I grew up eating the typical standard American diet; after-school snacks of potato chips and oatmeal cream pies followed by meatloaf and mashed potatoes for dinner. I ate what I considered to be a mostly “healthy” diet in my early adult years, punctuated with plenty of sweets. I’ve always had a major sweet tooth, and as an emotional eater, I have definitely turned to sweets to soothe any sort of uncomfortable emotion I might be experiencing.
I was fortunate that I never had any major health issues, so for many years I didn’t give much thought to the foods I ate, what was in them, and how they affected my body.
In 2010, after watching the documentary Food Inc., I decided to stop eating meat. This change in my diet was based on animal welfare and was not motivated by a desire to be healthier. I was still eating the occasional piece of fish, with plenty of eggs, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream in my diet.
It was around this time that I first noticed that full-fat dairy foods, like ice cream and cheesecake wreaked havoc on my digestive system. I clearly remember an incident that happened when I was taking night classes at my local university. After work, and before class, instead of having a sensible dinner, I stopped at an ice cream shop and had a huge bowl of my favorite flavor smothered in hot fudge. A couple of hours later, my intestines were making the loudest, most embarrassing noises! There is no way the students sitting near me couldn’t hear it. I wanted to crawl under my desk and disappear!
Subsequent attempts at eating rich dairy products would often lead to me being curled up on the couch with intense abdominal pain. I decided I should go to the doctor and get checked out, since my symptoms seemed to match what I had read about gall bladder attacks.
My doctor ordered a full blood work panel and an ultrasound of my gall bladder. Everything looked normal with my gall bladder, but my cholesterol numbers came back high. Even though I was eating a vegetarian diet, this was my second cholesterol reading over 200. This really frustrated me! I wasn’t eating any meat, poultry, or seafood at this point, so how was this even possible?!
I would soon learn that the solution to both my high cholesterol and nagging abdominal pain would come with a change in my diet. My husband and I happened to watch the documentary Forks Over Knives between Christmas and New Year’s of 2014. We found the information extremely compelling and it inspired us to make some changes. We decided we would start 2015 with a whole foods, vegan diet. For us, that meant giving up the eggs, cheese, and yogurt that were part of our daily routine, plus the rich desserts we often indulged in when we ate out. Our thought was that we would give it a try, and we could always go back to our regular vegetarian diet if we decided to.
I found when I ate this way, the abdominal cramping was no longer an issue. It completely disappeared! Eating a whole food, plant-based diet also effortlessly brought my total cholesterol down into the 150s. I know my body is healthier eating this way. These pictures, taken at ages 36 and 46, clearly show the impact a healthy diet can have on your body! I’m committed to eating this way for life!