One of the people who has influenced my desire to be raw vegan in the beginning was Tonya Kay. I first saw her in Robert Cheeke’s DVD presentation “Vegan Fitness Team”. There she was with two other fit, healthy athletes–Robert Cheeke, a vegan bodybuilder, Brendan Brazier, a vegan (now raw) triathlete, and then there she was: human-energy-dynamo dancer Tonya Kay. What came through for me in seeing her in Robert’s documentary was her zest for life and fun personality.
When seeing her in that video, it’s hard to imagine that she at one time struggled with what many people currently are dealing with : bipolar “disorder” or manic depression. Tonya was able to successfully manage this through coming off of her medication and eating a raw vegan diet.
I am not presenting her story as a dogmatic statement saying that this may necessarily be the answer for everyone, but rather to present another alternative that perhaps you haven’t heard before, one that can possibly give some hope where there previously wasn’t any. And Tonya is the first to caution that coming off of medication should be done gradually and preferably with the supervision of a doctor.
First off, there are many variables in dealing with issues dealing with moods and diet, exercise, sleep, positive thoughts, supportive relationships ALL play a part. However, the food connection is an often overlooked one, due to hidden allergies or reactions that some sensitive individuals may have that often go undetected.
Notice what this interesting video has to say about the effect of casein, a protein found in cow’s milk has on moods:
So, removing animal foods from your diet is a significant first step in healing from severe swings.
Secondly, many people have severe reactions to MSG, gluten in wheat and oats, caffeine, sugar and aspartame. So being “vegan” is not enough. We need a clean plant-based diet that is based on whole foods, preferably organic, as we still don’t completely know the effects of pesticides on human physical and mental health and refined foods do not have the fiber to slow down the digestion and processing of them in our bodies.
Below, Tonya shares several factors that helped her to balance things out naturally and lead a productive, in fact, amazing life. May you find inspiration and hope in her story. She even addresses how making these changes are not too hard to do and how she has adhered to her wellness program despite traveling and touring on the road as a professional dancer. If she can do it, we all can do it:
1) You mentioned in one of your blogs that you’ve had to be really creative to stay 100% raw while on the road traveling. Would you mind sharing how you did it so that other’s who have maybe a slightly less demanding schedule can get some ideas that might help them?
I didn’t own keys for 9 years of my life. Because I was touring and traveling so much I literally had no apartment, no storage space, no car – nothing to lock up. If I can do raw vegan food without a kitchen or a refrigerator for 9 years, you can do it with the luxury of a local market, pantry and vehicle to get you there and back no problem. No more excuses.
No matter what city I was in, I FIRST figured out where the best local health food store or farmer’s market was so I could immediately buy my organic produce for the duration of my stay. I made a quick community of the people in my city (that week) whom had supporting perspectives on health, fitness and art that I did – creating a supportive community was essential to my success.
And having my produce at my finger tips was essential. I couldn’t wait to go out to restaurants after our performances with my cast mates and expect Hooters to cater to my radical lifestyle. Yet that didn’t keep me from going with the cast to Hooters (for example), I always gently carried an avocado with me, my own reusable cutlery, my own green powder and some other fruits and veggies. No problem. I’ve been known to break a coconut by beating the hotel restaurant’s “steak” knife into the coco with one of their in-room coffee cups. While traveling in Japan, I soaked hijiki seaweed and lotus seeds in my water bottle and ate whenever I felt hungry on the bus.
Nowadays I have a kitchen and it’s no problem at all to show up on set with my own glass water jug filled with the day’s purified water (no wasteful plastic water bottles), a ripe avo and some grapes, just in cast crafty or catering has nothing for healthy people. I try to remain “no problem” on set because really, this lifestyle is no problem at all. The cooler I am about my lifestyle, the cooler people are with me and people recognize and respect my efforts and even know which glass water bottle is mine and help me find it when we are filming. It’s no problem.
2) You mention in a video interview you did with Matt Monarch interviewing you, that sometimes too much fruit can trigger the mania. Could you tell us a little bit more about that and how you balance yourself out to prevent this from happening or even how to balance it out if it begins?
More so, too much cacao can trigger extreme mood swings for me. Cacao really screws with my heart and natural energy supply. I mean, I was born with plentiful energy, so cacao can really put a tax on my adrenals and put me into a state of exhaustion while making me feel amped up. That’s setting me up for failure, I tell ya. With dramatic mood swings as my symptoms under stress, the last thing I need is energy and exhaustion combined: TRIGGER!
There are oodles of other triggers I’ve worked to build a relationship to, but more importantly, how I respond when I recognize that I’ve been triggered is the key to avoiding the full spectrum cycle. When feeling stressed by a trigger, I go green! In fact, I pretty much eat low-glycemic, mineral rich, ultra-green and fermented daily. I’ll lighten my food load and eat less for a few days, I’ll drink double the water, allow double the rest/nap time, take double the hot yoga classes and reach out to my support system by communicating how I’m feeling so they can offer a massage or a hug or a calming conversation. Again, building a supportive group of friends whom I can communicate with clarity and honesty is a major part of health, no matter how one manifests symptoms.
3) How do you feel a plant-based diet affects bipolar and mood disorders in general? Are there any other vegan foods besides fruit that those with mood disorders might want to be cautious about? (i.e. MSG, gluten, etc)
Food is something we do almost every single day of our long lives. It infuriates me that the Western Medical system hardly even touches upon diet when suggesting solutions to people’s ailments. If you want to change your life, change your food.
4) What do you eat in a typical day? Do you count calories? How long have you been raw? What difference has it made for you mood wise and in other ways?
I’ve been high raw vegan for over a decade now and what I eat changes with the seasons, geographic availability, my moods and my budget. I will continue changing as a human being my entire life and so will my art, my exercise and my diet. One thing that has worked for me though, is keeping it in-season, local, organic, raw and vegan. The foods within that change, but that part seems to stay constant. To make it easy on myself, I make sure to shop at the farmer’s market. That way it is very easy to tell what is in-season, to assure that it is coming from local sources, and to guarantee it is produced by a small-scale organic farm.
And karma of food is massive in it’s nourishment for me. When the woman at the farmer’s market knows me by name and hands me my avocados, picked three days ago, with a smile, I eat that and become that. It’s way superior to becoming a plastic bagged head of romaine lettuce shipped in from five states away, stored for a week on the shelf and causing a “BEEP” as it’s barcode scans through check out by a young man whom is just waiting for another weekend. You get the picture. My food as life karma. It enriches every single part of my living life.
5) What other things (yoga, exercise, meditation, etc) are helpful that you have found for those with mood disorders and what common mistakes would you caution them against making?
The things that cause health cause health no matter what the symptom is. I just focused on getting healthy, rather than defining myself by having any “disorder” or “illness”. So mental repositioning is part of getting healthy – dropping words like those I just mentioned and taking up others you’d rather associate your identity with. Consistent low-impact sweat-inducing exercise causes health – like hot yoga, walking, swimming, hiking – choose your favorite.
A passionate form of self-expression causes health – painting, poetry, music, chefing, quilting, glass blowing, gardening, conversation, dance. A supportive, clean environment, loving touch and relationships, a strong connection to nature, it’s plants, animals and cycles – all these cause health. Once I became sensitive enough, it lost it’s mystery – I know what healthy is now. I listen and am guided. I’ve fallen in love with health.
6) You are very concerned about animal rights. Any particular causes that you are involved in at the time?
I am involved in many environmental, cultural and social issues. The animal rights issues I am most involved in currently is stopping circus animal suffering http://breakthechainus.com and protecting the endangered Asian elephant http://elephantnaturefoundation.org and sea turtles http://seaturtles.org.