My husband, Tom, (boyfriend at the time) and I started Weight Watchers together to lose weight. Several weeks into the program, I herniated a disk in my back and ended up immobile, on the couch and out of work for over a year. My chronic bronchitis transformed into recurrent bouts of pneumonia that required multiple rounds of high-dose antibiotics. In the span of a few months, I lost my 14 year old dog, Poochie, to cancer as well as what remained of my family. Depressed and in pain, I lay on the couch watching television. Deprived of my usual fattening, comfort foods, I started watching food and cooking shows on The Food Network, The Travel Channel and other local stations. I became a huge Rachael Ray fan, likening her personality to the potential of mine, when not plagued with personal loss. For hours a day, I would watch cooking shows and attempt to “Weight Watcherize” the recipes in order to stay on program. I started ordering cookbooks and cooking magazines. I was watching food, reading food and thinking food every waking hour.
Health became a concern as I read about high-fructose corn syrup, artificial preservatives and MSG and I cleaned out the refrigerator and the pantry of anything that contained these items. We had nothing left in the house. It was amazing how these toxins had infiltrated their way into almost everything. I also began reading about dogs and cancer, how over 50% of dogs and cats die from cancer and that this was not true years ago. Having lost Poochie to cancer and being involved with the wonderful organization Canine Cancer Awareness (caninecancerawareness.org), I read about what actually goes into pet food and was horrified. Then realized what goes into us and was even further horrified. Reducing our meat consumption was starting to sound like a good idea.
Then I found Christina Pirello of the TV cooking show “Christina Cooks.” She showed how to “makeover” favorite foods without meat, without dairy, without refined flours or sugars, without cholesterol or saturated fat and I was in awe of her. I bought her books, I watched her religiously, I wanted to be her. She mentioned the word “vegan” but I was not there yet, I was not aware enough for it to register. I suggested to Tom that we have a few meatless days each week, to which he agreed. I learned how to cook delicious vegetarian meals and realized that the “side dishes” were always my favorites anyway. Lucky for me, I loved vegetables and salad was always a requirement with dinner. With a few vegetarian days each week, my diet was back on track; then I ate meat and felt sick again. The final hammer was about to come down.
After doing some internet surfing, I requested vegetarian starter kits from PETA, Vegan Outreach and Compassion Over Killing. Then I watched the video, “Meet Your Meat.” I cried throughout the whole thing and swore I would never be a part of that suffering again. When my husband came home, I made him watch it and he cried too. We began the journey together and became vegetarians. Little did I know, there was so much more for us to do. I read several books that changed my outlook: “Diet for a New America” by John Robbins, “The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter” by Peter Singer and Jim Mason and “Breaking the Food Seduction” by Dr. Neal Barnard. I learned it was not enough to give up meat; the dairy and egg industry caused even more suffering. We stopped buying dairy products and replaced them with non-dairy alternatives. This was hard for me because I was used to buying low-fat and non-fat items for my diet. Non-dairy alternatives did not use these labels and seemed to have more calories but I soon learned the benefits of the non-dairy alternatives. Eggs were the hardest thing for me to give up. I was used to my “healthy” egg white spinach omelet for breakfast and I did not like tofu yet but the sting of hypocrisy was too harsh to ignore and the eggs were soon gone too. I became a proud vegan!
With meat, dairy and eggs out my diet, my symptoms began to disappear. My post-nasal drip was gone, my allergies subsided, my sinuses cleared up and my digestive system was renewed. I haven’t had a case of bronchitis or pneumonia since. Even with my immune deficiency, I have barely had a cold. Even my perimenopausal symptoms such as hot flashes have improved. I have more energy than I have in years. One by one, I stopped taking all but one of my medications.
After learning about autoimmune disorders and inflammation, I started eating a gluten-free diet. This cut out a lot of the processed, convenient vegan foods. I now eat a more whole-foods vegan diet and I feel so much better. When my autoimmune disorders flare up, the symptoms are bad but not as severe and last a much shorter time. My blood tests show that all my numbers are completely normal! So far, I have lost 116 lbs. and I hope to lose more. I am on a mission to weigh exactly half of my starting weight. I used to wear size 26 pants and now my jeans are a size 8!
Growing up, my identity was that of an overweight, sickly person. There was always something wrong with me. Life was filled with ailments, doctors and medications. Hating how I looked and felt, I thought I would never be “normal.” Now I try to let food be my medicine and food no longer controls me. My new identity is that of a much healthier vegan person and for the first time in my life, I love who I am!