Change is hard. Just as energy is needed to alter the path of a moving object, so motivation (and knowledge) is required to break ingrained habits. Adopting a different diet is not an easy thing to do, because one must fly in the face of much accepted 'common knowledge', and find something better.
Apart from a childhood loathing of most vegetables (only recently grown out of), I used to eat anything and everything, with no regard whatsoever for my body having to deal with it. Food was just fuel, and the more of it, the better. During my teens I began to eat more and more junk food, eschewing the more traditional fare of my upbringing. At college I started smoking and drinking excessively as is the done thing. After a few years of this self-destructive excess I realised that I needed to change my habits or face health problems. Being rather an obsessive personality, I knew the only way to go (for me at least) was to completely cut out all unnecessary things; any half measures (barman!) would result in giving up giving up, as often happens.
First I gave up smoking, which was very difficult, especially because all of my friends still smoked and our socialising often revolved around it. One really has to want to never smoke again, and remain firm in the midst of great temptation to "just have one". Your body will give you hell while it adapts to the lack of nicotine. You will eat more and suffer moodswings and constipation without your lethal laxative crutch. This physical discomfort doesn't last too long though; after a while, the clouds will lift and your body will thank you with new-found senses of taste and smell (and appetite), as well as improved general fitness and increased income. You will soon see cigarettes and tobacco for what they are - ugly, filthy and expensive; it is much cooler to simply burn ten pound notes, without bothering to inhale. I still question the madness of people sucking in hot smoke from chemically processed leaves burning at hundreds of degrees just inches from their face.
Next I gave up drinking alcohol, after a particularly bad two-day red wine hangover. My tolerance had greatly decreased since my high-spirited teens, probably as a result of my college excesses, and I couldn't even drink a few pints any more. Lightweight.
For many reasons, of digestion, of perfume, and particularly of energy, I realised that my diet was not good. Following teachings of various mystics, I decided to opt for a simple diet: I gave up caffeine, and stopped eating meat, and later fish, yet still used wheat and oats, yeast and vinegar, honey and sugar, cheese and milk (from cows, that is; I gave up human milk many years ago ;-) . Only later did I give these up, gradually changing from a lacto-vegetarian to an essentially vegan diet after a few years of trying out various 'health foods', some of which agreed with me, some of which didn't. I tried fruit diets (eating just grapes for five days), and fasting with fruit juices and then just water, which are very enlightening experiences about the human condition. (One must have favourable conditions to fast though: solitude, a comfortable place to be, no work and no hardships. It is vitally important to read up on the subject before beginning a fast, as coming back to the world of the eating is the hardest part; it can be difficult to achieve a smooth landing.)
By far the hardest thing to give up was sucrose, which is without a doubt the most addictive stimulant I know of, and so deeply ingrained into modern culture as to be mandatory. Most people are so addicted that they know nothing else, and so will regard these ideas as crazy. But as Salvador Dali said: "The only difference between Dali and a crazy man is that Dali is not crazy!" It is only when one stops taking this stimulant that one sees the larger picture.
Mentally ill patients have been shown to experience more psychotic episodes on a diet containing sugary foods. Similarly, the behaviour of prison inmates improved dramatically when refined sugar-fortified carbohydrates were reduced in their diet. Similar effects have been noticed on rats and children.
Now that I am weaned off sucrose, I am sensitive to even the slightest amount, as if an allergic reaction, and suffer intense moodswings and physiological imbalance for days as a result of inadvertently consuming sugar hidden in other prepared foods. I also find that those unnecessary, hyperactivity-inducing additives (flavour enhancers, sweeteners, colours, etc.) that industrially-produced foods include make me feel as if I have been subtley poisoned. This is why I prepare and cook (almost) everything I eat, and have learned to trust no-one in the kitchen. (Well, maybe that'll change if people adopt my recipes :-)
Of course, one still gets cravings for things one used to love. Fish & chip shops can sometimes be hard to walk past, but I find that my own TC Stirfry with rice and potatoes is a (superior) substitute. Similarly, kidney beans stir-fried with onions and served with tamari bear an uncanny resemblance to cheese, and mushrooms are similar in taste and texture to meat. Once your palate has become more refined, dates will taste as good as chocolate; it is often a case of allowing more subtlety, instead of the brash tongue-assault that modern industrial foods employ.
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© copyright Malcolm Smith 2002-04-10 - last updated 2003-01-06 - links verified 2004-02-01