As a child, I didn't know any vegans. I kept kosher, which was an oddity in a small Catholic town, but dietary restrictions were largely uncommon.
Fast forward to 2015: I was on a mission inspired by my oldest child to help my family experience the best health possible. For various reasons, food became a central component of my journey. Along the way, I received confusing and contradictory nutrition advice from medical professionals in both mainstream and alternative health practices.
Unsatisfied and unconvinced, I dug deeper and, by chance, happened upon the popular writings of Cornell University nutrition and cancer researcher, T. Colin Campbell, PhD. His conclusions for optimal health -- to eat a diet composed of plant foods, with little to no processed or refined foods -- seemed both radical and simple at the same time. And the totality of the evidence was truly compelling to me.
Although he is revered as a father figure in the plant-based health movement, he was not the only one making these claims and brandishing the evidence. Countless medical professionals, researchers, and average people were talking about the power of a "whole food, plant-based diet" to heal, reverse, and prevent chronic diseases that are ubiquitous in society today: a variety of cancers, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, and more. It is the optimal dietary pattern recommended by the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.
The results in my own body were some degree of proof:
My symptoms of endometriosis -- which had been definitively diagnosed in 2012 during a laparoscopy to remove an ovarian cyst -- went away.In fact, this was the first and easiest change that happened, after just two weeks being off of dairy and gluten alone.
I easily lost 20% of my body weight, with no exercise or other lifestyle changes -- all weight that I just couldn't shake off after my second pregnancy.
In my third pregnancy, I gained a normal and happy 25 pounds, after putting on more than 50 pounds each in my previous two pregnancies.
My indoor allergies, dry skin patches, and encroaching eczema have been significantly reduced.
I no longer have offensive body odor or bad breath, I sweat less, and my IBS disappeared.
My acne is now under control and no longer flares up with my cycles.
Exercising after a period of inactivity doesn't feel like the worst thing ever. It actually feels good!
My resting heart rate is really low (one nurse said, "like an athlete's"; I am not an athlete!).
My mostly-vegetarian cholesterol level of 147 mg/dL dropped to 106 mg/dL.
Let's talk about endometriosis for a sec: For 15+ years, I took birth control pills and -- even with the medication -- felt miserable every month of my adult life, not knowing that food could give me power. None of the lovely physicians in my life knew this information, and none of the patient advocacy organizations were sharing this information. Some innocuously mention that dietary change can "help," but there isn't an acknowledgment that it can reverse symptoms. And I'm not the only one who has found relief with food -- it's many women's experience. This is outrageous.
I found that taking back power over my body was tremendously liberating.
What's more, these changes freed me up from so many things: Without extra pounds, it's easier to get around and run freely after my kids. Without gross sweating and body odor, there's a lot less laundering, showering, and body products. Less fat on my body overall means less money spent on air conditioning. No more dependency on the pill to regulate my periods means no more co-pays and no more heightened cancer risk that comes along with hormone therapy. No disgusting cheese and fish grease on my pans makes dishes easier to clean. Fewer skin problems means less money on expensive creams and salves. So not only am I literally lighter, but I am having a lighter footprint -- even before calculating the reduced environmental burden of eating unprocessed plant foods.
Energized by my experience, I immersed myself in the literature and received a certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and eCornell in the fall of 2017. I became part of the growing plant-based community and then a leader in my local movement through Plant Powered Metro New York, which I have the privilege of leading alongside dozens of passionate volunteers.
Thus far, I haven't really used the word vegan, even though I am one. Not everyone who chooses a plant-based diet throws their lot in with ethical vegans.
Yet after learning deeply about the health benefits of this lifestyle, I knew that there were other compelling reasons to become a vegan. Today, the three arguments for veganism equally pull at me:
To live with compassion toward all life, preventing the death and suffering of countless sentient animals and sparing those individuals who must harm and kill on our behalf,
To stand up against the swift and terrifying degradation of our gentle planet from resource-intensive and polluting animal agriculture, and
To give our bodies the best chance of living a long and healthy life without disease and full of resilience.
The fact that eating a plant-based diet allows us to achieve all of these things simultaneously is a sign that this is the path to a better world -- and that our existence is truly miraculous.
We have much more to do to heal our bodies and our planet, and so much is in our hands.
To live as a vegan, I needed to deepen my knowledge about the vegan world and to connect with other activists who had chosen plants. In June 2018, I became certified as a Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator through Victoria Moran's Main Street Vegan Academy. I've chosen to focus my personal messages and advocacy on plant-based diets for health because I believe it is a huge opportunity -- yet I also recognize and appreciate the more holistic impact of my choices for animals and the environment.
Partner for Change New York, NY 10025 lianna [@] partnerforchange [.] net