Here’s a book that explains why some people really can just eat one potato chip, while others like me can’t stop until the whole bag is gone. And a whole lot more, as you might expect in a book as thick as “Conscious Eating” by Dr. Gabriel Cousens.
In my 8 years since giving up meat, I’ve experienced the spectrum of vegetarian diets, from ovo-lacto vegetarian to “junk food vegan”–avoiding animal products but consuming processed foods and “empty calories”–to diets that emphasize whole grains, beans and legumes to those consisting exclusively of organic living (uncooked) fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
Until I read “Conscious Eating”, I didn’t understand why so many people have difficulty realizing the full benefits of a plant-based diet for optimal health–which includes physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of health.
Cousens–a medical doctor, psychiatrist, homeopathic and ayurvedic practioner, among his many other credentials– makes the point that everyone is unique and requires a diet customized for her physiological type. He also demonstrates this can be accomplished by tweaking nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) within a predominantly raw plant based diet.
It seems obvious to me now that everyone is different, and specifically, “biochemically individual,” which means you have a genetic need for certain types of foods (and nutrients) and you also respond differently (sometimes in opposite way) than other people to the same foods and nutrients.
And while one type may need more protein, nobody needs to eat meat (what Cousens calls “flesh foods)” to obtain it.
Conscious Eating makes it clear why one diet won’t work well for everyone, in fact, why popular diets (including the non-vegan “Zone Diet”, by Dr. Barry Sears) work for usually only one-third to one-half of the people who follow it.
Cousens analyzes several different schools of thought and concludes there are 3 main constitutions, then goes on to recommend the best combination for each individual constitution and encourages his readers to experiment to find the optimal diet for you, a diet that leaves you:
- Feeling energized
- Emotionally well-balanced
- Satisfied after each meal
Resolving the question how we find out our dominant physiologic constitution is one of the keys to conscious eating. Once we determine the dominant physiologic system of an individual, we can begin to develop a diet that works to balance that system and most effectively bring homeostasis (balance) and optimal health to the overall organism.
Cousens concludes that the Oxidative System and Autonomic System are 2 most important in terms of dominance.
- The oxidative system (mainly glycolysis and the citric acid cycle) is what functions to convert proteins, fats, starches and sugars into cellular energy.
- The autonomic system (sympathetic and parasympathetic) is the involuntary part of the nervous system that regulates involuntary processes of the body such as blood pressure, heart rate, digestion, etc.
Cousens claims that oxidative system is dominant in 60% of the population while the autonomic system is dominant in 40%. Cousens also borrows ayurvedic principles, blood type and circadian rhythms to fine-tune the balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat to time of day.
I had heard of Ayurveda before but–as a vegan–dismissed it because traditional ayurveda recommends Ghee (clarified butter) and warm milk for my Ayurvedic Dosha or body type (Vata) characterized by someone who is “Cold, light, dry, irregular, rough, moving, quick, changeable.”
Conscious Eating contains a questionnaire for determining your dominant Ayurvedic Dosha. You can also determine your Dosha (mind-body constitution) online on websites such as Deepak Chopra’s and others.
In Cousens approach to a Vata imbalance, the Ghee is replaced with plant-based fats, such as avocados, nuts, and oils, including sesame seed oil. This will be challenging for someone striving to eliminate all processed oils as recommended by doctors such as Joel Fuhrman. Even Cousens says Vata doshas should avoid dry or dehydrated foods, which are common in raw vegan diets, i.e. flaxseed crackers, kale chips, granola bars, etc.
For me, the Dosha quiz confirms much of what I had already figured out about my body type. For example, suggestions for balancing Vata include avoid becoming chilled by “wearing adequate clothing appropriate for the season and keeping your head covered when the weather is cold.” I used to wear a ski cap, thermal underwear and alpine ski socks in the house during the winter in Tokyo (one of the reasons I am writing this post in Hawaii).
There are a lot of other recommendations of Ayurveda that are probably worth trying, such as regular meditation, yoga, massage, deep breathing, etc. Others–such as cooking vegetables for better digestion–will challenge a raw vegan. Cousens approach suggests warming up foods but not above the temperature of 115-120 degrees where enzymes will be destroyed.
Cousens also discusses the benefits of a macrobiotic diet, which he applauds as a transition to vegetarianism: “part of the effectiveness is its avoidance of high-protein flesh food, high pesticide dairy, non-organic foods and junk foods, it is a great support to general health.
Cousens reservations about a macrobiotic diet include ”the diet itself does not necessarily create a stable long-term high energy radiant health as compared to a live foods approach.” For example, Cousens points out that roasting foods destroys nutrients and grain diet drives the body to an acidic state.
“Conscious Eating” is truly a comprehensive book. Organized in 4 sections
- Principles of Individualizing the Diet
- The Choice of Vegetarianism
- Transition to Vegetarianism
- The Art of Life Food Preparation
with over 80 pages of recipes to balance different types of body constitutions as well as meal plans, glossary and references, sprouting instructions, soaking charts, and resource charts (ingredients, kitchen tools).
Some may be disappointed that Conscious Eating contains only 3 Dessert recipes. According to Cousens “if you feel you need to eat dessert on a regular basis, it may suggest you are not eating a dietary pattern that is most appropriate for your constitution.
Many live food preparation books with a strong emphasis on tasty desserts are catering to and encouraging hypoglycemic and candida imbalances, and the general kapha imbalance in our society, in which sweets are stressed.
How this raw chef puts this and other recommendations into practice (including principles in the Rainbow Green Live-Food Cuisine written by Cousens and the chefs at his Tree of Life Cafe in Patagonia, AZ) will be the subject of future reports from my journey.
While you need to be very motivated to read Cousens’ 850 page tome, it will definitely fascinate, inform and challenge many of your beliefs about achieving optimal health. Won’t you join me?
This post is also available in: Japanese