Optimizing Diet for Health and Performance

The quest for wellness is ideally ongoing and curiosity-driven.

Posted Apr 24, 2020

Recently, I was in the studio singing background vocals on an Americana record. It was just like old times, except… it was much easier.

A lot has changed since my recording and touring days. Marriage, motherhood, and a professional shift from performing to helping others do so have granted me a good deal of maturity and perspective, as well as the ability to remove the significance and stress from the experience. And as a result, to relax and sing better.

But the biggest difference last week came from a recent shift in my diet

And with no agenda, with no desire to change how you eat, I’d like to tell you about it.

For years—decades, actually—I was a dedicated low-carb gal. I ate cheese at every meal, loved eggs, and consumed meat, chicken, and fish on the regular. Wheat and other grains made me painfully bloated and gain weight.

I remember being teased on my first tour for eating Whoppers wrapped in lettuce before that was a thing.

Then last December, a friend recommended I watch a documentary on veganism. I agreed to do so, not because I had or would ever personally consider it—I hadn’t and wouldn’t—but because I wanted to learn about the choice she’d made for herself many years ago.

So my husband, John, and I—with buttered popcorn—loaded up Netflix and settled in to watch The Game Changers.

And it was just that. A total game-changer.

Unlike a lot of what I’d call propaganda films—movies with an agenda irrespective of or playful with facts—I found The Game Changers to be filled with compelling stories, and even more compelling research to back them up, on the benefits of a plant-based diet. And the downsides of eggs, dairy, and meat.

Thankfully, we’ve always been very healthy. But with John’s cholesterol on the rise and our preference to use medications only when absolutely necessary, we decided to do a two-week trial of plant-based eating.

We cleared out the fridge, did a major shop, and readied ourselves for January 4, 2020, our start date.

Within a day, I noticed a difference. And now, at close to four months in, I can report that I’ve never felt better in my life:

  • I’m more alert.
  • The perma-bags under my eyes have gone away.
  • I’m significantly more flexible.
  • My energy is more consistent.
  • My tongue is clear; no longer filmy and white.
  • I’m calmer and more even-mooded.
  • The concerning tweak in my knee has gone away.
  • My skin and mind are clearer.
  • My weight is down.
  • All aches and stiffness are gone.
  • I’m no longer gassy or bloated.
  • My sleep has improved…

… and I require less of it. I used to need 8 hours of sleep to function. Now though, 6.5 to 7 hours a night leave me rested and ready for the day. Not to mention, insanely grateful for the 10 or so extra hours a week!

I’ve long tried to figure out how to optimize my vocal and personal performance. After reading Dominion in my 20s, I became a vegetarian for a year, yet always felt lethargic. Atkins, Paleo, and Keto seemed to work wonders for me… until they didn’t. And I’ve had tremendous results giving up coffee and wine.

A plant-based diet, however, has so far been the clear winner. As well as nothing short of miraculous; it’s as if all inflammation has slipped away, including in my voice:

  • A couple of days into the vegan trial, John commented that I wasn’t clearing my throat anymore. I never realized I’d been doing that… constantly, apparently.
  • A few days later, singing with clients, I realized how "slippery"– for lack of a better word– my voice felt. It had always done whatever I wanted, but now… it was as if someone had poured WD-40 on a sticky door hinge. I never realized there had been any resistance there at all… until it was gone.
  • As a result, there’s been little to no need to warm up my voice. There is nothing to work through. My voice now immediately and completely does any and everything I want, on command, anytime, all the time.
  • My range has increased. My chest voice gained a few extra notes. Slipping into and back again from my head voice is easier than it ever was.

Whether you sing or not, I invite you to imagine using your voice– and body– with no resistance. Nothing to work through, none of the "normalness" of helping the instrument you are to become its best. You just being your best. That’s what I felt in the studio last week; what I feel every day when I wake up, sing around the house, to my son, with my clients, in the car…

You might think my point in sharing this is to encourage you to go vegan. But as I mentioned earlier, that’s not the case.

I’m sharing my experience as a reminder—to all of us, myself included—to not cling so tenaciously to what we know that we know; to carry all "truths" we hold lightly, as we never know when we’ll need to release them.

For example, those foods I knew I was sensitive to—wheat and other grains and rice—now no longer bother me. In fact, they energize me. How can this be? I’ve spent my entire life knowing that I have a sensitivity to wheat!

And I promise to stay curious. John’s cholesterol dropped 63 points in those initial two weeks. Yet he didn’t feel good eating only plants. I feel amazing, but the few times I’ve accidentally had a bit of dairy, I get horrible indigestion. Do I really want to live with those kinds of painful flare-ups every time a restaurant makes a mistake on their ingredient list? Not to mention, do I want to be that person at dinner parties?

Whatever I choose—today, tomorrow, and ongoingly—it will be with humility and curiosity, rather than a sense of righteousness. For, like any great mystery, this one won’t get resolved with arrogance and needing to know the answer to what is clearly a fluid mystery, day to day, person to person. 

May we all continue learning, gladly and eagerly, for the rest of our days. That is my wish for you, whatever your choices in diet, relationships, and beyond.