important simple sugar that is the primary fuel for in your body).  Another important job of carbohydrates is to protect your body from turning to protein and/or fat for energy.  When you do not ingest enough carbohydrates to meet your energy requirements, the body is forced to turn to fat and/or protein in order to continue to function. Unfortunately this is not good because first of all your body needs protein to carry out important roles like tissue growth. Second of all, if your body has no choice but to use fat for energy, it can result in the production of ketones.  Ketones are strong acids and if they build up it can cause a condition known as ketosis. This condition upsets the natural balance of acids and bases in the body which can do quite a number on your cells.  Ketosis is one of the key elements in the success the many low-carb diets, but it is also the reason why many people who go on low-carb diets experience symptoms like bad breath, nausea, fatigue, constipation, and headaches. Plus the long-term side effects of low-carb diets are not known and some health experts believe the high amounts of fat and animal-based proteins found on these diet regimes can result in an increased risk of heart problems and some types of cancer.

Now that we know the basic but crucial functions of carbs, it’s time to start digging a little deeper into the topic. You may have heard a lot about simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates and I bet you’d like to understand a little bit more about these two groups. Simple carbohydrates are sugars with a simple structure that contain only one or two monosaccharide (the building blocks for all carbohydrates) molecules.  Due to the fact they are simple in structure, they are easily broken down by the body to use as energy or store as glycogen. Complex carbohydrates on the other hand, have a rather intricate structure composed of many units of sugar.  Their involved built allows them to be metabolized slower, giving you a sustained amount of energy.

Dietary fiber is surprisingly classified as a complex carbohydrate, but what makes fiber different is the fact that it is actually not readily absorbed by the body.  So why do we need fiber then if our body just doesn’t have the capability to digest it?  Well, let’s start off with getting familiar with the two different kinds of fiber – soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. The soluble fiber team gots its name from the fact that these fibers dissolve or swell up in water. The star players include pectins (a fiber found between the cell walls of plants), gums (a fiber typically found in the exudates of plant stems), and mucilages (which are slimey fibers that are produced in the seeds of certain plants, such as flax seeds and okra).   Once these guys make their way into your body they get right to work. Since they swell up in water, they actually slow the emptying of food in your stomach, bind to bile acids which helps decrease your cholesterol, and provide bulk in one’s diet in order to prevent spastic colon pressure.  Insoluble fiber on the other hand (which is made up of cellulose, lignin, and hemicellulose) just could care less about the idea of swelling up in water. It likes itself just the way it is. Just because it doesn’t turn into a slimy gel though doesn’t mean its useless.  Actually, it’s perfect for folks who are struggling with constipation (which a lot of people with eating disorder struggle with) because this type of fiber helps move food along your long digestive tract and adds some much needed bulk to one’s stool.  Pretty cool, right?

What types of foods do you like with fiber?
What types of foods do you like with fiber?

 

All in all, carbohydrates are nothing to fear. This crucial biomolecule plays an essential role in the inner workings of our bodies and despite what those diet books and commercials claim, you need to eat them.  You do though need to watch out for what type of carbohydrates you eat.  You want to include complex carbs in your diet as much as possible and kick out sources of simple carbs since they lack the wondrous benefits  of their intricate counterparts (like fiber!). So go ahead and grab a slice of 100% whole wheat bread and as you bite into its fluffy, nutty goodness remember not to feel guilty.  All you are doing is providing your body with a source of energy that is jam-packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. So what is there to feel bad about? Absolutely nothing.

What Ana Does

As I made this video, I honestly thought I was just creating some educational piece on the health complications of anorexia nervosa. I didn’t really think that I was making this video for me as well. . .

You see, when you have an eating disorder, sometimes you have to be reminded of the grim realities of the disease. When I was in treatment, they would drill in our fragile minds the plethora of medical issues are ED’s could cause or were currently causing, but it honestly meant nothing to me. I guess I just kept telling myself, “Well, I am not that sick” or “That would never happen to me”. Now though, I realize that every single one of those medical complications  I put on the video could easily happen to me, whether I like it or not.

Right now, I am starting to wonder if current medical issues that have invaded my life have anything to do with my history of anorexia nervosa. My family and I are still searching for a diagnosis, but I am not denying the fact that the time I have spent with ED could of had some serious medical implications.

If you are struggling with an ED right now, remember that any of those complications in the video ARE LIKELY to happen to you. You may think you aren’t sick enough and that your weight isn’t too low, but self-starvation takes a tremendous toll on your body. Every time you refuse yourself nourishment, you are body is slowly dying from the inside out.

So please keep fighting ED and remember to  . . .

KEEP MOVING FORWARD!