Today I have a really interesting interview for you, that I’ve been wanting for a long time, but it was just now that I dared to ask. It is with a beautiful woman, who has walked the path from a meat eater, through a vegetarian, to a vegan and then she went back to eating meat. In her “personal confession” you will get a chance to read what made her transition through all the diet styles mentioned above, how each one of them reflected on her health and performance, as well as what made her go back to eating meat again. You will get a chance to read what is the most valuable lesson she learned, from all the trial and errors she made.
Today, I will introduce you to Kaila Prins, who is one of the most intelligent and dedicated people I’ve ever had the chance to meet. Even though I “talked” to her just on the internet, I feel as if my life is more meaningful and as if I’ve met the smartest, wisest person. Enjoy what she had to share with us.
Ines Subashka: Introduce yourself.
Kaila Prins: My name is Kaila Prins, although I’m known around the internet as @MissSkinnyGenes. I currently blog about health, fitness, and eating disorder recovery at inmyskinnygenes.com, and I run a podcast called “Finding Our Hunger,” on which we interview people who are finding out where they want their journeys to take them–toward better body image, a fulfilling career, and everything in between.
I am also a recovering anorectic. I have struggled with exercise addiction and food addictions for over 13 years, and now that I’m in recovery, I’m devoting my life to helping others find their way out from under the control of disordered eating and exercise. I am currently becoming a certified health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
IS: Do you lift weights? How has weight training changed your life?
KP: I am currently getting back into weight lifting, although it’s more for rehabilitation than anything else.
In 2009, I first discovered the magic of the weight room–I cautiously crept upstairs to the shadowy, male-dominant weight room of Jay’s Big Gym in Harlem, desperately clutching my workout, cobbled together from interviews with Jamie Eason on bodybuilding.com and miracle weight-loss exercises from Women’s Health.
Over the course of a year, however, I got serious, subscribed to Oxygen and Muscle & Fitness Hers, then started reading the books and blogs of the big strength coaches, and eventually got certified by NASM as a personal trainer.
Weight training changed my life because it was the catalyst that put me in better touch with my own body. It was also the very first step on my journey toward discovering I want to be a health coach.
I’m healing from several really bad injuries right now (from being hit by a car while in a crosswalk in San Francisco to a chronic injury incurred while running), so these days I mostly use the gym to retrain strength, balance, and function.
IS: You have a pretty good experience with different nutrition plans. You’ve been a meat eater, a vegetarian ( probably) and a vegan. Would you share how you felt on each one of this nutrition “styles”- the pros and cons?
KP: I’ve been on pretty much every type of “healthy” diet you can think of. I was a vegetarian for many years (because I was afraid of the calories and fat in meat), but when I started weight lifting, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to support my aesthetic goals with peanut butter sandwiches. I switched to a low-fat, low-carb, high protein diet. I was “eating a lot,” but it was mostly protein powders and chicken breast and tuna, so I was hungry all the time. I looked amazing, but I felt terrible.
After my running injury, I started doing yoga and switched to a vegan diet. I figured I would only do it for one month, as a cleanse or a reset, but during that first month I felt so amazing that I decided that I would be a vegan for life.
The problem was, after a few months, the amazing feeling wore off. My depression and anxiety came back in force, I developed horrible acne, and I was bloated and tired all the time. I had constant stomachaches, and I was always hungry. I was also addicted to my sprouted grain breads and gluten free cereals. I mentally beat myself up every time I poured another bowl or toasted another slice–but I couldn’t help myself. I was starving.
It wasn’t until I stopped getting my period that I knew that things had to change. I could ignore the acne or the gas (I mean, it’s normal to be a little gassy after eating nothing but beans and tofu and massive quantities of high fiber veggies…), but when my body quit acting like a 25-year-old body should (despite the fact that I was a normal body weight and “eating right”), I knew that I needed to make a change.
I cautiously moved back into eating animal proteins–egg whites and light tuna were my first forays, but as I got more comfortable with the idea of eating animals again (and I realized how much my body craved meat and fat), I got more adventurous. Now, I have no problem eating chicken liver meatballs in my beef bone broth for breakfast or enjoying a hamburger (sans bun) with my sweet potato fries. I still don’t do dairy, but mostly because my body can’t tolerate it (evidenced by hormonal acne, stomachaches, and fatigue within hours of eating any dairy at all..).
I am still not cured–the acne remains while my period has not yet returned, but I have experienced a number of other benefits while eating a higher-fat, moderate-protein, grain-and-dairy-free omnivorous diet: my depression and anxiety have come under control without the use of medication, I have more energy (and no hypoglycemic energy dips in the afternoon), I’m stronger in the gym, and I am no longer a slave to my cereal box.
IS: What made you quit eating meat? Was it just an ethical reason or did you believe that meat is bad for your health?
KP: I honestly quit eating meat because I wanted to lose weight. I read books like Crazy Sexy Diet and heard that not only would I lose weight, but I’d feel better than I felt while being a meat-eater. I figured, if I already felt pretty horrible, the only place to go was up, right?
The problem was, I felt bad because I was eating a lot of lean proteins and processed protein powders. I was also not eating enough fat for my body to make the hormones that keep my brain and body happy and functioning.
My one-month vegan cleanse turned into a lifestyle once I started feeling better–and I embraced the philosophy because my diet had become my identity. I think this happens for a lot of people who are forced to defend their diets to friends and family members who eat the standard fare: you find a different community that embraces your choices, and you insinuate yourself into it so you have something to point to whenever someone questions your decision.
For me, veganism wasn’t at all about the ethics, but whenever someone gave me a hard time for not being able to eat out because my diet was too restrictive, I could just throw the argument about animal rights or sustainable farming in their face. I wasn’t just doing this for me–it was for the good of the world.
IS: What made you rethink your vegan lifestyle and start eating meat?
KP: I didn’t know the science behind it at the time, but when I stopped getting my period, I knew that whatever I was eating (or not eating) was messing up my body–big time.
Now that I’ve done the research, I understand that I was missing important hormonal building blocks (and introducing some pretty gnarly hormonal disruptors) by not consuming enough animal fat and protein.
(I’m doing a series of posts where I explain why I’m not a vegan over at In My Skinny Genes. Just do a search for “vegan” and the blog posts will pop up!)
It has been a process of trial and error, and I’m still learning more every day. But I’m on the path to healing, and if it means I get to eat bacon (and not bacon-flavored textured vegetable protein) with my kale, then I am not going to complain.
IS: Having gone through being a meat eater, to being a vegan, and back to a meat eater again, what do you think is the most valuable lesson you learned? What did this experience give you, that nobody else could realize, without having walked your path?
KP: The most valuable lesson I could ever have learned is that you can’t let anyone tell you what’s right for your body unless they’re living in your body. If you don’t learn how to listen to your own hunger–to the signals your body sends to you–then you will not be living in optimal health.
There will always be experts out there to tell you that their way of eating is the best way, and they’ll have the science, the philosophy, the rationale, the testimonials to back it up. But if you ignore what you’re body is telling you–from a few days of gas to a lifetime of chronic pain–then you’re just fooling yourself.
I told people how great I felt when I was eating a vegan diet, but it was because I wanted to reaffirm my own decision. I was telling myself a story because it was the story that backed up my understanding of the world. But it was also a story that was written with misinformation and bias.
For so many people out there who are suffering from food addictions, from disordered eating patterns, from general malaise, from a plateau in their body composition, etc…it’s a matter of not listening to what their bodies are telling them. Instead, they’re telling their bodies the story that they learned from someone else, whether it be a vegan blogger, a bodybuilding website, the FDA, or Dr. Oz.
And most people won’t ever realize that, because they haven’t been forced to confront those stories face to face in order to find out if they’re really, wholly true. When I stopped getting my period, it forced me to look at why I was clinging to my story of perfect health, and what misinformation I needed to write in order to get closer to the happy ending I wanted.
IS: Strength wise, when did you feel more energized? When you ate meat, or when you were strictly following a vegan lifestyle?
KP: I am absolutely stronger now that I’m eating animal protein–and fat. I have energy that lasts all day, and I’ve never felt better. (Even better than when I was doing my super-high-protein diet. I looked strong then, but I wasn’t physically strong. I was also exhausted and starving most of the time because I wasn’t eating large portions.)
IS: What would be your advice to vegans? If you had to tell them one thing, that has the potential to make them rethink their diet, what would it be?
KP: I don’t presume to want to make anyone change their diet, lifestyle, or their identity. I know all too well that nutrition is as delicate a subject as politics and as dogmatic as religion, and no matter how many facts you use to support an argument, people have to approach change on their own time and their own terms.
My only advice is to listen to your body. Yes, you can be healthy as a vegan (if you are ultra-careful about your supplementation, your fitness, your recovery, etc.), but you may not be living life with optimal health. I had to face some rather unsavory consequences that have turned my own life into a very difficult struggle–if you’re not willing to question your philosophy, will you be willing to deal with the potential side effects later?
Examine why you’re holding onto your story. Examine your health and your happiness. If you’re avoiding a change because it goes against your beliefs, you may be hurting yourself more than you know. Empower yourself and do the research. Learn why eating low fat, low protein diets can cause hormonal damage or lead to nutritional deficiencies that can hinder your athletic or health goals. Put the marketing messages under a microscope and discover the true science, if you need more convincing.
But at the end of the day, we have to learn how to listen more to our own bodies and less to constant stream of chatter on the blogs/social media/TV that dictates what’s healthy and what isn’t, 140 characters or 90 seconds at a time. It’s up to us to take responsibility for our own health and performance–and that may mean laying aside the dogma and acknowledging that there may be more healthful options than we can ever dream of in our own philosophies.
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And one picture from my workout yesterday 🙂