TJ Long stays busy as a full-time student at the University of Minnesota, pursuing a master’s degree in education. Outside school and personal training, he works on researching the principles of natural health, coaching youth ice hockey athletes on- and off-ice and organizing and attending outreach events with local animal rights organizations. For fun, he enjoys hiking, snowboarding and creating raw vegan meals. TJ Long lives with his best friend, a rescued companion dog named Brooks, who came into his care in 2012. Always having a strong connection to animals, he first acknowledged the impacts of industrial farming practices as a teenager and later made the steps to a morally focused vegan lifestyle near the end of college. He believes that all animals deserve to be respected and cared for. Rescue, sanctuary, outreach and education makes a positive impact for everyone, human and nonhuman individuals alike.
My journey to a raw vegan diet has a been a step-by-step progression that started more than 20 years ago. I was around 12 years old when my childhood best friend decided to become a vegetarian. I asked her why she had made that choice. To which she explained that meat came from animal flesh and that she no longer wanted to contribute to animals’ suffering. It made sense to me, and I was left feeling unsettled after learning that the meals I had been raised on were produced from the bodies of sentient beings. It was at that point that a seed for my compassion for animals had been planted and was beginning to germinate. I wanted to stop eating meat right then and there but lacked the knowledge, support and resources to carry out my desires at that time.
TJ Long Struggles During His Transition to Vegetarianism Before Sticking with This Meat-Free Diet
I attempted to go vegetarian off-and-on throughout high school and college, and this came with a lot of trial and error. The sporadic attempts at giving up meat proved difficult as I was trying to live off of chips, fries, doughnuts, pizza, cake, cookies, alcohol and cigarettes. The junk food diet I was attempting was unsustainable, and with each attempt I would last only a few weeks at most. To make matters worse, throughout most of my 20s, I was abusing alcohol on a daily basis, often times drinking to blackout. I was also a habitual pack-a-day cigarette smoker for more than 10 years. Clearly, I was not concerned about my personal health at that time, but I did maintain the desire to quit consuming meat due to my ethical concerns for the animals.
During my final semester of college, in 2009, I stuck with giving up eating meat for good. I did continue to eat plenty of processed junk food and dairy but made a point to start trying different plant-based foods, focusing on eating meals that could help me sustain the changes long-term. I started to eat more salads, soups, legumes, smoothies, veggie burgers, pasta and sandwiches, giving me a stronger foundation on which to move forward. A few months after switching to a vegetarian diet, I landed a job at a local vegan restaurant called Great Sage, near where I lived in Maryland. For the first time, I had a community of people to be supported by and learn from and also had the opportunity to try a lot of incredible plant-based foods created by professional chefs. Due to the influence and support of the community at this restaurant, I learned about the abuse happening in the dairy and egg industries as well as other forms of cruelty and exploitation such as vivisection and clothing. I became vegan in 2011.
TJ Long Makes Strides in Becoming a Vegan But Is Challenged by Alcohol Addiction and Depression
As I was making steps forward in my plant-based journey, I, unfortunately, was staying stagnant in my struggles with addiction. In spring 2012, I hit rock bottom physically, emotionally and energetically. I was drinking more than I ever had, suffering from severe depression, lacking any sense of self-worth and had started physically mutilating myself in an attempt to gain some form of control over my pain. There were numerous occasions that I passed out, curled up in a ball on the shower floor, and my roommate would eventually come in to help me to bed. It was the darkest time in my life.
Shortly after hitting rock bottom, a major turning point came when a homeless dog found her way into my life. I adopted Brooks in June 2012, and she gave me a reason to start taking care of myself. I know it may sound cliché, but my rescue dog really did rescue me, too. When she first came home with me, I quickly came to an understanding that if I continued digging myself further into the dark hole I was in, I would not be able to provide her with a good home and proper care. I chose to stop drinking the day after my 27th birthday, less than two weeks after adopting Brooks. There was no doubt in my mind and heart that I could maintain sobriety if I chose to. I was ready for my life to change.
I believe that my progression to a cruelty-free lifestyle was a major catalyst in helping me overcome destructive patterns of substance abuse. Going vegan showed me that I had the power to change so long as I had the strong desire to do so. I had proven to myself that I have strong willpower and discipline, capable of remaining in control of my mindset and actions, and I could apply that to addiction recovery.
TJ Long Places His Health As a Top Priority and Devotes Time to Improving His Health Education
Once I started on the path of sobriety, I was having to learn how to take care of myself. I ran into some difficulties in the first few months, as I found myself replacing one addiction with another. Fortunately, I was able to recognize the addiction swapping early on and then stopped myself from repeating the same patterns. The best thing I could think of to do was create a refuge at home for myself to fully recover, making my personal health a top priority. During that time, I set intentions to soak in information that helped expand my knowledge about health and wellness as well as learn how to properly take control of my well-being. I was gaining more insight about how to eat a healthy plant-based diet after seeing documentaries such as Forks Over Knives and Food Matters.
TJ Long’s Health Education Quest Leads Him to Explore a Raw Food Diet
It was at that point that raw foods became an intriguing idea to me. I had tried some gourmet raw dishes at the restaurant where I used to work but never knew about low-fat raw food options. At that time, I knew very little about basic nutrition. I did, however, know that carbohydrates are a good nutritional energy source because one of my high school hockey coaches used to tell us to eat starchy carbs such as rice, potatoes and pasta the night before our games. He would stress that carbohydrates would give us good energy for athletic endurance. What I did not know is the fact that most fruits are high-carbohydrate foods! As I was trying to figure out how I could incorporate more raw foods into my diet, I pondered, “If I cannot eat cooked starches on a raw food diet, how would I still be able to get carbs?” And so I typed “high carb raw vegan” into Google, and the world of fruitarianism appeared before me. It instantly made so much sense to me, and it felt like a bright light bulb went on in my brain.
TJ Long Embraces a Fruitarian Diet, Also Known As a Low-Fat Raw Food Diet
In 2013, I dove in and became fascinated with researching the topic of fruitarianism. Once I felt that I had a strong foundation of knowledge, I decided to try it out, initially committing to a 30-day raw challenge. For the first time, I was eating full meals of fresh fruits and immediately felt some major benefits within the first few days. A surge of energy came through me—a force I could not deny. It felt like every cell of my body was steadily buzzing with clean energy and like my mind was turned all the way on for the first time in my life.
Upon doing more research, I learned that there are ethical benefits of adopting a fruitarian lifestyle. I was drawn to the fact that eating fruit does not require us to kill plants, and it is the only food that has the potential for us to do no harm in order to receive nourishment. Fruit allows us the opportunity to become a symbiotic part of the reproductive cycles of plants by helping to spread seeds.
Once I experienced the health benefits and learned about the ethics of fruitarianism, I decided to pursue a raw food diet beyond the initial challenge that I set out to do, knowing that this was something that I wanted to stick with long-term. I quickly learned the difficulties of attempting to go fully raw all at once and was having a hard time refraining from eating cooked foods. It felt like another addiction to me and even proved to be more difficult to give up than quitting cigarettes and alcohol. I took two years to transition off cooked foods completely, going 100 percent raw vegan in 2015.
TJ Long Discovers the Pull of Cooked Food to Be Strong During His Transition to a Wholly Raw Vegan Diet
My patience and willpower were tested as I transitioned off cooked foods. I came to an understanding that I was walking down the path less traveled and would have to be OK with not fitting in socially. I felt like I had to stand my ground, holding strong while the bulk of society—even fellow vegans—were pushing against my beliefs. I could not rely on anyone else to do this journey for me and had to take ownership of my pursuit to a fully raw, fruit-based lifestyle. I also learned about my emotional connection to foods and how I had been eating foods to satiate or even suppress an emotional appetite. I quickly found that eating more fruit was not the difficult part of transitioning to a raw lifestyle.
What demanded my perseverance was learning to let go of the foods to which I had been emotionally attached, and it can be a difficult journey to let go of something so comfortable and familiar. Going raw vegan means undoing a lifetime of habits while learning to create new ones. Going raw vegan means figuring out how to live without using foods to suppress difficult emotions. Going raw vegan means learning how to make these changes with little help.
To those pursuing a journey to raw foods, I recommend giving yourself time to transition if needed. It can be a difficult path to navigate, so be patient and compassionate with yourself as you push forward. Most of us already deal with so much stress, and there is no need to place any more burden on your own shoulders. Do not get down on yourself. There likely will be times of struggle and failure, but stay focused on your larger goals and learn from your mistakes. If you fall, get back up and keep forging ahead.
I recommend eating enough fresh ripe fruit and trying to get the best-quality fruit to which you have access. Save and plant seeds, if you can, as growing your own food and foraging wild food is optimal. I also recommend to supplement with Vitamin B12, as most of us are living in unnatural environments, making it difficult to have exposure to adequate amounts of this vitamin without supplementation.
Health reaches far beyond diet alone. Breathe deeply, stay hydrated, absorb enough sunshine into your skin and eyes, walk barefoot on the earth, move your body in functional and natural ways, allow yourself time to rest, work toward mental and emotional poise, and connect deeply to yourself, your loved ones and nature.
TJ Long Experiences Improved Mental Clarity and Energy Levels on a Raw Food Diet
I experienced many benefits after starting to eat a diet of mainly of fruit. I used to have dandruff for many years, and this went away naturally and shortly after starting to eat fruit-based (and I even stopped using shampoo altogether). My eyes brightened and even changed color, with shades of brown and dark yellow clearing to reveal tones of blue. I experienced major improvements in my oral health. I had previously suffered from chronic bad breath, or halitosis, and my tongue was fuzzy even when regularly scraping it. The bad breath was socially debilitating because I was self-conscious about having face-to-face conversations with people, fearing that my breath would be displeasing.
I noticed improvements in my athletic performance, specifically with an increase in energy levels, cardiovascular endurance and physical recovery. I immediately began to feel that my brain was working more efficiently and that my mental clarity had improved. The three most notable benefits for me have been improved digestion, consistent deep sleep and fully recovering from past addictions. Going raw helped me walk away from a past of self-harm and never wanting to go back. I was not expecting any of these health benefits when I started and was pleasantly surprised once I noticed the changes.
TJ Long Is Imbued with a Desire to Live a Minimalistic Life in Tune with Nature
I am a certified personal trainer and fitness nutrition specialist. I help people learn about whole-food plant-based diets, natural movement, functional strength training, plyometrics, calisthenics, mind-body fitness and yoga. I also coach youth ice hockey players on- and off-ice. Outside the health and fitness world, I am a full-time student at the University of Minnesota, pursuing a master’s degree in elementary education.
Once I finish school and begin working as an elementary school teacher, I am hoping to implement physical movement, outdoor education and lessons about healthy lifestyles into my classroom. My goal is to make learning interactive and fun for my students and also offer creative life lessons. Outside my career goals, I would like to acquire a piece of land on which I can build a cabin or tiny house, grow fruit trees in a balanced permaculture landscape and learn how to grow food in geothermal greenhouses. My dream is to live a simple and peaceful life, rich in natural connection and fruitful abundance.