On the spectrum of healthy living, I like to zigzag. I run a lot, but if anyone puts any kind of dessert in front of me at any time of the day, I will eat it. I'm a hot yoga addict, but I think alcohol should be part of the food pyramid (and closer to the base). Since I threw away my scale because it was pissing me off, as long as I can button my jeans without assistance, I like to think that all of this will somehow balance out.
Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes you have to wonder what you're doing to your body when "balance" means closing down two bars in one night, running six miles the next morning, and then having someone else's birthday cake for breakfast. After a particularly hedonistic summer filled with Sunday Fundays and happy hours that turn into happy late nights on patios, I needed to hit the restart button.
I thought I would ease into things by integrating healthier choices into my daily routine. The first stop on my clean living journey took me to Khan's Desserts in East Nashville. The name is a bit misleading: Karina Khan, who opened the vegan bakery in 2011 after stints at Wild Cow Vegetarian Restaurant and Vanderbilt University, has since expanded the menu to include all-day breakfast sandwiches, grilled paninis, wraps and salads.
I stopped for breakfast at Khan's, a cute little cafe located at 733 Porter Road. When I walked in, I was immediately tempted by the treats in the dessert case, which are vegan, all-natural, free of preservatives and made with organic ingredients. In addition to the vegan cakes, brownies, cupcakes, cookies, pies and tarts, Khan offers raw, gluten-free and sugar-free options, which you can order in advance in larger quantities if you want to try more than what's available that day.
While I was torn between all of the biscuit options — tempeh bacon sounded particularly interesting — I went for the Chesapeake ($7.50) on a wheat-free spelt biscuit, a massive sandwich of "Maryland crabcake," a soy-based concoction mixed with vegetables and bread crumbs enveloped in garlic-herb "cream cheese," tomato and lettuce. It was divine — it actually tasted like a crabcake, and the dense, crumbly biscuit was delicious.
Since no breakfast is complete without dessert, I sampled a couple of the beautiful gluten-free cupcakes — lavender-vanilla and rosewater-chocolate ($3.50 each) — which were pretty but a bit dry, and a gigantic gluten-free oatmeal cookie sandwich ($3.50) which was so big I decided to share it (reluctantly) with a co-worker. The true standout was the gluten-free pistachio chocolate orange-blossom cake ($5.75); the intense, bright green frosting nicely complemented the feather-light chocolate cake.
Alhough the vegan fare was a step up from my standard breakfast, I needed to up the ante for lunch. I found my way to Spark of Life Healing Foods at 6004 Charlotte Pike, where Pam Daley prepares raw and "gently cooked" gluten-free and vegan entrees, sides and desserts in convenient single-serving containers. Like Khan's, there are a couple of tables and chairs if you want to eat in, but Daley's goods are pre-packaged and ready to go if you're on the run.
Those who adhere to a raw diet believe that cooked foods lose nutritional value, and that food in its natural state digests more efficiently through your system. The majority of Daley's offerings are raw, but some of the entrees — like the gluten-free vegan lasagna ($9.99) — can be heated up in the microwave-safe container. The lasagna was tangy and filling, made with layers of gluten-free brown rice noodles, sprouted tofu, zucchini and spinach, and topped with a cashew spread that nicely mimicked cheese.
I also tried the raw "mock tuna" salad ($5.99). I don't know how Daley makes a bunch of almonds, sunflower seeds, cashews, onion, celery, parsnips, pickles, kelp, lemon and spices taste like tuna salad, but she does. It was filling and delicious with a raw tomato wrap.
As for the raw desserts, well, I'm one of those people who thinks that the word "cake" should only be reserved for actual cake (like, urinal cakes — who authorized that?). So I was suspicious of the raw carrot cake ($7.49). As I sized it up, a co-worker walked by and asked why I was eating Fancy Feast cat food for lunch. I was not optimistic.
Here's the thing I learned about raw food: If you are biting into raw carrot cake with the expectation that it is going to taste like regular carrot cake, your mouth is going to be confused and you are likely going to be disappointed. If you're more open-minded, you can relish the sweet mixture of shredded carrots, raisins and cashews (a versatile nut, as this time it resembled cream cheese frosting) for what it is: healthy and fresh food that is actually quite good. Just not cake.
Taking things a step further, I decided to sign up for three days of prepared raw, vegan and gluten-free food from Reboot Health & Wellness ($125 for three entrees — each with a side dish — two extra-large salads, two soups, one snack and two desserts; add $15 if you want delivery). I spoke with Rea Frey Holguin, Reboot's consulting nutritionist and health coach, who advised that the food is best within three to four days of pickup, as it loses nutrients the longer it's refrigerated. The menu is posted on Reboot's website (reboothealthandwellness.com) each week, and you must place an order by noon Thursday for pickup (at either In Harmony in Belle Meade or the Lilac Healing Center near Hillsboro Village) on the following Monday or delivery on the following Tuesday.
The food is bountiful and filling, with enough variety to surprise the palate. Of the entrees, I loved the raw lasagna, which utilized zucchini sliced lengthwise as "noodles" and was packed full of vegetables and, like Spark of Life's version, a delicious cashew cheese topping. Another favorite was the panang curry, a huge serving of vegetable noodles and a spicy sauce. The salads were definitely extra-large, and I was pleasantly surprised by how flavorful the made-from-scratch dressings were.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the corn chowder with "bacon" bits. Again, I was a little suspicious of the "bacon" — composed of eggplant, agave and spices — and while it didn't really taste like bacon, it was the perfect addition to the thick, creamy chowder. The desserts were also a pleasant surprise: the Black Forest brownies, made with walnuts, dates, cherries, cacao, carob and cherry essence, would satisfy any carnivore's sweet tooth, and the apple kuchen (apples, walnuts, raisins and agave topped with cashew whipped cream) made a fantastic breakfast.
After three days of eating Reboot's food, I felt great. What I liked about Reboot's philosophy is that while eating completely raw foods — which completely digest within four hours, meaning that you'll want to be near a restroom — will reap all kinds of benefits like improved immunity, energy and weight loss, you don't have to make a total lifestyle overhaul to experience these benefits. Even adopting a 70/30 or even a 50/50 ratio of raw foods to your current diet can show substantial rewards, which makes it less daunting.
Speaking of daunting, I decided that the final stop on my healthy eating crusade had to be the most extreme: a three-day juice cleanse in which I would consume zero caffeine or alcohol. So I decided to try Juice Nashville, which quietly opened its first retail space at 1106 Division St. in the Icon earlier this summer.
If you have any trepidations about embarking upon a three-day journey of zero solid food, a quick conversation with owner Stephanie Waring will ease your mind. When I walked into the cheery Juice Nashville store, Waring dropped everything she was doing to answer all my questions about the juice.
Waring explained that she and her husband source their fruits and vegetables from a variety of providers, and that the juice is unpasteurized and raw, meaning it needs to be consumed within three days of purchasing and eight hours of opening. Since the last time I went three days without solid food was when I had a nasty stomach flu several years ago, I was more concerned about the hunger factor.
Juice Nashville's three-day cleanse ($113 for 18 bottles and a tote cooler) includes five 16-ounce bottles of raw, cold-pressed juice and one bottle of non-dairy almond milk. Each bottle — you drink one every two to three hours, preceded by an 8-ounce glass of water — contains roughly 200 calories, meaning you're clocking in at around 1,300 calories a day.
Now, I've tried to track calories with one of those iPhone apps before, and I remember how disheartening it was to enter your caloric intake and watch your available calories dwindle. The idea of only 1,300 calories was terrifying, especially with no caffeine or alcohol to ease my pain.
Waring said the most important thing was to listen to my body when I drank each juice. If I still felt hungry after a juice, I could have more, and if I was full, I didn't have to drink the whole thing.
I scoffed at that last notion, that I would be full after half a bottle of juice, but when I got to the end of Day One, I realized that I still had a bottle left. Throughout the day, I hadn't really been hungry, though I did feel the need to chew on something, so I went for a Juice Nashville bottle cap. (Probably not harmful for your body, but not so great for your teeth.) How is it possible that I got through the day on 1,000 calories? I have no idea, but I did.
That's not to say that I didn't run to the fridge each time I felt like enough time had passed since my last juice. My favorite was "Whoa," a beet-kale-apple-ginger blend, and "Oh Yeah," a mix of kale, collard, apple and lemon. The almond milk was a bit bland on its own, but it turned "C Ya," an orange/apple/grapefruit/ginger juice, into something akin to a Creamsicle.
Everyone warned me that Day Two was "the hard day," but I felt fine. I went to three different bars that night, and was never really tempted to have a sip of alcohol. OK, full disclosure: I had a sip at one of them, but only because the bartender offered me a sample of something I'd never had before. And it was a gluten-free cider, so does that really count? Since I'm being completely honest ... I also had a couple of bites of cake on Day One. But apart from that, no solid food, even though Waring said I could have raw nuts or fresh fruits and vegetables if I thought I was going to crack. I never did.
As for eliminating caffeine, I tried. I really tried. On Day One, I caved and had a cup of coffee with lunch after I realized that I was planning out my entire month with a 2014 calendar. On Day Two, I made it all the way to 2 p.m. sans caffeine, but when I burst into tears because I couldn't find a paper towel, I caved again. Day Three, I had a meeting at Frothy Monkey at 4 p.m. and realized that I could barely put a sentence together. I ordered a large dark roast and instantly came back to life.
While The Cleanse 101 guidelines — available at thejuicenashville.com — advise that you don't overcomplicate your life, I didn't really have to change my lifestyle much. When I hung out in bars, I ordered a glass of water, which prompted more than a few friends to ask if I was pregnant.
After seven days of near sainthood, I fell headfirst off the wagon on the eighth day, partaking in a five-hour brewery crawl and eating an entire pizza. The way that I felt on the ninth day made me repent. Moving forward, I plan to limit my caffeine intake and integrate more raw food into my diet. I'll definitely grab a juice here and there, but I might mix some vodka into it. Balance, right?