Meg Wolff of Cape Elizabeth is a bone and breast cancer survivor who used a plant-based diet 12 years ago as part of her healing. Since then, she has become an advocate for a macrobiotic lifestyle as a way to help the body heal and maintain health – and not just after a cancer diagnosis. Wolff, who lives in Cape Elizabeth, maintains that a macrobiotic diet is a wonderful way for anyone to maintain wellness, and can actually help athletes prepare for athletic events.
“Athletes want to make their bodies healthier,” Wolff says. “Changing to a plant-based diet does that.”
Like the vegan diet, a macrobiotic diet is plant-based, containing primarily whole and cracked grains, vegetables, and tofu, tempeh (fermented soybeans) and other legumes as substitutes for meat and dairy products. Also, some macrobiotic devotees keep eating fish because they consider it a more natural, unprocessed, low-fat food than beef, pork, or poultry.
Wolff has become renowned beyond Maine for her advocacy of the macrobiotic way. She has a website (megwolff.com), a blog, a newsletter, and has written two books about her journey through recovery to wellness. Another book, “Fresh Start,” is a downloadable how-to guide for anyone contemplating a shift to macrobiotic eating. Wolff also conducts cooking classes in Greater Portland and has one coming up in September at the Cancer Community Center in South Portland.
In her first book, “Becoming Whole,” Wolff chronicles how she overcame her own Stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis, and makes a compelling case that her diet shift played a leading role in her recovery.
“After a mastectomy, chemo and radiation, a specialist in Boston told me, with a long, sad face, that the cancer likely would be back within a year,” recounted Wolff. That’s when she learned about and quickly converted to a macrobiotic lifestyle.
Wolff says that people who are not fighting a life-threatening disease needn’t change diets overnight like she did. Still, the vegan way of life has become so mainstream that finding restaurants and stores that cater to those on a macrobiotic diet is much easier than it was 12 years ago.
“There are so many more options now,” she says. “Twelve years ago, when we went to Florida, I’d have to pack the things I needed to cook with and search for places that might have organic vegetables. Now, when I go somewhere I Google where the Whole Foods is.”
Wolff says athletes are among some of the most ardent supporters of the macrobiotic way. She cites Lance Armstrong as someone who follows a modified macrobiotic diet and points to a recent New York Times article about an ultra-marathoner who fuels his 100-mile-runs without any meat or fish.
In her 50s now, Wolff probably wouldn’t consider herself an athlete, but she does lead an active life. She lost her left leg to cancer when she was a young mother in her 30s, and now swims and downhill skis with the aid of a prosthesis to keep her body in shape. Wolff says a macrobiotic diet, which emphasizes whole grains and lots of vegetables, is a good choice for athletes because it helps relieve inflammation. In fact, she says, she has a friend who was considering a knee replacement after a ski injury several years ago, until he changed to a plant-based diet.
Wolff also cites her husband Tom as a prime example of an athlete who has been able to stay fit and active into middle age on a macrobiotic diet.
“Tom cycles 25-40 miles before going to work every morning,” Wolff says. “He feels that since he started eating this way with me 12 years ago, he no longer has back or knee problems. Even after a long ride he still has plenty of energy to last throughout the day.”
So how would an athlete on a macrobiotic diet go about carbo-loading for a big race? Breakfast, Wolff says, is the most important meal of the day, whether you’re an elite tri-athlete or an occasional runner, biker or swimmer. She always starts her day with a bowl of oatmeal or another hot whole grain such as quinoa. Smoothies made with brown rice powder and a variety of fruits also provide lots of body fuel. Lunch might be a mega-salad full of fresh greens and a base of barley. Her tempeh-based “fake tuna” salad contains onions, scallions, parsley, celery and vegan mayonnaise and is served on a slice of foccacia bread. One of Wolff’s favorite dinners is a carbo-loaded pasta dish that contains protein-rich cannellini beans, whole-wheat pasta, sundried tomatoes, celery and capers.
Wolff advises athletes – and anyone, for that matter – to take their time making the shift from cooking and dining on meats we all grew up with. (Thanksgiving dinner springs to mind as a tough one to give up). But Wolff says that once you do shift to macrobiotic cooking, the menu possibilities are actually wider than they are for meat-eaters. And, from her own experience, she says, you can’t beat the payoff.
“The macrobiotic lifestyle is about doing healthy things for your body,” Wolff says. “It is a way of eating that can help many different groups of people.”
A Closer Look
This fall, Meg Wolff has another book, “A Life in Balance,” coming out. It is a “celebrity” cookbook that contains not only her recipes, but also contributions from such macrobiotic/vegan advocates as Jessica Porter, author of “The Hip Chick’s Guide to Macrobiotic Cooking”; Kathy Freston, author of the New York Times bestseller :Quantum Wellness Cleanse”; Heather Mills, former wife of Paul McCartney and an animal rights activist; John Salley, former star with the NBA’s Chicago Bulls; and Rip Esselstyn, a firefighter and triathlete in Austin, Texas who wrote about becoming a vegan in the best-selling book, “The Engine 2 Diet.”
In addition, the preface was written by fellow Mainer Joan Benoit Samuelson, and the forword by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., a nutritional biochemistry professor at Cornell University and author of the best-selling book, “The China Study.” – Joanne Lannin
Meg Wolff says athletes are among some of the most ardent supporters of the macrobiotic way. Wolff, who believes a plant-based diet helped her recover from cancer, has a cookbook, “A Life in Balance,“ coming out this fall.