This article describes my personal story of why I’ve chosen a mostly plant based diet and resources I’ve used to educate myself.
Recently I’ve received several compliments about my weight loss, and many of my friends and colleagues have been interested on how I’ve been able to lose the weight. I normally say I’m following an 80% Vegan diet. But that’s not an actual diet that I’ve heard or read about — it’s my own way of explaining my “mostly plant-based diet.”
So why “80% Vegan?” Let me back up and tell you my story.
Since my teenage years I’ve always struggled with weight, a fact of life that I doubt is uncommon with a large percentage of the population. I’ve usually fluctuated between 10-25 pounds above and below my ideal weight (not counting my pregnancies). In my 20’s and 30’s, all I really had to do was avoid sweets and exercise, and I usually went back down to my ideal weight.
But then came my 40’s: same method didn’t work.
Detoxing from sugar: Back in around 2013 I encountered a diet called the 17 Day Diet. Honestly, I picked up the book as a joke because I started mocking the fact that a diet would only be 17 days and prove effective. But after sitting down and reading the book, it made sense; no sugars, no starches; only lean meats and veggies. The first 17 days were dedicated to cleansing, which I liked, because it didn’t involve the typical “cleanse ritual” I had heard of drinking exclusively shakes for a few days. The first 17 days of this diet really did help wean me off sugar. And boy, that wasn’t easy. No sugar, sweets, starches, wines, spirits, or beer. The first 3 days I woke up as if I had a hangover… tired and with a headache – but I pushed through it, and things started to turn around on day 4 — I started to feel great. No more headache. I had energy, I started exercising. So, I followed this diet through mid second cycle, and then just followed the basics of eating: lean proteins, veggies, and small amounts of complex carbs. Following this diet, I lost about 15lbs in about 2 to 3 months. Great, right? But…
Weight started to creep up again. Although I was working out, doing an average of cardio / boot camp classes three times a week, and limited my sweets & carbs, throughout 2014 – 2016; the 15+ lbs were back again. And it wasn’t so much about the weight, as I never thought of myself as obese or super heavy – but I was feeling the pain. Pain in my knees, my back… tiredness. Plus — what women usually notice first… My clothes weren’t fitting like they used to, and I was finding myself having to buy larger sized clothes. This is when I committed myself to starting the 17 Day Diet again – New Year’s resolution for January 2017! And that is how 2017 started for me, a new commitment to the same diet that worked in 2013.
The pivotal moment of my story. In early January, my mom, who was at the time 78 years old, was experiencing heart issues and a medical procedure to unclog her arteries was necessary. During the procedure, her artery collapsed. The doctors had to bring her back to life, stabilize her, and proceed with inserting multiple stents. Frankly, we didn’t know if she was going to pull through, and we were devastated. With the grace of God, and skilled doctors, she was home after a couple of weeks of being hospitalized & recovering in a rehabilitation center.
During the time she was in the hospital, I dove into my “savior mode” trying to figure out what else we could do besides pumping her with the cocktail of ~15 medicines daily to make her healthy. So I researched & read every book I could find about how to reverse diabetes and / or heart disease. I was educating myself so I could put her on a diet to help her. Then, somehow, by wanting to help her It became apparent that I needed to do something for my own health to avoid diabetes, as well as heart issues, neuropathy, and other conditions that feed off that horrible disease. You should also note that my mom has suffered from diabetes since she about 50, preceded by her mother who was diagnosed with the disease in her 40’s. Therefore, we know late onset diabetes runs in our family.
After reading books and watching documentaries, it became apparent to me that following a vegan lifestyle was the key to being healthy. Funny thing is, I used to make fun of vegans, saying things like “that’s crazy, where do they get their protein?” and “animals were put on this earth to feed us!” and, my favorite: “pork, meat, chicken, rice, and potatoes are part of my culture – I’m going to lose my traditions!” I came to the realization I was wrong. It was this culture of eating fried foods, bread, meat, rice, and potatoes that was making me “chubby” after my teens. I can still embrace and love my Cuban culture and eat foods that are healthy for my body, avoiding animals fats, refined sugars & starches.
So here’s where the “80%” in my self-proclaimed “80% vegan” comes in… if you read the book I suggest below, The End of Diabetes, Dr. Fuhrman calls the diet a mostly plant based diet with still being able to eat some animal products – just rarely.
This allows me to enjoy eggs, fish (my beloved sushi), Olive Oil and taste some sweets here and there. Note, I also drink red wine, haven’t been able to give that up! I have found myself having to supplement some vitamins like D and B12 – a teeny-tiny vitamin each morning takes care of that.
And the results show! So far, I’ve lost about 15-20 lbs and I feel great! My lifestyle change, plus my continued commitment to exercise (learning yoga), has changed the way I feel and look. Plus, the doctor agrees — my physical this year has shown even better results and lower risk for heart disease & diabetes.
I will admit to you that writing this article hasn’t been easy. It was never my intention to share my story and expose publicly my struggle with weight and my family’s health issues. However, certain recent experiences and conversations with others who were interested in my process brought me to publically share the details & my resources. I hope I’m able to help others learn something new so they can make their own decisions.
I don’t claim to be a certified nutritional expert; nor is my intent to be a size zero super-model. I may learn something new in the next few years that may again shift my practices. But for now, I’m committed to my “80% vegan” lifestyle. If you’re interested in the resources I’ve used to educate myself, and learn about my own tips, tricks & suggested meal ideas – see below.
Betty’s definition of 80% Vegan:
- 80% plant based foods – vegetables, fruits, beans/legumes, seeds & nuts.
- 20% fish, low-fat greek yogurt, high-quality cheese, eggs, pasta, olive oil
- Will taste a slice of chicken or a bite of dessert once in awhile.
Educational Resources & Cookbooks:
- Book: The End of Diabetes by Joel Fuhrman, M.D.
- Note: This is the key book I read that changed my mind about eating animal products and help me understand diabetes.
- Book: The Engine 2 Diet, Rip Esselstyn
- Note: I like this book more for some of the recipes.
- Documentary: What the Health [Netflix] by Directors Ken Anderson and Keegan Kuhn
- Note: This documentary calls out a lot of the processed foods.
- Cookbooks: Vegan for Everybody by America’s Test Kitchen
- Note: I’ve tried a couple of recipes that were really good but I’m not impressed with the recommended method of cooking lentils for a salad; I’m still working on how not to make it mushy
- Cookbook: Vegan Under Pressure by Jill Nussinow
- Note: The French Green Lentil Salad was good, but some of the other recipes don’t call for enough water. So just be careful with these recipes that you don’t burn the food.
Quick Tips & Tricks to eating healthy:
- When traveling: Bring an apple or a banana with you; always travel with healthy snacks such as almonds and/or cut up carrots or slices red peppers. Bring several bags of green tea in your bag when you need a little pick me up
- At the office: Bring lunch if a healthy food isn’t easily accessible. I usually make enough food during previous nights dinner so I have take food for lunch.
- Social event involving food: Pre-plan social events. If going to a new restaurant, review the menu online before going. If you know that there won’t be anything healthy beforehand, eat before and just have a snack during the event.
Some of my typical go to foods / meals:
Note: I’ll try to upload some more recipes and will link from this blog post.
- Morning caffeinated drink:
- Iced Espresso with un-sweetened vanilla almond milk
- typically make espresso night before and put it in fridge. Otherwise, make coconut milk ice cubes and use that instead of ice.
- Hot Green Tea, unsweetened
- Iced Espresso with un-sweetened vanilla almond milk
- Breakfast options:
- Apple with 1 – 2 TBS Almond Butter
- Coconut Chia Pudding with fresh berries
- Toasted seed bread (Dave’s Killer Powerseed) with either mashed avocado mash or almond butter.
- Typical Lunch:
- Salad with veggies and / or legumes
- Vegetable soup
- Homemade or from a healthy location that makes it fresh, be careful with canned soup with a lot of sodium
- Typical Dinner options:
- Roasted veggies with butternut squash
- Some type of legume stew (Black beans, lentil soup)
- I learned from one of my books a great tip to thickening soups, puree nuts along with about ¾ cups of the soup.
- Quinoa with edamame and red peppers
- Roasted or sauteed squash (zucchini, yellow squash, spaghetti squash), topped with homemade roasted tomato sauce and topped with fresh basil and sprinkle of parmesan cheese
- Salad with chickpeas and other veggies
- Raw carrots or sliced peppers
- Raw nuts
- a square of dark chocolate bar
- Sliced red, orange or yellow peppers with yogurt avocado sauce
- Hummus with radishes