Two of the distinctives of extreme dietary asceticism that stand out, over my many years of nutritional study, experimentation, and life-witness/association, are:
-- its inevitable nutrient deficiencies, sometimes partially ameliorated with "supplements"
-- its tendency to overstay its welcome versus temporary therapeutic implementation.
A short list of the serious nutritional deficiencies risked among strict vegans, for example, demonstrated in the literature, is as follows:
Vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, B12, Biotin, choline, folic acid, inositol, niacin, PABA, pantothenic acid, Vitamins C, D, E, Calcium, cobalt, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, sulfur, vanadium, and zinc, not to mention amino acids and fatty acids.
Partakers of meat, fish, dairy and eggs are getting not only SOME of the above nutrients through their regular, unstudied diets alone, they're getting higher concentrations of them -- in milligrams -- than the amounts of many of the nutrients available in normal dietary (food-sourced) vegan sources.
So: Brewer's Yeast and Blackstrap Molasses for dinner? with rice, beans, veggies and soy? Sitting down to 18 dietary supplement pills with a bowl of sesame quinoa? Constituting the world's first Pill-Nutrition culture? It's obviously not a society that will endure and perpetuate itself en masse: Its diet is only half food!
Soy? Great for As and ABs in particular, but, alone, it doesn't stack up against meat and dairy and eggs and fish when it comes to fats, proteins, and most of the above vitamins and minerals.
Most vegans are normal persons, insofar as they'd choose to pursue lives that center around activities other than the endless measuring-out of the compensatory lecithin, yeast, wheat germ and molasses, etc., that would be required to keep them free of nutritional deficits. Therefore, these mentally normal vegans are USUALLY dietarily deficient in several of the above essential nutrients -- often gravely so.
But vegans aren't the only dietary fundamentalists missing the point of eating-to-live (in favor of living-to-supplement/eat). I adhered very briefly, in the mid 1980s, to a macrobiotic diet, and it was very good for my health, during that circumscribed period). The time came, however, when I'd met my health goals, to broaden my diet; as for its "lifestyle", Macrobiotics had never been my religion, but I did meet hundreds of macros with (similar to hard core vegans') long term dietary narrowness.
People of different blood types and subtypes may have good reason to avoid certain food groups wholesale, during times of addressing serious health crises (Dr. D'Adamo's guidelines stipulate for such crises, even to the point of recategorizing certain "avoid" foods as "beneficial" for short term therapeutic purposes.). Strict vegan parameters have, perhaps, usefulness in such a therapeutic context as well, but MOST people cannot thrive on that diet over the long haul. They become seriously deficient in several crucial nutrients, even if they use myriads of pills and potions, as these are NOT whole foods comprised of infinite intrinsic vital synergies. This is why it's so critical that strict temporary measure, such as detoxifying fasts, not be turned into long-term hair-shirt religions, and not only because of these biochemical consequences, but also because of the mental and spiritual health-risk it poses interpersonally, within the community as a whole.
Attention, Type A vegans and other "Tier Three'ers" (hyper-compliant adherents): Take very, very seriously your water retention, digestive ills, blood pressure hikes, skin eruptions, etc. Don't be tempted to treat each of these separately, so as to pinpoint its respective Band-Aid and participate in its respective chat-group. The same magnesium deficiency, for instance, that causes your insomnia could be related to your depression, kidney stones and dental caries, too! The same iron-deficiency anemia your OB addresses during your pregnancy could have been operative when you'd suffered from irregular periods before, or play its part in blood sugar or intestinal problems later ...
Hopping from one health issue to another, and/or from one supplement-mix to another, may make for a diligent and meticulous practice of measuring teaspoons of powders, soaking and counting and blending exotic ingredients, transforming you into your kitchen altar's High Priest, but that might all be instantly/"miraculously" dispensable - POOF! -- by eating a small piece of fish a couple of times a week, some eggs and/or poultry here and there, and an occasional yogurt. Presto-Change-O: Normal Blood values, shinier hair, bye-bye tremors, pimple-free complexion, etc. More time to enjoy life, less for the Internet?
Let your taste for general good health outstrip your taste for an over-deconstructed diet. If you prefer the 23 different pills for each of your "issues", own up to it as your personal idiosyncracy, not a requisite healthy practice. Beyond that, if you're ready to broaden your view to step back from an ascetic regime originally embarked upon as a temporary therapy, you'll enjoy the following story:
A friend, during my macro days, had raised her two daughters as strict macro's from birth. I'll never forget arriving at her house one day for a macro lecture and group lunch; the front door slowly opened, seemingly of itself, but I looked down to see her little 6-year-old daughter, whose hand held the knob as she grimly said to me, "You're late. And take off your shoes." It was positively macabre.
Only a year or so later, my friend's heart opened when she was bequeathed her grandmother's piano; she and her girls began taking lessons, and some floodgate burst in her soul. Later that year, her children, who'd never tasted turkey or butter or sugar before, fully, gustatorially participated in an extended family Thanksgiving dinner FOR THE FIRST TIME. Then, the girls began actually playing at friends' houses. My friend confided in me later, "When my daughters started eating some butter and sweets, I realized - Wow- they'd needed it all along. And they're, well, SWEETER! We're ALL happier people." And she had a tear in her eye.
What had POSSESSED them to deprive themselves of such pleasures? Well, my friend's husband had had a frightening deathly illness from which he'd "miraculously" recovered, through Macrobiotics, before the children were born. Thus this couple had associated "extreme yin" and "extreme yang"-labels with the foods he'd given up, and those foods with, yes, the Death he'd escaped.
It was, however, Death itself that met me at the door of their organically-perfect farmhouse that day and curtly demanded my shoeless entry.
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I think we associate Death with messiness and fight it with desperate structures. We strive to organize, measure, categorize and label components (vitamins, esoteric amino acids, e.g.) in a frantic attempt to keep the wild, unknowable wholeness of a threatening realm at bay.
But we can't. There's always another symptom. We no sooner soothe our cough than we find a pimple; we are freed from that as we investigate our heartburn and find out our HDL is low and our VLDL high. So we return to our laboratories/kitchens, where we add soaked flaxseeds to our kefir smoothies and subtract the almond butter -- or was it add soaked almonds and subtract the flaxseeds? And we return to our computers and start a New Thread about Fiber. We read this one's Diet and that one's theory. Why are we counting and weighing and pouring and poring?
Are you afraid to die?
I wonder if there's ever been anyone on a deathbed saying, "If only I'd used more Blackstrap Molasses and less Barley Malt", or "It must have been those poppy seeds", rather than, oh, you know, stuff about hugging your kids more or sharing your gifts with the world, stuff that seemed deathly-scarier at the time, when you found refuge, instead, in a "health-focus".
It's one thing to desire to properly establish a new and healthy regime, to take the time and devote the wholehearted energy to recovering from illness or founding a new and uninhibited way of eating/exercising. Just make sure that, if you're fleeing Death and seeking Life, you don't confound the two!
(Friend: If your escape from Death has tricked you, too, into escaping Life, you can still come back. The door is wide open...and you can leave your shoes on!)
Note: This blog originally published 10 Jan 2006 and, with about 25 other blogs from my archives, was wiped out a couple of years ago. As Dr. D'Adamo has suggested, I shall restore selected lost entries to the archives, beginning with this one.
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The importer of Zen monastic cookery-philosophy to the West adopted the name Georges Ohsawa. As Master of his American "macrobiotic" (he coined the term) disciples, his practice was to sit over them each morning and receive their well-considered questions.
One morning, a disciple asked him, "Master, what is the proper response when one who is following Diet #7 [nothing but brown rice] is invited to his family's biennial Reunion? Burgers 'n dogs are grilled, and there's cole slaw and potato salad and s'mores. Does one bring along some rice balls in Tupperware? or does he decline the invitation altogether, preserving his pure practice?" Whereupon the Master took a languourous drag from his Marlboro, held it ponderously, and let it out in a steady, controlled stream before, all eyes upon him, savoring a sip of black coffee.
"The macrobiotic way" he declared, "is that, ultimately, of Balance. If one is sufficiently adept to follow the Number 7 Path, he navigates the currents of life with a flowing and artless balance. Wherefore the Answer is this: One prepares one's body, well in advance, to receive the extreme dietary elements, and one knows how to restore its balance after having so indulged. But to refuse such a family invitation, especially in light of its traditional and infrequent nature, OR to evidence such pride as to abstain from full participation, bringing along, instead, one's own 'superior' dinner, is a sign of drastic Imbalance and thus makes plain the unreadiness of the disciple for Diet Number 7."
I love this story. It brings one's entire world into the Life Equation. Our dietary decisions are not isolated bytes; we "live and move and have our being" within a larger body. Family traditions and community interactions are mocked at great peril, if these constitute the very fabric, lining one's Path.
Likewise teaches the Western Tradition:
"Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify one another." - Romans 14:19
"For if a man think himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another." - Galatians 6:3,4.
"And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge; and though I have all faith so that I could remove mountains, and have not Love, I am nothing." - I Corinthians 13:2.
No one will be considered spiritually superior for following any diet whatsoever, or for being tobacco- or caffeine-free.
And, brethren, let us love one another. Where there is Love, there's patience, forbearance, joy...Without love, your "excellent health" is, in fact, sickness; your "Tier Two compliance" [in 2010 I'd add SWAMI compliance] a mere smokescreen for arrogance. East or West, Love is what constitutes True Health. Amen.
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22 November 2010 ADDENDUM: Just came across this little story. Thought I'd throw it into the mix:
One day in the Vale of the Hermitages, when a feast was being celebrated, the brethren were eating together in their place of assembly. A certain brother said to those who were serving at table, 'I won't eat anything cooked, just a little salt on my bread.'
The one who was serving at table called to another brother and said in the presence of the whole gathering, 'This brother is not eating anything cooked. Bring him just a little salt.'
Then one of the elders rose and said to the brother who had asked for salt, 'It would have been better for you today to eat meat alone in your cell, rather than to publish what you are doing to so many of the brethren.'
--from Sayings of the Desert Fathers