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Food is the new medicine: How some students change their lives with food

Nicole Bistram has always tried to maintain a healthy diet by eating organic and mostly raw foods. However, it wasn’t until she tested for food allergies before her freshman year that Bistram learned she wasn’t being careful enough, as the test showed that she was allergic to dairy, eggs, gluten, almonds and pineapple.

Bistram, a senior business marketing major, decided to go on a monthlong juice fast to clean out the toxins in her body. Like her, many students have decided to try diets that either restrict or eliminate certain food groups for the sake of their health and well-being.

For Bistram, taking care of her health is a priority. In order to live a good life, taking care of her body was the first step, and the results were “unbelievable,” she said.

“I’ve always had really dry skin but after that, my skin was perfect,” Bistram said. “I just felt so much better and (the diet) boosted my immune system by a ton.”

Every day for a month, Bistram drank a gallon of homemade, organic pressed juice, and she didn’t consume any solid food or other liquids.

“I think that caring for your body is one of the most important things. You’re stuck with this body for the rest of your life, so if you want to live well, I suggest you take care of it,” Bistram said.

Aside from the benefits, Bistram acknowledges that there were also inconveniences while on the juice fast. Challenges included the time and effort that went into making the juices every day, making sure that her juice supply was accessible at all times and the fact that she wasn’t able to exercise during the duration of the cleanse due to the lower caloric intake.

But, she said the pros outweighed the cons.

Bistram finds that going on a juice cleanse is more effective for her during longer periods of time, and is best to begin when her immune system isn’t working properly or when something in her body doesn’t feel right.

Some students turn to diets and food fads to be healthy.

But not all professionals agree with Bistram and others who give up solid food for multiple meals. Denise Canellos, a food science professor and certified nutritionist, advises against juice cleanses or drinking juice in place of solid food.

“(Juice drinks are) devoid of fiber. Also, you’re not getting enough protein, usually not enough healthy minerals and you’re not getting healthy fats either,” Canellos said. “If you eliminate a whole group of food, you’re eliminating the nutrients that come with that group of food. At the end of the day, you find yourself malnourished.”

From the perspective of weight loss, a juice cleanse or any type of diet is not a healthy option unless it includes whole foods and plenty of exercise, Canellos said.

“Losing weight is really hard and often it goes against our biological instincts. Our survival instinct is more for us to hold on to weight and energy than to lose it,” Canellos said. “It’s easy if you just cut out whole groups of foods because then you don’t have to make any decisions, but it never leads to lasting weight loss.”

For students like Grant Acker, a senior piano performance major, his diet change was due to a health epiphany following a rare diagnosis.

When he was in middle school, Acker was diagnosed with non-polio enterovirus, a virus that attacks organs in the body, which led to further physical and emotional ailments that left him unhealthy, underweight and bedridden, he said.

After meeting with several doctors, Acker decided that western medicine wasn’t alleviating his symptoms. He eventually found a homeopathic doctor and nutritionist, who believes in the body being able to heal itself, and suggested a paleo diet, which cuts out grain, milk, soy, corn, rice, dairy and sugar.

Acker believes that his previous diet was a big contributing factor to his illness. Once he switched to the paleo diet, he was able to go outside and be active within a month.

“I was able to focus better (and) my mind felt clearer. I felt more energy, I felt happier. I was able to get more muscle. With more protein, I was able to get (back) to my normal state much faster,” Acker said.

Acker chooses organic options and does not eat processed foods, he said, and this diet requires him to ask a lot of questions and read many labels.

“Normally, I cook most of my stuff, or if anything, I’ll bring snacks if people are eating at a place that I can’t eat at. Or, if they don’t mind, eating at my more expensive restaurants that have wild-caught fish or sushi,” Acker said. “Paleo is expensive, but it makes you feel better.”

For others, choosing a new diet might be for ethical reasons rather than for physical improvement.

Alana Williams, a senior news and documentary major, has been vegan since seventh grade. She said she was influenced by her mom, but when she learned more about how the production of certain foods can hurt animals and the environment, she strengthened her stance.

“I understood more about the conditions that the animals were in, (and) to me, that’s so much more important than eating something that tastes good,” she said.

For Williams, the health advantages that come with veganism, such as a boost in energy and a decrease in acne, were added benefits.

Although Williams did not eat much red meat or dairy before becoming vegan, she still noticed some changes after eliminating these food groups, in addition to other animal products.

Williams’s biggest struggle with veganism is being diligent when it comes to preparing and eating food, she said. Trying to find vegan-friendly options is another problem.

Williams hopes that in time, more options will appear for vegans. However, the social stigmas around veganism can bring negative reactions, she said.

“I think it’s because it’s a diet that incorporates morality,” Williams said.

Non-vegans can get defensive when it comes to topics surrounding veganism, and vegans can be assertive when sharing their views, Williams said. However, although Williams feels strongly about animal rights, she tries to remain open-minded when it comes to nutritional advice and trying new things, she said.

Williams eats honey, which is not typical for vegans. She’s also tried a type of clarified butter called ghee, and just recently, has been buying eggs from the farmer’s market.

As long as the choices have nutritional value and are not harmful to animals, Williams will accept these foods, even if they go against the guidelines for a vegan diet.

“I think people neglect to see that health can benefit you on a day-to-day basis. By eating healthily, you’ll have a better experience with life and feel more energized and vibrant. I feel happier when I eat better and that I think also helps with self-confidence. It’s a self-care thing for me,” Williams said.

1 Comment

  • Unfortunately “juice fasts” are the equivalent of drinking pure sugar. You might as well just mainline sugar into your veins. Humans REQUIRE protein and fat, and a juice fast (which is all carbs) deprives you of the two things your body needs. You may “feel good” for a while (the byproduct of all that sugar circulating in your body) but in the long run you will experience muscle waste, even your heart (which is a muscle), and of course very high blood sugar, which can tip you into t2 diabetes. Juice fasts are very dangerous.

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