I grew up eating a traditional diet typical of living in North America – meat, dairy, fruit & veggies with a side serving of sweets and processed snacks. For the first 30-some years of my life, this way of eating remained largely unaltered, although I started incorporating more vegetable-based dishes in an effort to keep the menu fresh and because I had a vague sense that cutting back on meat was a good thing to do.
Then in May 2012, everything changed when my dad was diagnosed with heart disease during a routine physical.
The heart disease diagnosis was a shock. My dad did not look or act as if he had heart disease and, in fact, had been taking better care of himself through diet and exercise in the preceding five years.
Ironically, a year earlier, my mom was presented with the book, “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease,” by Dr. Esselstyn. After rereading the book with my dad’s diagnosis in mind, my parents decided to give the diet a try in the hopes of staving off heart surgery.
Faced with the reality that genetically I might be predisposed to heart disease (and had poor cholesterol and triglyceride readings in my twenties), I read through Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease and became convinced I needed to give plant-based eating a try. It also was a tangible way of supporting my dad.
The first few weeks and months were tough. It felt like my body was going into starvation mode as I eliminated meat, dairy and oils all in one go. Coupled with that was the frustration of trying to figure out how to cook all over again. When you eliminate the fats and flavors that accompany meat, butter, cheese and milk, nothing behaves in the same familiar way.
However, the health benefits from eating a plant-based diet far outweighed the growing pains of learning to eat a different ways: I shed a few extra pounds, my energy increased, more natural color returned to my face and I didn’t feel “heavy” after eating.
Since that first year of eating a plant-based diet, I’ve made additional modifications based on new information gleaned from books, magazines and blogs. For example, I grew skeptical of eating meat substitutes like TVP, tempeh and seitan. I’ve also reduced my intake of gluten-based grains.
In March-May 2014, I felt led to follow an anti-candida diet which eliminates ALL sugars because of symptoms I was experiencing. As with going to a plant-based diet, the first two weeks were the hardest and finding new alternatives for favorite recipes became a challenge. However staying off sugar for three months eliminated my cravings for it, significantly reduced the negative health symptoms I was previously experiencing, including reducing my anxiety and it caused me to amp up my creativity in the kitchen – praise God!