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A Reluctant Vegan: Before and After

July 19, 2017

It seems that everyone loves a good before and after story that shows the dramatic benefits of making a choice. I took a very long time to make the decision to go vegan. Ultimately, I gave it a shot for myself...not for the animals, not for the planet, but for me and my health. So here is my before and after story...

 

Once upon a time there was an overweight mommy wracked with inexplicable back pain. I have always battled with my weight. I've had a lot of ups and downs with periods of activity vs. inactivity or counting calories or taking the latest pill (Alli was a doozie!). So it wasn't a big surprise to me that after getting married the pounds added up, and then when I got pregnant with our first child it got out of control as I was "eating for two." I got so heavy during pregnancy that the weight of my belly was pressing on nerves in my legs that would cause tingling and burning in my thighs. If I didn't sit to relieve the pressure shortly after the tingling began I would get a crippling pinch or cramp feeling in my hip. I was also having trouble sleeping mostly due to my back--but what pregnant woman doesn't, right?

 After Charlize was born the tingling in my legs was no longer an issue, but my back pain was still an issue. The pain wasn't going away. The extra pounds were not going away either! I had maxed out around 250 pounds when I was pregnant. Shortly after giving birth my weight loss plateaued around 220. It has been hard to find a "before" picture from this time because I avoided the camera on purpose! I took some time to deny or avoid my feelings of self-loathing, but I finally came to my senses when Charlize was around 2 years old. If I wanted to feel better about myself then I had to make some changes.

 

At the time I was eating the "Standard American Diet." Due to our religious convictions I refrained from eating certain meats, but otherwise it was the I-eat-what-I-want-when-I-want-it diet! My husband, David, who had been vegetarian all his life, was eating steak burritos along with me (so he has his own story to tell) and had grown accustomed to the rich, and processed foods that I would prepare. We were addicted, so I had to start small. I had been keeping a food diary and counting calories in order to get a baseline, and decided that my first step would be avoiding red meat and eliminating canned cream soups from our diet. 

 

It has been so many years since I started getting serious about my health that it is a bit of a blur exactly what order things took place, but a few things (baby steps) stand out:

  • I started exercising. It was a HUGE hit to my self-esteem to come to the realization that I had fallen from 'Most Athletic' in high school to being unable to sustain more than a few minutes at a time on an elliptical. I had to fight for my exercise time. Family and work life would encroach on my time. I even had to battle it out with David, who had started his own exercise regimen, and remind him that he should want health and well-being for me. So don't give up!

  • We banned meat at home. We raised Charlize on meat and fast-food so it was hard to cut a toddler (and the grandparents) off cold-turkey (pun-ny!). I have to admit that I wasn't quite ready myself...so we took another small step. We were almost vegetarians.

  • I started weening myself off of soda and caffeine. I was totally addicted here! I was drinking coffee in the morning and Coke in the afternoon. Due to the expense of soda I had cut myself down to one soda a day. But a 12-20 oz dose of sugar and caffeine a day is still a tough habit to break! I started by cutting my two cups of coffee down to one. Then I switched to decaf (it has trace amounts of caffeine). Then I cut out the caffeinated sodas (I would occasionally have a caffeine-free soda because I couldn't shake the desire to have a cold sip of sweet bubbly deliciousness!). Then I finally switched to coffee alternatives, because I like the flavor. Now that I am gluten free I can't have the alternatives with barley, so that means no coffee! But then again, I like mine with flavored creamers and sugar so it is all for the best ::sigh::.  So not only did I cut a stimulant drug from my diet, but I cut out all the calories and sugar that came with it!

  • We cut out most dairy at home. We had discovered that David was lactose intolerant. So I made an effort to cut back on the dairy products, but since David was the only one that we thought was effected we didn't cut it all out. I LOVE cheese. So when we went out to eat I would still enjoy a cheesy meal.

A couple years later, and a few pounds lighter, I am pregnant again. I am very focused on not repeating the same mistakes I made with my first pregnancy. I did not want to gain too much weight (only what the baby needed), and I certainly did not want to experience the the same pains! My back pain began to intensify, but I thought that was due to being pregnant and thought nothing of it since I was sure that it would be better once Ella was born. Other than that, I had a great second pregnancy! And, after she was born I quickly dropped the baby weight, but not the back pain. 

 

After Ella was born it seemed that my pain got worse instead of better. I was so surprised and at my wits end! I was up like clockwork every night at 3am with excruciating pain under my shoulder blades in addition to lower back pains. I would feel it coming and try to find a new position in order to get some much needed sleep, but the pain would then quickly intensify until I couldn't stay in bed any longer. It would be so painful at times I would wake up screaming! I would do my best to work it out a little and then go try to get some sleep sitting up on the couch. The stress of constant pain and lack of sleep was taking its toll.

 

I thought I had hurt myself somehow. I thought that since I had let things get so out of hand with my first pregnancy that I hadn't fully recovered (I hadn't met all my goals, or I let some slip) before I got pregnant again and that I had just pulled or torn something. Carrying a baby in a carrier with all the bags that go with them could easily cause issues for someone with a weak core, right? So I started going to a round of doctors. I had been under chiropractic care since my midwife recommended a technique to get Ella to turn in the womb. So I continued to go hoping that would work. I was getting limited results, so I tried an orthopedic surgeon. I was then recommended to a physical therapist. The therapist gave me some exercises to strengthen my core, so things did get a little better--especially in my lower back--but I was not getting the results I wanted. I wanted to be pain free, and no one could find any physical reason I was having pain! 

 

I was discussing my back problems with my mom on the phone one day, and she reminded me that she was diagnosed with her inflammatory and autoimmune disorders in her 30's. She told me which tests to ask for at my next annual doctor's visit, which was coming up soon. I was surprised given my family history that I had to push so hard to have the tests run. They said I was too young to worry about such tests. I pressed for them again and they agreed to go ahead and run them. Sure enough, when I got the results it showed that I have an elevated RA factor in my blood, which indicates the presence of some form of arthritis. I was then referred to a rheumatologist. 

 

I shared my diagnosis with David and my chiropractor (I had stopped going to the other doctors since I was not getting any results and I could keep doing the therapists exercises at home). After a little research David came to the same conclusion the chiropractor suggested: maybe its your diet. I did not want to hear it! I thought I had made plenty of changes and I loved cheese and ice cream and the occasional Chick-Fil-A sandwich way too much! But something had to give, so I reluctantly agreed to give it a try for one month. All the research said my triggers would be meat, dairy and gluten. I cut it all out, and in the process it eliminated a lot of the processed foods that were still in my diet. When I finally got in to see the rheumatologist he confirmed that all of my dietary changes were the way to go in order to avoid medication.

 

I have to admit that I did not feel dramatically better in that short amount of time. But what sealed the deal for me was when I decided to do an experiment. I would have a little bit of my beloved cheese and see if it would change anything. I had a sprinkle of cheese on a burrito bowl at Moe's for dinner, and that night I had the most excruciating pain in my back! I decided that dairy wasn't worth it and cut it out. A couple of weeks later I did the same experiment with gluten. I did not experience the same pain, but a generalized tired, gross, irritable feeling--David called it GMS (vs. PMS)! So I avoid gluten as much as possible (but I do cheat once in a while)! Since I was nearly vegetarian anyway giving up meat was not much of a stretch, and I was done experimenting! I just wanted to get better! Since it is just easier to tell people that I am vegan than to describe all the foods I don't eat, I rarely eat eggs or honey (really only if I am a guest and don't want to be too much trouble). 

 I understand that there are more noble reasons to be vegan (the planet, the animals), so I am working on being more strict in my personal life for that sake. I appreciate the education that I have received from all the animal advocacy sites. But if that is not working to convert others to the cause maybe try a more selfish route--one of personal health. It worked for me; I am now pain free! I am still on my journey--I could lose a few more pounds and gain more muscle; I could cut out more sugar in my diet. But, I couldn't have achieved all 40 pounds of weight loss and the energy that comes from being pain free without going vegan.

 

So, once upon a time there was an overweight mommy wracked with inexplicable back pain, she went vegan and now she is immensely better!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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