Read Chapter 1: What's So Kind About Dieting?
diet: (noun) a way of living, or thinking, a day's journey
This was the definition of diet when it entered the English language in the mid-1600s. So simple! So sane! How did this cute little word become synonymous with deprivation, suffering, and—let's be honest—total hell?
With the Kind Diet, we are returning the word to its original definitions, for this journey is about changing how you think and live, one day at a time. And by allowing your mind and your choices to change, you will see amazing—even magical—results. It won't happen overnight, but it will happen, I promise, because it happened to me: By eating satisfying, delicious, plant-based foods, I was released from the prison of dieting.
Oh, the freedom of that! How amazing it is never to have to start another diet! To be able to think about my life, and the world, instead of spazzing out about calories and constantly asking myself, "Can I eat that?" It's like I got my brain back! These days, I get to eat as much as I want of foods that I love, and I never have to fear them. I feel truly and deeply nourished by food. I'm so grateful for that.
But what do I mean by "kind"? Well, let's start with you. This is about being really, really good to yourself. The Kind Diet will give you tons of energy, mental clarity, gorgeous skin, and a zest for life you won't want to miss. Plus, it's powerful; doctors like Dean Ornish and John MacDougall have discovered that plant-based diets have the power to reverse heart disease, diabetes, even cancer. So this is about treating yourself like a total goddess and putting yourself first.
And you deserve that kindness, my friend. I used to equate having self-worth with being selfish, but now I understand that taking care of myself is the most beautiful thing I can do. And quite frankly, I can't be a good actor, I can't be a good wife, friend, or mother (to my dogs) . . . I can't be a good anything until I've taken care of myself first. So this kindness to yourself is paramount.
And it doesn't stop there. This kindness extends to the earth itself; because it requires less fuel, water, and other precious resources, a plant based diet is much lighter on the planet. And because it is clean, this diet helps our soil, water, and atmosphere get healthy as well. You will see that the Kind Diet reduces planetary suffering on all levels; following a plant-based diet is just about the greenest thing you can do.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves; this is a process. My own journey, which started quite a while ago and continues to this day, has had its own back-and-forths and big opportunities for learning, growth, and letting go. None of it happened overnight; it took some time, as most transformations do.
We'll start with my story. It began innocently enough???just a young girl wanting to save some dogs. Little did I know that I was actually stepping into the Magical-Life-Altering-Save-the-World Soul-Expansion Machine!
You see, I've always been an animal-lover. Since I was a little, little girl. And my mom was the same way; if we saw a dog running in the street that looked in need, she'd slam on the brakes, and I'd hop out of the car to run after it???even on the freeway. We were a little dynamic duo. I'm still rescuing dogs to this day.
Every little kid is born with an innate love of animals. Animals are complete and individual creatures, each with a distinct personality, and children connect with that.
But the second you get old enough, people say that relating to animals is juvenile and they try to talk you out of it. I know a lot of people who grew up on farms and were given a piglet or a calf to raise. They loved it and cared for it, like any kid would. And then one day the parent has the animal slaughtered and says, "Toughen up. This is what it is to be a grown-up."
My love of animals came crashing down on my love of meat at the ripe old age of 8. My brother and I were on an airplane, and when my dinner came, it was a lamb chop. Just as I stuck my fork in, my brother started making sheep sounds and bleating baa baa like a baby lamb. (He was 13 at this point and knew exactly how to torment me.) Suddenly it all came together in my head and I freaked. I might as well have killed the lamb with my own hands. I decided right there on that flight that I was now a vegetarian.
But what did I know about nutrition or dietary concerns at 8? For the next month I ate nothing but ice cream and eggs. And then my resolve slipped. I stopped and started a lot or "forgot" I had sworn off meat. Truth be told, I think I conveniently forgot because I sure loved pork chops, bacon, steak, and everything else. . . .
At 12, I went to my first acting class. I loved it. I loved being with all the older kids. I loved feeling like I could touch a different world, one that provided so much excitement and possibility. In acting class, I discovered my passion and began to consider the meaning of commitment.
My commitment to not eating animals, however, was faltering. I'd wake up and declare, "I'm a vegetarian today!" but it was sort of hard to keep the resolution. I'd sit with a friend and she'd order a steak and I'd say, "Umm . . . are you going to finish that?" and take a bite. "But I thought you were a vegetarian!" she would remind me, and I'd counter with, "But you can't eat all that. I don't want it to go to waste!" I'd use any excuse.
I was 18 when Clueless came out. Going through adolescence is strange enough, but becoming famous at the same time is really weird. It felt good to be recognized as an actor, but after Clueless, it was like I was sucked up into a hurricane. You might assume that fame brings you more friends, but I actually became very isolated. I was no longer simply a girl with the freedom to make mistakes and have fun. There was enormous pressure, which put me in full survival mode. And being in survival mode made it hard to stay in touch with my truth; I just couldn't hear it anymore.
Well, almost. One of the really good things about being a public person was that animal rights groups were hearing about my passion for their cause and began soliciting my help. I worked on all sorts of campaigns: antidissection, antifur, spay and neuter, as well as animal rescue. All of that stuff made perfect sense to me; in an otherwise chaotic life, these gestures were simple and straightforward and good. But, at that point, nobody had talked to me seriously about vegetarianism, and I was still doing my little dance back and forth.
After a heart-wrenching day at an animal shelter, from which I took home a grand total of 11 dogs who were scheduled for execution, I found myself thinking, "Now what?" I was doing what I needed to do for my heart, but deep down I realized it wasn't a practical solution; the next day the shelter would just put down another batch of dogs . . . and then another . . . and then another. I was committing my heart, soul, time, and pocketbook to these poor creatures, and that's when it hit me: How could I spend so much energy saving one group of animals, then turn around and eat other ones? There was a fundamental hypocrisy in my thinking. Weren't they all living beings? Why did we buy some of them cute little doggy beds while slaughtering others? I had to ask myself—in all seriousness—why don't I just eat my dog?
That realization helped me make up my mind once and for all. I realized that, until I stopped using my dollars to purchase meat or other products that are created through violence or cruelty, the suffering would never end. It wouldn't stop because I wanted it to. It wouldn't stop because I wished it would. If I really wanted to end cruelty to animals, I had to boycott it completely.
When I got home, I declared to my boyfriend (now husband), Christopher, "I'm going vegan. Forever. You don't have to," and I blathered on about wanting to save the pigs and the cows, and the logistics of living with the newly vegan me. I was getting all worked up planning everything out, and he looked at me and said in the sweetest way, "Baby, I don't want to hurt the pigs either!" Which confirms that I am the luckiest girl on Earth, because he was totally on board with me from day one.
That night we grilled the final steak in our freezer and sat down to our last nonvegan supper. It was quite solemn. I remember crossing myself like a Catholic even though I'm Jewish, because this was a total act of faith; I had never tried to cook without meat. I wasn't sure I would ever eat a yummy meal again.
But after only 2 weeks of being vegan, people were beginning to ask, "What is going on with you? You look amazing!" I was still eating lots of white pasta, french fries, and all sorts of sludgy things (in fact, I still do sometimes). All I'd given up was meat and dairy, and yet I began to look better in just 2 weeks!
Something really wild was happening inside of me, too. I noticed that my whole body felt lighter. I was more vibrant and spunky. I felt like my heart had sort of opened a bit and my shoulders could relax, as if an overall softening had taken place. I no longer carried heavy animal protein in my body, which takes tons of energy to digest. Plus, I didn't have the heaviness of the suffering in me; frightened animals produce lots of cortisol and adrenaline right before slaughter, and we can become stressed from eating their meat.
Something seemed to be happening on a deeper level as well. The decision to be vegan was one I made purely for me, an expression of my truest self and deepest beliefs. It was the first time I'd stood up and said a definitive "NO!" My real self began to emerge. It was powerful.
One afternoon, a few years later, Christopher came home and announced that he wanted to try a macrobiotic diet. He'd read interviews with people who claimed that this diet made them feel balanced and happy and he was intrigued. I'd heard (incorrectly, as it turns out) that macrobiotics was only for sick people and that fish was a requisite part of the diet. No way was that for me! He looked at me with that sweet face of his and said, "Alright, baby. I'm going to do macrobiotics, but you don't have to."
Ironically, I was exploring another diet dimension myself at the time—raw foods. I was eating tons of fruit, nuts, and other cool, uncooked delicacies. Although I felt fine in sunny California, when I went to snowy, cold Manhattan to appear opposite Kathleen Turner and Jason Biggs in The Graduate on Broadway, it was another story. After a few days of work, my body felt cold and my energy was low, but I was determined to stick to my raw regimen. Between rehearsals, I would go out into the winter weather to hunt down wheatgrass juice, pineapples, and mangoes. I found them—it was New York, after all—but I wasn't feeling all that good. My brain didn't want to know, but my body was giving me signals that I was out of balance.
At work, I was teased by the other members of the cast for my "extreme" diet. I swear Jason deliberately ordered veal and rabbit just to make me crazy. Whenever I yawned or seemed tired, the director announced, "It's because you're not eating any meat!"
It's funny how the puzzle pieces of your life drop into place; during that same stint in New York,
I went to Candle Café (one of my favorite restaurants), and I noticed Temple, a waitress who I hadn't seen in years. She was absolutely on fire. Her hair, her skin, and her body just looked amazing. She told me she'd seen a macrobiotic counselor, and now she was the healthiest she'd ever been in her life. I decided I would give Christopher a consultation with her counselor for his birthday. If she looked so fantastic, there had to be something to this macro business, right?
By the time the appointment rolled around, though, my defenses had reemerged. When we got to the counselor's office, I sat with my arms crossed, thinking, "This is stupid." She politely ignored me and worked with Christopher to design a regimen for him. Just as we were getting ready to leave, she turned to me and said, "Maybe you should try this, too. You could have more energy, and I could help you clear up your acne." Damn. She had noticed. But of course everyone did. Since going off the pill a few years before, my skin had become a nightmare, with really cystic acne. I'd even had to reshoot a scene for a movie because my skin looked so bad.
But she wasn't done. "Do you know how much energy is consumed to transport some of the food you're eating?" she asked. "These coconuts and pineapples and mangoes are flown in from all over the world. That's a huge waste of fuel." I had never thought about it, but of course she was right.
Sensing that my resistance was faltering, she pressed on. "How can these foods be good for you, in the dead of winter, in New York? If you eat something from another climate, how is your body supposed to cope with it? Your body is here, in cold New York. And the mango is designed to cool people off in tropical climates." She definitely had my attention now. "You need to eat what's indigenous to the area to avoid stressing your body." This made perfect sense to me on a holistic level. Between the acne and the mangoes and the excessive energy consumption, she had won me over. I decided to give it a try, and within a week of following her recommendations, my acne—which had haunted me for such a long time—had improved significantly. It was like magic.
But that's the Superhero diet, and I don't expect anyone to go full Superhero overnight. The simplest elements of the counselor's recommendations were to add whole grains to my diet at every meal. I also had miso soup almost every day and totally cranked up the vegetables. I made sure that everything I was eating was local and seasonal, choosing apples over pineapples. In terms of letting go, I said good-bye to white sugar, substituting sweeteners like rice syrup and maple syrup. I also gave up white flour and processed foods and, of course, still no meat or dairy.
A few tweaks and everything changed.
Although I felt good as a vegan, I had even more energy when I adopted the macrobiotic suggestions. At the same time, I was very calm and at peace within myself. My mind focused easily and my thinking became really clear. Although I had lost weight by going vegan, the macrobiotic diet helped me shed the few extra pounds I was holding on to and brought me to my perfect body effortlessly.
Over time, I became more sensitive. I started to feel things more acutely and sense my intuition. People used to say, "Listen to your body," and I had no idea what they meant. "What is my body saying? I don't know . . . it's just here!" But soon I really understood; my body was trying to tell me things all the time, and once I stripped away all the layers of crap inside, I could hear it.
As I aligned more with nature and the seasons, I aligned more with myself. Instead of constantly relying on the people around me for direction, I felt I was on my own journey and I was beginning to sense—from inside of me—each next right step.
I encourage you to let this book gently lift your awareness, and you will begin to make the changes that work for you. Th ere are plenty of little choices you can make—choices that will make huge impacts—without getting all uptight and thinking you have to be perfect.
Based on these stages I went through, I have designed three different approaches to the Kind Diet—each one for a different level of readiness—and you can choose according to what feels right to you. The first plan is called Flirting, and it's simply sticking your toe in the pool of the Kind Diet. The second plan is Vegan; it's for experienced Flirts and those of you who, after reading this book, want to commit to a plant based diet. The third plan, Superhero, emphasizes whole grains, organic vegetables, and sea vegetables and will make you levitate.(Well, almost.)
So as you read, keep in mind that these different levels exist; that no matter where you're coming from, there's plenty of room for you on this path. Whether it takes you 2 weeks or 10 years to make my delicious rice crispy treats matters not a jot. It's your path, based on what you think and feel while reading this book. You will know what's right for you.
But before you choose your path, let's dine on some information. It's only by digesting and absorbing pertinent facts that you can make an informed choice. In the following chapters, we look closely at specific foods and the very real impact they have on our bodies and our world.
More on Alicia's journey to a vegan lifestyle
Printed from Oprah.com on Thursday, December 5, 2013
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