Thursday, June 3, 2010

The (mostly) Raw Vegan... Marathon Runner?

My apologies to everyone for not posting anything for so long, the last couple of weeks leading up to the Ottawa Marathon were jam packed; but alas, here I am again, all yours.

Before I get started, I want to thank everyone for the questions for my still up-and-coming Q & A post. Please keep the questions coming and don’t be shy, the more interactive my posts are, the less I feel like this is just the rambling of an individual and more like a community. Thank you all for your kind words and support. I debated with myself for almost a year, asking myself if telling my story this way would have any benefit at all, or would it just become a self-promoting propaganda blog. Your support and interaction has been a surprise and delight and my hope is to just tell my story and help others who, like me, need to know that you can do anything you can dream, so dream big!

On Sunday, May 30th, 2010 I became a Marathon Runner! Just saying it puts a smile on my face. For those of you at home who don’t know what a marathon is or where the name comes from, perhaps a little background:

The marathon is a 42 km (26 mile) foot race. It gets it’s name from a town in Greece. Legend tells of a messenger named, Pheidippides, who was sent in 490 B.C. from the Battle of Marathon to Athens to proclaim victory over the Persians. He ran all the way from the town of Marathon to Athens, a 42 km (26 mile) mountain trail, (uphill from around the 10 km mark to the 31 km mark) and died of exhaustion right after proclaiming: Nenik├ękamen, 'We have won'.

I remember hearing about this growing up and at that time I thought, what a great improvement automobiles have been for society! I mean, who sends a man to run 42 km? What puzzled me more was why people would actually pay money to put themselves through that kind of torture, especially when the first guy who did it, died. Never did I ever think of myself as one who would attempt such a thing.

When I started training for my first marathon, I could almost hear a voice inside saying “What the hell are you thinking?” But, stubborn as I am, I just pushed through it and saw it only as a step towards a greater goal: The Iron Man. I don’t really consider myself a cyclist or a runner, and definitely not a swimmer, so, I figured, if you can’t be the best at one, then why not be okay at all of them? And after cycling 194 km form Ottawa to Montreal, a mere year after being almost 400 lbs., I figured there was nothing I couldn’t do.

I found out quickly that running is a lot harder than cycling. When I started running, I felt over-confident having already been cycling and weight training. I figured it was all the same, just a different way to get around.

I was wrong.

Not even a mile into my first run, my knee started burning with pain. I sucked it up and finished a three mile run, but was then practically bed-ridden for three days. Each time I went out after that my knee would hurt after a few hundred yards. I thought I had damaged my knee beyond repair, so I stayed off of it for a couple of weeks. This was not a good start to my marathon training, a couple of weeks lost makes a big difference in the grand scheme of things.

The next hurdle came by the way of extreme weather. Right around ten weeks into my training we got what seemed to be a foot or so of the nastiest, slushy, wet snow you could imagine. I know what you’re thinking, “why didn’t you just run on a treadmill?”. I have to say that I hate treadmills. Something about running to nowhere just drives me mad. On the road I could do a half marathon, no problem, but on a treadmill I’m done after 5 km. I can count on one hand the amount of times I have run on a treadmill throughout my training.

As the weather was finally improving, I got hit by the nastiest cold/flu I have had in two years. It seemed that one thing after another kept piling on and my training was fading into nothing. On top of it all, training was taking away time from my family. After sometime I came up with a solution: I would train by commuting to work. This I had done with cycling for a long while. It originally would take me about one hour to bike the 17 km from my door to the door of my work, a time I have brought down to just over a half-hour. But running this distance proved to be much more difficult. Firstly, it was winter, and bundling up was key. I had to make sure my nose was covered but in doing so, everytime I would exhale my glasses fogged up, then froze there making it impossible to see.

On top of that, I had to wear a backpack with a change of clothes for work and often an extra set for my gym clothes, including two different pairs of shoes, throw into the mix a hearty lunch and a towel for a shower, and you’re looking at an extra 15 lbs.! No joke! I weighed myself with it all on. The worst of it all was the time I had to get up to get to work on time. When I ran to work, I would start at 5:00 am, making my alarm clock set for 2:50 am, giving me just enough time to get up and get ready to leave by 3:00 am. It would take me just about an hour and a half to get to work , then I would take the extra half-hour to do a wind-down run/ brisk walk and stretch. After all of that, I would work an 8 hour day (on my feet), then go to the gym. (My wife says I’m crazy. After writing that out and seeing in black-and-white what I did/do, I am starting to think she is right...)

After about a month of training this way, I found no time for all of the other training I had originally planned to do. In my mind, if I could run that distance at least five times a week, then surely I would be ready for the marathon. Looking back now, I can see that my training in actuality was great if I had planned to train for the half marathon.

The day of the marathon was perfect conditions for running. As late as the day before the race, the forecast was calling for a high of 27 degrees celsius (82 degrees fahrenheit), and sunny. Sunday dawned with a perfect 17 degrees celsius (62 degrees fahrenheit) and cloudy. I got to the athletes area in my running gear and bib pinned to the front of my shirt. My number was 3744. It had no meaning to me but it made me smile all the same. When I walked around the area I could see the quartered off area for the elite athletes. These men and women can run the marathon in just over two hours. I have long thought of them while I was on the road training at three o’clock in the morning, imagining that maybe one day I could count myself as one of their peers. A crazy thought put to rest after laying eyes on them. I mean no disrespect when I say this, but my first impression of them were that they looked sickly. I mean they have absolutely no body fat on them whatsoever, to the point of looking malnourished. On a whole, they seemed very small, and I thought that if I had to look like that to be able to run a two hour marathon then I was fine with just being able to complete one. I will say this though, when I was coming up to the 11.25 km mark, those elite runners were crossing double that at the half way mark. A feat that I can’t even begin to understand.

The greatest surprise about the marathon was of all the people that came out to cheer us runners on. Some had loved ones running and held up signs, or attached them to street lampposts and trees, others just came by to cheer us all on. Some of my favourite signs read:

- “Channel your inner Kenyan”
- “You are my Hero (insert your name here)
- “If your feet are hurting, it’s because you’re kicking ass!”
- “If this were easy, everyone would do it”

At one point, I saw two little girls sitting by the road, just a couple of years older than my two daughters with a sign that read, “Go Daddy Go”. I nearly lost it, breaking down into tears, but I quickly pulled myself together and kept on going. What can I say? Running for many hours can sometimes make you a little emotional.

For me, my greatest encouragement came to me at the 24 km mark when out of nowhere I heard a thunderous shout: “I KNOW THAT GUY! GO ERIC GO!” It was my brother who called me the day before to make sure I would be okay. He has always been worried about me, making sure that I was safe all through grade school, protecting me and chiding me when he thought I was being stupid. I never saw the value in it, until that day. He ran along side of me for about a kilometer encouraging me and telling me I was doing great and to not give up.

He met me again at the 30 km mark, at which point my body was done and I was going purely on mental strength. He ran with me again for maybe 100 meters and marveled that I had been running for three hours. His encouragement helped push me on.

Throughout the race there were plenty of Gatorade stations which were followed by water stations and, up until the 30 km mark, I ran right past the gatorade stations taking only water to drink and some to dump on my head. But after a certain point, when my body was done, I took whatever I could get my hands on to keep going, even resorting to consuming Gatorade and sucking back a PowerGel, a disgusting chocolate paste that is supposedly pure carbohydrates and protein but filled with sugar and chemical additives, to which I didn’t care. To tell you the truth, at that point, if someone told me that eating a 72 ounce steak would help me get to the finish line, then I would have scarfed it down right there. Looking back now, I can see that my attempt to run an “aux naturel” marathon was just straight-up ignorant. I should have planned ahead and bought or made some raw protein bars and electrolyte drink. But, to be fair, I didn’t realize that I could have brought my own refreshments, and the organizers would set it up at various stations for me.

My strategy was to stick through it running ever so slowly but still running, and it paid off. The kilometers finally turned to meters and approaching the finish line about 100 meters out I heard a familiar voice shouting me on. It was my brother again. I couldn’t hear what he was shouting but I could see him jumping up and down egging me on. I took off in a full sprint, my legs burning with each stride, crossing the finish line and yelled at the top of my lungs, startling those around me. My finish time 4:44:57. Not anywhere close to the course record breaking time set by the winner from Japan, Arata Fujiwara, with a time of 2:09:34 or of my hope to run a sub 4:30 marathon, but in the end, I did it! I conquered another milestone in my journey and am in the mood to celebrate. Cheers!!

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Special Post For A Special Lady (For Sam)

Tomorrow me and my wife, Samantha, will have been married for six years.  In honour of our anniversary I would like to take a break from my story and random posts about the world of raw food and dedicate this post to my best friend and partner, my wife, Samantha.

She has no idea I'm doing this and so I feel I should start by making a confession. The post you are reading will be without the careful, painstakingly, and meticulous editing of my chief editor.  Sam, has read,corrected and edited every word I have ever wrote in my posts, so if you notice a couple of run-on sentences, miss placed commas, and not to meantion, a complete lack of focus; you now know why.

How can I even to begin summing up a woman who has been more than a partner, lover, and friend, in just a few words? Her companionship has been unwavering through even the roughest times. Even when I lead us down a paths that wasted time and brought nothing but pain, she stuck it out and helped me to learn. In my life she is the rock that keeps me well planted with two feet on the ground, while still encouraging my most crazy and ambitious dreams.

She told me I was "hot" even when I was nearly 400 lbs. always making me feel wanted and needed.  She stuck it out with me through every failed dieting attempt, encouraging me all the way, and had grace when I finally found a lifestyle that worked in raw foods, even though to her, an amazing cook (and I'm not just saying that, she really is AMAZING at cooking ), me eating raw was like a stab in the heart.

She's my best friend who can brighten even the worst days with a single look.  She makes me laugh, chuckle, and blush. She knows how to get under my skin and how to settle me down. She is the greatest mother I have ever seen.  The way she is with our daughters humbles me.  I am in awe of how she makes it look effortless.  She is the kind of woman I want my daughters grow to be.

In her I have found an equal. We sharpen each other learning and growing from each other. She holds me to my own standard, always knowing when I try to fake my way through things and she doesn’t have to say anything; she just smiles and I know. She is my mirror, showing me the good, the bad and the ugly, without judgement or condemnation.


Six years have flown by, and it is so easy to be distracted by everyday life. I haven't always been the most attentive husband. I'm easily distracted and get caught up in "the moment" and focus so much on the tasks at hand that I have often neglected the woman who means the world to me. She really is the love of my life and continues to surprise, inspire, and humble me with her love and her actions.  She is a woman worthy of praise, especially from me, who has been so damn lucky to have shared the greatest six years of my life with her: the woman of my dreams.

I love you, Samantha Rose. Happy Anniversary!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

HELP! Q & A

I need your help! I’m thinking of answering questions from all of you out there, for a future post. If you have any questions for me I’d love to hear them, and answer them. You can email me at ericjohn@rock.com. Nothing is off topic and I mean NOTHING! Fire away! I promise I’ll get to it!

My Story- Part IV-The Continuing Saga

Now, two years into this journey, I have to say I am getting bored of my story. And if you’ve been around me for any decent amount of time, you’re probably bored of my story, too. I find myself trying to skip to the end and get more current, but my wife has been the voice of reason, encouraging me to slow down and tell it right, not skipping ahead. So here we go.

After my one month trial had come and gone weeks started to go by like days. Each day I was feeling better and and getting lighter, literally. In just 90 days I lost 100 lbs. It seems crazy to say it because it sounds like an informercial for a get-thin-quick meal-replacement chocolate shake that tastes awful and leaves you so hungry you dream of eating a dozen burger and fries!

You may think that it took a truck load of will power to keep from breaking down to eat “normal”, but the truth is I felt no want, craving or need for anything but raw foods. My whole being felt like a great weight was being removed from me each minute of each day. I even remember going out with friends not long after I went raw, to all-you-can-eat-ribs night at Montana’s, a sacred night for me in the past. I used to love ribs and I mean love! I would devour so much we started to count not by the rack, but by the pig - disgusting, I know. This time, my friends looked on in horror as I ordered a large salad with no dressing, no cheese, no croutons, just the veggies. They taunted me, commenting loudly how great the ribs were, “Look how the meat is just falling off the bones!” I laughed along with them while digging into my tasty bowl of greens. I had brought with me a nut mix that I made at home to add to the salad. A practice that comes in handy when wanting to eat out with friends or family. In the end it was I would had the last laugh. While they were all loosening the notches on their belts and going on about how stuffed they were, I was skipping my way to the cash to pay my $3.99 meal!

To this day, I often forget that most people leave their dinner tables feeling “stuffed”. It has been forever since I have felt that feeling. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about feeling full, but rather, that feeling of debilitating sleepiness, like after a Thanksgiving turkey dinner. Growing up this was a regular occurrence, after our dinner we would all make our way to the living room to recline and watch TV, often being allowed to skip doing dishes until after our favourite family show, Star Trek: The Next Generation. At home we called this “vegging” after a filling meal and up until I started eating raw, I considered it a normal reaction after eating a meal. In fact, I felt a sense of loss if that “stuffed” feeling was missing.

Going raw did a lot more for me than just help me lose weight. It has challenged me to open my eyes and widen my horizons. In those first few months I did a lot of research so as to best take care of myself. My fears, fueled by almost everyone I knew, were that I would slip away into a malnourished state. As I read up and set my overall diet in order, something occurred to me: no one eating the standard North American diet was really researching what they ate. I didn’t when I was eating that way. I mean, you’d hear things like “carbs are bad”, so the next time you went to the store you’d avoid buying things with carbs in them. When I was growing up, it was the anti-fat fad, sending margarine sales through the roof. Years later another “study” said the opposite and again we had butter on our table. So much of what we know about food is based on hearing half of the information. Medical studies are a bore to read, and are filled with technical jargon that need for you to read other studies to understand. So, in the end, the media takes the bare bones of the message and throw it together into a headline, which is then toted out on 30 second radio and television spots as facts (sometimes, if we are lucky, they point us to the source, which no one actually checks for themselves).

Also, there a number of “studies” being released by doctors and researches who are on the payroll of the meat and dairy lobby. I came upon of of these such studies just a day after the birth of my second daughter, Calico Skye. She was born November 17, 2009, just seven months after I started eating raw. While in the hospital, I would make frequents trips to the kitchenette to fetch water, etc. for my wife. On the wall was a giant poster all about how great milk is for you. It looked really official, with charts and figures, and it even had a FAQ section which dispelled age old myths like milk shouldn’t be consumed when you have a cold. According to them, the vitamin D can help fortify your immune system when you have a cold. Something just didn’t add up. I had been reading a lot of medical studies that contradicted everything I read on that poster. I thought that the government must have published that poster, but upon further look I saw that it was put out by the Dairy Farmers Of Canada, one of the registered lobbies for the dairy industry. The reason it didn’t add up was because their “facts” were coming from them. This reminded me of seeing those old ads with the heading “9 out of 10 doctors smoke camel cigarettes”.

It’s hard for people to know fact from fiction, so they resort back to what they already know. They eat what they want to eat, and what they think is good for them (except when they don’t want to be “good”) and all the special interest groups have to do is put enough reasonable doubt out there, while trying to convince us that they are the “healthy” choice to keep us doing what we will always do: Keep on doing what we already are.

The battle for your plate is a battle of hearts and minds. And as I found out those first few months in my research, the truth wasn’t winning. The though of a juicy, bloody-as-hell steak (my former favourite) seemed to me a foreign concept. Just the idea of eating animal flesh became a harrowing thought; and drinking soda as appealing as drinking Javex. The weird part was that this “enlightenment” came to me after only a short while of living the raw life. It felt kind of like getting out of a toxic environment. I had such an experience after leaving a construction job as a drywall taper. The environment I was in 12 hours a day was a severely toxic one, with shouting and shoving matches a common occurrence. Slowly but surely my joie de vivre was being sucked out of me, even though I felt no different at the time. When I finally left, I could see the difference in myself. Somehow, I had become a jaded pessimist. Upon leaving and moving on I just felt right and was able to slip back into my normal state. I know it may sound like I “drank the kool-aid” and maybe I have, a little, but sitting in that Montana’s watching my friends chow down on ribs didn’t just not temp me, it seemed like a foreign concept. My eyes were open and my body was finally getting what it needed. And as the months went by, and the pounds kept coming off, I felt better than ever and my resolve grew stronger. My life, as I knew it, had changed forever.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Why I Don't Believe In Vegans

For most, “vegan” is a word synonymous with activism and extremism.  I have mentioned in past posts that I am not an activist, which is true, but I think I should say that, while I am no champion of animal rights, I do feel good that I don't contribute to the mistreatment of animals or the environmental impact the meat/dairy industry has.  That being said, I do take issue with the meat and dairy lobby's attempts to convince you and I that their products are actually healthy for us; as opposed to the actual scientific findings which show they increase the chances of heart disease, and even cancer.  I know what some of you are thinking: "Why do you gotta be like that? Meat, I can maybe understand but puh-leez leave milk alone! After all, it does the body good, right? RIGHT?!”  Well I won't take this time to ruin your childlike love of the holy-white-liquid that makes your bones strong, especially when this post is dedicated to why I don't believe in vegans, but I will say this: if you want to see it for yourself in black and white and from a more knowledgeable and credible source, then please read The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II and The Food Revolution by John Robbins. See for yourself; I dare you!

Firstly, maybe I should backtrack a bit. What is a vegan? A vegan is a vegetarian (no meat) who doesn't eat any other animal byproduct (e.g. eggs and dairy).  There are differing degrees of veganism: some refuse to wear clothes that use leather, some don't even eat honey, so as to not exploit bees (since when is a bee an animal?!) Others won't even "kill" plant food, they wait until the fruit naturally “dies”, falling from the tree.

I take no issue with most vegan extremism. I, as I am sure you've gathered, am a bit of an extremist myself. For most obese people, a goal of just losing weight is more than enough, but for me, I had to take it to the next level and make my goal to go from almost 400 lbs to completing an IronMan (a triathlon: 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, than a full marathon 26.2 miles) in five years. A goal I am two years into and still working toward today.  Where I take issue is the general lack of health consciousness in the vegan community and the pushy and/or dangerous antics that keeps groups like PETA in the news.

Firstly, I have something to say that needs to be clarified: VEGAN DOES NOT MEAN HEALTHY! I have known many vegans who eat junk. I mean absolute trash. One guy I knew told me that he and his family were vegan for about ten years when he was growing up. They stopped because his mom was deficient in vitamin B, which is commonly found in red meat. But when I asked him what they ate on a regular basis he admitted they were basically living on McDonald's fries!  Another guy I worked with decided to go vegan because his girlfriend was vegan. When lunch time came he'd make his way to the nearest vending machine and buy a couple of packs of dairy-free dark chocolate bars, full of high-fructose corn syrup, chemicals and a number of other ingredients I can’t even pronounce! And yet he scolded me for my leather shoes!

The problem with eating consciously with only animals in mind is that you often stop looking for what's healthy and just scan ingredients to see if any form of dairy is present, often skipping over much worse offenders like high-fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oil.  I would sooner rather you eat meat as a part of a meal with whole foods then eat the way most vegans I know are eating.

On the other extreme, there are those vegans who look sickly and pale. I have met quite a few of these people, as well, who scold me, a mostly raw eater, saying I shouldn’t call myself “raw” if I’m not going to be 100% (i.e., I don’t always eat “raw” nuts - instead, I sometimes purchase nuts that have been roasted and I often use maple syrup over blue agave nectar, because it’s so accessible and inexpensive here in the north east.). I have even heard one talking about how fruit today is void of nutrition and modified to be nothing but sugar which our bodies can’t break down properly. They make eating a naval orange sound like eating a deep fried mars bar! Those buzz-kills scare me a little. One such woman I met looked really unhealthy. I found out later that she used to do some modeling and now she looks scarily thin, pale, and weak.

Secondly, I take issue with the antics of Guerilla-Vegans like PETA who go after everyone from clothing lines that use fur to the big meat and dairy industry. Their demonstrations are all over the news, which, in their minds, brings attention to the issues of cruelty to animals. Before I became a “vegan” I belonged to the Facebook group for PETA: People Eating Tasty Animals. To me PETA: People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals were a joke and a nuisance. They alienate people from engaging in the topic they are trying to champion.

I guess by definition I am a vegan, but I don’t think of myself as one. In fact, just last fall I shared a glorious New York City Lombardi’s pizza; fully loaded with bacon, italian sausage and cheese, with my wife, while visiting the Big Apple. Like they say, “when in Rome...” (Don’t get me wrong, it was a special occasion - virtually the only time I have had any meat/dairy product since I started this whole journey.) I try to just think of myself as mostly raw and do my best to keep in line with what I know to be true and is good for me. I know that not all vegans are “that” way, but, in my experience, I have found a lot of people living at either end of that spectrum and, I fear, their extreme antics distract from the issues they want to champion. While I am writing this post about the downfalls of the vegan lifestyle, I agree with veganism in principal: It IS the healthiest way to live (again, read it for yourself) and that the meat and dairy industry is at the center of a lot of problems we face in society and the more people that become educated about it, the closer we will be to a collective understanding on the issues.

My story may be an unique one in that I came to be a “vegan” in an organic way. I believe that if I, a former meat and potato guy, that did in fact make fun of my cousin, Lisa, for years about her being a vegetarian (sorry Lisa!), that we don’t need to resort to extreme methods and antics to make “believers” of everyone. I’m not even sure if that is a realistic goal. People don’t like being told what to do, or what to eat. From my perspective, I think that the most we can expect to accomplish is to help break down the illusion built up around the “health” benefits that the standard North American diet has used to cater to special interest groups like the meat and dairy industry.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

My Story- Part III- From A One Month Fling, To A Full On Love Affair (With Raw Food)

After two full days of eating nothing but leek soup, I couldn’t wait to get my teeth into something crunchy. Like I said before, the reason I decided to go raw had nothing to do with animal activism or even the supposed benefits that raw foodists claim. I was simply looking for a simple and healthy solution to detox my entire system. I woke up on that third day expecting more of the same from those previous two days. Cold sweats, frequent trips running to the bathroom and oil leaking from my skin. To my surprise, the worst had actually past.

Day one of eating raw I could feel my strength return, as if someone had flipped a switch on inside of me. To this day, I’m not sure if that is attributed to eating raw or if the leek soup detox did, in fact, restart my metabolism. Regardless, I was feeling great! That first day, I worked my way through a pound of carrots (still a favourite meal of mine) and a bunch of celery. C’est tout! I know what you are thinking, “I’d die of hunger, if all I ate was just carrots and celery!” Well, most of the time you’d be right, but after two days of a liquid diet, those carrots and celery stalks might as well have been steak and baked potatoes! Going to bed that night, I felt as if I could breathe easy for the first time in a long time. I let go of my worries and fell into a deep, deep sleep.

If day one was a breath of fresh air, then day two was like igniting rocket fuel! I woke up after THE best sleep in over a year and sat up wide awake, ready to raise a little hell! I felt like I was floating on air, moving around with a ease replacing just days-before achey muscles, shell-shocked nerves and general overall exhaustion. I think I got more done on that second day than I had in the previous month. I felt invincible and ready to take on the world. It was that second night, while laying in bed, that the thought first occurred to me: I think I could do this for a lot longer than a month. Maybe, I could do it for good. The thought gave me pause; all that I had come to learn about how I was supposed to eat and live was being challenged, and, yet, I felt peace. I knew then that this was more than just a one month experiment.

The next day, I told my wife. She took it really well but expressed concern. Neither of us knew anyone that was just eating raw food. Neither of us knew if it was a sustainable way to live. So, in the end we decided to do the research and figure it out. We ended up at our favourite book store. I didn’t think there were books dedicated to raw food, and if there were, I thought they would less about the food and more about animal or environmental activism. But to my surprise, there was a fairly large section dedicated to raw eating, all from diverse backgrounds and places. The one I settled on that day was Raw Food Real World by Matthew Kenney and Sarma Melngailis (it is still my favourite raw recipe book). This un-cook book really spoke to me. It was more than just a cook book, it was the story of how these two individuals came upon raw food as a way of life, in the heart of Manhattan. Neither of them went raw for activism reasons and they even wrote about how much they used to love meat. On top of all of that, the food spoke for itself. A Manhattan restaurant, beautiful food, entirely guilt-free, blow-your-freaking-mind amazing, and all raw! It was like a little piece of heaven that dropped into my favourite bookstore, then into my heart. And, on a side-note, I have to say, that Sarma is truly one of the most interesting, intelligent, kind, and not to mention, really hot, women I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.

To write about my favourite recipes from Raw Food Real World would take more time then I am willing to devote to this post, so I’ll say this: if you’re interested, go and buy the book. You won’t be disappointed. Or, if you’re close by, maybe I’ll lend you mine. Or if you don’t have time to prepare the food yourself, you can go visit them in New York City at Pure Food & Wine (54 Irving Place, New York, New York) or the One Lucky Duck Take Out (125 1/2 17th Street Est.) around the corner. I have been fortunate enough to have gone twice and both times were experiences that will go down in history, for me.

The next few weeks I let loose into the vast world of raw food. I had no idea that it could be so difficult. I had no idea about dehydrators, japanese mandolins, let alone the specialized ingredients like young thailand coconuts, agave nectar, stevia, and the list goes on. So, for the most part, I kept my meals simple and wholesome, leaving the more labour intensive recipes for special occasions and weekends. My thoughts weren’t about eating simple as a way of life, but rather as a detox, something more than just obese people should look at doing. The benefits of eating simple are numerous. First, you don’t have to put much thought into your meals. I call this the “if you stalk your fridge with it, you will eat it” effect. This is true of most people. Very few of us, go out of our way to go out and buy something we may be craving in the moment. Most of us will always settle for what we have on hand, even if it’s not exactly what we want. Stalk your fridge with nothing but raw food, get rid of all processed and boxed food and pretty much, you will be a raw vegan.

People still insist to me that I must have an iron-will, because the very thought of eating raw, for even just a month, would be worse than a lifetime in hell. In fact, one girl I worked with, Melanie Tasse, tried it. Her goal was to detox eating nothing but raw foods, for one month. We all took bets to see how long she would last. Her whopping total: Three days. I have come to realize that this way of eating is not easy for everyone. It is sustainable, ridiculously tasty, healthy, and for the most part guilt free, but for some reason, people prefer what they already know. C’est la vie. I used to be on of those people. I was closed minded even though I’d tell you to your face that I was open to eating anything. But when faced with the reality that had I kept going down the road I was on, I would most certainly have numerous health problems and possibly need dangerous surgery which may or may not have increased an already short life expectancy, the “raw” choice didn’t sound all that bad.

If you are out there and like I was (obese or morbidly obese) and you want to try going raw, even as just a detox, here are a few tips which really helped me out when I first began:

Research your food

Almost a year before I decided to go raw, I started reading up on why good food is good for you. I figured that if I knew why the food I was eating was good for me I’d eat more of it. It actually worked really well, that is, until I started working for KFC. Knowing that spinach is a powerhouse of iron, fiber, and vitamin K, not to mention the fact that it’s practically calorie free. Made me want to sit down and eat a bag of spinach like they were potato chips! It may sound ridiculous to you, but as I learned more and more about the good things my food was doing in me, I’d imagine it happening as I ate: picturing the vitamin K taking the calcium in my body and transporting it (in my mind it was in large tall-ship passing through my veins) directly to my bones which then tightened and got stronger, becoming unbreakable, like that of a Shoalin Kung Fu master. And so, to me, eating spinach was like learning Kung Fu. I know this may seem out there to you but trust me, it really helps. When I was looking for information on healthy food, I stumbled across one of my favourite books ever, The 150 Healthiest Foods On Earth by Jonny Bowden. It’s incredibly informative, entertaining and in parts funny. It even has a section on healthy meats, poultry, so even if vegetarian, vegan or raw vegan seems to “out there” for you, I’d still recommend it.

Keep a Food Log

This is an amazing way to keep yourself accountable. A girl I used to work with had a food journal/day planner. There was a special margin for meals eaten with the headings breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. At the top of each day was eight glasses, which represented the eight glasses of water everyone is to drink. I, being a total hipster, bought an “App” for my iPhone called Edibles. It is not only a food log but also a calorie calculator, BMI calculator and weight loss log. It’s a bit more work at first but it really does the trick. Whatever works for you is fair game, as long as you are going to use it. My rule on this one, is to log the food before you eat it. This forces you to stop and look back at what you have already eaten and you don’t have to worry about “forgetting” to log if you are in a rush to eat.

Celebrate Successes (Even Little Ones)

This is one of the most important things you can do, celebrate your success. Don’t wait until you’ve lost enough weight for someone to notice, before shouting it from the roof tops! Let it be known and allow yourself to feel pride. Also, find different ways to reward yourself that don’t include “cheating” with food. For me this took on different forms. When I biked 194 km from Ottawa to Montreal (what I would consider a large accomplishment) I treated myself with a nice new jacket from Parasuco. Whereas, when I lost my first 10 lbs I bought myself some young thailand coconuts (only $1.25 each) to make the greatest, guilt-free, chocolate pudding from Raw Food Real World (of course). Even if your goals aren’t focused around losing weight, celebrate your successes. Make it a big deal to you and you will find you get a lot more satisfaction from eating well and in your everyday life.

That first week flew by and, before I knew it, a month had come and gone without notice. My one month experiment was slowly becoming my life as I knew it. I was loosing weight at an astounding rate of 1.25 lbs per day, but still felt great and had more energy than ever. Thinking back, it is a humbling thought to think that had I not made those changes and stuck with them, that I may have gone further down the self destructive path I was on, only to get more unhealthy and unhappy. I feel blessed today to be able to write these experiences. I am no one special, my story could be your story, and if you are struggling, as I was, with obesity, I want to admonish you: you can do it, and you are worth it.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Final Straw!



I have a confession to make. I had no intention whatsoever to use this site as a way to rally against the large multinational food companies which I and many other people see as the biggest problems facing the health of North America. Nor had I any intension of saying which fast food chain restaurant I worked as a General Manager for. But as they often say, enough is enough!

To understand my sudden outrage I have to take you back with me to the scene of the crime I witnessed unexpectedly in my living room. My wife and I were sitting on the couch after a long day of work. We had gotten the kids fed, bathed, and in bed - no easy feat with a one- and two-year-old. Exhausted, we elected to watch a little television to unwind before heading to bed and starting the cycle all over again the next day.

As we sat there watching one of our favourite shows, a commercial came on the screen: the very reason for this post. It was for KFC’s newest gift to the world of culinary delights: The New KFC Double Down Chicken Sandwich. If you haven’t heard about it yet, here’s what it is: A sandwich with bacon, Pepper Jack cheese, Swiss cheese, the Colonel’s Sauce, and two (2!!) Original Recipe Fillets of Fried Chicken as the bun! That’s right, they’ve replaced the already unhealthy white bun with 2 pieces of fried chicken. The commercial has a bunch of different guys holding one of these monstrosities beaming with excitement about it, and one even exclaims “Colonel, you da man!”

At first, I wasn’t sure if it was a joke, but I had seen enough of these commercials to know the truth. This was for real. My wife sat silently beside me gaging my reaction which was the aforementioned moment of disbelief followed by a rant of epic proportions. One that she was good enough to sit through with full empathy and without complaint.

From October 2007 to April 2008, I was a Restaurant General Manager for Priszm Ltd. Canada. Priszm owns the largest chain of KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Huts in Canada with over 300 locations. My restaurant was located in the west-end of Ottawa; it was a KFC. Day in and day out, I made and sold Kentucky Fried Chicken to the people of that community and prided myself with putting out nothing but quality chicken full to the standard that was laid out by the Colonel himself.

I can remember people who came in after seeing a similar commercial for the then-new Chicken Bowl. Instant mashed potatoes, topped with corn, Popcorn Chicken, gravy and cheese. My staff nicknamed it the “heart-attack-in-a-bowl”. One particular customer seemed extremely excited to come in after seeing the commercial on TV. Unfortunately (or fortunately), she came about 2 months too early, as it had only just been rolled out in the US and would take another couple of weeks before we would offer it in Canada. She was a regular customer who came in often. A woman in her late 50s who walked with the assistance of cane. She told me that she had limited mobility due to medical complications with her type 2 diabetes. When I told her that it would be a while before we carried the Chicken Bowl in Canada, her disposition became sour and even barked out something about maybe driving down to the border (a three to four hour drive) to get one. Instead, she got her usual 3-Piece-Meal with coleslaw, gravy and a large Pepsi to go.

It’s hard for me now to think back about the people I used to serve. I often feel like I was contributing to the continued downward spiral that our general health has seen here in North America. I was no better than a drug dealer. My products were at best unhealthy; one could go further to say they could make people sick or, even worse, if used irresponsibly, they could be fatal. It’s no secret that eating foods high in saturated and trans fats, as well as being over processed, as a staple part of your regular diet, will lead to a long list of health complications which may end in needing life threatening surgery or, at the very least, a reduced capability to enjoy life to the fullest.

Like a drug dealer, the products I offered were very addictive. Pumped full of chemicals which are engineered to taste “just so”, not to mention MSG, which is a key component to the Colonel’s secret recipe. Apart from a hand full of items like tomatoes, lettuce, and the salads, everything we made was deep fried - and I do mean everything. The chicken used for the Original Recipe Fried Chicken was the same chicken that you or I would buy at the grocery store before being marinated, breaded and, finally, deep fried. All of the other chicken products (Big Crunch, Chicken Strips, and Popcorn Chicken to name a few) came packaged in boxes and were delivered straight to the freezer.

Also, there are differing degrees of “users”. Some people we got to know by name and we would have their order together before they could walk from their car to our front door. Others, we would serve once a month and others once and then never again. One could argue that not everyone that eats KFC is unhealthy or even that it is only a minority that are. But the same can be said about drug users. I have known many recreational drug users (and in my youth, I was one, too). These people are fully functioning members of society that, on occasion, like to get drunk or high. I, in no way, want to use this platform as a way to endorse drug use of any kind, but that fact remains that not all drug users are dangerous menaces to society or even unhealthy. I believe that drug abuse of all kinds is a horrible epidemic that has ruined many lives and families. In the same way, I feel that fast food restaurants, like the KFC that I managed, has cost us in North America more than we care to admit.

Maybe the analogy of a KFC manager being the same as a drug dealer is a bit strong. But it always gives me pause to think of the damage I possibly did being a part of that company. After I saw the commercial for the new KFC Double Down Chicken Sandwich, I knew that I had to say something, even if no one reads this and my words fall on deaf ears. Things need to change! No longer can I stand by and play “nice” while we continue to allow ignorance and laziness to lead us down this collision course of unhealthy eating and living.

Some will no doubt label me an extremist. This is nothing that I am not already used to. Friends and family are still wondering if I’ll ever eat “normal” food again. A question I have learned to just laugh at. But if the new Double Down Chicken Sandwich is what we are willing to put in the category of “normal”, then I never want to eat “normal” again and, I hope, neither will you.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My Story-Part II-The First Two Days

April 9th may be my anniversary of going raw, but my real start date was 2 days earlier.

By the end of working as a restaurant manager I had began to feel really ill. I told myself at the time that it was just do to the stress that I was going through at work, but really it was much more than that.  My body was trying to send me a message: enough is enough.

More and more often I was feeling light headed and often felt pain in my chest, like someone was sitting on me suffocating me. I had to take prolonged breaks sitting down to do “paper work” or excusing myself to go outside for fresh air which was more than not a smoke break. The long hours had finally caught up to me and the stress of the job had broken me down. I no longer recognized who I was and despised who I was becoming. I was conscience that my choices where leading me down a path that would end in my becoming more and more unhealthy and unhappy, but I could not stop it. I was stuck on a self-destructing path that would only change if I made a drastic move.

My last day on the job couldn’t end fast enough and when it did, I left behind everything that I had allowed to destroy me. I quit smoking cold turkey and I turned my focus to finding a healthy way to eat and live.a

I had no idea where to begin, until my wife, Samantha, suggested to try a Leek Soup cleanse that she read about in the book French Women Don’t Get Fat. The idea is to eat only leek soup for two days. Apparently, it helps to cleanse the palate of your tongue from all of the processed food and sugar as well as restart your metabolism.

That first morning I woke up with excitement to get started. My breakfast consisted of a cup of leek soup broth...and that’s it. This was a stark contrast from just days earlier when I had fast-food: a deep-fried chicken burger, fries and cola. I felt good, a little hungry, but good. A wise man once told me that “A mile into the forest is a mile out”. I had brought myself down a path deep into the “forrest”. I needed to act drastically.

The first day past quickly. I was relieved to know that I only had one day left. That night I went to bed feeling that the worst had already past. I was wrong. The next day I woke up in a cold sweat. My bed was soaked beneath me from tossing and turning all night. I felt like a truck had run me over and I was left to scrap myself off the road. Making my way down the hall to the kitchen, I had to stop and rush for the bathroom. This is something I would have to do often over the next 48 hours. My skin had broken out in blotches of acne all over my body as I sweat profusely and uncontrollably.

Making my way to the kitchen I felt a mixture of intense hunger and fear of throwing up. I stared down at my breakfast, a bowl of leek soup broth, just like the morning before. This time my excitement vanished at the sight of it but I knew I needed to eat something. Reluctantly, I ate the entire bowl and felt a moment of satisfaction before rushing to the bathroom.

This was indeed a detox. My body was expelling everything that was hindering me and it wasn’t pretty. I’m not sure what I was expecting but this was not at all what I had in mind. At moments I found myself entertaining the idea of eating something “normal”, nearly breaking down to make myself some Kraft Dinner (Mac and Cheese for those of you outside of Canada) or a peanut butter and jam sandwich with two slices of white bread, sugary crunchy peanut butter and super sweet raspberry jam. To finish the sandwich off, I would put slices of cheddar cheese in the middle! A snack I perfected as a child, and used to smother with butter after every bit then dip into chocolate milk! (I’m not making this up.)

The second day was literally the day from hell. I tried to keep positive but I hit the wall early and didn’t know if I would have enough in me to see this through. As the night closed in on that second day, I can remember lying on the couch, useless in any other function, and holding my 9 month old daughter in my arms. As she lay there I could feel her breathing in and out, I felt her quiver and move on me, still learning to master muscle control in her tiny body. I knew then that this decision I had made, to find a healthier way of living, was bigger than me and that if everyday should prove to be as difficult, that it would be worth it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Note On Dieting

Before I get back into more of my story; a word or two on dieting. I am a firm believer that diet, is a “four” letter word. I mean, I’ve tried too many times to count. Everything from low carb, high protein, to low sodium vegetable juice as a meal supplement. All of them left me hungry... I mean starving, craving, and dying for REAL food. Sure it felt great to lose weight, but at what cost? I felt at those times that I would never be happy again until I could sink my teeth into a juicy hamburger and bucket of fries.

Eventually, I would break down and go back to what was the real problem, my lifestyle. Our lifestyle is the sum of our habits. We are all creatures of habit. Some habits elevate us while others bring us down. Knowing these habits and acknowledging the power that we give them by our actions, is the only way that we can begin to move forward and change those habits which are holding us back. No diet plan can so this for you, and no amount of wishful thinking. It has to be a conviction, not just a matter of self control.

For me, this came after years of struggle; the only answer for me was to get militant on my health. I needed guidelines that were strict enough to get me where I needed to go, but flexible enough to keep me satisfied. For me this was going “raw” (I know what your thinking... “Where’s the flexibility is being a Raw Vegan?! Well I will definitely get to that in my next post, I promise! It would take too long here.) For you it could be some less dramatic, but as anyone who knows me well will tell you, for me dramatic, is always my style.

I always used to say “you only live once” as an excuse to eat whatever I wanted or felt like. I comforted my choices with old saying like “It’s what’s on the inside that makes a man (or woman).” I still hold to these old saying but from a different point of view now.

“You only live once”- So why not live it to the fullness in everything you are and do: physically, mentally and spiritually. Just the other day I saw someone that I used to work with. She hadn’t seen me in a few years and was shocked by my transformation. After a little bit of catching up we started to reminisce about the past, when suddenly she started to laugh out loud. She remembered that after a really busy rush at work how I would just prop myself up on the counter, out of breath, wiping the sweat pouring from my forehead. I laughed with her because I could remember that like it was yesterday, but I didn’t realize that it was so noticeable to everyone else. That wasn’t living my life to the limit, I was hindering myself from living the life that I only get one shot at.

“It’s what’s on the inside that makes you”- I think you’d have to be pretty daft to dispute this. But I find that the goal of every single diet out there is the same. To get you “looking great”. And I will admit, I am not above this pursuit. I myself do and have always cared about how I look. But believe me when I say with every fiber of my being that EVERYONE IS BEAUTIFUL!

You are beautiful! Period.

If I were a motivational speaker I would make you run to the nearest mirror, look deep into your own eyes and say it, shout it, whisper it, just proclaim it! I AM BEAUTIFUL!!!

Diets have it all wrong, you already “look great” it just time that you showed it. Do you know what people say is more attractive than all the “good looks” in the world: confidence. For years I believed that people would only take me seriously if I looked a certain way, but the truth is that I was the only one with a problem with me. Sure people were worried about my health, but I was and am very much loved, for who I was not how I looked.

The best example of this would be the birth of my daughter McKenzie. When she was born I was on my way to becoming the biggest I would ever be. I can remember the first time I locked eyes with her like it was this morning. She gazed up at me in the stale hospital room moments after she was born. I could see her eyes examining my face scanning it back and forth, back and forth, until for just a split moment, they locked with my eyes and a slight grin came over her face. It was love at first sight. She didn’t care what I looked like or what size my waistline was, I was her daddy and would be forever. In that moment I knew that, at least in her eyes, I am beautiful.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

My Story

April 9, 2010 marked the 2nd year Anniversary of the day I started this journey of trying to find a healthy way of living. It has been an emotional roller-coaster of a ride that has ultimately seen great personal success. To date, I have lost almost 200 lbs and have kept it off. I have gone from living an inactive lifestyle full of unhealthy eating; to living an extremely active lifestyle (next month I will run my first marathon!), full of nothing but healthy eating (with a few exceptions).

Looking back now, it seems to me that I was always meant to be this way. I feel better than I ever have; I have a new lease on life. For a while, I never really believed I would get to where I am today. In the past, I have lost weight and always gained it back, shattering my self esteem with every trip around the horrid cycle: Lose weight - feel great -feel like you've arrived - start slipping back into old eating habits - gain weight - get depressed - gain back all the weight lost - get depressed - gain more weight. So what made this time so different? Did I finally grow some self control? Or did I discover "the secret" to losing weight and keeping it off?

To know why and what worked for me I think a little background information is needed.

My whole life I have struggled with my weight, and for years I believed that I was just "made that way", that I would always be the "Big Guy" and aspiring to be anything but would be somehow going against nature. I grew up in a very standard North American home. Neither of my parents where morbidly obese like I would become. My older brother was fit and was a natural at gymnastics, and later football and rugby. My sister, too, was always thin. We were encourage and sometimes forced to "go outside" to get "fresh air" when they thought we spending too much time being sedentary.

We ate a standard North American diet, where the “4 food groups” where the pillar of conventional wisdom. We ate a lot of processed food; hamburger helper, canned food, frozen dinners. Very few of our meals were solely made from fresh ingredients. Fruit was a rarity which we were chided when we ate to much of; vegetables often went bad in the fridge. This was not for lack of trying on the part of my parents. We were a one income household with my mother staying at home to watch us kids. Money was, at times, scarce, just like food in the pantry. It is no wonder that my parents went for the inexpensive processed food over the more expensive whole, fresh food.

Millions of North Americans are forced to make the same choices everyday. The health of our families becomes a choice between a lesser of evils. When I was a manager of a fast food restaurant, I saw first hand the effect of this choice. The restaurant was in a perfect location to maximize profits. It was right between a local community college and a low income group of high-rises and row houses. Every day and night I would see single mothers of four, blue collar workers, “starving” students, all coming to my restaurant for a cheap meal that they didn’t have to cook themselves. Across the street, there was a grocery store, full of fresh produce and whole foods one could use to make healthy meals.

After almost 6 months of 12 hour days, often 7 days a week, I decided to quit my job as a manager of a fast food restaurant, with the knowledge that doing so would include a significant pay-cut and would set back the advancement I had already achieved. I had gone from an already obese 330 lbs to almost 400 lbs. I was unhappy and overworked. My health had been deteriorating rapidly. I no longer had the stamina to put up with my life. What was worse is that I had started smoking cigarettes and cigars, often up to a pack a day, stupidly thinking it would help with the overall stress of my job, while in reality it was adding to the overall problem. My mood was always sour, I barely laughed, I often cried, and I dreaded waking up each morning. I was tired and no amount of sleep or rest would help. My body was trying to cope with my busy life and just couldn’t keep up. I was frequently out of breath, often to the point of dizziness and coughed violently all of the time.

April 9, 2008 was, what I call, my Day One. The day that I woke up and decided that somehow this day was going to be different. I had to make a change. I finally saw myself for what I was: morbidly obese. The stressful job and long hours were behind me, all I had was, as Michael Jackson would have put it, “The Man In the Mirror”. I woke up that day. For the first time, I actually took the time to stop and see me: The Good, Bad and the Ugly. I was overwhelmed by what I saw but knew what I had to do and had determined to do it right. So, first thing that morning I got on my scale expecting to see an abysmal number. For all I knew I could have weighed 500 lbs. I stood there with my eyes closed for a moment, too scared to look down. When I finally did, I was shocked to see “ERROR”. Apparently I weighed too heavy for my household scale. This was a real wake up call for me, and later became a great punch line while telling my story to people. I have to admit, even at the time it did seem a little bit funny to me. But even still, it wasn’t for another two weeks before I would see a number on my scale.

My not-so-revolutionary idea was to detox my system for one month then simply figure out a healthy eating plan after. It wasn’t much of a plan, but it was at least a start. I had just gone through almost 6 months of eating mostly fried foods and drinking almost exclusively cola. An average day for me would include multiple helping of fries and gravy among plenty of other fried foods (fried chicken sandwiches were my favourite) washed down by 7 or 8 large cups of cola (36 oz). So I decided that to even out whatever damage I may have done, I’d go to the complete opposite end of the spectrum and eat just raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. This just came naturally to me, I mean, everyone knows that fruits and veggies are REALLY good for you and that most of us need to eat more of them. So I figured they would be a good start. Plus, it was only a month, I felt that it would fly by and I’d be back to eating “normal” food in no time.

So why raw? I get asked this question a lot. To tell the truth, I had no idea that people actually lived this way. I knew nothing of the raw/living food movement, I didn’t even think that it was possible to sustain as a lifestyle. I just knew what I wanted to eat (fruits & veggies, nuts & seeds) and I knew I didn’t want to eat anything fried - ever again! So that left me with boiled or steamed vegetables, which seemed to me like a month of eating mush; and a choice between dried (and often sweetened) fruit or fresh fruit, which I already enjoyed. So my mind was made up: raw would be the way that I would go, not knowing that my one month experiment was about to take me down a journey that is two years past already, and only just beginning.