So, I’m vegan. Again.
For those who don’t know, vegans don’t eat animal protein. More plainly: we don’t eat meat, or animal products of any kind (including eggs or dairy).
Some people are vegan because of their compassion for animals. (I like animals, too — particularly certain parts of them, particularly when fried.) But in my case, being vegan has a more selfish motivator: I don’t want my life cut short by debilitating illness or death.
A Visit with the Doctor
About eight weeks ago, I went to the doctor with a range of complaints. I felt dizzy and disconnected. My memory didn’t seem to be as good as it used to be. My ears were ringing. I had gained back all the fat I lost on that low-carb diet, plus a few additional pounds, putting me at my all-time record high weight of 230 pounds. (That’s about 105 kilos, for those of you outside the U.S. — or about the weight of a mature male goat.)
My blood tests revealed that, in addition to my high blood pressure (old news, and under control with medication), I had very high uric acid levels (the leading cause of painful, inflamed joints and gout), very high triglycerides (free-floating fat in my blood, perfect for bringing on strokes and heart attacks), borderline high cholesterol (more strokes and heart attacks!) unusual liver enzyme levels (likely from a fatty liver), and very high fasting serum glucose levels (the unhappy harbinger of pre-diabetic syndrome).
I also had persistent, throbbing, and amazingly painful hemorrhoids that had raged on for months. (How’s that for giving you “too much information?”) But this is worth mentioning, because it will be important later.
The real point here is this: I was doing an excellent job of eating myself into an early grave.
Speaking of Death
If I live as long as my Dad did, I have twelve years left on Earth.
With that sober realization in mind and my blood test results in hand, I decided to take a peek at my own future by looking back at my family’s medical history.
Cancer killed my father. It has also either killed or tried to kill each of my father’s brothers and half-brothers.
My mother, a breast cancer survivor, has lost at least one brother to cancer. And while her gene pool seems fairly hardy, there are trends toward heart and respiratory illness in her bloodline, as well.
My husband’s family history suggests he has a good chance of being healthy, happy, and on the go well into his eighties and beyond. (Clyde’s father, at 86, still travels the planet and spends at least a month every year touring southeast Asia by himself. How’s that for a retirement plan?)
What happens to me tomorrow is not completely under my control. But the choices I make today, particularly with regard to diet and exercise, are very likely to determine whether my sunset years are spent suffering in a hospital bed … or climbing the pyramids with Clyde by my side.
What Going Vegan Means to Me
So, for me, going back to being vegan isn’t a political statement or weight-loss fad. Instead, being vegan is a strategy for improving my health and extending my life.
No two people are alike, so no one way of eating works for everyone. That said: here’s what I’ve decided to do:
- I limit my intake of animal products whenever possible, choosing fruits and vegetables over meats (including fish), eggs, and dairy.
- I prefer basic, unprocessed real foods with a few recognizable ingredients I can pronounce over processed, pre-packaged, and preserved fake foodstuffs.
- I limit fried food to no more than once per week.
- I limit sugary sweet treats to no more than once a week.
- I limit carbs, but when I eat them, I choose whole-grain and high-fiber carbs over flimsy, pale, refined ones.
This approach to eating may seem restrictive or severe to others, but so far, I love it.
- I eat all I want of virtually any vegetable: tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, black beans, soybeans, green beans, butter beans, carrots, chickpeas, peppers, onions, eggplants, squash, Brussels sprouts, lettuces, cabbages artichokes, broccoli, asparagus — you name it.
- I eat lots of fruit: bananas, apples, pears, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, oranges, tangerines, nectarines, plums — you name it.
- I eat tofu and tempe and seitan. I prefer well-prepared versions of these things over “fake meats.”
- I eat reasonable portions of nuts and seeds.
- I don’t drink alcohol.
- I don’t do “cheat days.” This is who I am, and this is how I eat, world without end, amen. That said: I do, very occasionally, make a conscious choice to eat meat. When Clyde fries chicken once a year on the Fourth of July, I am absolutely going to have all I want of that. Turkey on Thanksgiving? Yes, please. Ham at Christmas? Probably — though I’d rather have a holiday steak.
And, finally, while I take my choices very seriously, I’m not rude or freakish about it. If I’m starving and vegan options aren’t available, I’ll default to vegetarian choices, or, in a pinch, salmon. And when I’m a guest in your home, I will eat with gratitude whatever I’m given — while staying as true to my goals as possible, of course.
Results So Far
After going back to being vegan for two weeks, I went to a local lab and had my blood work done again, just for jollies.
- Total cholesterol dropped from 212 to 203. (The goal is to be below 199).
- Triglycerides dropped from 448 to 325. (The goal is to be below 149.)
- Uric acid dropped from 9.1 to 8.4 (The goal is to be under 8.)
- Fasting serum glucose and ALT (a liver enzyme) were not yet affected, and were still a little elevated at 102 (the goal is to be under 99) and 65 (the goal is to be under 44), respectively.
And, happily, the ringing in my ears and those pesky hemorrhoids disappeared, to boot.
Today, as I write this, I’m eight weeks vegan. I’m not really trying to lose weight, but I have, effortlessly falling from 230 to 214 pounds. My memory is improving; I’m back to recalling names and random facts as quickly as I used to.
And, best of all, I just feel good. I feel really, really good for the first time in a very long time. Frankly, a lot of things I mistook as unavoidable signs of aging — particularly aches and pains, particularly early in the morning or late at night — turn out to be reversible … all by simply tweaking what I eat.
This path isn’t for everyone, but, for the moment, I feel very much at home. Here’s hoping this story inspires you to find your own heather choices, whatever those need to be.