I still remember being a 17-year-old trans girl—back then I called myself androgynous—trying a produce-filled diet for the first time. I had such high hopes. Online I had learned about “radical” raw vegans who solved their symptoms eating an abundance of fruits and vegetables. Could I become one of them? My hopes were soon confirmed. As I chowed down on endless banana smoothies and salads, my eczema, gingivitis, faltering eyesight, stiff back, and so many other little complaints disappeared within a few months. It was shocking—shockingly wonderful!
However, dangers lay ahead that I did not realize. My 17-year-old self would have wished to build up brilliant health & fitness by the time she turned 30. I’d be sorry to disappoint her that today, I am a 29-year-old whose health is more at risk than ever. Fighting off severe laryngitis, SIADH, and Dog knows what else might be wrong, my knees cannot run, my arms cannot drive far, and after getting COVID this year I’m just lucky to be alive.
How did I get here? I made goofy mistakes. For the most part, they were self-inflicted and could have been avoided. Like you, I never meant to hurt myself in any way. In fact, recognizing that I have ADHD or autism has given me a lot of self-compassion. We all have mental barriers stopping us from following through on our best judgment. All we can do now is try to keep improving—and share the lessons with our co-thrivers on a produce-filled diet.
First off, I want to tell you that you’re smart to be eating a lot of whole plant foods. There are mistakes not on this list that you are sidestepping by striving to eat so healthy. You won’t make the mistake of counting ketchup as a vegetable serving. If you’ve gone vegan specifically, then you won’t make the mistake of never giving veganism a chance when so many beyond-humans are hurting from our industries.
Listen carefully to my errors, and hopefully you won’t have to make any of these mistakes either. You deserve to do things right. I want you to have the best possible shot at health.
1. Be aware of the chemical dangers in modern life
This is number one because it’s the factor that messed me up the most. When I was 17, I was skeptical of things like conventional sunscreen—anything with chemicals our bodies clearly were not designed to absorb. By the time I was in my 20s, I forgot this fear. I got too lax. I kept eating plenty of produce, but I wasn’t thinking holistically about how my environment and other habits affected me.
The makeup I began wearing gave me eye irritation problems. My apartment got bug-bombed and I didn’t put everything in bags like I was supposed to. I took three medications for my male-to-female transition, and each caused different side effects till I eventually quit. When I lived in my car for a while, I breathed in air freshener and other fumes in that enclosed space, barely considering the consequences. Finally, in 2022 I started microneedling from home, which can be incredibly dangerous if you’re already lazy about disinfecting and/or a klutz. It was during this time that a cascade of sudden health scares left me begging for my life.
When I have paid attention, it has always been clear to me that every little thing adds up. Yes, chemicals from everyday modern things do get in our bodies, and they do cause harm. Pay attention to that mild headache that comes on when your roommate sprays perfume everywhere. I’ve started to take the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen produce lists more seriously, because pesticides on grapes taste gross anyway. Instead of worrying about this, let’s get excited. If we can do a better job of minimizing our toxic exposures than we did in previous years, we might be surprised at how our health outcomes improve.
2. Taste before you blend, and shamelessly throw away bad produce
I made this mistake the other day; I was food-prepping in advance and didn’t feel like tasting soup ingredients at breakfast. When it came time for dinner, I couldn’t figure out why my soup was so blah. What about all those glorious herbs I had added? Against my better judgment, I ate the bland soup and felt a little weird—the next day I even started falling ill.
Well, days later I finally got around to tasting the batch of cauliflower I had used, and… holy! More like cauli-foul! 🤢 No wonder that left my soup tasting like utter mediocrity.
In the past, I’ve even been so silly as to “save” overripe bananas by tossing them in a blender. Don’t do it, Phoenix! I have learned to get comfortable with throwing produce away. Let it be a reminder to plan better next time, rather than punishing ourselves with food poisoning! A lot of produce never ripens properly anyway, or isn’t great in the first place. It’s not even our fault half the time. So please treat yourself like a royal, for whom only the finest fruits and vegetables are good enough.
3. Proudly quit “good” foods that aren’t good for YOU
Oh boy did I learn this lesson! Remember when I told you I banished my symptoms when I went raw at 17? Well, I did gain one new symptom around that time: laryngitis. Why was I feeling better than ever, yet getting sick more often and losing my voice? Eventually I had to accept that my throat kept flaring up when I ate dates.
Dates felt great on my body otherwise, helping me stay raw and experience benefits that were associated with that for me. They dang tasty! But it doesn’t matter how “good” a food tastes to my buds or to my theories. If it’s causing more pain than gain, it’s got to go!
I say that I “proudly” quit dates—and all other refined sugar—because I kept track of the date I had quit. It’s been 3 years, and I’ll never let anyone pressure me into eating another dessert. My voice matters! Literally, in this case.
4. Have a plan B that keeps you full and satisfied
So I happen to be someone who feels her best eating a lot of uncooked fruit and greens. I also have a plan B. Right now, these are the potatoes and other produce I cook for dinner. Then I have plan C, which is that if I burn the potatoes I’ll crack open cans of salt-free peas to have with my hemp seeds!
Fortunately, #4 hasn’t been a problem since my all-raw days. Back then, I would sometimes get too hungry and go eat greasy restaurant food that I didn’t even like. To stay more centered, I learned to be less perfectionistic. I settled on a diet of more variety that I could easily sustain.
5. Be smart about food combining to avoid bloating
If this doesn’t affect you, I’m glad, but for me those food combining charts are no joke. I get bloated by certain combinations of food and have had to pay attention.
My biggest rule is that I eat fruit for breakfast and lunch, and hours later I’ll have raw salad and/or delicious cookery with fats, which I also often eat separate depending on the ingredients. And I sort of intermittent-fast overnight. That way, my fruit will be on a completely empty stomach. I also just can’t do cucumber… unless I want people who don’t know I’m transgender to assume I have a baby on the way.
Over time, I learned to put digestive comfort first, kitchen creativity second.
6. Carefully supplement anything that might be missing
Obviously not everyone who fills up on produce is vegan, nor are they restricting their intake of nuts, seeds, beans, grains, etc. But some people do find they feel much better when fresh fruits and veggies predominate their diet. Just in case I am missing out on something vital from those heavier food groups, I have gotten more into supplementing.
I wish I had started sooner. Some supplements I tried made an immediate difference. Zinc helped me sleep deeply, L-lysine helped me breathe deeply, and DHA/EPA algal oil has lowered my inflammation. I’ll probably never have to lose my voice as badly anymore now that I’ve found my go-to, natural anti-inflammatories like curcumin, which I am more comfortable taking than something over the counter. Last, slowly incorporating dulse flakes for iodine has seemed to do wonders for my thyroid and lymph.
Imagine if I had done all that years ago—oh, the health slippage I could have avoided! True, supplements can be scary. The industry is so unregulated, and bad reactions have happened to me personally. But overall, it has been worth my while to investigate and try out trusted brands very slowly and carefully.
7. Create space to live life slow and meet all your needs
There have been times I chugged smoothies or juice on the go and didn’t notice it spiked my blood sugar. I’ve missed out on leafy greens because it was too much effort to wash and eat them. When I let my life and responsibilities get too hectic, meals become something I resent. Not only am I unable to take full advantage of the healthy produce in my fridge, but I’m so hard-pressed just to cram in those carrots that I forget about exercise, time in nature, dental care, and other crucial aspects of health.
Since embracing ecofrugality, I no longer feel like something is wrong if I take on less work and have fewer hobbies than the Type A ideal. Sure, I might not be making big bucks while learning guitar, flying off to exotic locations, and posting about it on Instagram, but you know what I do have? So much sweet time. With that free time, I can feed myself well without stressing about it, and I still have plenty of energy left over to check in with my holistic health. Unburdened by excess demands, I can take action right away as soon as something starts to feel out of balance.
I might never get back all the health that I have lost. But by carving out the space to be holistically and consistently thoughtful from now on, I hope that a great degree of healing will be possible. Overall, filling my bowl to the brim with produce has surely made my life better than it would have been otherwise. Yet simply eating high-raw, vegan, or checking off servings of vegetables does not guarantee that your health will be smooth sailing. There are many things to be vigilant of, and I hope this article helps us both stay safe and grow vibrant. We deserve to treat ourselves so well, in every possible way.
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Photo: Nadine Primeau via Unsplash