April of 2010 was a landmark month for me. I was in the beginning stages of a major paradigm shift that would forever change my lifestyle. I am certain it was the excessive amount of time alone that allowed for copious research that lead to obsession. See, I was living alone for the first time in my life. Previously I had roommates, girlfriends, or lived with my folks. This new found freedom allowed me to explore and evaluate my lifestyle as well as discover alternatives.
I began my journey to plant based nutrition around this time. I was deeply interested in cycling and most my free time was taken up by long rides on my days off, tinkering with the bike, or evaluating my performance. While evaluating my performance I recognized that when I ate certain foods, it effected the outcome of my ride. Sometimes in a positive way and other times in a negative. I began tracking what foods were effecting me positively and began incorporating more of those to coincide with my big rides. I quickly noticed results, even though they were small and quite insignificant. The next event would change everything for me, even though I didn't now it.
While out doing my normal grocery shopping something pulled me to the book section of my local health food store. I browsed the covers, not exactly sure what I was looking for. Then like something from a movie one stood out. Brendan Brazier's Thrive Diet book. It pictured him cycling on the cover and I was quickly drawn in. Given my obsession with cycling at the time I made an impulse purchase and headed home. I easily related to his passion for triathlons or more specifically cycling. His book emphasized the importance of plant based, whole food nutrition. Everything I had read in the first half of the book spoke to me. I was enthralled to say that least. I basically could not set the book down.
The night before my sister and mother had come up to celebrate my birthday and take me out to dinner. We went to Jimmy Buffet's restaurant in Glendale (hold back your laughter) and I had an amazing fish dish. After our celebration I went home and read a few more chapters of the book and went to sleep. The following morning I woke up and decided to give this diet/lifestyle a chance. I cleared everything out in the fridge and freezer that was not vegan and literally over night I rebranded myself a vegan. I read more of the book, restocked the house with vegan whole food options. I also spoke to my mother a few days later and when she asked 'what was new' I told her I was vegan. This obviously caught her off guard, but she never knew what to expect when I was on the other end of the line and this was no different.
I noticed immediate changes in my performance on the bike. Notably faster recovery was the largest one. My long rides just did not seem to have the same damaging effect that they once had. I also began losing some excess body fat and toning up. Both things I had always struggled with. My bodies performance continued to exceed my expectations as the lifestyle habits became routine. One of the most important changes I noted was the loss of the '3PM downer'. Previously this time marked a point where I would feel tired and wore out, almost as though I needed a nap. This disappeared shortly after altering my diet. I was very excited about this because this had been a large motivator for change.
This journey did not come free. A few weeks into my lifestyle change I became ill. I am still not sure if it was the added stress of the immediate change in diet or if was just coincidence but either way I was out for a week. It started like a normal cold, then turned into a strange rash. I broke down and went to doctor who could not figure out what it was. He ran blood test and never really figured it out before it cleared up. This was an important event because it gave me a baseline of blood work to judge later test against to see how my lifestyle was effecting my health.
I continued the whole foods plant based diet for a few years noticing continual improvement along the way. Then I broke my leg at work. I was unable to be active, started gaining weight (sitting around so much) and wanted to heal fast so I could get back on the bike. I started researching methods for faster recovery and diet came up. This is the point I discovered the raw 80-10-10 diet by Doug Graham. I read reports of people improving health dramatically, losing body fat and eating as much as they desired. Sign me up! The diet bases the idea around a high carbohydrate (greater then 80% of calories), low protein (less then 10% of calories), and low fat (less then 10% of calories). Primary you eat large quantities of fruit and vegetables and handfuls of nuts occasionally. Again the diet made sense and since I was laid up I figured I had nothing to lose.
It went great again. I began losing weight, I was loving all the fruit and smoothies. I found the simplicity of the diet refreshing. The largest change was that of my recovery. I felt like a super hero. I needed very little recovery time between intense workouts. My fitness level increased dramatically and the performance went through the roof. Around this time I began getting involved in running and back into outdoor activities. In the middle of this stage I had some routine blood work done. Everything had improved from the first time a few years ago. There were some slightly low levels of B12 and Vitamin D but overall it was positive. This went well for a few years and then it seemed to plateau. My performance was still improving but much slower. My body fat seemed to be staying the same, my energy levels were not getting any higher and I was getting wore out from constantly having to eat or thinking about eating. I would also have steep high and low mood points based on when I was eating. This made things difficult if I had an empty stomach, and quickly became referred to as 'hangry'.
After a solid four year experiment I decided to start reincorporating cooked food back into my diet plan. It began with rice but quickly included other cooked items. I now find my diet consisting of whole foods primarily, but not limiting myself. If I want to treat myself to some vegan ice cream I do it. I realize that after eating this I won't be performing as optimally as if I ate fruit, but I am ok with that. I guess this journey has taught me that there is not a perfect diet for our species. There are lots of options that work for different individuals and sometimes will even change depending on your lifestyle. Finding something that works for you involves taking that leap and trying something new, something that might seem a little crazy but could end up changing your life. So yeah I am a believer that you don't need to eat animal products to be a strong, active, and healthy individual. But this does not mean that I believe everyone should eat that way. It works for some and might not work for others. Try it for yourself, run a one person experiment and come to your own conclusions about what diet/lifestyle works for you.