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Meet our Herbie of the Week, Erin! By adopting a plant-based diet, Erin overcame her struggles with food and bravely shares her ongoing battle with spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental health.
[Editorial note: What I love most about Erin? She refers to her diet and herbivore lifestyle as "Debbie" to fool some not-so-supportive people in her life]
HH: Tell us a little bit about your history.
Well...first I've been overweight and a big eater for the past 20+ years. I struggled with my weight, but I certainly wasn't pressured by my husband, friends, or family to lose weight. At my top weight of 225 lbs., I was performing a LOT as a belly dancer, belly dance teacher, and doing a lot of PR for my shows.
But many years later, after surviving a rare form of cancer, losing my left eye, having my marriage end, and coming back to Tucson, I weighed 50 lbs. less — but had no control over eating. High blood pressure and diabetes are not unusual in my family. I was diagnosed with HBP when I was 35 years old and diagnosed with type 2 diabetes when I was 44. I was not taking insulin yet, but felt pain starting in my feet and legs.
HH: You mentioned you "had no control over eating." Can you elaborate?
Even up to June 2012, my two adult sons would hide pizza and sweets from me. They knew that I would keep eating until it was gone. If it was in the apartment, I was going to eat it. My younger son even tried to get a food intervention for me, but he couldn't find anyone.
So, one Spring 2012 evening, my sons both started talking to me about the danger I was putting myself in — that they were really afraid I would have a massive heart attack, or go into a Diabetic coma.
They were very sincere, especially my younger son who said he is too young to lose his mother. And that evening, I really started thinking about changing my eating habits. I was on all kinds of meds, and every year adding on more and more. It slowly dawned on me that I was going to have to do something radical to stop my cravings. But as long as my sons kept cheese, meat, candy, and ice cream, I wouldn't make it.
HH: What changed?
This past June, my older son moved out, which cut way back on food I craved. Until my younger son also moved out in August, we didn't have much dairy, meat, or sugary foods. But by mid-August 2012, I knew I would have to go on a plant-based diet. The day my son moved out is when everything changed. I gave him all the food we had, emptying out my kitchen. The next day I went to the store and bought fruit and vegetables. I always have loved fresh produce, and I will eat it every day; as long as there is nothing else with which to stuff my face. I had no more dairy products and gave away the bag of sugar. I started on almond and rice milk, and carried raw cashews and almonds with me.
HH: What else did you eat?
The first month, I made lots of veggie-fruit smoothies and every kind of raw veggie that looked semi-interesting to me. I live in Southern Arizona, and our summers are brutally hot. When I go out, I overheat easily. I also needed to keep my blood sugar from plummeting, so I kept frozen grapes in giant bags in my purse. I decided to not let myself get ravenously hungry so as not to undermine my determination.
And for the first time in 35 years, I lived completely alone. I didn't tell anybody what I was doing either. By the end of September 2012, I went for blood work, and the results were amazing.
HH: Yes! Tell us about the results and benefits!
My blood pressure had dropped, and my cholesterol and blood sugar were much lower; almost in the normal category. And I had lost about 10 lbs. in those first few weeks, just eating the "new" foods! I told my happy doctor that I'm different now — that each day, I know I've changed. I feel it in my core. I'm not the same person regarding food, just for today. I don't worry about any longer time; today is all I have. By the second and third month, I began to eat cooked veggies and brown rice. So, now I'm in the middle of my 4th month. I feel much different than before I went herbivorous. I haven't given myself any ultimatum. I get up every morning, willing to keep going. Yes, I've eaten some of my beloved former foods. But not every day like I used to.
Also my ex-hubby and I finally ended our divorce disagreements after 2 years in court. I won, which I feel is fair. So, a great amount of peace has returned to my life. On the outside, nothing has changed; but on the inside, EVERYTHING has changed.
HH: Have you been able to go off any of your medications?
I'm still on my different medications because I really could have a heart attack or stroke out. This past year, I was diagnosed with "serious mental illness," and this was a GREAT relief to me. It made me eligible for more services, which I desperately needed. I finally got on a good dosage of anti-depressants and the gut-wrenching fear of the unknown is leaving me. I'm not one of those people who can just stop taking their meds for mental illness. It doesn't work that way for me. I have a chemical imbalance, pure and simple. It has affected me in all areas of my life, which I think triggered the crazy eating patterns. And I believe the eating affected my brain chemicals.
I have had to battle my demons on all levels: spiritual, mental, and physical. Everyone is different, and this has been my way. It has just unfolded by itself. When I started eating healthy, I had very few expectations or plans.
HH: You seem to be a great example of the "take it one day at a time" approach, which is wonderful. Still, I have to ask: Do you also have any hopes or goals for the future?
Just to eat a plant-based diet and take my meds. I'm going to have normal blood results very soon. I see my doctor this week and will get my blood tests and I do think I will be in normal range for all categories. It was love that brought me here. I want to take back my health so I can see my youngest son get married someday and start a family. I have 4 grandchildren who I want to help grow up. They need me to be around a long time, to help them as they grow. I have dreams for myself too. My crazy little hobby of making unique crowns has turned into a little business.
In April 2012, a few of them will be in an art show for women artists in downtown Tucson. I'm truly stunned and amazed. I never dreamed any of this was possible.
HH: Anything else you'd like to add?
Today, I wear smaller clothes that fit, and even my shoes are getting too big because my feet lost weight! And it's fun to be somewhat "cute," but I needed a bigger reason to change: to extend my life expectancy, to buck the family trend of obesity and poor health. And to maybe get a little tranquility in life as I sliiiiiide into my golden years.
HH: Thank you for sharing such an honest and open story with us. We wish you and your family continued good health!
Update 2/28 — "Well, I got my blood results back about 3 weeks ago, and my lipids, blood sugar, and LDLs are normal. After some 20 years... I went off all my medications, including the anti-depressants and high blood pressure meds. I did this mostly because I needed to try a new way to get better, instead of stuffing my body full of meds. I also met a lovely man on a vegan dating site, and have moved to Idaho to be with him. We live in his lovely home, he is a bio chemist, working with green plants, and we're setting up new ways to meet other vegans, and get folks involved in cleaning up the air and water.... etc. Yeah, big changes."