So there’s a rumor going ‘round that some long-haired crazy vegan dude started Eating for Heat ala` Matt Stone’s recommendations and experienced all sorts of toasty warm benefits from doing so. Maybe you read about it in, The Vegan Solution (or listened to it for free via Audible), or just heard it through the grape vine. Is it even possible to maintain a healthy metabolism and body on a diet comprised strictly of plants, let alone completely reversing and healing metabolic damage? That, my friends, is a good question. Let’s find out the answer by starting at the beginning.
I started out on a fairly standard, whole-foods-based, relatively high-calorie vegan diet: Lots of rice, potatoes, quinoa, fruit, corn, legumes, etc. What can I say? I’m a total unapologetic carb-whore and always will be. In the span of about 3 years I lost 150lbs. of excess weight and reversed numerous health conditions as well, but I digress. As far as I was concerned, and from what I was always told and believed, salt was absolute poison and you should avoid it at all costs. Or at the very least minimize it as much as possible. Needless to say, it was on my Ban List. Even so, everything was going just fine. After being on that vegan diet for about 18 months I stumbled onto the idea of a raw food vegan diet. You know, a diet comprised of, well, raw foods. The big focus for me was a high-carbohydrate, high-calorie diet comprised mainly of raw fruit. Plenty of bananas were to be had. I ate almost exclusively fresh, water-rich foods. I was eating 3,000+ calories per day, never restricting. Salt was still poison to me at the time, but everything else was going smooth as can be.
You see, I never really experienced anything that I would have considered being any negative side-effects from following a strictly raw, salt-free vegan diet; Being an ice cube during the winter time, peeing 3-5 times at night, and having dry lips and skin during the cold months just seemed normal to me. Besides all of this, I was still feeling absolutely fantastic and not really concerned about anything. I still had hair on my head and my toes hadn’t fallen off yet after not having eaten any animal products in several years, so at least I had proven that one primal-Malibu dude wrong. It’s the small victories that keep us going. Even still, I had a feeling that maybe I could be doing even better and not have to sleep next to a space heater with electric blankets during the South Dakota winters.
Since October, 2012, I figured I would give this Matt Stone guy’s advice a go. The more I read about core body temperature and metabolism, the more sense it made to me. Plenty of the raw vegan people I knew would almost brag about their lower body temperatures and how they believed it was healthier than the standard, “feverishly unhealthy” 98.6 degrees F. But at the same time, I saw some of them absolutely loathing the winter time, hair and nails not growing as fast as they like, dry skin, and lowered libido, among other symptoms. I’m a bigger fan of seeing people happy and healthy vs. seeing their health suffer because they rigidly stick to an ideal that isn’t quite working for them. So, it was time for me to open my mind a bit.
The first major shift (major to me anyway) I made in my diet was just sprinkling a little bit of salt on my salad. I started with the tiniest pinch: I felt like it was sacrilegious, due to the years of indoctrination I had before. It tasted amazing. After having that first bite of salt, even just a couple days later eating plain celery tasted incredibly salty and tasty. My hands and feet were significantly warmer after a few nights of this, and my body felt much more at-ease. I slept like a rock. The other major shift I made was balancing out the ratio of juicy foods I ate (fresh fruit, fruit juice, soups) with drier, more calorie-dense foods (dried fruit, potatoes with a bit of salt, dried coconut, etc.) while at the same time not over-saturating my body with water. If I had a bunch of juice or fresh mangos for the first part of a meal, I’d chase it with some drier foods like dates, raisins, etc. You can read in detail about balancing this in Matt’s book “Eat for Heat.” The only other shift I made was being open to having some cooked vegan foods when I wanted them. Steamed or baked potatoes with coconut milk, beans, rice with a bit of soy sauce: just your simple starchy fair.
In retrospect, these changes in my diet weren’t really that major. I still eat inordinate amounts of fruit and fresh raw food and eat 100% plant foods. Now I just do it in a way that makes my body happier and more comfortable. If you told me 3 years ago that making such relatively small changes to my diet would yield such profound results, I would have called you crazy.
So now you’re probably asking yourself, “Okay vegan hot-shot, what improvements exactly did you experience from going through all this?” It’s a fair question. The biggest and most obvious improvement I noticed was the dramatic rise in body temperature. Objectively, I brought my waking core body temperature from a chilly 95.4 degrees F. to a much toastier 97.8-98.4. I was even seen walking around Aspen, Colorado in the middle of December wearing nothing but shorts, a t-shirt, and light jacket. To say I was simply all hot and steamy would be an understatement.
Besides being able to actually tolerate, and dare I say, almost enjoy, the cold winter months, there are plenty of other cool things that go along with getting your core body temperature and metabolism back up to speed. My hair and nails grow like weeds and are thick as can be. My digestion is like an incinerator whereas before a few almonds would bother me. What about dry lips, and skin particularly on the lower part of the legs? All a part of the past. What, you’re curious if I had any improvements in libido, ability to build muscle and overall strength, and ability to de-stress and sleep soundly through the night? Check, check, and check. Leaning up and gaining muscle while wolfing down (or ape-ing down I guess) 4,000+ calories per day has been pretty cool too.
I see a shift on the horizon. I think it’s time to put an end to the stereotypical skin and bones, pale, asexual, tie-dye wearing, drinking nothing but green juice and eating stale granola vegan. Well, the tie-dye can stay, but everything else can be done away with. I’m willing to admit that some vegans have been stereotyped that way for a reason, and that’s why I’m here writing what I am right now. It doesn’t have to be that way. Do I think any of these symptoms are caused by lack of animal products? No, I don’t. I think it’s just a matter of failing to eat in a way that keeps your body de-stressed and happy, which can happen on any diet. The often highly-touted kale and bean soup vegan diet doesn’t help much in this regard either.
I’m not saying that you have to eat a vegan diet, or a specific vegan diet, or that if you don’t follow exactly the principles outlined here you are going to fail on a vegan or any other diet. But I am saying that if you are on a vegan diet or interested in one, whatever your reasons may be, and you don’t want to become a burned-out ex-vegan turned paleo-promoter because you had a little too much green juice and not enough real food, you might be interested in this. Just do your own homework and take it all with a grain of salt. And a baked potato or 10.