Happy Herbivore Blog

Herbie of the Week: Crystalyn (She Lowered Her Cholesterol by 69 Points & Dropped 34lbs!)

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: Herbies

Meet our Herbie of the Week, Crystalyn!

A couple months ago, Crystalyn posted a before and after picture on the Happy Herbivore Facebook page. Her transformation was incredible, so of course I had to ask her to be part of the Herbie of the Week series!

After years of struggling with her weight, Crystalyn turned her entire life (and health) around by switching to a plant-based diet in 2013. In less than a year, she lost more than 30lbs and lowered her cholesterol by more than 65 points!

Here's Crystalyn's story in her own words!

To properly explain my plant-based journey, I have to start at the beginning of my growth toward health.

My relationship with food has been everywhere on the spectrum. Most of my childhood I didn’t struggle with overeating or weight, but my home did not include the healthiest of diets. In my teens, as I became less active, I began my struggle with weight and food. After gaining 40 lbs at around age 16, I began my years of yo-yo dieting, losing and gaining anywhere from 20 to 50 lbs over and over. At one point in college, I became so obsessed with controlling my diet and limiting my portions to such small amounts that I would be starving at the end of the day, and then proceed to gorge myself in the evenings. At one point my 5’0” frame was 100lbs, size 0, and miserable. I endured that horrible existence (a diet of mostly lunch meat and cereal) for two years before again succumbing to the “who cares” mode again. Around this time, I was also in the throes of my battle with alcoholism, at the ripe age of 21. By age 23, I eventually ended up at a point where I drank almost all of my calories, eating just one small potpie every two days. Even so, I still ballooned to 181 lbs., and my face was swollen from malnutrition, as you can see from my photo (above, left).

I mention this period of my life because it was the crossroads and the turning point that led me to a path of growth and progression.

In 2007, at 24, I began my long journey to a healthy life. I got sober. A year later, I quit smoking, too. I wasn’t struggling with eating too much (though I wasn’t eating healthily either), but somehow my mistreated body had no idea what to do anymore, and it clung to all the pounds. I sat anywhere from 165 to 140 between 2007 and 2013, constantly confused with why everyone I knew ate less than me but didn’t struggle with weight the way I did. I tried eating more healthy foods with leaner meats and I tried less calories, but nothing worked consistently. I eventually settled with the idea that my body would just be bigger. And I became OK with that. Growth.

In 2012, I watched Food, Inc., and no longer felt comfortable purchasing meats. My husband and I began only eating meat when we went out to eat. Dairy became a welcome substitute.

In February 2013, everything changed. My husband and I came across Forks Over Knives. I don’t remember if he recommended it or if I did, but we decided to watch. We took note of the gentleman in the video that said he noticed a difference after three weeks of a whole-foods, plant-based diet, and we decided to give it a try. We took a whole week to eat all perishables that were off-limits, and I organized our kitchen and started the research. I bought books about plant-based diets with guides about how to prep a plant-based kitchen. At the end of the week we donated all off-limit foods we could to my husband’s coworkers, threw out the rest of the perishables, and boxed and hid everything I thought we’d probably want back when the trial was over (mostly oils!) in the back of our pantry where they couldn’t be seen or grabbed. I bought tons of pantry staples, spices, and grains recommended by one of the books (and what a GREAT tip that was!), and created a meal plan a week in advance to be sure that we’d have no excuses to back out. Then I stocked the kitchen with all the food we needed. On February 23rd, my husband and I took photos of ourselves and started our plant-based journey.

The first thing I noticed was how hungry I was! For the first week, I couldn’t eat enough. It was all 100% plant-based whole foods, but I seemed to need so much! I didn’t attempt to control this, and I’m glad I didn’t. In retrospect, I know that I needed to let my body figure things out for itself. By week three, plant-based eating started to feel normal. I began noticing my increased energy. I felt weightless. My hunger evened out, though I noticed I still needed to eat more food than I used to. (I still do!) My husband and I decided to expand our experiment through a fourth week. By the end of the fourth week, I actually started CRAVING the good foods I was eating! They satiated my hunger so completely. That was when my husband and I both realized it was a lifestyle we wanted.

I didn’t lose any weight in that first month, and yet I felt so good I decided I wanted the lifestyle anyway. I could be happy with my body at any size knowing that my health was great! Looking back, I can see why no weight loss may have occurred in the beginning. My body had been through so many ups and downs. From years of yo-yo dieting, starving myself to 100 lbs, drinking three to four half gallons of vodka a week without eating, to eating all the wrong things. I truly think my body needed that time to figure out what exactly I was doing to it now. Once it recognized that it was continuously getting the nutrients it needed, the pounds slowly started coming off. I lost about a pound a week for almost six months, and around 9 months in, my body settled at the weight it sits at now, 118 lbs. (My starting weight was 152 lbs.)

But that’s not all.

Something inside me changed, too. My confidence went through the roof before the weight was gone. It was like, I knew I was being good to myself and growing in such a healthy way, and it just made me feel great.

At about six months in, I went to my doctor and had a blood count taken, almost exactly a year after my last blood panel. My results were stellar! My cholesterol dropped from a high normal of 186 to 117, and my HDL (bad cholesterol) dropped from 102 to 55!! Everything else was tip top. I already knew that I felt better, had more energy, thought more clearly, and felt lighter on my feet, but then I discovered my insides were just as happy as my outsides were looking!

Another bonus I’ve noticed is my ability to retain information has increased, and I learn more quickly. I am a classically trained singer, and have always struggled with the memorization of music. It would just never stick! About seven months into my plant-based life, I began singing with an opera chorus in Detroit, and the strangest thing happened. I was suddenly able to learn my music so much more quickly and easily than ever before. I could practice for an hour and the notes just somehow lodged themselves into my brain, whereas it used to take a few days to achieve that kind of memory. Around the same time, I also began a graduate program in accountancy. Studying has always been a challenge for me. I used to read and read and read, then forget (OK, let’s be honest. I only sometimes studied diligently in my undergrad days! But still, I never understood why it took YEARS for new skills and knowledge to stick.) But now I remember things and it’s showing in my grades. I received a 4.0 and a perfect numeric average for my first semester, and I’m continuing to do well. I have to credit some of this success to my plant-based lifestyle.

Plant-based living has opened my world to more growth than I would have thought possible. The energy I now have has left me craving more ways to grow. And much like Lindsay, I’m all about progress not perfection. In fact, my yearly New Year’s resolution for the last seven years has been “to continue to grow.” I feel like plant-based living has given me more opportunities to do that, not only for myself but for others. With the energy that I have, I can improve myself in order to be more available to help others. I can continue to improve my health by adding in workouts that don’t drain me. I can be more humane and loving to animals, not just my pets at home. I can make a smaller carbon footprint.

And Lindsay and Happy Herbivore have created a great nest of goodies that have helped me immensely. About 90% of the meals I make come from Happy Herbivore cookbooks. (I own all four!) What can I say? She makes it soooooooo easy. All of the ingredients tend to revolve around the same staples I always have in my home, and yet the recipes are all so different and full of flavor- and best of all, quick! I know that a lot of people worry about how hard it is to eat plant-based, and believe me, I struggled in the beginning figuring out what ingredients I needed in my home at all times and searching for good recipes, but after a few months and once my kitchen was well equipped, I realized that eating this way and making meals in my home is so much more simple. And dishes, without greasy residue, are so easy to clean!

I’ve also caught on to the minimalist movement Lindsay leads. Plant-based living has simplified so many facets of my life. Eating is simple. Plentiful energy makes things simple. Good health means less stress which equals simple. And now I’m trying to apply that to more areas of my life. Simplicity is beautiful. Life is so amazing and bright, why not minimize it and let each light in my life shine brighter?

I can’t thank Lindsay enough for her support. I’m the kind of person that needs inspiration to even dream of new possibilities. Lindsay (and her crew!) are some of my inspirations. I hope, in some small way, my experience can pay their efforts forward to those I come across in my life.

Most of all, I’m excited about living a long, healthy life with my main squeeze: my awesome husband, Eric, who also celebrated one year of plant-based living with me this past February! He’s been a great ally, and he’s inspiring to me as well. An active-duty soldier in the Army, he will most certainly be in situations where maintaining a plant-based lifestyle will be difficult, and, in the right circumstances, even impossible. But he’s worked hard to maintain it. He has recently returned from a month long stay in another state for an Army course, and while he had the option of eating omnivore food for free in the chow hall, he chose to eat the few plant-based foods that were available in the cafeteria and supplemented it with plant based foods he kept in his hotel room with a mini-fridge, microwave, and a few utensils he brought from home as his only means for cooking. If he can do it with a microwave and a Gerber knife, anyone can!

For me, plant-based living has had such a domino effect. The growing part. The healthy living part. The minimalist part. The sum of all parts equaling more serenity and peace. Life is good, my friends. I am so excited to see what happens next!

What a beautiful story! Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us, Crystalyn!

**Has Happy Herbivore and a plant-based lifestyle changed your life? I want to hear from you! Email your story to lindsay[at]happyherbivore.com**

The Best of Spring Meal Plan!

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: MealPlan

Let the sunshine in!

Celebrate the arrival of spring with this week's meal plan!

Enjoy the greatest (and healthiest) hits of the season with the Spring Portobello Mushrooms, Citrus Spring Salad, Maple Glazed Vegetables and Springtime Stir-Fry (family).

But that's not all! You'll also find meal plan faves like Double Chocolate Muffins, Creamy Carrot Soup (indi.), Eggless Egg Salad (family), and much more!

Citrus Spring Salad

Individual Highlights

  • Spring Portobello Mushrooms
  • Double Chocolate Muffin
  • Sesame Greens & Quinoa
  • Maple Glazed Vegetables
  • Citrus Spring Salad
  • Caramel Cream Smoothie
  • Green Spring Wraps
  • Creamy Carrot Soup
  • Peanut Butter Cup Quinoa
  • Vegetable Korma

Get this meal plan now.

Spring Portobello Mushrooms

Family Highlights

  • Springtime Stir-Fry
  • Breakfast Banana Split
  • Eggless Egg Salad
  • Spring Portobello Mushrooms
  • Citrus Spring Salad
  • Hippie Loaf with Brown Gravy
  • Cinnamon-Apple Oatmeal
  • Skyline Spaghetti Squash
  • Spicy 3-Bean Salad
  • YUMmus

Get this meal plan now.

Springtime Stir-Fry

Testimonials

"I purchased last week’s meal plan and prepped on Sunday as suggested. I have had a great week and already lost weight! I told my husband after purchasing this week’s plan that I wouldn’t spend more than $50.00 on food and he said 'I will believe it when I see it.' I only spent $33.72 for an entire week's worth of food!" - Stacy S

"I lost 9lbs in one week by exclusively following the meal plan!" - Kyle D

Get the current meal plan now.

Teaching Tuesday: Non-Dairy Milks

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: Cooking101

By popular demand, this week's Teaching Tuesday is all about non-dairy milks!

Fun fact: Did you know non-dairy milks can't be labeled as "milk" in Europe? The word "milk" is actually a protected dominion reserved only for mammary secretions. (Source) Instead, they're labeled as "drinks" (i.e. soy drink).

There are a lot of non-dairy milks on the market today, but rather than focusing on all of them, here is a breakdown of the most popular (and common) ones and how they're made:

Soy milk is made from soaking dry soybeans and grinding them in water.

Almond milk is made from ground almonds and water. I use unsweetened almond milk for cooking and baking.

Rice milk is a grain milk made by processing rice. You can also make your own rice milk very easily.

Coconut milk the beverage is not the same as coconut milk in a can. The beverage is lower in fat and comparable to its non-dairy milk cousins. (Note: whenever my recipes call for lite coconut milk, I'm referring to the one that comes in a can)

Hemp milk is made from hemp seeds, which are soaked and ground into water. It has a nutty taste.

When people ask me which one they should purchase, my general answer is to find a plant-based milk you like and use it. If you don't like soy milk, that's fine. Try almond or rice or oat milk. Try different brands, too. There is a reason there are so many brands — they taste different. You might also prefer sweetened over unsweetened. The only milks I suggest avoiding are the coconut milk-based ones because they are so high in saturated fat (and they don't always work well in cooking and baking) and hemp milk because the earthy hemp flavor can be strong and not complementary to the flavors in your recipes.

What to look for when buying your non-dairy milk:

1. Make sure the plant-based milk you are using doesn't contain oil. Refrigerated milks tend to, but shelf-stable do not. The shelf-stable ones also tend to be cheaper, and the great thing about them is you can stock up so you never run out in the middle of the recipe.

2. If you trying to eat a low-fat diet, you might want pick the brand with the lowest amount of fat per serving. This tends to be rice or oat milk, as soy and almonds both are fairly rich in fat naturally. You can, however, find low-fat and fat-free soy milks. We like WestSoy's non fat soy milk, but tend to buy unsweetened almond milk.

3. Pick the brand with the least number of ingredients.

4. Buy unsweetened if you can. If you need your plant-based milk sweetened, that's fine. Sugar is a scapegoat, not the biggest concern. A little sweetener in your plant-based milk is nothing to worry about — just make sure you're buying sweetened plain or vanilla, not chocolate or another flavor, which is basically a candy bar in a glass.

And finally, because I know it'll probably come up in the comments ;), I want to briefly touch on carrageenan and GMO.

Carrageenan is a seaweed. It's also used in many foods, not just soy milk. I think because it is used in soy milk, and the dairy counsel is always looking for ways to smear their competitor (especially now as dairy sales are down and soy milk sales are up) it's been getting more attention and hot air than it would if it was only in, say, jelly beans.

That said, if you someone has concerns (I find the science to be slightly suspect), there are plenty of brands of non-dairy milk (including soy milk) that do not use carrageenan.

As for GMO, I previously blogged about GMO (and soy) for the Herbie 101 series, and it includes plenty of links to scientific studies.

But just in case that doesn't answer your questions, here are some informative links on both topics:

Is carrageenan safe? (video)

Jeff Novick: Carrageenan

Dr McDougall: GMO Foods: A Potentially Disastrous Distraction

Which non-dairy milk do you prefer?