Last year I shared a post from my good friend, Kat and how changing her diet has literally changed her world. I’m happy to report that both her and her husband have continued to thrive on a plant based, whole-food, vegan diet. Today I have another shining example of someone very close to me who has transitioned to a plant based diet and has taken charge of her life, her family's health, and accomplished goals she never dreamed of! I’m happy to share my cousin's, Cristina’s story.
I always thought of myself as a pretty active person. Growing up my parents had enrolled me in ice skating, ballet, and jazz. I spent most of my life in Europe where I also started skiing at the age of 4. Even though I lived in Europe I grew up eating and loving standard American food - processed foods and lots of meat and dairy. Years went by and I met my husband, who was once a ski instructor in his hometown before joining the Army. The two of us bonded on some of the highest peaks of Europe. In addition to skiing, I ran, but never more than a 5K.
I eventually married my ski instructor/soldier, moved to Germany, and had a beautiful baby boy. We promised each other that we would continue being an active family. I hiked a couple smaller mountains (with baby in tow), ran a race in Prague pushing a BOB stroller but even still, for the first time in my life, I was struggling with my weight. While I’ve always been thin, my post-baby weight was the same as my pregnancy weight, and I could not figure out what I was doing wrong.
We moved to Fort Benning, GA in 2012. Like your typical Army spouse, I had to start my life from scratch. In an attempt to meet some new friends, I joined the Columbus Stroller Strong Moms and that’s when I noticed how out of shape I really was. I was so intimidated by these women who were running past me with their double strollers, not even breaking a sweat. I often felt discouraged because these ladies seemed to be in such better shape than I was. I could see every single muscle in their bodies. That said I became good friends with many of them and in addition to encouraging me to keep working out and pushing myself, these Mommas taught me to never give up.
In November 2012 I completed my first half marathon, in exactly 2 hours. I could not believe I completed this, but instead of being happy and proud, I saw pictures of myself and could not believe how “big” I looked. I wondered, “how was it that I was working out almost every day and not losing any weight? Why were my knees and overall body always in pain?” I was always active as a younger child and adult; I simply couldn’t understand why I felt as if I was continuously struggling. Initially I thought that I was simply comparing myself to some unrealistic and unattainable goal.
Big Dog Heat Wave Five Miler 2012
My husband deployed yet again, to fill the time I found myself spending an increasing amount of time exercising. I could not get over the fact that I still looked bigger than ever despite the amount of exercise I was doing. I decided to seek medical advice and was referred to a dietician. My blood results showed that I had genetically high cholesterol – 210! My thought was, “I am too young for pills!” I always thought I was eating a healthy diet, but after several long talks and email exchanges with my cousin I quickly realized that I was buying into a lot of hype and marketing. Knowing that my cousin and my aunt were both thriving on a plant-based diet, I began to research and then transition to a cleaner, plant-based diet, with the support of my doctor and dietician. Within the first month I noticed inches come off my midsection, which was the area I struggled with most. My physical performance dramatically increased, and my body felt stronger. Within 6 months I had lost a total of 13lbs. I had muscles where they had never been before. More important than losing a couple of pounds, I felt better - stronger, awake, and energized. Despite having “genetically high cholesterol” my cholesterol dropped to 158!
My race times throughout the year have dramatically improved and in November 2013 I ran my first full marathon in 4:04. I felt a little sore the next day, but nothing more than typical long run soreness. I felt amazing pre, during, and post marathon. I finished the marathon hungry for more.
Some dude getting “chicked” by my cousin.
Changing my diet and my eating habits has been the best thing in my life. I now realize how unhealthy the “healthy” version of the Standard American Diet is. I realized how unhealthy the food itself can be and how it plays a dramatic role in our entire life. I became vegan for dietary reasons, not for ethical ones. Despite this, I DO feel a sense of responsibility when I see how animals are treated and how they are mass produced for human consumption. It definitely puts things in a different perspective. In addition, becoming vegan has proved to be more than just a personal lifestyle change, I feel like I am contributing to our Earth – making it a better place.
I tell everyone who will listen about my lifestyle change and how well it worked for me. I did not become vegan because of Hollywood trends, nor because I “never really liked meat anyway.” Trust me, I loved steaks and the occasional Big Mac. I became vegan because I want to LIVE! I want to be an active and healthy person for the rest of my life. I owe it to my husband and my child who are also embarking on their own healthier plant-based journeys. As a family we are more vibrant than ever - and we were able to do this in the Deep South proving that were there is a will, there is a way!
Always listen to your body, seek professional advice, and experiment! You will be amazed how being a vegan goes above and beyond eating just kale and various salads. You create meals that the average person had never even heard of and you will LOVE it! Your body will thank you and so will the planet.
As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.