Friday, June 20, 2008

How my health has improved

I stumbled onto healthy eating when I became a vegan in July 2005, at age 45. I didn't have any serious health problems, yet, but they were starting. My weight had increased a couple pounds every year since my mid-30s, so by this time I was 158 lbs. I am 5' 9" tall so I wasn't technically overweight but I've never had much muscle on my frame so this extra weight was all fat. And it was a bit uncomfortable, especially while flying on airplanes for some reason, maybe because we're packed in so tight. I had daily indigestion and thought I had acid reflux disease (GERD?). I had a heart murmur, heartbeat irregularities, and I figured a heart attack was in my future, just like my mother and grandmother before me. My mother, who had always watched her weight, had a heart attack a day after she ran 5 miles. I had hip pain, backaches and shoulder aches. Right around the time I became vegetarian (May 2005), I had just bought a pair of size 16 jeans and recall accepting to myself that this is my new size and this is a natural part of aging.

When I went vegan, I ate pretty healthy food, in part out of ignorance (I didn't know about vegan ice cream!): grains, vegetables, beans, and fruit, and I continued to cook with oil. After about 9 months I started cutting out the oil, after discovering the McDougall, Fuhrman, and PCRM websites. I discovered the fatfreevegan website, which had great oil-free recipes.   Caffeine, alcohol, salt, and those last occasional splurges on a vegan cupcake or cookie, were the last things I "gave up", each in steps, but by the time I was ready to "give them up", it was more a desire not to have them because I didn't enjoy how I felt after eating them.   Here is how my health has improved since adopting a healthy diet:

1) Indigestion went away immediately when I quit dairy. I discovered this by accident when I was traveling to Mexico and then Sicily in May 2005, and it was warm and I didn't feel like drinking milk (normally I drank about 2 glasses per day). About 2 weeks into the trip, it dawned on me that I didn't have the daily burping and night-time indigestion which had previously made it difficult for me to fall asleep. Once I had the idea it was related to dairy, it was easy to experiment and discover that indeed milk caused digestion problems, so I was likely lactose intolerant. This also made it easier for me to choose to go vegan a few months later.

2) I lost 30 pounds without trying, over a period of about 9 months. I lost another 10 lbs over the next few years. This made me feel much better. Due to my lower body fat, and a lower metabolism, I am colder in winter. However, in summer, I don't get uncomfortably hot anymore. This feels much better. I can add clothes when I'm cold, but it's harder to deal with being too hot.

3) My heart stopped its irregular and skipped beats.   I get my healthy omega-3 fats from green vegetables.  For added insurance I usually include a Tbsp of ground flax or chia seeds.  

4) My cholesterol went down. I avoid doctors so I don't have good records of this, but when I was 38 years old, it was 155. A year after becoming vegan, when I was 46 years old, it was 131. I don't have numbers for a year before becoming vegan which would be interesting. There are lots of success stories on the Fuhrman and McDougall websites that document dramatic cholesterol lowering from changing their diets.

5) This one amazes me the most: My aerobic capacity is unbelievable now. I have to work hard to get out of breath. I used to be the most out of breath of anyone, just going up a flight of stairs, even though I've always been an exerciser. Even though I'm older and have less muscle power than most people at my gym, I sometimes kick butt when we do the heavy aerobic activities like stair climbing and sprinting--not because I'm fast, which I'm not, but because I recover faster in between and can catch up, eventually passing most people. I now realize that all adults who eat the Standard American Diet have heart disease. I had it too before my diet change. My resting heart-beat is about 47 beats per minute. All my life since I first took my pulse in the 8th grade, it was in the upper 60s at its lowest. My blood pressure is 95/57. Yes, most doctors think this is too low but that's compared to people eating a Standard American Diet (SAD).

6) My periods got much lighter and less painful. I no longer required medication (I used to take ibuprofen). This started in spring 2006 (about 9 months after becoming vegan). Then in spring 2008 I got my first skipped period. Then in Nov. 2008 I had another. I stopped having periods in Jan 2009 and have had no other symptoms of menopause. Okay, that right there should be enough to turn women on to healthy eating. I turned 49 in Apr. 2009.  Dr. Fuhrman says that a pre-menopausal woman who has eaten healthy for a long enough time produces less estrogen and has more estrogen receptors. Then when you go through menopause, the drop in estrogen is less dramatic, plus you have more of the receptors, so you don't have many, if any, symptoms. Maybe I got lucky and have been nutritarian for just long enough to get these benefits. what luck!

7) My allergies went away. I used to get them in spring and late summer, and it interfered with my favorite mode of transportation, biking, which seemed to make it worse (the wind got more stuff in my eyes I think). Now they are gone.  This diet can cure a host of other inflammatory conditions including arthritis.

8) My hip pain went away. My aunt and mother get this too. Before healthy eating, I was taking ibuprofen on a regular basis (several times a week!). It was worst at night when I was going to sleep. All gone! When my aunt stopped eating dairy, the same thing happened to her. And when she eats dairy it comes back.

9) My skin has a lovely orange tint to it now. My skin used to be so pale that doctors thought I was anemic. Now people ask me where I got my tan in the middle of winter (I live in Wisconsin which has long winters). I've been told I look "golden and radiant" (needless to say, I loved hearing that). It's from eating all the leafy green vegetables, and carrots and sweet potatoes.

10) My gum disease went away. I was getting bleeding when I flossed and had a particularly bad spot and cleanings were painful especially in that bad spot where they dug into it (ouch) and the dentists were telling me I was in the beginning stages of gum disease and that's a normal part of aging. Now my gums never bleed, and the dentists and hygenists remark about the health of my gums. Vegans tend to have a more alkaline pH than meat eaters, so I wonder if that's why my gums are healthier, in addition to my nutrient-rich diet.

11) My bad breath went away (as far as I know). I used to chew gum to keep my breath fresh. Gave that up. and it turns out the artificial sweetener is bad for you--affects your insulin production like real sugar (and therefore causes weight gain). no thanks to that.

12) Constipation, hemorroids became a thing of the past. knock on wood.

13) I don't get as tired after eating, especially in the afternoon. I have lots of energy throughout the day, until night-time when I get totally exhausted (because I became an exercise fanatic after getting my health back) and go to bed. I don't seem to need as much sleep as I used to. 

14) This is a benefit my housemate received. She eats whatever I cook (but unfortunately, supplements with white bread, cookies, coke, and candy bars). She used to get bouts of diarhea every few weeks. These have disappeared. Was it the E. coli bacteria in meat? I probably wasn't that careful in the kitchen. You have to treat your kitchen like a hazardous waste center when you have meat and dairy in the house. Or maybe she just didn't digest meat well. All we know is, she never gets diarhea anymore, knock on wood.

15) I used to get lower back pain and shoulder pain on a regular basis, and throw out my back or shoulder every few years. This was from about the age of 35 - 45. I get none of it now. I'm not sure how much is due to my yoga and exercise classes that have built up core, shoulder, and arm strength, and how much is due to diet which can heal or hurt your joints. I think it's a mixture.

16) I used to get nosebleeds a lot in the winter (every day or two) and thought it was due to the dry indoor air. I don't get them anymore. Maybe it's because my blood pressure went down.

17) I don't stink nearly as much as I used to in all my various orifices including my regular skin. My sweat is mostly water, and doesn't taste salty. As a result, I don't need to replace electrolytes when I exercise heavily because I'm not losing them in the first place! A little water is all I need.


Robin said...

Your comment about body odor reminds me of something I read once. When the Japanese first encountered Europeans in the 17th century, they commented that they smelled unpleasantly of rancid butter and gave them a Japanese name that means "stinks of butter." Gross, right?

kneecap said...


Irene @ H.E.S.H. said...

Being vegan can really help a person's health to improve especially if you are eating organic plants. The benefits entails with it is far greater. Since I started following a vegan diet my sick days lessen compare than before.