Updated: Jan 7
Before I get into my story, I want to let you know that if any of this resonates with you and you want to get started on your own plant-based journey, you can download my free guide to plant-based eating
! Here we go..
If you had told me five years ago - actually even two years ago - that I would not be eating meat or most other animal products - I would have laughed HARD in your face. Why? Because PROTEIN, BRO! That and I love a good steak..and ground beef...and sausage..and eggs. Anyway, this is the story of how and why I currently maintain a predominantly plant-based lifestyle.
I've been lifting weights with strength and performance goals for the past six years (excluding this past year). I started because I needed something new. I wanted a bigger butt, more muscle definition and I just loved the feeling of being strong. I trained in the style of a powerlifter for a long time - focusing on squats, bench press, deadlifts, overhead press with lots of other stuff thrown in to help my weak points - and I was loving it. I was strong, I had muscle, I felt great. I became certified in kettlebell training and that just took me to another level athletically. Not only was a strong, but I was SMARTER about training and I was in fantastic shape as far as conditioning. I had amazing endurance.
Nutritionally, I started really paying attention to what I ate in terms of macronutrients - protein, carbohydrates and fat. My meals mainly consisted of eggs, bacon, sweet potato, chicken, beef, ground turkey, broccoli, spinach and avocado. It was boring, but I didn't mind because I was getting stronger, my body was changing and I mean just look at ALL THAT PROTEIN!
Fast forward to the Fall of 2017. I had discovered Strong[wo]man training and FELL. IN. LOVE. This was like nothing else I had done. It perfectly combined the need for strength and conditioning. I started competing in October and was killing it. For strength sports, you need to fall into certain weight classes such as light weight, middle weight, heavy weight, super heavy weight. Those classes determined the weight of the implements you would use in competition. I had been competing middle weight, at about 160lb. I looked good, I felt good.
At the end of that October I had to move into a new apartment. I had two weeks in between leaving my old place and moving into my new one, during which time I stayed with sister. I was working as a personal trainer, bartending, training as hard as ever and eating more meat than ever. Every day I would eat some combination of eggs/veggies/avocado for breakfast and ground beef for probably lunch and dinner - one meal with white rice and the other with sweet potato. I also had a pretty big obsession with oranges at the time. Sounds healthy, right?
The problem presented itself when I signed up for an April competition in the middle weight class. I felt like I had gained a few pounds over the holiday months, so I decided to diet a little which meant being even stricter - more beef! Not only did I not lose any weight, I had GAINED ABOUT 15 POUNTS between December and April. I felt stressed. I felt tired. I felt weak. I felt like shit. I performed like shit (in the heavy weight class because I coulnd't make weight for middle weight).
During this time I began to suspect a hormone issue due to my weight gain, bad moods and lethargy. I also had started experiencing some pretty gnarly digestive issues.I felt bloated a lot and I was always constipated. Like, always. I felt like everything I ate just lingered in my esophagus until it eventually made its way down or I regurgitated it. Seriously, just threw it right back up. I never even considered my diet as being a culprit in any of this. I thought I was doing everything right. I was following exactly what the big strong dude on YouTube said to eat. I knew I was stressed just from life and coupling that with a rigorous training schedule which is also stress on the body, I chalked it all up to stress and hormones. My digestive problems continued on and actually got much worse. I was regurgitating almost everything I ate aside from my breakfast some days. I was still training and lifting 5-6 days per week.
Fast-forward to October of 2018. This is where it gets interesting. I went away with my now fiance, then boyfriend Joe to Niagara Falls. On this trip, I began feeling a wave of nausea after every meal. I thought I was either coming down with something or it was "my digestive problems" (in quotes because it was so normal at this point that it was now apparently part of my identity) getting worse. After coming home, I felt nauseous all day every day, couldn't eat anything and threw up at least 3 times each day. This went on until the end of October when I was so sick we headed to the ER for IV fluids and to figure out what was going on. I had seen my primary care doctor and she blindly prescribed me ulcer medication as well as anxiety medication. WHAT?!?
WELL....it turns out...I was PREGNANT. Holy shit. All the shock and coming-to-terms aside, I knew I had to take this time to become the best and healthiest version of myself for my baby. I enrolled in a Holistic Nutrition Course and became certified in March, two months before my daughter was born.
I had been wanted to earn a nutrition certification for a while but was just procrastinating. I learned SO MUCH from this course. I realized SO MANY THINGS I was doing previously had contributed to my indigestion, my weight gain, my hormone issues, my brain fog. I learned SO MUCH about our food supply, our meat supply, the meat and dairy industries (I had already been avoiding dairy for years at this point), the treatment of animals for food, what they are injected with and why and how it affects the meat we eat as well as how loosely food regulations can be followed. PREGNANCY LITERALLY SAVED MY HEALTH.
During my pregnancy, I suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum. No, that is not a Harry Potter spell. It the name to given to extreme all day, all night morning sickness. I couldn't eat anything, couldn't keep anything down and ended up losing 40 pounds over the course of my pregnancy. Luckily, my chunky baby received all the nutrients she needed for a healthy and flawless birth. Yay!
I was now a mom, a newly certified Holistic Nutritionist and a woman on a serious mission to breastfeed my daughter exclusively, giving her all the nutrients and immunity she needed for optimal health. I was also excited and eager to spread all my newfound knowledge to anyone who would (or wouldn't) listen. I totally still am. I became totally enthralled in reading studies about plant-based nutrition and how it can prevent and actually help reverse chronic illnesses and disease such as Type II diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, as well as autoimmune disorders. It completely fascinated me (and still does!) Almost everything I thought I knew was turned upside down. I pride myself on being a constant student in life, so I was happy to learn I had been wrong and eager for all the knowledge that would help me help others.
I began learning all kinds of recipes using foods I never ate before let alone cooked. It was a lot of fun to explore this lifestyle and I found cooking to be not only fun, but very stress-relieving. I started not only looking at the macronutrients in my food but even more importantly the micronutrients. The vitamins, minerals, fiber. All the real healthy stuff! It gave and still does give me great joy to cook healthy, balanced meals for myself and Joe knowing that I am doing the best I can to keep us healthy and keep our little girl healthy.
My "digestive problems" are a thing of the past. I have had no problem maintaining my new low weight. I have energy and mental clarity. I am in fantastic overall health. I've seen differences in my friends/family members who have been open enough to try something new and somewhat intimidating. For example Joe, who was pretty much sick all the time with some sort of cold or "sinus thing" hasn't been sick with more than maybe one or two small colds in a year. The best part is that he hasn't even cut out meat. He has reduced his dairy intake about 95% consuming almost none. He eats way more whole grains, vegetables, fruit and legumes now.This is amazing because it helps us be healthy, present parents to our baby. At this point, there is no turning back.
I refer to my nutrition philosophy as 'predominantly plant-based- instead of vegan because there are still times when I will want to eat some fish, or an egg omelette, or a medium-rare steak. Those times are few and far between now, but I don't see myself ever saying never to them. I avoid all refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods and load up on healthy starches and grains, beans and other legumes, fruits, vegetables, tofu, tempeh, and any other plant-based food you can think of. I've become a better and more experimental cook. I've become more environmentally aware, my mind and body have never been more in sync.
The plant-based lifestyle is not a diet. Yes, it has become a very trendy topic in the health and nutrition world. Usually, I'm the first person to roll my eyes at such trends but this one I am totally on board with. If you proceed in a healthy and simple way, starting a plant-based lifestyle can be amazing for you. My advice when starting out - don't feel like you have to go all in immediately. I happen to be an "all-or-nothing" person so I tend to jump all in. But you do not have to! If this change is huge for you, start small by maybe cutting out one meat-based meal per day or week or whatever works for you. Maybe make a goal to try one new plant-based recipe each week. Give yourself 28 days to see how you feel.
I hope sharing my little story can help give some of you some insight as to why or how you might try making a shift in the way you eat. As always, feel free to send me an email with any questions you may have. I am here to help!
Best of luck in your own plant-based journey!