From Fruity Pebbles to Nature’s Fruits: The Longtime Vegan Explored Macrobiotics Before Adopting a Low-Fat, Fruit-Based Lifestyle
Desarae Jeter shed 100 pounds from her peak weight of 230 pounds while enjoying bite after bite of sweet fruits such as bananas and watermelon. Like many others, the 37-year-old West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, native and resident waded through an ocean of information on diet until she found her sea legs and salvation in a low-fat, fruit-based raw vegan lifestyle in accordance with Doug Graham’s 80/10/10 guidelines.
Desarae [photographed in September 2012, above, and in 2002, below] grew up on the standard American diet and ate cereals such as Fruity Pebbles for breakfast and lots of fast food, including Big Macs. By 12, though, she learned the late actor River Phoenix was vegan. She explored the diet and lifestyle, went vegetarian and segued to becoming vegan shortly thereafter.
Desarae learned the hard way being vegan alone doesn’t produce fantastic health.
“I did the standard American diet in a vegan form, so I still struggled with my weight,” she said. “I went up and down for years, and I was sick a lot and had a lot of mucus issues, headaches and allergies from eating an overabundance of soy, a lot of fat and a lot of processed vegan foods.”
In 2005, Desarae experienced lots of inflammation and began researching how diet affects the body. She discovered the books of Christina Pirello and adopted a grain-based macrobiotic diet. Desarae lost weight and then slowly gained it back on her diet, high in fat and sodium. She also began to find out she’s allergic to some foods such as corn. This food and others produce negative reactions such as skin breakouts.
“I said, ‘I have to figure out something else because this is not working,’” Desarae said.
Desarae retreated to fatty and gluten-based vegan foods for several years. It wasn’t until 2010 that the daycare provider walked into Arnold’s Way, a raw vegan café, store and educational meeting space located about 20 miles outside Philadelphia in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, and enjoyed a raw food meal that made her feel good. Her few earlier experiments with raw food—preparing high-fat gourmet meals—left her feeling “lousy” and took a toll on her pocketbook, she said. She talked to owner Arnold Kauffman about raw food and began exploring books.
Desarae experienced a eureka moment while reading Graham’s The 80/10/10 Diet. This instant-classic raw food book explores human beings’ natural diet and explains problems connected to animal, cooked and processed foods.
“I started reading it and was like, ‘This is what I’ve been doing wrong all these years.’ I had no clue,” Desarae said. “I said, ‘Let me try it and see what happens,’ and that’s when the rest of the weight started coming off.”
Desarae frequented Arnold’s Way potlucks and lost 60 to 65 pounds while leading a mostly low-fat, fruit-based raw food lifestyle. Her weight-loss story has proved to be a favorite comeback story told during the potlucks’ introductions portion, a voluntary form of roll call. Green smoothies made with bananas, romaine lettuce and water are a staple meal for Desarae, who consumes 2,000 calories a day.
Watermelon, though, is her favorite fruit. “When I eat a watermelon, I feel good, and I feel full,” she said. “Cut it in half, stick a spoon in it—that’s like the best thing.”
Her journey has been rewarding, but Desarae, who encourages many to try green smoothies as a step in improving their health, admits she might not have yet reached her destination. Cooked foods are still on her weekly menu, often in the form of rice and steamed vegetables.
“I’m still a work in progress,” she said. “My challenge is that I still want cooked foods, and maybe one day I’ll get to [be wholly raw], and maybe I won’t. I feel my best on days I have a big watermelon and bananas and romaine. That’s when I can keep going, keep going, keep going.”
Desarae limits or outright avoids foods that cause her body trouble. She’s also learned that she’s allergic to most nuts and seeds and that gluten causes inflammation. Additionally, she’s wary of most sauces because of their frequently high sodium levels. Having too much sodium, she says, can cause her to quickly gain a few pounds.
She’s also learned how much food can hold a person back from experiencing happiness and all life’s offerings. She said that she used to be anxious and that processed foods left her feeling for the worse emotionally.
“I honestly think that the foods I was eating had something to do with my emotional well-being,” she said. “I feel a lot more at peace. I feel that my relationship with God has helped me to be more peaceful. And I think eating God’s foods as God made them has made it easier. … The more basic [my diet], the better I feel.”
Desarae credits the videos of Harley Johnstone, or “Durianrider,” on 30BananasADay.com with helping her key in on important aspects of health, including consuming enough carbohydrates and sleep. A busy lifestyle with a two-hour roundtrip commute sometimes cuts in on sleep, but she’s made slight schedule adjustments since mid-July to ensure she sleeps enough.
Desarae enjoys practicing Pilates and walking and said she is gearing up to expand her fitness horizons.
“I’m trying to get more into that whole 80/10/10 athlete mode. With my job, I’m on my feet all the time and am constantly moving, so I guess that’s part of my workout regimen, taking care of the children I [watch], those 30-pound 1-year-olds,” she said with a laugh.