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How It All Ve-gan: Plant-Based Lifestyle

How I transitioned to a plant-based, vegan lifestyle.

When I turned 40, I was struggling with excess “baby weight” (despite the fact that my son was already 4).

My energy level was at an all-time low and a recent trip to the doctor revealed my cholesterol was high. What could I do? Had I not tried every diet in the book? Had I not spent frustrating months yo-yo dieting and partaking in sporadic, grueling fits of boot-camp type exercising? I knew I was ready for a change but the answer continued to elude me.

My lightbulb moment finally arrived early one morning as I watched a Today Show segment featuring Rip Essylsen’s book, “The Engine 2 Diet.” He was extolling the miraculous and life-altering benefits of the vegan lifestyle. I called Barnes & Noble and told them to hold a copy for me. I picked up the book that afternoon figuring I’d return it the following morning.

I mean come on, how could someone like me, a really good cook and even better baker, give up meat … and fish … and DAIRY?!  I was so NOT a vegan.

That night, I climbed into bed and read that book from cover to cover. I was amazed at its’ straightforward simplicity, but giving up the foods that I had known and loved all my life did not seem like a daunting task ... it seemed impossible.  

In my Italian-American household, food was the center of the Universe; it consoled us during the tough times and rewarded us in celebration. As with so many people, food was a part of my culture and a big part of my identity.

I needed to rethink my relationship with food. I had to look at food, not as a reward or consolation, but as fuel for my body. I began planning meals mindful of how it would help or hurt my “engine.”  I set the bar (very) low, but my pilgrimage took on a life of its’ own. 

One vegan meal a day turned into one vegan day per week. I quickly began eating a vegan diet full time, but allowed myself "free passes” for holidays and nights on the town. It wasn’t long before I was ordering salads, whole wheat pasta and fresh fruit at fine restaurants too.  

I experienced the positive effects of a plant-based diet almost immediately and never looked back. Today, I find strength and empowerment in the knowledge that my cholesterol dropped 40 points and I’m 15 pounds lighter.

It is a scary road to travel … I know all too well. Putting yourself first can be daunting, but you owe it to yourself and to those you love to be the best you can be. Miraculously, you will find that what begins a quest for health, becomes a journey of self-exploration. I actually like myself again after so many years of disappointment and frustration.  

As a nation, we are over-worked and over-stressed and we all look for ways to soothe ourselves. I have learned how beneficial it is to soothe myself with a good book or a laugh with a friend rather than a piece of cake. However, when I do indulge in that cake it is a guiltless pleasure because it’s made with healthful, wholesome ingredients that won’t weigh me down.

Today, I take time for myself to enjoy hobbies like reading and knitting. In the summer months I relish my weekly trips to the Red Bank Farmers’ Market, where I plan my plant-based menus with Mother Nature’s bounty. 

My husband and I also grow our own veggies in the yard every summer to the delight of our children. I love afternoons at the beach or sipping iced green tea on my back porch. These are the simple pleasures I had been missing and am so grateful to have rediscovered. I’ve learned it’s not the meal we are eating that satisfies us, it's the people who share it with us.

Over the coming weeks I will be sharing my tips on how to incorporate more plant-based meals into your diet, as well as showing you how to indulge in good food without the guilt. I will show you how a vegan lifestyle, even on a part-time basis, can positively affect your health and vitality while allowing you to enjoy foods you will love — even desserts!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Curious George June 06, 2012 at 11:16 PM
All things in moderation goes a long way...I don't think one has to go completely vegan to maintain a healthy life style as long as you discipline yourself to stay off the sugar based sodas and other soft drinks (seltzer is a good substitute), limit the sugar content in the cereals you eat and other foods...That's the big killer. Don't be deceived by the diet sodas because they are just as bad if not worse. The main thing is smaller portions both at home and out. If possible share the one entree with your partner or guest...As Emily said, substitute steamed vegetables in Chinese restaurants because the oils they saute their foods in are bad. Whole grain pastas and breads in moderation and again, smaller portions. Exercise is vital. You don't need expensive gym memberships or hi-tech clothes to walk...walk...and keep walking...until you build up the cardio to go further and/or faster. Even around the block once a day will effect changes but you've got to burn more calories. You have to want to do it and that's where the discipline comes in. It is so sad to stand behind some behemoth in the supermarket checkout line with a cart full of 64 oz soda, cocoa puff cereals, Wonder Bread and a package of hot dogs. The knowledge is out there but sadly, too many people don't want to hear it and we're all paying the price for their bad decsions with health care costs.
Melissa Bartolone June 06, 2012 at 11:51 PM
Lindsey, what an inspiring comment! I am happy to hear you have won your fight with Lymes Disease and your proactive approach against cancer. I'm glad to hear that you are feeling the positive affects of "clean" food days vs. processed food days. I believe if more people gave themselves the opportunity to experience these changes, they would be more inclined to alter their lifestyles. I applaud your quest into raw food territory; and also suggest you read up on the Macrobiotic lifestyle. Any books by Michio Kushi or Christina Pirello are a great starting point. I am excited by your enthusiasm and desire to pay your quest for health forward to your family. I wish you continued success:)
Melissa Bartolone June 07, 2012 at 12:06 AM
Lucky you to have met Rip - he seems like a great guy. I appreciate your comment and look forward to posting more on a subject that I am very passionate for.
Jacquely June 11, 2012 at 01:48 AM
Along with Rip's book, you should watch Chow Down, a film that follows patients of Rip's father, of the Cleveland Clinic, who are struggling with heart disease. It's so entertaining yet very informative too.
Melissa Bartolone June 11, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Thanks for the heads up Jacquely, I will definitely check it out.

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