My Vegan Transformation Story
When I was in my late teens (1996ish) I watched a 60 minutes segment on how chickens were raised and kept and killed on factory farms. It affected me immediately and I swore off meat. Over several weeks, maybe a few months, my resolve began to fade. I didn’t know any vegetarians and I really had no idea if it was even possible to live without meat long term. A moment of weakness with my dad’s cooking on the grill and my brief vegetarian phase was over, what I had seen on the 60 minutes episode was forgotten.
Then there were the MySpace days (2005ish). A friend of mine regularly posted Peta images and videos and spoke the truth of what was happening to the animals and where our food was coming from. If she wasn’t such an old friend that I otherwise loved to pieces I would have probably un-friended her. I got so angry and defensive at seeing the images. (I know now that my anger was misdirected at the messenger rather than getting angry for what was happening to all of the animals and our food system.) I would regularly rant about it. Then at some point I either stopped seeing her posts or stopped going on MySpace. The message was forgotten, again. But seeds were planted, I’m sure of it.
Many factors came together, seemingly all at once in late 2011- early 2012, that fueled my desire to learn about what I was putting into my body and where my food came from. I was struggling with getting weight off from pregnancy, dealing with high blood pressure, and an annoying heart rhythm issue that was aggravated because of the extra weight. My then 1 year old was diagnosed with an egg allergy, and my father was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. All of these things were happening within months of each other and I was overwhelmed with the drive to make changes.
I watched the documentary Food, Inc, first I think -or I started it anyway. I couldn’t get past the scene at the Smithfield plant and had to turn it off because I was sobbing. I remember being really messed up over how the pigs were treated and how I was willing to eat them but not willing to know how they got on my plate. I didn’t change my behavior but I felt really distraught over every grocery-shopping trip and cooking meat was really hard and gross. I knew I had to change but didn’t know how.
I’ll mention here that a notable part of my transformation has to do with vegan cake. It was time to celebrate my son’s 1st birthday and he had this new egg allergy thing we were working with. How on earth do I do birthday cake without eggs? A Google search opened up a world of egg free recipes and new vocabulary like “cruelty free” and “vegan”. Since I “could never” bake without eggs I also used the Google to find a nearby bakery that had vegan options (Hot Pink Cake Stand, Wilmington NC). It was the best cake I’d ever eaten up to that point. I remember thinking, “If this is vegan then I can totally do vegan.”.
At some point the film Forks Over Knives came up on my recommended list on Netflix after the Food, Inc trainwreck. I watched and I took it all in and I knew that I was changed forever. Forks Over Knives explores the claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled and even reversed, by eating a whole foods plant based diet and by getting rid of processed foods and animal products from our diets. I began devouring books and documentaries, and found the Engine 2 Diet book by Rip Esselstyn, the son of Dr. Caldwell B Esselstyn who was a major contributor to the research behind Forks Over Knives. I set a start date of September 11, 2012 to start the 28 day Engine 2 Diet as an experiment. I would go back to meat and dairy when it was done, I just had to lose some weight and get my health status up. This is what I told myself anyway. I chose the date because my husband was going away for work and I knew it’d be easiest to go cold turkey during his trip.
My first shopping trip on September 10th was overwhelming and may have involved tears. I picked what I thought to be the easiest and most palatable recipes on the meal plan and wandered around the store trying to find ingredients that I had never cooked and reading labels on everything. I don’t even think I had prepared brown rice up until this point and certainly not quinoa or kale. I got through it but I was doubtful that it would work for me. A week in and the weight was already melting off; I had a cleaner feeling and enough proof to power through to the next shopping trip, which was much easier. I made some recipes that were amazing and some that left a lot to be desired, but I kept at it anyway. At this point I started to think that maybe the plant-based life was for me, but the ‘V’ word was not. This was all about my health and not the animals (remembering my hatred for the Peta videos on myspace I didn’t want to people to be angry with me like I had been).
Then I found Victoria Moran’s book Main Street Vegan: Everything you need to know to eat healthfully and compassionately in the real world. I immediately felt a connection to her and her approach. Her book was kind and informative and only as graphic as needed to show the truth. She addressed just about anything and everything that was a question or concern, I can see why it’s referred to as the Vegan Bible. Her book led me to her podcast and her podcast introduced me to an entire new world of friends I didn’t know in real life but who were to become my lifeline. I now identified as vegan- for my health, for the animals, and for the environment. (And after the 28 days I’d dropped 16 pounds, so score!)
My wonderful husband left his food crazed and confused wife at home for his business trip and returned to a new, empowered, plant strong baby vegan. We had some growing pains initially but we’ve made our mixed household work for us and while he is not vegan he makes so many more vegan choices than ever before, and he’s my number one supporter and encourager.
I have to talk really quickly about my running because my journey with running began around the same time as my vegan adventures. I started with C25K app and a jogging stroller around the same time that I first watched that Food Inc along with doing Insanity workouts. We moved to a new state and I immediately hooked up with Moms Run This Town, a free running club with chapters all over the country, and found my tribe of running mamas, my peeps. One of the podcasts that I listened to featured Rich Roll and his book Finding Ultra. He basically went from overweight and unhealthy, to an elite ultra marathon winning plant based runner. This fired me up because it helped me see that I could run and eat vegan and thrive. Since then I’ve run 2 full marathons and 10 half marathons, with tons of shorter races thrown in. I just continued to get faster (not winning any ultras by any means, but I’m beating the old me, so I’m winning!!!).
After reading Finding Ultra I stumbled upon the No Meat Athlete blog and podcasts. I used Matt Frasier’s No Meat Athlete Road Map for one of my marathons and I’ve loved his recipes for smoothies and protein bars. Last year he introduced the idea of local No Meat Athlete running clubs and I eagerly joined the Virginia Beach chapter. These were some of the first vegans that I’d met in real life after 2 years of being vegan! Again, I had found my tribe, my peeps.
So what’s my message? I’ve found that the vegan diet and lifestyle are the best for my body, the animals and the environment. I feel physically better than I can ever remember and spiritually and emotionally I have a sense of peace that wasn’t there before. My behavior is finally matching my values and ideals. And I can run. Far. And now I’m having vegan babies (pregnant with twins!!!) and thriving. I believe that I’ve found my purpose with online fitness coaching and recently I became Main Street Vegan® certified as a Vegan Lifestyle Coach and educator. So, that, in a lot of words is sort of a summary of my vegan journey so far. I look forward to sharing more on my blog.
For a list of some of the influential resources that have helped me in my journey so far please go here.