Aside from contributing great raw and vegan recipes to Blisstree, chef Doug McNish has a lot on his plate (no pun intended): He’s traveling to Hawaii to give raw cooking demonstrations; he’s working on his first book; and he’ll be flying to Hawaii next month to talk about raw and vegan foods. But he hasn’t always been a picture of health and success — just a few years ago, he weighed 270 pounds and was struggling with a drug addiction that forced him to give up his job and start all over again.
On March 6, he’ll be speaking at the F-You: Forgiveness Project in Toronto, Canada; we talked to Doug to learn more about his powerful personal backstory:
What exactly are you forgiving yourself for?
Basically, my story is that when I was about 14 years old I became addicted to pain killers. I started with morphine and it led to things like codeine; lots of wonderful things! I started partying and treated my body poorly and over the next seven or eight years, I continued taking pain killers. It led to harder drugs and feeling like a bag of shit (excuse my French). I knew there was something I needed to do to change myself, but I didn’t know what it was.
One day, I woke up and had blood on me, was extremely hung over, and couldn’t even remember how I’d gotten home. I decided to change my life that day. Part of admitting and accepting that I had a problem was forgiving myself. You know, we’re all responsible for ourselves; we feed ourselves, we put ourselves to bed, and do all these things for ourselves, but sometimes you have to admit that you’re doing a bad job and start over.
So how did you start over?
I took it slowly; first, I told my family what I’d been doing for the last several years, because they didn’t know, and told them that I needed to make a change. I wasn’t sure what the change was but I had to stop taking pain killers and quit my job. For the next two to three months I went through a detox. I started working out, and I didn’t change my diet at first but a little weight came off. Then one day I was shown an animal rights video and decided to go vegetarian, and that’s when a lot of weight came off. About five or six months later I went vegan.
Are you still vegan? Are you a raw foodist?
I’ve been vegan for seven years in April; I eat a high raw diet, but not 100%. (I find it harder to do that in the winter.)
How has food helped your process of starting over and changing your life for the better?
At least for me, food is the single biggest thing that can affect us as human beings. It can control mood, control where we are in life, and I truly believe it can control success. When you eat something like kale, your mood improves, your skin looks better, you feel better… So absolutely, food is very important.
What prompted your involvement with the Forgiveness Project? What’s the lesson you want people to learn from your story?
Everyone has a reason to forgive themselves; we all do things at one point or other that we’re not proud of (whether it’s treating yourself or other people badly). There are two ways to deal with it: You can walk around and hide, or you can wake up and say that you’re okay with the fact that you did it, even though it’s not a choice you agree with now.
As I’ve gotten older, my life is different and I have more responsibilities, but I’m also a lot more sensitive of a human being, which I think is a great thing. Unfortunately, men walk around with their super testosterone-driven egos, thinking they’re not allowed to feel, but I think it’s the opposite: I think you’re more of a man if you’re sensitive and have empathy.
It’s always important in life to be a good person – that’s the whole reason The Secret was so popular a few years ago. It’s nothing new, it’s just like the Buddhist principles; it really matters what you put out in to the world. I’m a great example; I was 270 pounds and going nowhere, and now I’m an executive chef, I’m being flown to Hawaii to give a talk, I’m going on television tomorrow, and I’m writing a book. I have some amazing opportunities coming my way right now, and it’s absolutely because of all the changes I’ve made in my life.
Douglas McNish is executive chef at Toronto’s Raw Aura organic and raw food restaurant, and he also teaches food workshops and gives cooking demos. If you’re lucky enough to be in Maui or Honolulu, he’ll be there giving lectures and raw food demonstrations in March through the Vegetarian Society of Hawaii. His first raw cookbook will be available through Robert Rose Publications in Canada, the U.S., U.K., and Australia in March 2012.
Check out Doug’s past recipes on Blisstree.