Sunday, March 16, 2014

How Smoothies Gave This Woman the Energy to Pursue Her Dreams

When I first met Ashanti Marshall a year and a half ago, I was sat at one of the eclectic tables in Block 1912 to watch the powerhouse of a singer jam out with an electric guitar. The main vocalist of the band Noisy Colours then, she was playing a solo set a little more soul than the rock show one might be used to seeing her front. These days, Ashanti has that soul feel once more as part of her new solo project, Karimah. Her personal style and musical sound has changed since we first met at that café, but it was her health that was secretly taking a journey of its own. A strong, confident woman, no one would suspect Ashanti had been struggling with an eating disorder before she started implementing smoothies into her lifestyle.

Ashanti, who was on the Paleo diet previously for two years, was struggling with the obsession of staying thin and uses the term ‘starving’ to describe the experience.

“I ate five chicken breasts and a handful of vegetables a day, or just pounds of celery and carrots and other veggies,” says Ashanti. “I was eating 500-1000 calories a day, obsessed with diet information and how to be skinny,” says Ashanti.“I Googled ‘how to lose weight without starving yourself’ and found out about [a high carb vegan diet].”

She began to take on a healthier view of eating when she saw that many people lived on a high carb vegan diet (HCV) not only to lose excess fat and build muscle but also to rid themselves of disease and just generally become healthier.

While a HCV diet might sound like something where you’d only be allowed to eat dairy-free donuts, it’s is more of a lifestyle based around eating fruit. Forget the misconception that sugar and carbs are bad for you and remember that we can’t function properly without the sugar in carbs that fuels us. We often crave things like pasta and pizza because we aren’t eating enough fruit. When we eat bread, the fat won’t let us to absorb the sugar – so while we’ll have energy to survive, we won’t have the nutrients we need to prosper.

“I was terrified of fruit for years until I encountered Freelea the Banana Girl and Durianrider and the whole raw vegan/high carb vegan movement on Youtube and it changed my life,” says Ashanti.

Having lived in Edmonton since she was born, twenty-five-year-old Ashanti knows winters can be tough. A production manager for documentary film and television by day, the musician spends her nights inside focused on her art. But instead of binging on junk food like one would be tempted to do in this frozen city, Ashanti uses the time inside to stick to her HCV lifestyle and the positive effects drinking smoothies has on her health.

“My digestion is better and I don’t have that rock in the pit of my stomach. My mood is regulated and I have tons of energy. I smell good, my skin looks good, my breath is great, and my weight is maintained,” says Ashanti. “Most importantly, I conquered an eating disorder and constant brain fog.”

Because it’s difficult to overeat and important to get enough calories on a raw vegan or high calorie vegan diet, Ashanti makes sure to eat 3000-5000 calories a day from fruits and vegetables as well as cooked starches, and keeps her fat intake lower than 10 percent a day. This is why packing a mason jar full of blended up fruits and vegetables is a smart choice for those who want to ensure they’re getting the energy they need to take on the day. Ashanti’s favourite meal is a pure banana smoothie for breakfast, which turns out creamy and tastes like ice cream.

While it may seem easier to just grab a smoothie off an isle in the grocery store, Ashanti makes her own every day.

“I prefer to make my smoothies. That way I know there are the least amount of additives possible,” says Ashanti. “I dabbled for a while in bottled juices and smoothies, but recently I found out most juices contain ‘natural flavour,’ which is an ingredient that comes from either duck feathers, human hair, beaver anal gland and who knows what else. Seriously. Look it up.”

A typical day for Ashanti includes waking up at six a.m, exercising in her apartment for thirty minutes and being showered and ready by seven a.m. Before she leaves for work she makes a one-thousand calorie smoothie for breakfast, and if she can’t drink it all because of time constraints she’ll bring half to work.

“Usually I don’t bring smoothies to work because bananas oxidize after a short while and they would be a bit sour by lunchtime, so I’ll have pure orange juice with dates for lunch,” says Ashanti.

When she arrives home, she likes to make a fruit smoothie mixed with greens to make sure she gets enough vegetables.

“If I have any cooked or fatty foods like avocado or coconut, it’s best to have it at the end of the day,” she says.

There’s no doubt living a HCV diet takes work in meal planning, grocery shopping and ignoring the stigma that her lifestyle isn’t normal. But Ashanti makes it work because she knows the benefits make the obstacles look insignificant. She’s also part of an Edmonton vegan meet-up group so that she has a support system in place.

“I shop wholesale to get fruit in bulk, I avoid all oils, I live as simply as I can and I rarely eat at restaurants. If I do eat at a restaurant I request modifications,” she says.

And while many would think eating all those fruits and vegetables would skyrocket her grocery bill, Ashanti says it’s actually the opposite. Because her favourite thing to have is a pure banana smoothie, she grabs a fifty pound box for twenty-two dollars at the Real Canadian Wholesale Club that lasts all week.

With more energy to spare and less time spent cooking, Ashanti says she’s more confident in pursuing her dreams. She now spends her free time writing, performing music and creating art unabashedly.

“When you fill your life with the natural abundance of fruits and vegetables and simple plant foods, your life outlook changes. You realize that most ‘food’ available isn’t really food at all, it’s poison,” Ashanti says. “It’s always a challenge to change, but it’s 100 percent worth it to go against the grain and live this lifestyle. Given the outrageous benefits, I’m thinking soon it’ll be the norm.”

Published in Edmonton Woman Magazine's March/April 2014 Issue

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