Yogi Diet: The Smoothie Gap

In one of those TV show motifs that I often wish I could more efficiently do as a writer, I’ll begin by saying, “Previously on the Confluence Countdown…”

About six years ago, after suffering from mounting health problems I won’t go into because it’s tedious even for me to talk about, I tried (at the semi-desperate recommendation of my doctor) a raw diet. My sister recently visited from Texas, and I described it to her as “the craziest of crazy California diets.” I try not to eat anything cooked, or even heated over 118 degrees. She looked at me as if I said I was a cannibal.

It was a gradual process. I’ve stuck with it because the results were immediate, tangible, and in my blood work and bone density tests.

Because it’s a health and not a religious thing, it wasn’t one hundred percent and it wasn’t immediate. I still ate (and still eat) cooked foods on occasion, but I had a very hard time giving up wheat. Eventually, everything went except coffee (which I will not give up because I’m not that crazy). And the results were so undeniable, so visible, that Steve switched over to a mostly raw, wheat-free diet (yes, you have to say that: we don’t eat even sprouted wheat, for even more complicated reasons).

Although I still eat cooked food out with friends and with family, everybody knows about my diet, so it always threatens to take over the conversation. It’s an issue at times at work: Once at a long lunch meeting I took out a container of raw jalapeno, cherry tomatoes, basil, mint, and green beans and started eating along with everyone else. The meeting carried on, but all eyes were on my container. A colleague sitting next to me couldn’t take it anymore, put down his tuna sandwich, and said, “That looks so healthy it’s making me feel sick.” Similar things happen with students: In office hours once, gazing over my lunch, I was asked if my diet meant I was a “hippie.”

I’ve even had to offer defense for it to Tim Miller and Nancy Gilgoff. Tim thinks it’s too extreme and Nancy thinks it’s too vata.

So every once in a while I have these kinds of Waterloo moments where I realize just how far down the rabbit hole I’ve gone. (How’s that for mixing metaphors?) It’s a moment when I realize how interconnected my life, my practice, and my diet have become. I’ve just had one of those moments in a series of Facebook messages on, of all things, smoothies. In particular, the use of fruit and protein powder.

When a friend I haven’t seen in a very long time posted a simple, “Anyone know any healthy smoothie recipes?” in her status, like an idiot, I chimed in. Amidst the suggestions of bananas and berries, I was talking hot peppers and ginger. As the conversation got more detailed, I began to see what I was suggesting might seem a little…crazy.

I am implying something.
I am implying something.

The smoothies Steve and I eat are more like liquified salads. Heck, they’re not even really salads, since there’s no lettuce. If it’s green, purple, or leafy we put it in. Here’s a list: all kale varieties, spinach, mint, parsley, cilantro, dill, cabbage, celery (with top), whole carrots (with tops), tomatoes, cucumber, broccoli, water cress, bok choi, oregano, and in a pinch, brussels sprouts. For extra flavor we’ve used ginger, whole lemons or limes (with peels). The liquid is filtered water. I’m not saying all this goes in at the same time, but any given smoothie could have five or six of these things. I ask you, is that not crazy? Still say no? What if I told you we have a couple 24-ouncers every day? My friend described this as “wretched.” Ah. You’re probably right, I thought.

So immune has this made us to sugar craving that we hardly eat any fruit. Fruit in a smoothie? Why? That’s when I knew I’d gone over the edge: Bananas seem like high sugar fruit to me. Eat a red banana or a plantain and you’ll see just how hyper-engineered a seedless, yellow banana is. And that we don’t consume any of that other smoothie staple, protein powder.

The mere suggestion that protein powder might not be all that good for you can garner you a great deal of disdain in some circles. But one of the earliest and simplest lessons I learned on a raw food diet came from Michael Pollan, who pointed out that if it needs a package—no matter what kind—it’s processed somehow. Protein powders are simply processed whole foods, and many of them are mostly wheat. Even raw protein powders are mostly processed peas. We just eat the peas. Sometimes, they go in a smoothie.

But this brings me to the less tangible repercussions of the way we eat. While it has made enormous differences in our health and well-being—really, beyond price—and while it’s clarified the practice of Ashtanga and eased that path to a great degree, made the impossible possible, it has also made it hard to connect with others over the dinner table, out in the world. I get concerned when I see a little girl munching on a bag of Goldfish. And I want to tell my friend on Facebook to leave the banana and the protein powder out.

So deep are the roots of this change, though, that I’ve come to realize it’s hard to change one thing without changing everything…eventually. For me, Ashtanga was the wedge that opened a crack in the shell of my old life, and as it widened, more changed, and more, and is still changing–an exciting and frightening thought, really.

Perhaps for my friend, the wedge is leaving out the banana.

Posted by Bobbie

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

10 thoughts on “Yogi Diet: The Smoothie Gap”

  1. I appreciate your article. I am a fruit based vegan and consume mostly fruit. I still consume cooked foods but have done long stretches of 100% raw. In my experience there are so many lessons in eating a restrictive diet. You begin to move out of the realm of sensory pleasure and excersize the will. The body begins to eat intuitively and see things in a more connected way. Perhaps the greatest lesson is that you are confronted by your own characters and judgements as to what is the best diet. What I came to discover is that the most important thing is to choose your foods based on love and compassion. When I began to look at it in this manner I experienced an ease and comfort with my diet and a relaxation of the vritti’s.

  2. That’s an outstanding point, and so true. You do begin to become very intuitive about food, which is a very odd thing. And the idea that food choice can be an act of compassion is a very complex and wonderful place to be. And it’s also a challenge.

  3. Even though i don’t often comment, i read all of your posts & love all the information that you & Steve share. Despite being raised by a “meat & potatoes” family, i have tried to be vegetarian all my life & mostly vegan for the last 10 years. I have studied Yoga for 33 years & Ayurveda for much of that time. I wonder about your emphasis on juicing which is not supported by Ayurveda except during short cleansing periods. The body needs foods in their natural state to be digested so that all the nutrients can be assimilated by the intestines & into the bloodstream. When you juice, the bowels don’t have time to process all the nutrients before they are eliminated.
    Also, i wonder about your enmity for bananas. I grow my own or buy locally grown. Is there something about them that i don’t know?
    I really appreciate all of your knowledge.
    Ananda Lee

  4. I am so glad I found your blog! Love reading your articles – makes me feel connected to the ashtanga community. As to diet, I think you are right that yoga/ashtanga eventually, naturally, makes you change your diet. And that change is different for every person. I don’t believe much in all those prescriptive rules about diet, if you listen to your body, you know what’s best for it. I have to admit, I get a little annoyed by advice and completely unrequested comments of different foodies. They all tell you with conviction that this and that is bad for you, or good for you, and most dietary ideas contradict each other. The worst advice (often hidden in supposedly well meaning concerns, i.e., you look pale, or you look tired, you need protein!) comes from people who themselves eat fairly unhealthy, but “normal”, normal being all the chunk people typically eat. I think Pollans advice is correct – eat as little as possible from packages, and food in as much as possible original form. And yes, I don’t think meat or animal products are a necessary part of the diet, but if you eat it a little, so what?

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