Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Overweight, Diabetes & My Experience With The Plant Based Diet

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I get a lot of mail from vegan-curious people who have a lot of questions. They usually will say that they are really interested, and I have a lot of good arguments, but their doctor/trainer/nutritionist/TV show have other things to say about it that contradict what they read hear, or what they read in new books or see on documentaries.

I’ve been to countless doctors and I’ve seen and consulted with at least 8 nutritionists (that I can remember). I have been to weight loss groups, actually I’ve been to them all. I have been to nutrition talks, I’ve gone to high priced seminars that talk about the best ways to lose weight or to control diabetes. I’ve read almost every book in the health section at Borders. You could call me an expert in knowing all that is out there.

For the vegan-curious:

It’s not your fault. You can take a big sigh of relief and stop feeling so much shame or if you are like me, feeling stupid for not seeing some of the truths of the animal products you are consuming. It’s not your fault, because every time you turn on the TV, every doctor you go to, every nutritionist you see and pay money to consult with, every (well almost every) weight loss group you go to, tell you the same thing. Almost every nutrition/diet book and magazine repeat the same thing over and over, in all sorts of ways: eating meat is just fine. The only way to really live a healthy life is to consume animal products.

And if you are like me, you go home, and you might feel this bit of guilt, you really don’t want to eat the chicken for dinner, but your trusted healthcare provided has told you that it’s healthy, a good source of protein, and that really there is no other way to eat. This person that you trust may have even told you that going on a plant based diet is not realistic, or that it’s dangerous. And you go back and forth, thinking that yes, you know that it’s bad in a lot of ways, but you don’t want to risk your own health, or the health of your family, and sadly, maybe that is just the way it needs to be. I understand this, because that’s how I thought for a long time.

Not only is it in your doctor offices, or in your nutrition consults, or from your gym trainers, it’s all over the stuff you watch and read. I decided to watch 2 hours of morning television programming today. On the plus side I saw an add for Kashi which is a 7 grain cereal. On the negative? The commercials I saw were sick. Almost every commercial was about food or medication. I counted in 2 hours 8 depression medication adds. EIGHT. And then adds that had something to do with food and how that particular food was good for you? I lost count. Every single food commercial (with the exception of the ONE Kashi add) was an add for an animal product that would help make you healthy. Including at least 7 fast food commercials. FAST FOOD companies claiming how healthy and good their product is, showing thin, fit, happy people eating their grilled chicken, drinking their diet cokes. And I won’t even get started on the morning show itself. Food sections all with how to cook some sort of animal product, and a health section advocating consuming animal products.

So, what you see and hear every single day completely goes against every thing that you might be newly reading or watching in regards to being vegan. It’s saturated in our society – eat and use animal products, because it is the only way. Health care experts, and even shows like “The Biggest Loser” push using animal products to live a healthy life, and all of this information leads to a lot of confusion. It leads to knowing that it’s bad that animals suffer and die so that you can eat, but there really is no other way around it.You might even feel selfish for thinking this way, but you still have to make a decision between your health and your life, and a way of eating that you might not even agree with completely, but have been told so many times that it’s completely normal, and the only way to eat healthy.

Personally, I started to do my own research in regards to all of the health sides of it. Being an obese diabetic, I could not risk doing anything that was dangerous in regards to my health.  I started to really dive into exactly how the body works, and how my body processes food. I had to understand the health part of being vegan in order to understand the ethical side. For me, I could easily say that while I knew consuming animal products was not ethical, every single trusted source in my life was saying it was the only way for me to be healthy, and for me to control my diabetes, and so I just had no other choice. I could not, for me, go from the ethical part of being vegan at the start, because of all of the conflicting information.

Not to mention, that I thought I was doing good, by only buying “happy meat”. Meat that was organically raised and fed. I could agree that, yes there is something wrong with factory farms, and the ways that animals were treated there, but it was okay to buy and consume animal products from farms where they were grass fed, or free range, or any other number of things that eased my conscience.

It is why the health part of going to a plant based diet is so important. And it’s important for you to understand that as you start to do your own research regarding all that it means to be vegan. Because, honestly, why would you put your own health or your families health at risk, if going vegan meant they would not be able to eat properly, and if it did not contribute to their overall well being?

When asking yourself if you can trust advertisers, doctors, nutritionists, I would encourage you to take a trip back in time to the golden age of the tobacco industry. I don’t think you would find ONE doctor in the United States that currently would suggest smoking cigarettes for any reason. And likewise, you won’t find advertisements on TV celebrating smoking any kind of tobacco. For the most part, you won’t even see it on your favorite TV shows, and if you do, it’s generally not a character who is associated with health and happiness.

But, not to long ago, advertisements were run on TV, radio and print claiming the wonderful health benefits of smoking. Most of these advertisements featured doctors in them, saying that “4 out of 5 doctors agree that X brand of cigarettes is the best!” or some other claim. People went to their doctors and they were told to take up smoking to relieve stress, help lose weight, and my personal favorite? Help with the after baby blues.

My Grandfather was one of the people told to take up smoking to relieve stress. It was during WW2 and everyone smoked, and was encouraged to smoke. And he said that there were people that would say that they thought it wasn’t healthy, and those people were considered to be the “Health Police” and what did they know? They weren’t doctors. Now, if a doctor suggested smoking, I’m guessing that they would not be in practice much longer. Likewise, if NBC ran commercials for cigarettes all of a sudden, that claimed the great health benefits of smoking? How many of you would call in and protest?

The first step for me in becoming vegan was deciding that the people that I trusted for my nutritional advice, could be wrong. And the second step was starting to care enough about my body to figure out how it worked, and figure out why it wasn’t working the way it should be.

I read a lot and researched a lot about going plant based, and in each step made sure I understood what was happening with my body. Being diabetic, I had a great measuring tool – my blood sugar. I was able to see first hand what eating a HEALTHY plant based diet was doing to my body. I stress healthy, because YES you can be an unhealthy vegan. Potato chips and vegan ice cream are not going to win you smaller pant sizes, even if they are vegan. But, more importantly, I could immediately see the effects of eliminating meat, dairy and eggs from my diet. It seemed easy after that, it was easy to understand how my body worked. Going on a plant based diet, was basically going on a low stress diet for my body. All of those animal products (no matter how healthy they claimed to be) were stressing out my body. A stressed out body leads to a body that has to work on digesting foods that don’t belong on it, so it might not have time to do other things, like lose weight properly or heal itself. The bottom line, was that I found out eating a plant based diet meant not stressing out my body, and that lead to my body starting to work the way it should.

When I understood that going on a vegan plant based diet was indeed healthy, that I could eat, that it was the way my body was supposed to work, I was then able to start to understand the ethical side of being vegan. More so, I was able to really research and find out truths, that I could not have done before, because it just lead to shame, but shame I thought I could do nothing about, so I would step further and further away from the ethical arguments, because I could not understand them, and then think that eating meat was still the only healthy way to live. It was when I was able to go plant based because of health reasons,  that the cognitive dissonance was able to stop for me, and it was only then that I could start really understand the ethical side of being vegan.

If you are vegan curious, I just wanted to let you know that the way you think about your food is not your fault, and has been formed over many years of bad information from trusted sources.

I would encourage you to really start doing your own research, figure out how your body works, and read up on exactly how someone who is a healthy vegan eats. You might need to first understand how it’s all possible, and understand that eating a plant based diet is indeed healthy, and normal for our bodies, before you dive into the ethical side of consuming animals. Maybe, you are like I was, and you know that consuming living beings is not ethical, but you have been told so much that there is just no other way, that you force yourself to ignore it all.

It’s an uphill battle for a lot of you who are vegan curious, because it’s not yet the “norm” in society. Just like people who did not smoke were once not the norm. I hope that one day when my kids or my grandchildren are looking at advertising from my generation, they will be just as repulsed by a commercial for “milk doing the body good” as I am repulsed by this:

At times, it might seem like a lot, and you might get discouraged. But I want to encourage you today that just by being vegan curious you have already made a huge step. You’ve opened the door, and now it’s up to you to continue to research, learn and understand. The further you walk down this path the more and more reasons you will have to be vegan. It might have started because you care about your health,  but I can assure you that soon, you will understand many more reasons, and you will start to see things that you have not before. That is where I want to remind you that it is not your fault for not knowing all of it before this point, but now that you’ve opened the door? You also open the door to responsibility and learning, which is all, in the end, being free.

17 COMMENTS

  1. Fanny

    Everyone curious about raising vegetarian/vegan kids or being vegan while pregnant, the Raise Vegan has a wonderful for just this topic and plenty of parents with happy, healthy little vegans – https://raisevegan.com/

    Doctors usually aren’t very well versed in nutrition, so just remember that when they say things. I’m a vegan teenager and I’ve proved mine wrong with how well my blood tests have come back and how well I eat.. They’ve stopped being bothers since then! If all else fails, bring in some literature for them to read through or find more veg-friendly doctors.

    Vegan Lunch Box is a good blog to read through and she even has a book. I’ll post more when I remember resources!

    Good Luck!

  2. Heather

    Thank you so much for writing this today! I am pregnant, and picked up “Bun in the Oven” and I’ve been reading your sites and a few others about being vegan. I really don’t want to eat animal products, but my doctor and my birthing class instructor both said that it was absurd that I would think about being vegan while I was pregnant! I left feeling so discouraged, and had that conflicting thing you talk about. I kept thinking that, while I don’t want to eat animals, I have no other choice for me and my baby. I was starting to feel like such a bad mom to be because my doctor basically laughed in my face, and my birthing instructor said that being vegan is not healthy for me or my baby. I didn’t feel like I had any good counter argument, but now I’m encouraged to learn about the health and how it is healthy for me and my baby.
    Do you know of any good vegan mom blogs? Or resources?

    You are right about not wanting to know about animal rights while you are being told that eating animals is wrong! I just ignore it as well.
    Thanks so much for writing and being honest!

  3. MJ

    ME TOO!!! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU For posting this! I went to my Doctor a month ago for a check up, I told him that I had been thinking of going vegetarian because I had just read this article about the treatment of animals. I love animals!
    He told me that being a vegetarian would just make me gain weight and cause other issues like vitamin loss and bone loss and it was perfectly safe to eat animal products! He said just in moderation.
    I left feeling like an idiot! And started to put it all out of my head.

    I want to learn more about the health so that I can have a solid idea of all of it.

    Is China Study good?
    Thanks again!

  4. Jen

    Yeah, add me to the list of people who needed this today. I have three kids and their pediatricians are always telling me about “stupid” vegetarian parents who feed their kids lettuce and apples. I know this isn’t the case, and that there are plenty of healthy vegan/vegetarian kids, but I didn’t even want to tell him that I was thinking about it, because I was afraid of being called a bad mom!

    It’s hard if you don’t know the health side of it, but now I am motivated to learn. I’d also be interested in any good mom books or blogs!

  5. Laura

    My friend sent me this link because we’ve been thinking about looking into a vegetarian life or a vegan life (I’m not sure what the difference is).
    I also have the kids problem, and their doctors. Where we live there is such a bad stigma about vegetarians, and all of the moms in my mom groups say bad things about it, and how it’s very unhealthy for kids. I never know what to say, I feel like I know a good portion of the ethical debate, but I haven’t been able to make the switch because I’m afraid that my kids won’t get the nutrition they need.
    I think that I’m finding that there are a lot of reasons to be vegan, but I think it’s important to first understand that it is a healthier way to live.
    Thanks again, I’ll be back to read more of what you have to say. And ditto what others have said, any books you can recommend would be great.

  6. Elle

    Thanks for this post. I really appreciate it. I have been slowly moving to a plant based diet. My biggest obsticle is my meat loving family…even my 9 year old has stated loudly that she won’t become a vegetarian. My husband has agreed to eat vegetarian one night a week, but that’s it. Baby steps are at least steps forward. I feel better and it feels right to me to eat plant based. I’m not hungry between meals, I don’t have my major sugar cravings like I used to have, and I am losing weight.

    Once again, thanks for the post.

  7. Elizabeth

    Another good post from you m’am! I just have some general comments about the state of our diets.

    After the second world war there was a huge change in the way people ate (and what they ate) for the worse. Quantity was prioritised over quality, and then to make up for the steady decline in the healthfulness of our food the food technologists had to invent novel foods in order to reintroduce lost nutrients. And so the craziness that is currently the western diet began, further helped by the millions spent on advertising the wonderful new products; with the cute little advertising jingles and attractive packaging we all get a little sucked in.

    I have done so much reading on the subject of food production in the last 6 months and have been heavily influenced by a UK writer, Felicity Lawrence. Her book “Not on the Label” was a giant wake up call. In the last 5 years I have cut way down on animal products, and through books such as hers and blogs such as yours I just keep finding more and more reasons why I should try and take that even further (as well as trying to avoid food packaging waste and fruit and veg grown in the north of Spain but that’s another story!).

    I really do feel so much healthier eating a highly unprocessed diet. My healthy eating halo does slip more often then it should, but how I feel after such events only serves to remind me of the negative effects of eating bad food. More often then not I’m reaching into the fridge to grab a handful of raw broccoli where previously I would go for a chocolate bar. Really am feeling the love for veggies these days and only wish more people would!

  8. rick

    I have a friend who is both vegan* and an ultra runner. He does however from time to time eat *game that he hunts. His point is that game is not fed or raised by humans for pure consumption and therefore healthy. I don’t hunt or eat game so I’m not sure if the point is valid. Any thoughts?

  9. Mike

    I can’t believe I’m commenting on a vegan blog. I just wrote to you and told you that up till three weeks ago I told my wife that I’d die before giving up meat.
    Two weeks ago I had a mild heart attack. I’m 47 years old, I have 2 children and a wife. I never cared before, I don’t go to the doctor much, so I don’t know what they would say about eating healthy. I am a meat and beer guy and I eat sausage like you people eat apples.
    I told my wife that I don’t want to leave her or my kids, and that even my meat and drinking habits are not important when it comes to being alive and living with them. I want to see my kids get married and have kids, and I don’t want some damn stubborn meat eating habits to take that away from me. I always thought eating shit like tofu and fruits was for chicks and wimps (no offense), but now I’m starting to realize, the way I’ve been eating is for wimps, It is not manly to leave your kids and wife with out you, all because you wanted some damn steak.
    Thanks for the site, I don’t really get it all right now, but what I’ve been doing for all these years is stupid. Sorry if I offended any vegans or anything, now I know that people weren’t just hippies, maybe you actually have a point.

  10. nat

    Wow… lots to respond to.

    Heather, MJ, Jen & Laura – hang in there! As I said it can sometime be an uphill battle, but one worth researching and learning as much as you can about !

    fughawzi: Thank you so much for your insight! that helps and will help a lot of people.

    January Elle: That’s hard with the family – perhaps try vegan brunch weekends – make things like pancakes and familiar things. Hang in there though! You are doing a great thing for everyone.

    Elizabeth: Wow, that is fascinating, I’ve never made that connection. It’s sad how greedy as a society we became with food.

    Rick: I’ve heard other people say similar things. First, I’d say your friend is an omnivore, since he does consume meat products, even if it is when he hunts it. And animal meat is still animal meat- in that we still don’t process it well. It’s good that he drastically cuts his meat eating, and it’s good that he is an avid athlete, because that helps with how his body can process it.
    However, the fact that he still has to cook it in order to consume it, is evidence that his body is not meant to process it (even if it’s not factory farm raised). Our bodies just weren’t set up to consume meat – things like our acidity levels in our stomachs, our jaw lines, taste, smell, tongue, the way our teeth are shaped, our finger nails – the act of eating meat and dairy is just against our nature, no matter how it’s killed. That’s my opinion on it anyway – I’m sure there are some more people out there with more to say on it though – I can put it out there for the community to answer 🙂
    Mike: Welcome to the dark side, we have cookies 😉
    Seriously, no offense at all taken ..first of all, you made a huge first step – good for you for loving your family that much! You are on your way to life!

  11. may

    Brendan Brazier…vegan triathlete. (http://www.brendanbrazier.com/) Need I say more?

    Interestingly, one of my friends on LiveJournal is a triathlete who lives in the Pacific Northwest, and alternates posts about her running and sports lifestyle with posts complaining about her horrible PMS. Oh, and pictures of cheese nachos and salmon steaks on the grill. I don’t think she’ll ever make the connection, no matter how many links about Brendan Brazier and other vegan athletes I post. (Although the majority of athletes think you need steak and eggs for protein, the number of vegan athletes is definitely growing, which is very encouraging to see.)

    I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have a perfect diet—vegan ice cream and potato chips are two of my food groups—but I know I’m immeasurably better off eating the way I do now than the wishy-washy way I was going. I also thought milk from “happy cows” was the right thing to do; I even made my own “cream-on-the-top” yogurt.

    It’s just a better life I’m living now. I don’t have to make excuses for the way I live now, and I’m happy to say even my (rescued) dog is thriving as a vegan!

  12. Essie

    I love this blog. 🙂

    To everyone who is looking for a sourcebook for a healthy vegan pregnancy or raising vegan children, please check out BECOMING VEGAN by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina. Melina is a registered dietician and author of the American Dietetic Association’s position on vegetarian (and vegan) diets, which has been proven to be safe and healthy for “all stages of life,” including childhood and pregnancy.”

    BECOMING VEGAN is an awesome resource book that answers every single question about vegan nutrition–which not only will put your mind at ease, but will also help you answer concerned (or hostile) family, friends and doctors!

    Melina also has an entire book on raising vegetarian children (which I haven’t read).

    I sound like an ad, but her work is so well researched and easy to read that I can’t stop recommending it. Here is her website: http://www.nutrispeak.com/ And her books are available at most bookstores (I found them at Borders) and Amazon as well. Libraries may also have them. You can check libraries here: http://www.worldcat.org/

  13. Essie

    And a good book for people who think going vegan seems unmanly: The Engine eating plan by dr.Esselstyn. Rip’s a triathelete, competitive swimmer and firefighter in Austin, TX.

    You can find this book pretty much everywhere right now. He was recently on the Today show and also has a blog on the site above.

    And the recipes are great. He turned much of his own firehouse on to eating vegan and they made into a contest (hee hee, pretty macho) about who lost the most weight and lowered their cholesterol the most.

  14. leslie

    I second the recommendation of the PPK forums for vegan pregnancy and parenting. It’s a very well-informed and welcoming community.

  15. Vegan Mom

    For vegan pregnancy, my doctors were concerned as well, but I had 2 beautiful children, being vegan did not hurt them at all. In fact, when pg with my son, my ob was very surprised by my lab results and he stated that my iron levels were better than his meat eating patients.

    And for vegan parenting, remember those women who make fun of vegan parents, they are letting their kids grow up eating foods that are very unhealthy, so if you feel like you are being judged, stop and remember to feel sorry for them. People fear what they do not understand and that fear turns into making fun of others and predjudice. Don’t let that turn you into someone who cares more about what others think than they do about their own child’s health.

    Mike, I am proud of you for recognizing that being healthy and alive is more important than the foods you have always loved. The longer you are living the vegan lifestyle, the less you will miss meat and other non vegan foods. I used to love steak, but have been vegan for over 15 yrs and the thought of meat now turns my stomach, I love being vegan, hang in there and I am happy to hear your heart attack was mild and you are doing well. No offense taken here, either.

    Laura, the difference between vegetarian and vegan is that vegetarians do eat dairy and/or egg. Vegans do not eat any animal products. There is also the vegan diet vs. the vegan lifestyle. Vegan diets mean you do not eat any animal product (dairy, meat, egg, etc.) vegan lifestyle is more involved, we follow the vegan diet plus do not use any products tested on animals, do not wear leather, fur, wool, silk, etc. and so on. Hope that cleared it up for you.

    Vegan Mom

  16. alex

    I have also noticed that taking the ethical approach first rarely works when I want to make a point… thanks for putting my thoughts into words Natala!
    Laura: the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan is that whilst a vegetarian won’t eat meat, vegans won’t consume any products coming from animals which include dairies, egss, honey, leather, silk etc.

  17. Anonymous

    Often, I go over in my mind why I ever thought it was okay to eat and use animal products. It’s something that I honestly feel a lot of guilt about. I remember reading Skinny Bitch and trying to figure out why I had not figured this stuff out on my own.

Nat
I went on a plant based diet after diabetes almost took my life. Now, almost 2 years later not only have I reduced my type 2 diabetes symptoms, I have lost close to 200 pounds (and still losing). This is a place where I write about my journey as I continue the quest for health, and living a good life for today, and long into the future. Get hold of me on nat@cleanseplan.com

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