I used to be fairly dogmatic about diet, believing there was a right way to eat. In my twenties, this right way was vegetarianism. I was an ethical vegetarian and felt sanctimonious about it. I deplored the idea of killing animals for food. I loved the works of writer Frances Moore Lappé and would quote her to anyone vaguely interested. But my body did not agree with my mind’s choice. In my early forties, I discovered the work of the nutrition-oriented dentist, Weston A. Price, then read Sally Fallon’s book Nourishing Traditions and fell in love with the idea of a “right diet” all over again. In contrast, this diet incorporated lots of animal fats and animal protein. While I still respect these works and remain influenced by them, I have since come to an even broader understanding of health and nutrition.
Simply put, there is no one right diet for everyone. One person may actually feel fine on a vegetarian diet, while another may thrive with an abundance of saturated fats and animal protein. One person may do very well with wheat and whole grains, and another may not tolerate gluten, or grains. One person may feel best eating predominantly salads and light fare; another may flourish eating mostly cooked food. All of these, and more, are viable and appropriate for various people. An individual body may have changing needs over a life- time, and that is fine too. A woman who is menstruating might crave meats, including liver, and want them daily, while the same woman post-menopause might find herself less interested in such foods.
There are many reasons why our dietary needs vary. Early nutritional factors, ethnicity, genetics, taste preferences, metabolic type, stress level, work load, allergies, environmental exposures, and phase of life all play a part. Not everyone can digest or metabolize certain foods. We have all heard that everyone needs to eat more fiber, but for many people, fiber aggravates existing bowel conditions. If your body cannot utilize or assimilate the six servings of fibrous “healthy whole grains” currently “recommended” per day, why on Earth would you eat them?
As simplistic as it might sound, the best way to find out what is right for you, at any moment, is to consult your own body. Consult your cells. Consult your organs…..
In the seventh year of vegetarianism I found myself dreaming about eating meat almost nightly, visiting steakhouses and rib joints in those dreams and enjoyably dining on meaty delights. After about three months of this, I took a gentle but firm look at myself and asked some tough questions. I began with “What am I doing to myself?” and proceeded with “Why am I doing this and for whom?” and “Could I love animals and still eat them?” I realized that my opinions could not just railroad my body. I understood that I was doing my body a disservice by deciding what I would eat based upon a programmatic ideology. So I sought and found a different direction. I made the radical decision to include my body in the conversation about what to eat, by listening to what my body was asking for. My dreams were obviously indicating that meat was on my body’s menu, so somehow I needed to make peace with that. At the same time, I easily found evidence of spiritual and moral people who ate meat. I discovered that even the Dalai Lama eats meat, because after two years of vegetarianism, he developed jaundice. His body, too, asked for something different. Eventually I went out to a local restaurant and ordered ribs. An hour after eating them, I felt a deep flush of physical well-being, a feeling I had forgotten knowing. It was an almost religious experience of nutrition. I understood, viscerally, that the body itself must be consulted about its needs.
This is not meant to be an argument for or against vegetarianism or veganism. I know healthy vegetarians, and I have known others who could not get past their mental constructs when their body clearly had a different idea of what it needed. Many people stop listening within, as I did, based on ideology and opinion. As a society, we are obsessed with eating properly, yet many of us are poorly nourished. We cannot rely on external “experts” to guide us. “Experts” differ widely, and by listening to them instead of ourselves, we relinquish our power to notice, choose, and decide what is right for us.
Excerpted from Freedom From Anxiety: A Holistic Approach to Emotional Well Being by Marcey Shapiro, MD, published by North Atlantic Books 1/14/14, copyright © 2014 by Marcey Shapiro. Reprinted by permission of publisher.
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