Over the summer I was sent Thrive to read and review on the blog. I read it over the course of a few weeks and have written previously about how I’ve incorporated the concepts from Thrive into my life and with regards to training for the half marathon this summer.
Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life was written by Brendan Brazier, a professional Ironman triathlete. In Thrive, Brendan describes how a vegan and largely raw diet can help you lose weight, reduce your biological age, improve sleep, increase energy and eliminate food cravings.
Thrive is one of those books that has altered the course of my life. In May I read The Raw Foods Detox Diet by Natalia Rose. Her book was my introduction to a raw foods diet and why eating living, uncooked foods is so beneficial to your health.
When I heard about Thrive and realized it was written by a professional athlete who eats a high raw and vegan diet, I was absolutely intrigued. Thrive filled in a lot of the gaps left from The Raw Food Detox Diet for me. It was easy to see that yes, this approach to eating works not only for athletes, but for anyone looking to simply achieve optimal health. With Brendan, the proof is in the Energy Pudding. He has been able to train harder, recover faster and perform better all thanks to a plant based diet.
The book begins discussing the effects of stress on the body, and that there is stress that is helpful and stress that is harmful. He calls them complimentary and uncomplimentary stress, respectively. The first form of stress being something like exercise. This sort of stress can be helpful as it allows the body to adapt and become more efficient. Uncomplimentary stress would be stress that does us no favors. Uncomplimentary stress can come from work, the environment, eating processed, refined foods that are a huge drain on our bodies and are very taxing to our systems. Nutritional stress from processed foods makes up the largest percentage of uncomplimentary stress in most Americans.
When you are burdened with a lot of uncomplimentary stress, you feel tired and drained. You have no energy and your immune function is lowered. You can reduce the stress load you put on your body by eating a diet full of whole foods, especially a diet comprised largely of plants.
I have to say that after reading Thrive and The Raw Foods Detox Diet, my idea of “whole foods” has changed. I use to feel I was still eating whole foods when I ate whole grain crackers and organic boxed cereals. These items are what Brendan refers to as stimulating foods. Coffee, or caffeine in any form really, falls into the stimulating food category as well, as does junk food, refined sugar, transfats and high fructose corn syrup. When you have a diet full of stimulating foods, your body craves that stimulation and you find your self longing for stimulationg by food again and again. This is what we of course more commonly know as food cravings.
I’ve struggled with food cravings a lot this past year as I’ve worked to maintain my healthy weight. I’ve gone through periods where it’s not an issue and times when all I can think about is sweets and comfort foods and wanting to turn to food as a form of entertainment.
Brendan explains that when you remove these stimulating foods from your diet, food cravings diminish and can eventually disappear all together. When you get started, it takes a few days to recalibrate your system, to adjust and rid your body of the need for stimulation. There will be a couple days where it feels like it’s a struggle to stay away from these stimulating foods. You’ll eventually come out of it though and “recalibrate”, seeing that light at the end of tunnel if you can hang in there.
In my case these foods would be crackers, cereals and other processed grains. Chocolate and coffee too. When I eat only fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and dried fruit and avoid these processed foods – even processed organic foods – my food cravings disappear. It becomes easy and effortless to eat a plant based diet. I can eat when I feel hungry, without worrying about how long it’s been since my last meal or snack. I eat until I’m comfortably satisfied without worrying about calories or portion control. It makes eating a normal part of life instead of the center of my life. I now feel like I eat to live, rather than live to eat. It’s as though I’ve been relieved of a huge burden, and this is what I mean when I say that Thrive has changed the course of my life – I feel like I can move forward now having made peace with food.
I’m not swearing off coffee, crackers, dark chocolate and boxed cereals or even junk food forever. I’m sure I will have these foods again but I no longer crave them or long for a day when I can splurge. I now understand what eating these foods regularly will do to me, and that they are the source of food cravings for me.
I know that there are people who will read this or read Thrive and think “oh, I could NEVER give up X”. That’s fine. You’re just not ready. Whenever someone finds out I’m vegetarian, without even asking or prompting I’m almost always told what they could never live without. Chicken wings. Turkey at Thanksgiving. Cheeseburgers. Meatballs. Even vegetarians when confronted with the idea of veganism say they could never live without yogurt, cheese, ice cream. I have to laugh because I remember saying these things myself. For me the vegetarian silver bullet was always a turkey sub. I thought I could never be a vegetarian because I just loved turkey subs too much. I wasn’t ready yet. While I don’t consider myself a vegan at this time, I do feel as though I’m moving in that direction.
When you’re ready, this comes easily. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes baby steps to move toward a diet that is best for your body and your health. It’s taken me years to get here.
I started following the principles in the Thrive diet more closely at the beginning of September. The fact that I was already vegetarian and had already begun eating more raw foods made it easier for me to move forward with his concepts and stay on track. It’s been a month and I can say without a doubt that I’ve had more energy, slept better and needed less sleep these last few weeks than ever before. My runs have felt fantastic and I’m not completely dragging at the end of the day like I use to.
In summary, I would recommend Thrive to anyone without a doubt. Depending on where you are in your life the ideas in his book might seem too radical, but it can still be a starting point and can get you moving in the right direction. I not only recommend it, I highly encourage you to read it if you are at all intrigued like I was. There are no gimmicks, this is not a fad diet, I believe this is the way we were meant to eat and live and I’m excited to move forward and stick with it.
Brendan encourages you to start slowly and ease into what he suggests. The more gradually you make changes the more likely they are to stick. He discusses how a plant based diet is perfect not only for athletes but for everyone. He also talks about exercise for life long health, and that it doesn’t mean hours and hours of daily exercise to be healthy. If you’ve struggled like me with food cravings, your weight, lack of energy, fatigue despite getting enough sleep – do yourself a favor and check out Thrive. It could be a large piece of the puzzle that’s been missing for you. It certainly was for me.
I’ve written about Thrive in many posts, if you’re curious to read more about my take on this book and how I’ve incorporating these ideas into my life:
The Fountain of Youth (Reducing biological age)
No Rest for the Weary (Making changes thanks to Thrive)
Thrive Inspired (Fueling for a long run based on Brendan’s advice)
Make Your Own Cereal, Take 2 (Fruit cereal!)
Intuitive Eating Refresher (Giving up coffee and chocolate on a regular basis)
Re-Runs (Thrive inspired thoughts on fueling before the half)
Half Marathon Race Recap (Half marathon day prep based on Brendan’s approach)
Let’s Play Brendan Says (Needing less sleep)
He also discusses the environmental impact on eating meat and processed foods, and how a vegan diet is not only good for us, but good for the environment too. The end of the book is full of Brendan’s recipes and a 12 week meal to follow if you are looking for some guidance.
I want to express my gratitude to the folks at Da Capo Press / Da Capo Lifelong Books for the opportunity to read Thrive, and especially to Brendan himself for putting this information out there. I’m excited to see what following this way of eating on the long term can do for my training and racing in the future as well!
If you’ve read or decide to read Thrive in the future, report back! I’d be thrilled to hear what you think.