I was the sick kid. I grew up going to a doctor, taking endless rounds of antibiotics and constantly staying home from school. I had trouble keeping up athletically with classmates but was always hyperactive. My stomach always hurt after eating, but I was always hungry. My school lunches consisted of either a PB&J or a turkey sandwich with just turkey, mayo and bread along with various packaged items like chips and fruit snacks. My mother loved treating us to pizza and fast food, and my dad happily joined in. It wasn’t until I dissected a frog in seventh grade that I even thought about where my food came from. Sure, I knew my parents had been vegetarians in the 1970s when we lived in Los Angeles, but that was before we moved to the Midwest and adopted a very standard American diet.
Seventh-grade science class was right before lunch. There was never soap in the room, and I loathed the smell of the formaldehyde from the dead frogs. I couldn’t seem to get it off of my hands, and the scent blended with my turkey sandwiches until I couldn’t tell one from the other. I stopped eating meat and started loading up on bean-and-cheese burritos. I became sicker than ever. I was even hospitalized. My body was overloaded with mucus. I was depressed and had no will to live. The hospital food was disgusting, and I missed my burritos, covered in shredded cheese. Everyone told me that I had to get my protein somewhere. Beans, rice and cheese were the equivalent of a good steak, in my mind. So. Much. Cheese. During my junior year in high school, I missed almost two entire months of school from being sick.
I stayed on my vegetarian path for pretty much the remainder of my school years. I continued eating a lot of cheese and was always run down. I started doing yoga when I moved from Minneapolis to Chicago in 1999 but was always so sick that I’d have to get up and leave class to blow my nose or hack up something gross. I decided to go vegan in 2000, not knowing how much of a difference it would make in my life as well as the lives of animals. I initially went vegan for weight loss. I had been working out regularly but wasn’t getting the results I wanted. I got those results and more by going vegan. I lost weight and, for the first time in my whole life, stopped getting sick. It was a Christmas miracle. I’d also been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome around this same time. My pain doctor told me to stop lifting weights and try yoga again. By 2003, I was told by doctors that I needed to lose weight because I was prediabetic. I finally kept up with my yoga practice and slimmed down just enough to manage my blood sugar.
I got certified as a yoga instructor in 2004 and felt so much peace in my life. I found a way to give to humans the way veganism allowed me to give to the planet and animals. But, by the end of 2005, my focus changed a bit. I became a raging vegan. I protested. I wore message buttons and T-shirts. Everything I owned, wore and used was animal-friendly and eco-conscious. I commuted on bike, played live music in bars, stayed up late drinking a ridiculous amount of beer, and I had that one haircut before anyone else. I was pretty angry that everyone else wasn’t vegan and was starting to become convinced that I was better because of it. My rock-and-roll lifestyle began to battle my spirituality. My ego took over when I released my first album. Something big was going to happen, and I just knew it!
During my insanely fun and wild 2005, something did happen. I started getting these crazy rashes on my lips. My mother said, “Apryl, do you have an STD?” I was horrified. Every morning after my Tuesday-night 2-4-1 beers, I would have the embarrassing rash. I started getting a different rash on my hands. It was dry and scaly. Luckily for me, I was willing to eliminate things to see if it went away. I already knew the beer was part of the issue. If it was the beer, it also had to be the other wheat in my diet. The thing is, that was my diet. I was a junk-food vegan and every mock-something was made of gluten. One day, I realized that the only green thing I’d eaten in a while had been some green bell pepper on my pizza. When I finally stopped eating wheat, the rashes went away. I started eating salads regularly because I didn’t have much left to enjoy. I innately knew I was going to become a raw vegan.
I didn’t even have the Internet at home during this time (this was back in 2006), and I’d never met a raw vegan before. There was one raw vegan restaurant in town, but I had tried their “Thai Noodle” dish and didn’t enjoy it. So I got some books. I read 12 Steps to Raw Foods and realized I also had a nasty food addiction. I thought back to hoarding chocolate bars in my bedroom as a child, eating packaged snack after snack after snack because I was lonely, and feeling unable to stop myself as an adult from eating everything in sight. Food always comforted me. I ate when I was happy. I ate when I was sad. I ate mostly because I was uncomfortable. I ate to fill a loneliness in my soul that only writing music could sometimes fix. Food made me numb, and I was about to wake up in a way I wasn’t ready for.
I officially went raw vegan and, suddenly, I wasn’t able to numb myself. The raw food didn’t put me in that “food coma” I used as a coping mechanism for so long. I had a detox headache that lasted for two weeks. This is a very common experience for those starting a raw vegan diet. I also couldn’t stop eating. I ate and ate and ate—all of the raw gourmet I could make. I finally discovered dishes I loved at that local raw spot nearby and couldn’t stop. I had never slept better, my skin had never been clearer, but I was either starving or binge eating. I was teaching dance and fitness classes and trying to restrict my calories, but I’d end up binging at the end of the night on cashew cheese wraps because I was actually starving myself without even knowing it. The emotions bubbled over, so I drowned them in organic wine. I’d usually drink a bottle every night. That turned into two bottles. But—it was organic! That was my excuse. Hey, one raw food guru said melons were great for hangovers!
I was exhausted. One day, I did an Internet search for “raw vegan fatigue” and I found The 80/10/10 Diet book. Nuts were making me tired? A light bulb went off in my head, and I ordered the book that very minute. I cut down my fat intake before the book even came in the mail. I dropped a ton of weight that week, probably almost 10 pounds of water weight. My friends asked what was going on. Some asked if I was anorexic, but I just raved about my newfound lifestyle. It was everything I had been searching for. It was the answer, and it fixed everything, or so I thought. No, but really. My newly discovered raw vegan diet had me feeling alive!
I joined a raw vegan online community called 30BananasADay.com and rejoiced when we hit over 400 members. I felt amazing for the first time I could remember but was starving because I thought I needed to restrict my calories to keep the weight off. I didn’t think that eating just 1,700 calories qualified as an eating disorder but needed so much more food than that. I was cycling for transportation and teaching those classes. Starving myself of calories without knowing caused eating disorders to take over my life.
I was already so good at making fancy raw vegan dishes that I started making them for other people. Pretty soon, I was working as a private chef for a wonderful couple and a few of their friends. My world revolved around food. It was hard for me to stay on my 80/10/10 path when I was making gourmet treats for my clients. I kept a food chart to try to make sense of it all. I obsessively counted and tracked every calorie that went into my mouth. That’s when the binge eating got out of control. I even looked up locks to attach to refrigerators on the Internet. I was serious about buying one just to keep myself from eating too much after work. I was supposed to be this healthy and happy human, but I hated my reflection in the mirror. I thought I should have been thinner because I worked out constantly. In reality, my body was holding on to everything it could so it could keep functioning.
The binge eating, binge drinking, shame and self-loathing went on for years. I suffered from debilitating “fibro flareups” that kept me lethargic and in total physical pain. By 2009, I decided that my depression was caused by lack of sunshine. It was time to move back to Los Angeles. I’d wanted to go back to L.A. for years and knew there was fruit there. Fruit trees were in people’s yards! My mother had told me about everything that we grew when I was little. She had me at “avocado tree.” The only question was, how would I work with food and succeed on my fruit-based raw vegan diet? You bet I tried. I tried every single day and failed by the end of almost every single one of them. I started to forage for fruit, but that didn’t keep me from social activities that had me dipping my toes back into the cooked vegan foods. After all, there were so many restaurants to try!
When I finally got settled in L.A., a long-term raw couple asked me if I would be the chef at a place they were building about 90 minutes away from the city. I told myself I didn’t move to L.A. to be a chef that far away from town. I’d only just arrived! I had music to make! As many of you know, the Universe provides, and I got an incredible opportunity to work in a crazy Hollywood restaurant and nightclub as their vegan chef. After years of feeling like just some loser musician, I finally had a career I was proud of. Although I incorporated much of my raw vegan culinary skills into my dishes, much of the food I made for our prix-fixe four-course meals was cooked. It was impossible to stay raw, and I was miserable because of it.
After leaving the restaurant in 2011, I was confused about life and what to do next. To everyone’s surprise, including my own, I started eating animal products. To be honest, I was curious about things I’d never tried as a child and had spent my whole 20s eating vegan. I tried grass-fed beef and fell in love with goat butter and sheep cheese. I found myself almost 30 pounds heavier and lonelier than ever. I isolated myself because I was embarrassed about my appearance. I would get a few bottles of wine and order enough entrées for a small family. I would drink and eat them all. My fibromyalgia was a daily burden, and my digestive system was slow and sluggish. I joined Overeaters Anonymous but didn’t find my answer there. I knew my answer already. It was a low-fat raw vegan diet, and I had to get back to it.
In 2012, I committed to healing. I began loving my body, just the way it was. I began working out again and lifted weights with a passion. I was eating strict 80/10/10, and I’d gone without alcohol for the longest stretch ever. My 5-foot, 7-inch frame dropped from 160-plus pounds to below 140 almost overnight. I made new friends in the fruit community. My wonderful friend Ben Benulis inspired me to not only host fruitlucks but to also go out to some fruitlucks on the other side of L.A. to meet even more fruit-based raw vegans. They became family to me. I had never been happier in my whole life. I fell in love with fruit, and it loved me back. My chronic pain was barely there. I found myself living 98 percent symptom-free!
Since then, I’ve had my ups and downs, but mostly ups. I had my breast implants removed in 2013, and that’s helped me feel great in countless ways. I went to the Woodstock Fruit Festival that year and met even more new friends. I released my best song ever, and it’s called “Follow the Breeze.” I’ve even had my nights of wine and gluten-free vegan pizza with old friends, too, followed by up to a week of recovery because of how cooked food affects me physically. But you know what? I never feel guilty. I never shame myself or talk down to myself. I’m convinced that we can eat as healthfully as we want to, but if we hate our bodies, our bodies will hold onto that hatred in some form. If we tell ourselves we’re bad, our bodies create illness. If we hold onto the painful past, our bodies will hold onto a thick layer of protection.
The more I fall in love with myself, without ego, the more I desire to live the healthiest life that I can. I aim high and eat raw. I avoid salt, oil, garlic and onions, spices and cooked food. I also keep my nuts and seeds to a minimum. And when I don’t, it’s no big deal. I dust myself off and go right back to it. I don’t worry about my weight or even weigh myself, so it now hovers around 125 pounds. To this day, cooked food and alcohol tend to go hand in hand for me. Because they bring down my mood, I would just rather avoid them. I practice my yoga and eat my fruit monomeals without ever counting calories. I am finally free … and that’s the most amazing feeling ever.
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