"I thought 25 is supposed to be the time of your life when you feel like a rock star.
Allyson is a 27 year old woman who adopted a plant-based diet for health reasons. She didn't have a major heart attack, wage a battle with cancer, nor receive a diagnosis of hypertension or high cholesterol. Rather, Allyson began a vegan diet for many of the subtle struggles so common to us all: low energy, poor sleeping, acne, and those "extra few pounds" we'd like to shed.
I first encountered Allyson on the Facebook group, McDougall friends, where her before and after photos made me jaw drop:
What really captured my interest, though, was Allyson's youth. While many of my plant-based personal chef clients and others in support groups tend toward the Baby Boomer generation, here was someone in her mid-20's forgoing other diet fads to try the vegan lifestyle.
- What made her more receptive to a healthy, whole foods, vegetarian diet?
- What advice can she offer to other young men and women?
- Here are insights in honest, open answers....
Tell us a little bit about yourself: Where do you live, what kind of passions or work do you pursue?
I am 27 years old and I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. I moved to Oregon when I was 18 for school, met my husband, and ended up settling down in Portland. I have my master’s degree in social work, and I work primarily with children, adolescents, and families in both mental health therapy and drug and alcohol counseling.
What relationship with food did you have when you were a child? Can you share one your earliest food memories?
My relationship with food as I was growing up was similar to many Westerners. I had meat with every meal and, in spite of a dairy allergy, milk, cheese, and eggs at least once or twice per day. Perhaps what I was eating was a reason why I had several severe cases of pneumonia, bronchitis, and other illnesses as a young child.
I cringe when I think about it, but my early food memories are mostly comprised of greasy American cuisine. I looked forward to McDonald's for Friday dinners, I only ordered hamburgers when my family went out to eat, and I worked at a burger restaurant in high school. My family members would tease me when we ate out because I never wavered from burgers and fries at restaurants, no matter how much they tried to convince me.
The Standard American Diet (SAD) of meat, dairy, refined carbs, and fat was limiting her willingness to try new foods and probably making her sick.
When did you decide to go plant-based? Why did you come to this decision?
I made the decision when I was 25, after two years of contemplating the change. Growing up I was always thin and I never struggled with my weight. This changed when I moved out of my parents' house and became independent. I started increasing the amount of animal products and refined sugar and with that came a decrease in the already small amount of plant foods I had been eating. I gained fifty pounds in the two years after I graduated from college. Having witnessed the weight problems many of my family members struggled throughout my entire life, I was concerned and alarmed for myself. I was desperate not to go the same way. I started researching how to lose weight when I was 23. Remember, I never had any weight problems as a young person so I was completely new at this, and I believe my naïveté afforded me the benefit of an open mind. Instead of looking to the popular and well-known low-carb camp for weight loss advice, I found a woman online who developed a website dedicated to green smoothies and living a plant-based lifestyle. I was so amazed at how she looked. She was more than ten years older than me, yet she looked better than my 23-year-old self ever did. I may have been thin, but I never had a flat stomach like hers and my skin had never been as clear and glowing. My interest was sparked and that spark led to months and months of research, mostly online, about eating primarily plants. I had never even heard of such a thing!
During the next two years, I experimented here and there with changing my diet. I married my husband and one of our wedding gifts was a high-powered blender. I started bringing smoothies to work in place of eating out for lunch. This worked in some sense: I dropped about ten pounds, but I knew it was not sustainable because it left me ravenously hungry, and for that reason it didn't last long. I went back to the way I had been eating before, and I continued to gain weight. At 5'7" my highest known weight was nearly 180. On top of that I developed some concerning digestive problems. I would feel sick, constipated, and bloated after each and every time I ate.
Being thin does not mean you are healthy.
Weight gain is often the most alarming wake-up call after other symptoms can be ignored.
In spite of failed smoothie attempts, my search for radiant health continued. I found additional plant-based and vegan icons that inspired me to keep going. At this point I was 25 and very unhappy with how I looked and felt. I thought 25 is supposed to be the time in your life when you feel like a rockstar. I didn't, so I decided I was going to embark on a raw food cleanse at the beginning of 2013. Eating 100% raw fruits and vegetables in January in Oregon probably wasn't the most well thought out plan, but nevertheless I plowed ahead. It was rough, I was constantly hungry, but my bowels finally, FINALLY felt regular and I lost 5 pounds that week. I was sold. I may have not found the most sustainable way that worked for me, but here was proof that the way I ate had the potential to make me feel better.
Diets that are too strict are unsustainable.
I felt my resolve slipping away during the following month. I was too hungry and didn't have a good plan for how to continue eating raw. I slipped back into eating animal products, but I knew a plant-based diet was the way to improve my health, so I kept searching.
One of the vegan "celebrities" I followed posted a video on her YouTube of a man who presented a talk on veganism at Georgia Tech in 2010. This man's name is Gary Yourofsky and he, along with the plant-based and vegan communities I was part of, changed my life. I went vegan overnight on February 13, 2014. At first I didn’t know what to eat, and I lived on spaghetti and marinara for weeks, but I eventually found my way to a sustainable vegan lifestyle.
Inspiration can come in the form of YouTube videos and celebrity role models.
As my journey progressed, I found Dr. John McDougall in August of 2014, read his book The Starch Solution from cover to cover, and have been following his program ever since. At nearly 28, I have never felt better.
What changes have you noticed? Please feel free to share changes both in physical body as well as psychological connection with food.
There are so many changes my body has experienced since changing my diet. Here are some of the main ones:
- I have lost 60 pounds, going from 178 pounds to 118, a size 12 to 2
- Even my feet are smaller: I used to wear a size 10, now I hover between 9 and 9.5 in most shoes
- I have cured indigestion and bloating
- My menstrual cycle is manageable
- My body smells better
- I sleep much better now, I stay asleep the entire night and I wake up feeling rested instead of groggy and lethargic
- I no longer get sick with colds, the flu, bronchitis, or strep throat
- As long as I keep my diet low in fat and without oil, my skin is clear and bright. No other treatment for acne has ever worked this well, and since age 11 I had tried nearly every prescription medication and OTC remedy known to mankind
- My skin and hair are less oily (again, this is true only if I stick to the McDougall plan and keep the oil out of my diet!)
- The whites of my eyes are whiter and I no longer have dark circles under my eyes
- Cravings for animal based foods and junk foods have disappeared
Unlike many fad diets whose only goal is weight-loss, plant-based diets go much deeper.
Being vegan has opened my eyes to the disconnect people have with their food. I had it, too. I grew up with pets and I loved them dearly, but I never stopped to think about the animal on my plate. I believe industry works very hard to keep you and I from making the connection, because if you realize the pork chop on your plate had feelings, you might stop financially supporting that industry.
What are some of your biggest challenges in eating a plant-based lifestyle? Where do you look for support to overcome these challenges?
I think the biggest challenge is planning ahead and cooking meals at home. I love the simplicity of going out to eat, but if you have a lot of dietary needs usually what happens is you either don’t go out to eat, or you don’t get all your needs met. I typically try to plan ahead multiple days in advance so that I can take advantage of leftovers instead of having to cook every single day.
You have to get used to planning ahead and cooking at home.
Would you ever go back to your former way of eating?
Absolutely not. Once you know the truth about animal agriculture and the impact it has on health, you can’t un-know.
There's no turning back.
7 Take-Away Lessons and Advice:
- The Standard American Diet (SAD) of meat, dairy, refined carbs, and fat can make you sick and limit your willingness to try new foods
- Being thin does not mean you are healthy. Weight gain is often the most alarming wake-up call after other symptoms can be ignored.
- Diets that are too strict (like raw or smoothies-only) are unsustainable.
- Find inspiration where you need it: Inspiration can come in the form of YouTube videos and celebrity role models. Some famous plant-based icons include Beyoncé, Russell Simmons, And Ellen Degeneres. Even President Bill Clinton adopted the McDougall diet after massive heart surgery because he wanted to be walk Chelsea down the aisle and play with future grandkids.
- Unlike many fad diets whose only goal is weight-loss, plant-based diets go much deeper.
- You have to get used to planning ahead and cooking at home because the SAD is still the norm for eating out.
- There's no turning back
Allyson's Recipe Recommendations:
Try these healthy, vegetarian dishes in your own plant-based diet
More Resources and Learning for a Vegan Diet:
McDougall Friends Facebook Group with over 12,000 members sharing recipes, support, and encouragement: https://www.facebook.com/groups/McDougallFriends/
Dr. McDougall's Health and Medical Center: https://www.drmcdougall.com/
Gary Yourofsky, animal rights advocate and public speaker for Animals Deserve Absolute Protection Today and Tomorrow: http://www.adaptt.org/bio.html
All of the Plants-Rule healthy, vegan recipe collection: http://www.plants-rule.com/
More Articles on Healthy Eating Motivation:
About the Author:
Chef Katie Simmons
Katie is a Personal Chef based in Chicago. She specializes in creating delicious, healthy recipes for those with special dietary concerns like gluten-free, oil-free, plant-based, and low-residue. Outside of the kitchen, she is a Fitness Instructor for Equinox, with over 13 years experience in the fitness industry, and a blogger for Kuli Kuli Foods. For fun, she loves to travel, with her most recent travel involving 10 days of hiking in the Patagonia of Argentina and Chile.