Happy Herbivore Blog

August 2, 2010

Inspiration Interview: Matt (part 1)

Today's inspirational interviewee, Matt, is the wonderful husband to Natala, our first inspirational interviewee! Matt's major (and unbelievable!) uphill battle going vegan is one that will certainly inspire us all. Matt's interview is also going to be broken into a two part series. Today, we'll talk about Matt's health, his struggles and later victories while next week well talk with him about going vegan... as a dude.

HH: First the million dollar question: How long have you been vegan and what made you go vegan?

I've been vegan for just about a year. Over time (we'll get to that in a minute) I realized that going plant-based was the best thing for my health.

HH: Your wife's health and her decision to go vegan played a huge role in your decision. Tell us about that.

Seven years ago Natala and I married. The week after our honeymoon, Natala was diagnosed with diabetes and the next five years were an intense roller coaster as Natala fought a loosing battle with a disease that only got worse. The prognosis was bleak. I watched as she tried diet after diet and new medications. Nothing worked so when she said she wanted to try this "vegan thing" I was skeptical. Two weeks later, she had cut most off her insulin and three weeks later, she was totally off it. Nothing had previously improved her condition so I knew there was something different about this "diet."

Even as Natala's health continued to improve, you remained skeptical about adopting a vegan diet for yourself. Why was that?

It took a long time for me to see that Natala's diet would be good for me. I kept thinking all vegan food would taste as bad as TV dinners from the 80's. I doubted I could ever feel full or satisfied. I also felt like I'd be less of a man if I went vegan (we'll dive deeper into this next week!).

When did you start to change your mind?

When Natala started cooking meals for me. I realized vegan food was far more satisfying and filling than anything I'd eaten before. I also really liked it. However, because of my allergies and sensitivities (we'll get to those in a minute) I didn't think I'd be able to do it, even if I wanted to. Meanwhile, Natala dove deeper into veganism but was kind enough to hold back all the disturbing details.

How did you coexist during this period?

For six months we ate completely separate meals.

Then what changed? Why did you decide to give veganism a try, despite a major uphill battle ahead?

One day I said to Natala, "Just tell me everything you know. Don't hold back." She told me about dairy production (gross!), animal cruelty, the environmental impact of my diet, the corporate greed and all kinds of things I didn't want to know about the food I was eating. I decided no matter how limited my diet would become because of my allergies and sensitivities, I at least had to try.

Tell us about these allergies and your major uphill battle.

Throughout my life I formed severe allergies and sensitivities to fruits and vegetables. At first I would simply stop liking a fruit or vegetable but soon after, eating any small amount would cause my mouth and throat to itch for hours. Eventually the allergies grew bad enough that I would go to the ER and get epinephrine injections.

You were allergic to fruits and vegetables?! What did you eat?

My diet consisted of lots of grains, tofu, spices, faux meats, cereals and rice. I couldn't eat beans at first because we weren't sure which ones I was allergic too.

You were eventually able to "cure" your allergies. Tell us about that.

A natural doctor diagnosed me with "leaky gut syndrome." A silly name, but a very common illness affecting millions of people. The basic premise is that due to a highly stressful diet (animal products are stressful on the body) our intestines form small perforations that let undigested food find a way into our bloodstream. Our immune system attacks that food like an infection and forms and allergy to it. By cleaning up my diet and going on some intense probiotics (they help restore the intentional lining) my body began to heal.

Are you able to eat (and enjoy) fruits and vegetables now?

A few months ago I started carefully trying fruits and vegetables. I found that not only were my allergies gone but I actually enjoyed the taste of fruits and vegetables. I'd catch myself daydreaming about kale and spinach.

I can't begin to explain the joy of being able to eat a strawberry, salsa or pasta sauce after all these years. If you or someone you know used to enjoy raw fruits or vegetables, and now doesn't, please look into leaky gut syndrome.

Have you experienced any other benefits, beyond the reversal of allergies?

I went off my heartburn medication and all prescription medication. My asthma also greatly improved and I no longer need a sleep apnea machine to get a good night's rest. (We'll talk about Matt's weight loss, physical changes and new energy levels next week!)

HappyHerbivore.com promotes a whole foods diet with absolutely no oil. You recently joined your wife in removing oil, sugar and excess salt from your diet. Tell us about that.

When Natala and I learned the ugly truth about oil, I begrudgingly gave it up. Oil is one of the most caloricly dense foods. Despite popular claims, it has no real health benefits. As you say, it's like pouring candy bars onto anything you eat -- except even candy bars have more vitamins and nutrients.

We also gave up added sugar (including my beloved agave) and excess salt at the same time. Since then my weight loss has improved and I feel consistent energy throughout the day.

Best of all, my tastes began to change in dramatic ways. I really like the taste of fruits and vegetables now -- even fruits and vegetables that I previously did not like. I feel like my taste-buds are healing and food tastes rich and complex in ways I never noticed before. It's like I got a tongue upgrade!

Thanks Matt! This has been incredible! I can't wait for part 2 next week!
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