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!