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Back in January, Lydia sent me an email, the subject "My Plant-Based Turn-Around." I knew from the subject it was going to be an uplifting email. Another testimonial about this lifestyle: Someone else finding good health after switching to a plant-based diet (my favorite kind of email!!) — but I honestly had no idea how absolutely incredible Lydia (and her story) really was. Or that she was going to be so young! As of late, many of our HOWs have been young — a painful reminder that even youth doesn't guarantee good health. We have to take care of ourselves at every age.
Anyway, after crying with joy reading her story, I asked Lydia if I could share her email on happyherbivore.com as part of the Herbie of the Week Series. Lydia graciously agreed! Enjoy her Herbie success story, in her own words.
"Hi Lindsay! I want to thank you for truly shining forth as an effective role model for the ease, joy, and attainability of plant-based living! Coming across your resources truly helped me to gather the confidence I needed to pursue a whole new diet and lifestyle. I love being a part of your HH community and I've experienced so many benefits from the plant-based diet that I wanted to share my story with you. :)
I’m perhaps not a unique case in the oft-sung narrative of poor health and the plant-based remedy. So many Americans are suffering from avoidable, degenerative diseases of affluence that it seems like the status quo these days. But my encounters with serious life-style-related illnesses came about early in life. I had always eaten an immoderate Standard American Diet and treated my body poorly (late nights, no exercise, over-eating).
By my early 20s, all of this had caught up with me. We discovered that I had thyroid cancer that had spread to one lymph node and the beginnings of an autoimmune disease (possibly lupus). While thyroid issues and autoimmune disorders run fairly rampant in my family history, I have no doubt that my careless and indulgent lifestyle choices accelerated this premature health crisis. “Genes load the gun, diet and lifestyle pull the trigger.” My family and I were suddenly frantic about my health. I had always seemed so healthy and now I needed a total thyroidectomy and lifelong hormone replacement. And even if the cancer scare was someday behind me, I was still facing the prospect of a progressive, unpredictable autoimmune illness for the rest of my life.
Lydia in 2011 before going plant-based (still gorgeous!).
I began coming across documentaries which were all saying the same thing (something that most healthcare-dependent Americans had never really heard before): our food choices make a difference! I watched Food Inc., Food Matters, and Hungry for Change and was increasingly convinced that I had more agency when it came to food and health than I realized. Because of my cancer history, Forks Over Knives was the clincher. I was ready to change my diet for the long haul. After the movie ended, I hopped onto their website for resources and saw your enticing, colorful cookbooks. I ordered Everyday Happy Herbivore and was immediately enthralled with the new world of food and recipes that opened up to me! I had always been a picky eater who was less than enthused about fruits and veggies. Not anymore! I love cooking now and trying foods I would have picked off my plate a few years ago!
I jumped in fairly cold turkey. Within several weeks, I went from eating meat and dairy sparingly to committing fully to plant-based, whole foods. And boy did my body respond positively to the changes! Although I wasn’t thrilled with my weight at the outset of my diet change, I’ve never been technically overweight (I’ve been in the upper range of my BMI limit for years — meaning almost overweight). But despite all that fine print, I would still say that I’ve been about 20-30 pounds overweight since beginning college in 2005.
Within months of going plant-based, however, pounds of unhealthy tissue began slipping off like water. I wasn’t doing an intensive exercise plan (maybe walking uphill for an hour a few days a week), but by omitting meat, dairy, oil, and refined sugars from my diet, and eating as many nutrient-dense fruits and veggies as I could, I ended up losing 20 pounds in 4 months. After that intense shedding period, my body found the weight it wanted to be by adding back a few more pounds (which Dr. Fuhrman says might happen while your body is exchanging unhealthy tissue for healthy tissue!).
I had decided to go plant-based for my chronic health problems, so the weight loss was a surprising and welcome bonus! I was amazed to see how quickly the human body could respond to healthful eating and it definitely helped me to keep going. I now feel lighter, more energized, and more comfortable in my clothes than I have in years. My body finally found the weight it wanted to be! I felt lighter, energized, and comfortable in my clothes for the first time in years.
Lydia at her "college weight" in 2009. Gorgeous again, but she looks happiest now, no?
I also felt immediate physical improvements. With my autoimmune disorder came chronic muscle sensitivities, achiness, and general malaise. Some days, parts of my body felt literally bruised to the touch. During this dietary overhaul, however, my legs and arms stopped hurting. I finally began feeling like a normal 25-year-old and I was surprisingly energetic throughout the day — no more mid-day slumps or napping! My husband noticed the difference in my energy level right away!
Other issues began to resolve, too. My IBS woes (finally!) began improving and I was experiencing stable, upbeat moods on a regular basis. I had women’s issues previously (ovarian cysts) that have never returned since. To top it all off, my skin cleared up a bit, too! My taste preferences changed in a matter of weeks. I was craving fruits and veggies like no one’s business. I also received some confirmation when I got some blood work drawn up a few months in. I had always had moderate anemia because of a genetic blood disorder. Yet after a few months of intense fruits and veggies, my hemoglobin had risen to a level that was almost within the normal range! I hope to see improvements in my autoimmune markers, too, but only time will tell.
What I CAN say, though, is that what started out as an “experiment” (so as not to freak out my friends and family) quickly became a decided life change. For years, I had felt victimized and helpless about my weight, health problems, and moods, when all along food may have been the root of it! And that was good news: food was something I could change. Now I know I can do my part by eating to the best of my abilities and the rest I can leave up to God!
Thanks, Lindsay! I'm a Happy Herbivore for life! :)"
UPDATE (May 23): I still love my plant-strong diet and I continue to feel better than ever I used to health-wise. I will say, after a bout of slight weight gain and a couple of viruses during this past graduate school semester, I realized the importance of sleep, exercise, stress management, AND nutritious food when it comes to our health! I was neglecting the first three while in academic survival mode, and I learned how much our bodies definitely need holistic tender loving care to function at their best. Thankfully, Lindsay's recipes helped me to stay the course food-wise and get quick and easy meals on the table during a very hectic time! We've been eating LOTS of Cheater Romesco Pasta and Lentil Taco Meat from HHA, and I've been relishing Lindsay's Chocolate Mug Cake from HH as a treat in the evenings — total comfort food! Now that summer break is here and I've paid some more attention to my body, my weight has already gone back down a bit and my energy is returning. Hopefully I'll learn better tactics for next semester!
Lydia, thanks so much for sharing your wonderful story! Good luck in grad school!
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