Confessions of a Reformed Vegetarian
By Fitness Editor Paula Jager, CSCS
We all know the USDA Food Pyramid is flawed conventional “wisdom” but what about the Vegan Food Pyramid? Can there be anything worse for your health than being a vegan?
Answer: Yes, being a lowfat vegan!
All joking aside, for today’s post I would like to share a true story from one of my clients. We are still shaking our heads in disbelief that this conversation with a “physician” actually took place. Let’s meet Jane and get a little background on her….
My name is Jane and I met Paula in Sept. 2008 for an initial fitness assessment. I was 50 years old, had some health issues and was unhappy with my current fitness/nutritional regime. Here’s how the health problems began ….
In 2004 with no health problems but at the urging of my then trainer, I went to a vegan diet. She showed me a movie on The Rave Diet which extolled the benefits of a plant based diet and came with a video showing helpless chickens getting their beaks cut off and crippled from being cramped in cages. It also showed sick cattle feeding off of manure and other animal byproducts along with steroid infested turkeys toppling over because their breasts were so big they couldn’t walk. Being an animal lover I took all this animal abuse to heart.
I immediately pulled a 360 and took all animal products out of my diet including eggs and dairy. I was about 125 pounds of healthy muscle and 17% body fat. I felt great and had no health issues. I was very defined and enjoyed a healthy exercise routine of weight lifting and cardiovascular exercise. After switching to the vegan lifestyle I immediately lost about 5 to 7 pounds and looked absolutely shredded.
Wow, I thought, this is great! But then, the weight kept coming off and my beautiful muscle started disappearing. I looked soft and skinny fat. I started freaking out a little but stayed on the path because of how “healthy” it was. After about 3 months I just couldn’t stand it anymore and I added fish only back in but still no eggs/dairy or shellfish. I felt a little better although food was not enjoyable anymore and I used to love to eat. I was hungry after every meal no matter how much rice, beans, breads and vegetables I included with the bland white fish or better yet hydrolyzed soy products.
I added very little oil/fat to anything. Just a little olive oil on my salads and vegetables; tofu was delicious, right–even though my husband refused to eat it? After all, those animal fats would clog my arteries and kill me.
After about 6 to 9 months I noticed I didn’t have quite the energy I used to when working out, I was very irritable and easily angered, I didn’t sleep well at night, was cold all the time and I had intermittent bouts of depression. Being 50 years old I blamed it on hormones and going through the change.
Fast forward to 2008 and my health had drastically deteriorated over those 4 years. On a side note, isn’t it interesting how pro-plant based diet propaganda films like What The Health never seem to cover these types of cases!
My last physical and blood work showed thyroid dysfunction but not enough to warrant treatment, low iron levels, a positive response for autoimmune issues, borderline high blood sugar but a very “healthy” cholesterol level of 155. I sought the help of a holistic/conventional MD and immediately took to him. He made a few suggestions on supplements I could take but did not even ask me about my diet.
Around the same time I met Paula and switched to her for training. In desperation I listened to her complete opposite advice on what to eat. Always an all or nothing girl I did a 360 again and switched to a Primal and traditional foods diet. I threw out my grains, my soy, beans and bought myself a piece of buffalo meat, cooked it in butter and ate it. OMG, I had never tasted anything so good. I slept like a log that night, I felt satisfied and “happy” for the first time in years. For a solid week I had buffalo meat at least 2x a day and lots of butter on everything, I literally craved it. The extreme cravings eventually subsided. My muscle started coming back. I followed this diet very strictly for at least 1 ½ years before putting anything “un Primal” back in on occasion. Yearly blood work kept improving. After 2 years the autoimmune issues were resolved. I felt great–slept soundly, had endless energy, zero depression/anger and was the happiest I had ever been in my life. So I was very surprised when I went in last week to get the results of my yearly blood work.. . .
While waiting to see the doctor the nurse had given me a copy. As I looked over it I said to myself this is the best it has ever been and I was very excited–I couldn’t wait to hear what he had to say about it.
He reviewed almost each and every marker with me in detail. ANA screen negative, iron levels ideal, Hemo A1C within range, fasting blood glucose 77, CRP .2, vitamin D levels were way up, thyroid in ideal ranges, not one marker was out of “normal” range except for my cholesterol. Total 239: HDL 118, LDL 112, TRI’’s 47. I thought it looked pretty darn good.
The conversation with the doctor went like this (any of this sound familiar?) . . .
“Well, we need to do something to get your cholesterol down”.
What’s wrong with my cholesterol?
“It’s too high”.
But that’s because of the high HDL, the total ratio is well below the range limit.
“Yes, but HDL that high is not good, it could be indicative of neurotoxicity, we want to lower it”
But my tri’s are low–wouldn’t that be indicative of low inflammation.
“Yes, but they are a little too low.”
Huh? I thought.
“And your LDL is too high.”
But they could be big fluffy particles.
“Yes, we did not test for that; we might do that in the future”.
And my CRP is below .2, isn’t that indicative of low risk, low inflammation?
“Yes but your cholesterol is too high. What I would recommend to prevent heart disease–which is a 360 from what you have been doing–but you really should give it a try, is a lowfat vegan diet with less than 10% of your calories from fat. Numerous studies from Dean Ornish show. . . blah, blah, blah.”
But Doc that is what made me sick in the first place! And Dean Ornish sells himself for grant money plus he’s chubby.
“Well, if you aren’t willing to do that take some fish oil capsules that we sell here.”
But I eat egg yolks everyday, liver once a week and make stock from fish heads and carcasses.
“Yes, well we also have a protein powder that will lower your cholesterol.”
Hmmm, powdered peas, no thanks. And thank you for your advice doc but I believe it’s time to go home and start dinner. . . grass fed ribeye cooked in raw butter with a nice big helping of veggies cooked in lard freshly rendered from my happy pastured pigs!
Thank you Jane, you have learned your lessons well. But a low fat vegan diet?? Nah, long live saturated fat and our healthy hearts!
Paula Jager CSCS and Level 1 CrossFit and CF Nutrition Certified is the owner of CrossFit Jaguar in Tampa, FL
Since 2002, Sarah has been a Health and Nutrition Educator dedicated to helping families effectively incorporate the principles of ancestral diets within the modern household.
Sarah was awarded Activist of the Year at the International Wise Traditions Conference in 2010.
Sarah received a Bachelor of Arts (summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) in Economics from Furman University and a Master’s degree in Government (Financial Management) from the University of Pennsylvania.
Mother to three healthy children, blogger, and best-selling author, her work has been covered by USA Today, The New York Times, National Review, ABC, NBC, and many others.