Herbie of the Week: Heather M (She's Lost 125lbs & Is No Longer in Pain!)

Meet our first Herbie of the Week of 2015: Heather M!

If you're looking for some plant-based inspiration, then you need to read this story!

Heather's journey began when she realized she had been neglecting her health for the last 15 years. When a coworker mentioned a plant-based diet, she immediately started her research and decided to give it a try -- and the results are INCREDIBLE!

In less than a year, Heather lost 125lbs (which she has maintained for over a year!), is no longer in pain, and is off her medication for an irregular heartbeat. But her new lifestyle didn't just change her!

Read on for Heather's story in her own words...

My name is Heather. I am a 41 year old wife and mother of three living in a suburb of Houston, Texas. I have been married to my husband for 17 years, and we have three children, a 17 year old son and 15 year old boy/girl twins. I also work full time in grocery retail as a Human Resource Administrative Assistant. For the past two years I have been on an amazing health journey that I would have never predicted in a million years. I am a different person both literally and figuratively. My physical, mental and emotional health have all improved beyond belief.

In August of 2011, I received a 911 text message from my husband, Chris. He had gone to a routine doctor’s appointment. During the appointment, my husband complained of “heartburn” to his general practitioner. He had been suffering from a burning sensation in his chest for approximately 10 years, since his early 30s. He had previously been diagnosed with “heartburn” and Barrett’s Syndrome, an esophageal anomaly that caused stomach acid to come up from the stomach to his esophagus. At least this is how it was explained to us. During Chris’ appointment, this time the doctor asked him if he had any heart disease in his family. Chris explained to the doctor that his father had several heart attacks and strokes before he was 50. The doctor suggested he see a cardiologist considering his history. The cardiologist gave Chris a stress test. After 41 seconds on the treadmill, my husband was having the beginning of a heart attack. His heart was only pumping at 38% capacity. He was immediately admitted to the hospital for testing and observation. The next day, we found out he had 90% blockage in all four of the lower half of his arteries. The doctor told us that his arteries were so damaged that he was not a candidate for a bypass or a stint. He was put on 7 different medications and sent home.

The company I work for does health screenings for all the employees every year. Depending on the results of the health screening, each employee is eligible for bonus money if their biometrics fall in “optimal” range. BMI, cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure are measured. I have taken the screening for many years and never earned the bonus. In October of 2012, not only were my screening results outside of “optimal” range, my blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar were “borderline” and my BMI was “out of range.” I was obese. Since the birth of my twins, I devoted my time outside of work strictly to my kids and family. I spent 15 years neglecting my health entirely. I found myself at 39 years old, 5’6” tall, 250 pounds, a smoker and drinker. I had arthritis in both my knees, chronic back pain, an irregular heartbeat that required medication, shortness of breath and suffered from severe depression. After what happened to my husband in August, I realized that I needed to lead the way on a path to health. That month I quit smoking.

On January 1, 2013, my company hosted a 12 week educational health event called the "Slim Down Show Down" challenge. Each week employees may attend a "Lunch and Learn" event created by dieticians to educate and promote healthy eating and weight loss. During these "Lunch and Learns", employees are encouraged to weigh in and share their successes and struggles with their weight loss. I was turning 40 this year and heard it only gets harder to lose weight after that, so I joined the challenge. I set a goal for myself to have all my biometrics in the “optimal” range for my health screening in October and finally earn the healthy bonus money.

I started quite simply by increasing my water intake. Before I ate anything, I first drank a bottle of water, then I gauged whether I was actually hungry. If so, I ate. Otherwise, I surmised that I must have just been thirsty. To my surprise this seemed to work. I also decided to quit drinking alcohol. Through the "Lunch and Learns" I began a traditional weight loss regimen of counting calories and exercising. For exercise, I walked after dinner with my kids, who were so excited to help me lose weight and reach my goal. I was only able to walk 20 minutes the first time; ten minutes, turn around and come home.

During the first three months of 2013 I kept hearing, “Just cut your calories and exercise.” As I tried to count my calories, it seemed to me that not all calories were equal. I knew scientifically this was not true, but my experience told me otherwise. I would discuss this with my coworkers, friends, and my family to get advice and clarification. In March, one of my coworkers kept talking about her “plant-based diet.” At the time, I didn’t know what that meant. I had never even heard the word vegan before. Never the less, I was open to listening and learning all I could about healthy eating. We had many discussions, and I quizzed her often. She recommended I watch a documentary on Netflix called "Forks Over Knives". She also sent me an email with links to a couple of websites to check out.

I went home and watched "Forks Over Knives" with my husband in the middle of March. I had never even heard of it heard of it. I was blown away. I remember being stunned and feeling that everything I knew about nutrition and diets was upended. My husband and I wondered why we were just now hearing about The China Study. Immediately, I wanted to learn more. My husband was intrigued but much more skeptical when I said to him, “OK. I am ready to try this! But, where do I find recipes to cook what they were eating?” I went to my email and looked at the links sent to me by my coworker. The links were to the Happy Herbivore website. She also bought me the digital version of Lindsay Nixon’s 7-day meal plan and 3 Day Reboot & 10 Day Cleanse. This began my voracious search for information, education, and recipes. I watched documentaries, read blogs, read medical journals, subscribed to magazines, etc. I followed Lindsay’s advice on how to remove items from your diet and pantry one group at a time. I began “crowding” out the bad foods with new healthy vegan foods. I started replacing cow’s milk with almond milk. Each week also included shopping lists, pantry inventories, and educational material related to diabetes, fats, heart disease, etc. The first recipe I tried was the Happy Herbivore Pump-it Up Pumpkin Chili. My whole family loved it, even the teenagers. I slowly continued removing things from my diet each week. I continued utilizing the 3 Day Reboot and 10 Day Cleanse like a bible. I drank the Daily Detox, cooked Mellow Mushroom Creamy Barley and Black Bean Burgers.

Throughout my research and learning, I never forced my new eating habits on anyone in my family. When I cooked dinner each night, I simply made the healthy vegan recipes available for them. If they liked it there was plenty. If they did not, then I removed it from the dinner menu rotation and tried something else. Sometimes, if only one person did not like the healthy alternative, I would buy them something else. After 6-7 months of my being vegan, I was able to work with my husband to tweak the weekly dinner menus where every dinner was healthy, vegan and loved by all. For some meals, all we had to do was take something we liked to eat previously – carnitas burritos with cheese, sour cream, onion, lettuce, rice, beans, and corn – and change it up a little. We eliminated the carnitas and Spanish rice and replaced it with black beans and brown rice keeping the onion, lettuce, corn and adding vegan cheese and sour cream.

Growing up in a half Italian household, I found that olive oil was the hardest thing for me to eliminate from my diet, and I have still not done so completely. But I have cut it down significantly. I only use it on rare occasions now. From my research, I also learned about the addictive nature of sugar, its detriment to our bodies and prevalence in our food. I gave up diet sodas after learning how the body identifies them just like calorie laden sodas and can lead to diabetes. I became a conscientious label reader. I did not look at the nutrition label anymore. I looked at the ingredients. It was such an eye opener. My life changed when I knew why I eat what I do, and what it does for my body. The easiest change for me was increasing fruits and vegetables. I found so many different varieties and learned how to cook them. I discovered so much about dietary needs and where to find protein, vitamins and minerals in vegetables, beans, tofu, chia seeds, quinoa, seitan…so many things I had never heard of. I held on to fish for quite a long time because I had heard doctors recommend fish consumption for heart disease prevention.

By October of 2013, I had lost 125 pounds, or half my body weight. During my health screening, all of my biometrics were in “optimal” range. I found myself at 40 years old, 5’6” tall, 125 pounds, a former smoker and drinker. I no longer had arthritic inflammation in both my knees, no back pain, no longer on medication for an irregular heartbeat, no longer short of breath and happier than I had ever been. My self-esteem improved tremendously, and I had so much energy. I was running 90 minutes in each morning and 1 hour in the evening. I received that biometric bonus money for the first time.

One year later, I have maintained my weight of 125 pounds and still run an hour a day. My initially skeptical husband has lost 60 pounds. More importantly, he took another stress test and easily completed over 9 minutes with his heart pumping at 62% capacity. He no longer has “heartburn” or chest pains and only takes half the medications he was prescribed in 2011.

My entire family has joined and supported me on this journey. We work out at the gym all together after school and work. We cook vegan recipes as a family nightly, and still make Herbivore Pump-it Up Pumpkin Chili and Black Bean Burgers. My kids eat mostly vegan and are very health conscious. They read labels and educate their friends at school. One of my sons is taking a nutrition class where they take daily nutrition surveys and receive an analysis. The teacher ignores my son’s score and says, “Well of course yours is so high, you are vegan.” One of the greatest comforts of my lifestyle change is knowing that through knowledge and education, I have contributed to changing the trajectory of my family’s health for generations to come.

Thank you so much Heather for sharing your story with us! You are an amazing inspiration!!