I was a heavy junk food eater in high school and college. It was pretty much all I wanted to eat, so it's no surprise that I started to have digestive problems. Doctors kept telling me, "You need to have a balanced diet. You need to have more vegetables and fruits in your diet." That was like telling me to grow a second head. I hated vegetables. I was the kid who picked out all the greens from his food.
Then I saw some video clips about processed food from a movie called Food, Inc. I started thinking about just how bad processed foods are for your body. Combined with my doctors' advice, I decided it was time to give a vegan diet a try.
That's a pretty hardcore shift though, so I didn't just change overnight. I got pointers from friends and people on Facebook who are active about their health and their diet. One of the things many of them told me was to incorporate it step by step. Try to eat vegetarian for the first half of the day, they said, but give yourself an out for dinner. Avoid heavy meat-based meals like steakhouses and barbecue joints.
So I took the plunge. At first it was a real struggle. I hated vegetables. I hated the taste, the texture. I hated everything about them. When I would eat a handful of spinach, instead of focusing on the taste I focused on the fact that it was doing my body some good. And as I started to eat fewer processed foods and more vegetables and fruits I began to like them. I realized they aren't too bad at all. Now I eat spinach all the time and enjoy it.
The hardest part of this new diet for me is accessibility. I don't really cook at home. I don't enjoy it. Having to find good food in restaurants is difficult in Taipei (and when I'm in Macau, forget about it). There are some restaurants that do completely vegan or organic, and luckily I have two close by. I try to eat at them when I can.
One of the biggest differences since I made the change is that I don't feel as heavy as I used to. Especially during lunch, I used to often get a big food coma. With my new diet that's gotten a lot better. Eating a vegan diet usually translates to a lighter meal and allows me to avoid the food coma. Now I have more mind clarity in the afternoon, which is incredibly useful when I play poker. And those digestive problems I was having? They've gone away.
I was a pretty heavy exercise guy before this. I would train MMA, stand-up fighting and ground fighting. That type of training calls for a lot of protein in my diet, especially post-workout. That's been a little bit of a problem for me. After working out a big steak would be considered good for muscle building. But my muay thai coach is an inspiration in that regard. Obviously he trains and needs strong muscles, but he's on a completely vegan diet. It's definitely possible.
Poker players often travel and eat whatever's near the table. We neglect our diet and don't think about the long-term impact that has on our health. If you eat junk for 20 or 30 or 40 years, the bad stuff is going to show up and by then it'll be too late. How much money you've made playing poker won't mean anything if you don't have your health.
Raymond Wu is a member of Team PokerStars