Herbie of the Week: Sommer! (She's Lost 75lbs & Beat PCOS with a Plant-Based Diet!)

Meet our Herbie of the Week: Sommer!

Sommer was actually nominated by her friend, Kristen, who emailed me this sweet note:

"My friend Sommer has been an inspiration to me. She has lost an incredible 60 pounds since adopting a more plant-based lifestyle. I think she follows your mantra, progress not perfection. I first met her about 2 years ago when she began working in the same laboratory as me. I instantly realized what an awesome person she is. She is a great person to talk to, she's supportive when you need her to be and her sense of humor is uplifting. As amazing as I think she is, I know that she struggles with her weight and self-image, unfortunately a problem we share. But she, unlike many others, did something about it. She realized the path she was heading down was an unhealthy one, and she and her husband decided to adopt a plant-based lifestyle. In the beginning, they bought everyone of your books and the food looked so yummy that I bought them myself after seeing all the food that Sommer had at lunch! The reason that I'm getting in touch with you is because she inspired me to eat more plant-based and I want to thank her in some way, and I want others to think she is as awesome as I do!"

I immediately reached out to Sommer and asked if she would be interested in being part of the Herbie of the Week series and I was SO happy when she said yes!

I'll let Sommer take it away...

My journey toward better health began as a child, although it took me a long time and a winding road to get where I am today. I first realized something was wrong when I tried to pull on a pair of jeans that had fit a couple of months before. I broke a sweat tugging them up and getting them to button only to have the button explode across the room when I attempted to sit down in them. I didn’t know enough about nutrition at this point in my life to connect what I was eating with my size, so I continued how I was going. Some kids are big, some are not is how I reconciled this event.

A few months after this incident I found out from a phone call in the middle of the night that my aunt, who had been in the hospital for pneumonia, had suddenly gone into cardiac arrest and died at the age of 47. My aunt, who had battled with her weight her entire life, frequently fluctuating in the range of 250 to 350lbs, was like a mother to me. She had taken me in and raised me like her own child for the first nine years of my life, and had inadvertently passed on some very terrible eating patterns. Food was for comfort, for celebrations; failure and success alike called for savory, fat-loaded dishes.

I myself topped the scales at 200lbs when I was only 12. At the place I’m in now I can look back at it tenderly, the 6th grade school picture of me where the photographer had neglected to edit out the sweat that trickled down my forehead after climbing the four stairs to the stage in the auditorium. By 17 I was 260lbs and suffering from irregular periods, or practical absence thereof, and I decided it was time to see a doctor. My doctor listened to my symptoms, took a blood sugar sample and diagnosed me with insulin resistance and PCOS. She prescribed me Metformin and a heavy duty birth control to regulate my cycle, warning me of the danger of infertility that PCOS posed and telling me that when the time came for me to start a family she, as well as some other medications, would be heavily involved in the planning process. Even as a virgin (Who is interested in the fat girl? Knock-knock: no one.) I knew that a tray of pills and a supervising third party were not what I wanted involved in the intimate act of conceiving a child. By this point I knew that eating too much, and eating the wrong things, were contributing to my weight issue, but I still didn’t know how to strike the perfect balance between eating right and not feeling like I was starving myself or missing out.

When I got to graduate school I was pushing dangerously close to 300lbs (287lbs was the last weight I mentally recorded, after that I stopped stepping on the scale) and I could add another disorder to my list: Hypothyroidism. Finally!, I thought, a reason for this madness. Now I can take a magic pill, speed up my metabolism and fit into all those cute single-digit sized jeans. But like many herbies here can probably attest, magic pills don’t exist. My thighs didn’t miraculously shrink, and I began to think that I was going to be stuck in a fat body for the rest of my life. Unable to run, or hike, or even go on a casual walk with my fiance around the lake near our apartments without being out of breath or having to ice my knees afterward.

It was at this point that I stumbled across the blog of my soon to be wedding photographer. She, at the time, was working on getting her pre-baby body back, and having come across a documentary called "Forks Over Knives" on Netflix, decided to give a plant-based diet a try. I can freely admit now that I was one of those disappointing people who made fun of vegans, judged them for not eating a balanced diet, although I clearly had no idea what a balanced diet was. Something about the fact that I knew her, knew that she didn’t strap bombs to the bottoms of animal researcher’s cars in her spare time, and that she was still advocating for a plant-based diet made me consider it as an option for the first time in my life. I watched "Forks Over Knives" immediately and made my fiance watch it too. We both dove into researching if the diet the documentary was promoting was nutritionally sound and how we could go about doing it. It was in our research that we came across Lindsay’s cookbooks, and realizing after reading through a few recipes, and seeing the names of ingredients we recognized, that going plant-based might not be as hard as we thought.

It’s at this point that I would like to insert a victorious story where I emptied my fridge of all animal products, lost all my extra weight, and never looked back. While I can’t, in good conscience, write that here, I can still tout the benefits of a plant-based diet. In the past year I have lost 65lbs. After 10 years of using Metformin, four gigantic pills every evening, I no longer take a single pill. At my last check-up with my doctor three months ago, my blood sugar didn’t even put me in the category of at-risk for diabetes. On top of that, my thyroid, which had steadily been decreasing in function as my own immune system attacked it for years, was beginning to regulate itself again. My doctor says that if I keep on the path I’m on we will be looking at lowering my dosage for my thyroid medicine this year as well.

While my husband and I still battle with an insane cheese addiction (it truly is a drug), we are still actively trying to find ways to rewire our brains to enjoy all the variety in tastes that a plant-based diet has to offer. We often get mixed feelings from family and friends. For every friend or family member who is truly interested and wants to hear more about how they can implement a diet centered around vegetables into their own lives, there is one person who doesn’t understand why we can’t eat a balanced diet that includes animal products. One such person confronted me at a Christmas party this past year, telling me to “call him when I ate meat again.” In this same conversation I found out his doctor had made him cut way down on his meat consumption, because of his diabetes. Are you kidding me? Get out of my face.

To these people, whether they are malicious in intent or genuinely concerned, I will say this: if the only reason I should be eating meat is because of the protein, and the only reason to consume dairy is because of the calcium, here’s a really sweet deal I can offer you. I can get all the protein, all the calcium, all the vitamins and minerals I need, from a variety of vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and my budding friendship with nutritional yeast without any of the cholesterol and SIGNIFICANTLY less fat. Everyone should have a friend who tells them to get out of a relationship where they are the only ones giving. Forks Over Knives was that friend for me, and after years of having a love affair with handsome, sweet-talking meat and dairy, I finally realized that I was the only one giving. I was giving my health, my happiness, literally my life to something that clearly did not love me back.

While I still struggle to completely extract myself from that relationship today (if you’re interested in keeping up with me you can actually read my struggles in print here, a blog my best friend and I started for motivation on eating healthy and exercising), I know I’m not going to give up. I hesitated for a brief moment when deciding if I should tell my story, because I don’t find myself inspiring. Inspiring people are the ones who have completely overcome the challenge placed in their path, not the people at the back of the line who are still struggling to climb the hill after the race is over. I convinced myself that maybe it is inspiring enough, that in the face of all the challenges the world has to offer against being plant-based, I refuse to quit trying. My health is worth it, I am worth it, and I know that one day, with this, and all the small successes I’ve enjoyed so far in mind, I will be able to say I am completely plant-based without my fingers crossed behind my back.

Oh, and by the way, there is a magic pill. It’s kale.

Sommer, you're such an inspiration! Thank you so much for sharing your story with us! (And thank you Kristen for nominating her!)

UPDATE March 2015

I've lost a total of 75lbs now!