Thursday, February 04, 2010

Me vs. the Vegan

I was invited to speak for a group in our area last week (I try to get in front of a group locally twice a month as a form of marketing for our gym each month). This particular group was a group of women - my specialty! The organizer did tell me that there would be another speaker and then I would be up.

I got there on time and took a seat in the audience as the first speaker started to do his talk. This became very awkward as he started to preach about his Vegan lifestyle and how it is the only way. This was especially awkward because I had a few of our clients in the audience who were nudging me his entire talk because they knew I disagreed with what he was saying. I sat quietly listening, even as he completely contradicted concepts I have in my book, saying that there is no scientific evidence that we NEED protein. (Ahem- there are 3 studies cited in my references)

Now, don't get me wrong- I have HUGE respect for anyone who can be a complete Vegan. Heck I have HUGE respect for anyone who can be a vegetarian. It takes incredible self discipline and planning to follow this kind of lifestyle. I simply don't agree that it is FOR everyone. I, myself, spent 10 years of my life not eating any red meat.

I decided one day that I thought red meat wasn't good for me and that I was going to eliminate it from my diet and stuck to it for 10 years. It wasn't until I started to learn more and more about nutrition and how a lot of the foods I was eating(besides red meat) were wreaking a lot more havoc on my body than a lean, high quality steak would. I started questioning myself- why am I not eating red meat again? For health reasons? Then I also need to eliminate all processed foods, sugar, etc because those are a lot worse for me and are what really cause health problems. This was the wake up call that having a steak was something I was avoiding for the wrong reasons. I had bought in to the world view that red meat was bad for you...but was it? I don't believe so now and think it should be a part of most people's diet in moderation(preferably from an Organic source).

The Vegan continued to discuss how all of our health problems are because we eat protein and protein containing foods have cholesterol- BAD!. He himself eats a zero cholesterol diet but he also admitted that he is on the borderline for needing to go on cholesterol lowering medication. "If you don't eat some cholesterol your body will produce more cholesterol!!!" I wanted to stand up in the middle of his talk so many times...but I didn't...I sat in my chair and exercised restraint. He proceeded to put up a list of meats, dairy and things that are on my grocery list and labeled them with - BAD. And then he put up Oatmeal, Broccoli and a loaf of bread and said- GOOD! Since when are a loaf of bread and broccoli in the same category????

Again I have complete respect for anyone who follows a Vegan diet for ethical or religious reasons. My issue is when people preach that it is healthier for you which is what he was teaching.

These recommendations were looking very similar to the old food guide pyramid with a base of all of your carbohydrates and moving up the pyramid to eat protein sparingly. The exact food guide pyramid that since being followed, our society has become more and more obese and we have had an increase in childhood obesity and diabetes.

FINALLY - He finished and it was my would I approach this awkward situation? I know all of my clients were dying to know how I was going to respond. So I started by discussing exercise and how we need to shift our paradigms with exercise...I figured, let's not jump into the nutrition just yet...(Oh, and he was using Dave Scott as an example because Dave Scott did an Ironman as a Vegan and seemed to do ok on minimal protein...huh??? How can this audience of women in their 30s and 40s trying to find 2 hours a week to exercise use Dave Scott as an example?).

I proceeded and stuck to my talk, what I know to be true and what I know to work in my experience and in the research. I did not want to go into defense mode but instead I started with what we have in common - "As our earlier speaker was stating fruits and vegetables are VERY IMPORTANT part of a healthy diet and you should eat them at every single meal." Then basically I had to "relabel" his foods and make the loaf of bread a splurge and explain that bagels, loafs of bread and all processed carbohydrates will wreak havoc on your blood sugar. Which is why you need protein to change your body- because it will blunt insulin and keep your blood sugar stable. So, I had to remove the "BAD" label from Chicken breast explaining that it actually is a part of a healthy diet and so is cottage cheese(if you don't have a dairy sensitivity), etc...

I always try to learn from everyone and I realize that his journey has brought him to these conclusions and I have respect for that. In my experience, I have never been able to get the results of helping someone to lose body fat and transform their body with a client who is a Vegan or a Vegetarian. It is always much more difficult.

The funny thing was the email I received after the event of the visual of me versus him-

"You were completely awesome last night. In spite of some seriously potential awkwardness, you were just phenomenal. By the way, it would have been a most interesting visual to have the two of you stand side-by-side: he, the sunken, colorless picture of emaciation; you, the vibrant example of good health, inside and out---shiny hair, glowing skin, bright eyes, etc. Rachel, you were incredibly gracious, plus very inspiring."