Editor’s note: The subject of diet and the consumption of animal products can elicit strong opinions. The following article represents the viewpoint of the authors and is not to be construed as an endorsement by the Rolf Institute®. It is presented in order to stimulate thought about factors that may or may not affect our work.
Note from Owen Marcus: I want to thank my good friend and client Ammi Midstokke for adding her brilliance to this article. Ammi is an elite athlete and amazing nutritionist who’s busy helping many of my clients up their level of health.
Back in the 1970s, I remember hearing that Dr. Rolf wouldn’t work on vegetarians and thinking that was strange. Did she have something against vegetarians?
According to Harvey Ruderian1 – who trained with her – Rolf, with her biochemistry background, believed that being a vegetarian would cause problems for a Rolfer’s body over time. Ruderian says he has strong memories of Ida’s comments on Rolfers being vegetarians, “probably because I started out vegetarian and so my ears perked up whenever she made her random comments on the subject.” He recalls her saying, “While it may seem to work out for a while, after about seven years the integrity of the soft tissues, especially around the joints, will begin to break down, and I’m not going to take responsibility for those injuries, and I’m only teaching students who can do this work for many years.” He goes on to quote Rolf as saying something like, “When people are vegetarians for many years, their tissues will lose the hydration and substance necessary to maintain the structure. It begins to feel like clay that has the wrong mixture of water and keeps settling each time you try to give it shape.”
He also tells this story: “During a dinner with Ida when I started to pass the lamb after taking only the vegetables, she said to / lectured me that she did not believe, from her research, that simply combining amino acids from different sources would necessarily ensure that they would combine to form a healthy and strong triple-helix protein molecule – and certainly not the integrity in the collagen necessary to withstand the discipline of Rolfing® [Structural Integration (SI)]. She used a metaphor I’ve never shared – it seemed a bit strange: ‘Just because an Arab and a Jew get married doesn’t ensure that they will have a happy relationship in society.’”
Ruderian ends his memories of Rolf’s views on vegetarians by saying, “I remember her saying that she did not work on vegetarians for all the above reasons.” And he added another comment: “I was at my dentist this morning, who is very much a Weston-Priceoriented practitioner [who] pushes oils and fats and paleo-type eating for healthy teeth and gums. I asked him about vegetarians and his main comments were that their gums bleed easily from lack of collagen, and they get receded gum lines. Also, that after some years their teeth begin to get vertical ridges from lack of fats and [their] teeth get soft.”
Turning to my own experience, when I had a clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, the referrals we received from holistic doctors were most often patients with unresolved, complicated issues. When the issue was chronic stress, we were very successful. When the reason for not getting well was protein and essential fatty acid deprivation, we could do very little unless the clients started eating quality animal products. I recall one client, a professional runner and silver-medal winner, whose tissues were not consistent enough to be effectively worked on with Rolfing SI. She had little muscle tone, and there was chronic inflammation of the tissues. I eventually had to discontinue sessions because the work was ineffective.
Often, low animal-protein consumption accompanies low-fat consumption. Vegetable oil is becoming a less-favored source of oil. Coconut and olive oils remain the preferred non-animal source for fatty acids, and while these are both good ways to augment a nutrient-dense diet, they are not adequate as a sole source of essential fatty acids. There is less incidence of protein deprivation today, even among vegetarians and vegans; responsible vegetarians and vegans can mitigate protein deprivation with a varied and nutrient-dense diet.
More research on the health benefits of good fats is becoming widespread. The trend of the ‘paleo diet’ and versions of this ancestral eating style has also led to increased education and a shift in the area of vegetarianism and responsible meat-eating.2
Despite that, we still have protein-deprived (or generally malnourished) clients coming to our tables. Often, they do not know that some of their issues can be due to diet. In these cases, we can share our concerns and suggest education and consultation with a nutrition specialist.
Signs of Protein Deprivation
Let’s look at the signs of protein deprivation
Lack of muscle tone: You can usually spot the lack of muscle tone when the client walks into your office. His skin is pale. Once you touch his tissue, it can feel like you are touching a less-than-full water balloon – there is not much resistance, at least superficial to your touch. Often, under the atonic layer there is a hard, dehydrated layer. The client may complain about “loose fat.” In many cases, it’s not adipose tissue or cellulite, it’s muscle that hasn’t had sufficient fatty acids and protein to maintain its structure. A protein-starved client is like a client on a long-term fast. The body’s vital organs are the priority and, therefore, muscles, skin, hair, and nails can eventually be cannibalized in order to survive.
Low energy: Rarely do I find vegetarians exhibiting a real vitality. It might take a few years to show up, but eventually their lack of tone mirrors low vitality. Without meat, these clients are eating a lot of carbohydrates that break down into glucose that causes inflammation, blood-sugar dysregulation, and endocrine imbalance. When these issues become chronic, we also see tendencies toward caffeine and sugar addiction, which only further compound the problems. These clients are more vulnerable to stress and illness. When I begin working with clients who have started eating meat again, I often have them come in once per month because they need more time to integrate, rest, and build up after a session.
Other losses: Beyond decreased muscle mass, these clients contend with hair loss, brittle nails, and a loss of density in bones and teeth. As Weston Price, DDS proved a hundred years ago, refined carbohydrates contribute to a loss of mineral content and an imbalanced body chemistry. The more sugar consumed (and remember, brown rice breaks down into mostly sugar), the more damage.
Difficult sleep: Sleeping requires fat, a long-lasting fuel, and the body’s ability to process it. Your sleep is where your body needs all its nutrients to rebuild and repair. Poor sleep is self-perpetuating because the fatigue makes one crave simple carbohydrates for quick energy. This can lead to hypoglycemia at night and a restless sleep as your adrenals begin to send the hormone signals to break down muscle tissue into glucose for energy.
Premature aging: The chronic lack of a macronutrient has a major effect on longevity. With poor tissue quality we see greater: wrinkles; gray skin; lack of luster and color in the hair, as well as textural changes and hair loss; and skin pigmentation.
Chronic pain: These are the clients most vulnerable to fibromyalgia. Synovial fluid deficiency causes joint degeneration. There is a higher incident of injuries and much longer recovery times. Some clients don’t ever recover because they don’t have the protein to rebuild the tissue. The increased carbohydrate intake can compound the inflammation.
Chronic hunger: These clients don’t feel satisfied until they are filled up on breads, pastas, grains, or sweets. Because of this, they are needing to snack throughout the day. Their fuel burns quickly, which often leads to them being cold, having feelings of listlessness due to low blood sugar, and irregular moods.
Brain fog: The brain needs essentially fatty acids and a stable energy supply for clear thinking. Because, like many of these other symptoms, brain fog sets in slowly, it’s not noticed. It’s not old age that is causing it, it’s diet. Sometimes a limited diet will contribute to allergies to certain foods (corn, gluten) and further contribute to toxicity in the brain.
Weight gain or weight loss: Some of my vegetarian clients were slender; other were overweight. Often the difference was determined by the quality of sugars and carbs they ate. I saw a higher incidence of edema with these clients.
Emotional irregularity: All of my vegetarian clients were highly functioning men and women. With a few I saw that there were tendencies to depression that I linked to chronic fatigue and possibly post-traumatic stress disorder. Just as the physical body was down, so was the emotional body prone to being down. Many of these clients have more than the normal amount of disassociation. They are less aware of their bodies and their emotions. They will usually be unaware of the impact that not eating meat has on the body and the mind.
It doesn’t make sense that a person would slowly starve himself. Most of my clients never had anyone explain to them what is happening to their bodies or what they can do. Of those who begin to eat meat again, the majority will start seeing benefits within a month. A few don’t want to have this discussion. I respect their beliefs, but I tell them they hired me as their body/soft-tissue expert and, as such, I feel I need to tell them that not eating meat is harming them. This blunt conversation works with a few.
As a metaphor, I wonder what selfdeprivation represents. Why would a person starve himself when he is capable of eating any food he wants? The literature on vegetarianism can support a healthy vegetarian diet and in most cases the client has informed himself accordingly. But for some, the strictly vegetarian/vegan diet will not serve their health in the long run.
Ayurvedic doctors will prescribe the medicinal eating of red meat. They may recommend four ounces per day for two weeks. Red meat is the most acidic, allowing it to penetrate into the tissues more readily. Any animal protein will do, but I tell my clients that red meat will produce the most benefit per ounce. Organ meats are the rocket fuel of protein. In some traditions, they are used to decrease the time needed for healing. Fish, poultry, pork, and insects will all work. I have never seen a plant-based protein do the trick. Many vegetarian clients have tried every protein source but animal with no results. Dairy and eggs can be great add-ons with specific benefits, but they won’t do what meat and fish do.
Collagen powder is becoming popular as a super food. I’ve used it and have recommended it to my protein-deficient clients for quicker tissue healing. I prefer to ingest it than have it injected.
For vegetarians who begin to eat meat it is useful to take a good digestive enzyme and Betaine HCL to help prime the pump so they can digest the meat the body hasn’t seen in years. One incentive I use is vanity. That worked particularly well in Scottsdale, the land of silicone. A client losing hair will do almost anything to get it back.
I encourage Rolfers to use their eyes and hands to be the judge of clients’ tissue quality and determine what possibly is missing. I initially resisted the idea that meat was the missing link for many of my clients. When I started to suggest it as a possible solution and saw results, I became convinced. Let your clients’ reaction be the determiner.
Owen Marcus, MA, is the author of The Power of Rolfing SI. His Rolfing website is www.align.org. He ran a holistic medical clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona before escaping to Sandpoint, Idaho where he now has his Rolfing practice and works with men through his business www.freetowin.co.
Ammi Midstokke practices Nutritional Therapy in North Idaho. Her clinic specializes in autoimmunity and chronic disorders. When she is not saving the world with vegetables, she can be found running the trails of the Rocky Mountains.
1. Private email communication with Harvey Ruderian, 2016.
2. We realize that there is a wealth of research to argue for or against meat. We encourage you to use you own experience of Rolfing SI to determine what works best. For more reading on this, here is an article on the importance of meat: http://breakingmuscle.com/nutrition/whyall-humans-need-to-eat-meat-for-health.
The Effects of a Meatless Diet[:]