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Meet our Herbie of the Week, Ginnie! An RN, Ginnie was alarmed when she saw her own lab work just before her second hip replacement surgery (at 53!). Obese, pre-diabetic, with high blood pressure and feeling awful: Ginnie knew it was time for a change. Today Ginnie has lost 48 lbs, is no-longer pre-diabetic or obese, and is tapering off her blood pressure medications!
My Herbie Journey
As a registered nurse married to an Obstetrician-Gynecologist, I have worked in the health care arena most of my adult life. Though a big part of my career was spent counseling my patients on health and nutrition, my own weight and health were never optimal.
I have struggled with my weight all of my life. I remember first being aware that I was “chubby” when I was four, and I started trying to lose weight in junior high.
My first significant diet was after my second year in nursing school. I had put on more than the freshman 15, and was unhappy with my appearance. Over the summer, I followed a very low calorie diet recommended for diabetic patients. I lost about 30 pounds, and for the first time, I felt “normal” — but very hungry. Always. I was either starving myself, weighing and measuring my food, or feeling guilty about “cheating” or eating “bad” food.
I kept that weight off for a few years, but I was never at ease with my body image. I hovered between 140-150 pounds at 5’5”. Life went on and I got married, and we started a family.
Like with many women, my real battle with obesity started with pregnancy. Though my weight gain was within the normal range, I never lost all the weight. Only five months after our first daughter was born, I was pregnant with our second child, starting the cycle of weight gain once again. Our third child came along 2 years later. I was very happy, but very overweight. I estimate my heaviest non-pregnant weight was around 225, and it never varied much from that.
In 1999, at 40, I was started on anti-hypertensives. At a routine exam, I was found to have a blood pressure of 210/115! I was also diagnosed with severe osteoarthritis of the hip, and was told I needed a total hip replacement. While this should have been enough to scare me straight, I was busy caring for my young kids and my ailing parents, all while moving across the country from Massachusetts to Wisconsin. I managed to put off the hip replacement until 2005. I also put off doing anything about my weight.
My surgery was successful, but I was still obese. One year, I followed yet another fad diet (South Beach, this time), and dipped below 200 pounds briefly. I found it unsustainable and soon returned to the standard American diet, full of fat, meat, cheese, salt and sugar; the weight I thought I lost returned as well.
I went back to work as a long-term care nurse, and became the administrator of a wonderful assisted living facility. I loved my job, though it was a 24/7 responsibility. This didn’t help my eating habits — my diet became even more unhealthy — fast food when I could, and snacks on the go.
My weight climbed.
Last year (2/2012) I had my annual physical exam. I was 53, obese, and needed my other hip replaced (I was born with a congenital hip defect which caused my arthritis, but this was aggravated by my weight). I wanted to be in better shape before the surgery, but when I saw my lab results, I felt like this was the final straw. My fasting blood sugar put me in the pre-diabetic range at 116, my BMI was 34.9 (obese), my blood pressure was being managed by medication, and I looked and felt awful. But the worst part was that I knew better! I knew that my health issues were diet-related and within my power to change.
I started following a low-calorie, diabetic diet plan the next day. I began to lose weight, but knew that I would not be able to continue the weighing and measuring long-term. I started looking for a better way. I had been interested in being vegetarian for a long time, briefly dabbling in my younger years. My oldest daughter, now 21, stopped eating meat at age 15, so we were no strangers to meatless meals. I had read about Mark Bittman’s “vegan before six” plan, and the idea of eating less animal products appealed to me, so I began to be VB6. Then I read Kathy Freston’s “The Lean”, and started to lean into a vegan lifestyle, a bit at a time. By May, 3 months after my check-up, I had lost nearly 25 pounds, and had brought my blood sugar to a normal range! Best of all, I didn’t feel hungry or feel the need to “cheat.” I felt like this new, healthy way of eating could stick.
By the summer 2012, I was eating an 85-90% vegan diet. I rarely prepared any meat, but still had some cheese and dairy products from time to time. Our family meals were often a large green salad with a variety of veggies and fruits, perhaps some beans or grains. I liked the ease of meal preparation and loved how much better I felt.
As I searched the glorious web for new recipe ideas, I ran across the Happy Herbivore website, the Engine 2 site, and the McDougall program. That’s when the pieces really started to fall into place for me. Eliminating animal products and eating real food just made sense! All the evidence pointed to the plant-based lifestyle. My mantra, thanks to Michael Pollan, became “Eat real food, mostly plants, not too much.”
By November 2012, I had lost 40 pounds, and had a left total hip replacement. I was able to go home the day after surgery (thanks, Doc D — I love you!), and was walking without even a cane just two weeks later. I attribute a big part of my speedy recovery to my new, plant-based way of eating. I believe that my improved nutrition certainly helped my to recover as quickly as possible.
I have noticed a number of other improvements in my well-being in addition to weight loss since giving up animal products. I don’t experience cravings. My energy level is improved. I sleep well. My IBS has vastly improved. And I have not been sick with any of the colds or flu that were rampant this year; in the past, two or three bad colds each year was not unusual for me.
My commitment to being healthy and continuing to lose weight remained strong, and grew post surgery. I continued reading, and came across information about the documentary, Forks Over Knives. I watched it one Saturday afternoon, and my husband joined me midway through. The data presented really sparked his interest. Sadly, he is also suffers the effects of years of a stressful job and the standard American diet.
When I learned that there would be a Farms 2 Forks immersion weekend in January 2013 (the month of our 25th anniversary), I casually threw it out there for him to consider. He was in!
Seven weeks after my hip replacement, we were in Clearwater learning from the incredible Farms 2 Forks team. Dr. Esselstyn, Rip, Jane, and Ann, Jeff Novick (the coolest!), and Doug Lisle were all so inspiring and informative. We left knowing that this was our new life.
At my first annual checkup [in May 2013] since the “wake up” call the year before, I had lost 48 pounds, had a BMI of 27.3 (overweight... not obese) and I was tapering off of my blood pressure medication at the advice of my physician. I didn’t even have to ask her!
In three months, my husband lost 25 pounds, and has noticed an increase in energy, as well as the need to buy a smaller belt. We both have noticed that we are not having the constant cravings for the unhealthy foods we used to consume regularly, and we enjoy the feeling of knowing that we can eat until we feel satisfied, because we are eating the right foods. We recently had fun comparing the calories and nutritional value in our big bowl of oatmeal with fruit and walnuts to a breakfast we would have had at our local Perkins — that knowledge is very powerful! Our fridge is now stocked with greens, fruits, cooked beans (I cook a pot of beans at least once a week), almond milk, and our freezer is full of berries and veggies.
I love that my grocery trips are so much simpler. I love that I can cook a plant-based, healthful, delicious gourmet meal if I want to, but that our daily meals can be put together just as healthily in minutes. I love that we save money by eating at home. Mostly I love that we are moving toward a healthier lifestyle for ourselves, our family, the animals, and the environment. For the first time in my life, I feel like I have the key to living a healthy lifestyle that I can maintain.
I am now in what I think of as Phase 2 of my weight loss journey. I have around 30 more pounds to lose, and I intend to do that no later than the end of the year. My diet has changed drastically from what it was a year ago. I feel like now it is a matter of fine tuning it to make it the best it can be. I have all but eliminated oil and added fat from our diet, and eat as much unprocessed and minimally processed food as we can. Fresh fruit is now my dessert of choice. If I’m hungry, I eat! And I am still losing weight.
I am so grateful to have finally found the veggie lifestyle. I only wish that I had been informed enough years ago to make the change; I believe I could have avoided years of being unhappy and unhealthy. I applaud the work of people like T. Colin Campbell, Caldwell Esselstyn, Rip Esselstyn, Dean Ornish, John McDougall, Jeff Novick, Doug Lisle, Lindsay Nixon, and so many others who are spreading the word and good news about how to change our health. I’m sure they feel they are fighting an uphill battle at times, but they have impacted so many. I hope that they never give up.
Me today — 48 pounds lighter! The journey continues…
(Update 8/26/2013): At the almost 9-month mark, my husband and I are still eating a plant-based, whole food diet. I have occasionally made less than ideal choices, but what I have noticed is that there is a very dramatic difference in how I feel when I am eating healthy plant foods. My mood, my energy, my digestion, and my sleep are so much better when I eat well and eliminate animal products.
I have also realized that my tastes are changing, and things that I used to love really don't appeal to me any longer. I often crave a big salad! With no dressing! I love finding new simple and delicious meals to prepare, and absolutely love answering questions from others who are curious/dubious/interested in learning about what being an Herbie involves. I love to spread the word!
I'm still working on achieving my personal goal weight, but I am confident that I will get there. I understand now that it isn't about perfection, but progress. I look forward to continuing the journey!
Thank you so much for sharing your honest journey with us! So glad hubby is on board and seeing results too — your story reminds us that it is a journey! Keep up the great work!