Tell us a little bit about you?
My name is Denise and I turned 50 years old this year. I have always thought I lived an active “healthy” life and was even told that by just about everyone I met. I skydived for over 11 years and made 1500+ jumps, I have been mountain biking for nearly 12 years, I bought a road bike to fill time when trails were muddy. I have walked on my lunch hours for as long as I can recall (anywhere from 2 – 3 miles) and I love camping, hiking, and backpacking. With all that activity came my desire to be healthy so I always planned my eating, yet always seemed to feel I had “10 pounds I could lose”. I did many “diets” over the years and always seemed to have decent success but then eventually I seemed to go back to where I was…needing to lose 10 pounds. I really did try to research whatever I did and believed in whatever I was following until in my late 30’s when a friend gave me a book to read, which was not an easy read, but basically it was my first introduction to big business and how they have falsely marketed to the masses to sell whatever the big sell was at the time. I’m sure we’ve all heard it at this point: Low Fat, No Carbs, More Protein. Low Sugar, etc. I was curious but the good old internet seemed to take you in all directions, almost knowing what you wanted to hear and therefore thought you were following the right plan. Anyway, fast forward to 2017, and I found myself wanting/needing a life change after losing my grandmother to liver cancer and watching my grandfather slowly lose his battle with dimension and strokes. So I sold my home and moved in with a friend expecting to just figure things out the next few months. Two months later my employer had an opportunity for me to transfer closer to my family in another state so I jumped at the opportunity and moved again. After a year, I realized I was still not where I wanted to be, location or career or happiness-wise. I found a unique house in the country, still close to family but it would mean a career change and I was open to it and started exploring. It was scary, it felt foreign to me to consider making such drastic life changes at nearly 50 years old but I trusted my heart and once again jumped. I gave up a 20-year career, that sadly had turned toxic to my well-being, and started a whole new chapter in life. House, home, new friends, new locations to explore. I loved my new job and I was close to an extended part of the family I had lost touch with over the years so everything was going really well and for once, I felt super happy with where I was with life in general. It was my first time experiencing “winter” which was a huge life change that I loved, yet at the same time, I knew I was not being as active as I had been up to that point. I didn’t pay attention to the changes that were happening with my body, because they were hidden for 6 months of the year and then I went for my annual bloodwork and the happiness I had been feeling quickly fizzled. I knew I had fallen off the wagon with my “healthy routine” but I didn’t realize just HOW OFF THE WAGON I fell.
What was your diagnosis and which health problems did you face?
My bloodwork came back that my cholesterol had jumped from 200 (which was already high and I THOUGHT I had been working on) to 243 and I was told I would need to start taking a statin to get it under control. But me being hard-headed and not being one to take medicine except in extreme situations told the doctors I wanted to hold off on taking any meds until I could do a little research on my diet. She looked at me directly and told me this was not something I would correct with diet, and there was a good possibility it could be genetic since my dad and also my grandfather had assorted heart issues. That was the last time I met with that doctor.
How did you come to know about the plant-based diet?
I went home and began researching how to correct high cholesterol and by some miracle, one of the first things I came upon was the FORKS OVER KNIVES documentary. Which in turn brought me to the FORKS OVER KNIVES website, as I was hunting for plant-based recipes. I was super excited to flip the page, and with each new documentary I saw about plant-based eating, I kept seeing one doctor in particular who I felt drawn to. Neal Barnard, with PCRM.ORG. I joined a 21 Day Vegan Kickstart plan I saw this website and haven’t looked back since.
What were the benefits of adopting a plant-based lifestyle for you?
So since I adopted the plant-based lifestyle on July 22, 2019, my cholesterol has gone from 243 to 182. My triglycerides went from 183 to 123 and my sugar from 114 to 92. Not to mention, I lost 19.6 pounds. A bonus to this all. Because all I wanted was for my cholesterol to drop so I did not have to eat my words and go back to the doctor and start meds. But seeing the scale go down each week continues to be a motivator in and of itself. I have gotten back in the kitchen again and am investing time in myself and finding fun new recipes. This process has not been like any other diet….ever. It truly has been incredibly easy to follow but if you are told your health is in jeopardy, perhaps that makes things easier for anyone.
What do you like the most about the plant-based diet?
I like that I can still go out to eat and not be afraid that I can’t find something on the menu. And I am not just talking salads. Italian, Mexican, Japanese. I don’t shy away from offers to out which I always used to. I was one of those people that thought carbs were the enemy but the week I started this, I went with my dad to a Russian bakery and got a massive loaf of rye and pumpernickel and eat a slice every single day, and the scale goes down. I also have added rice and beans back into my meals, in more varieties than I can tell you. Spices are so much fun to play and now that Fall is here, I also am loving my oatmeal every morning. Also, family functions aren’t worrisome, because I just make something I can eat, and enough to share.
What would you say to people that are facing similar health problems as you have?
If you are truly having any health issues, big or small, I really want to impress on you, whoever is taking the time to read this, to give plant-based eating a try. If in 30 days you don’t notice some sort of a change then you can always just go back and pay the doctor to tell you what to do with your life. I knew at the start of this, I was going to devote 90 days before I made my next decision. A little scare with my gallbladder had me jump the gun by a few weeks but even still, that issue passed and honestly the emergency room still doesn’t know what it was. But it came and went and so instead of day 90, I redid bloodwork on day 79 and was ECSTATIC! I highly recommend PCRM.ORG and the 21-Day Kickstart as a starting point so you don’t feel lost. I didn’t follow it exactly because I love oatmeal and had it every morning (steel-cut, rolled, plain or with some sort of fresh fruit) but it was nice to have the suggestions.
Are there any web resources you would suggest, that helped you the most when transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle?
As I’ve said more than a few times PCRM.ORG and FORKS OVER KNIVES have been HUGE to me during this transition. I paid for a one-month subscription to F.O.K. just so I had a month of good recipes and a place to go look for options if I got bored. I looked at it as an investment and the minimal cost was way better than even back in the day when I tried Paleo/Whole30 and they had you buying books and protein powders and supplements. This is how I knew from the start this was going to be a different process. There was no one trying to SELL me something, other than telling me to buy and eat Whole Foods. I had to grocery shop anyway so….
Anything you would like to add?
You have to be comfortable with the choices you make FOR YOU. Because there will always be doubters or people who question what you are doing. Sadly it seems most of the world has been getting inaccurate information for most of our lives. For me, it took a health scare to open my eyes to wanting more for the life I have left. I chose not to talk about what I was doing until I had concrete evidence for myself but within about 6 weeks, family and friends started noticing my physical change and asked. I talked about it as gently as I could, based on who I was talking to but I already knew this was the right plan for me, and nothing was going to change that for me. I am incredibly happy to say that I have inspired my sister and her boyfriend, who were both struggling with their weight, to give it a shot and they are both doing well and on the Whole Foods Plant-Based diet. A few other family and friends have also been doing some investigation so I like the “ripple in the puddle” effect my changes are having on those around me. I don’t preach, I lead by example. I pray that all my family and friends make positive changes so we can all be around a lot longer than we would be if we stayed on the semi-toxic plan “the masses” would like us to believe is the right path. Good luck to everyone, on or investigating this journey. It is your life. Make YOUR choices, not the ones TOLD to you by medical staff who might not have ALL the answers (wink, wink……..)