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The Daily Beet: Tips, Advice and Stories

Changing traditions.

(A picture of a much younger Natala with her “Granny” and “Pa” at Christmas)

I grew up in a large Italian family. Christmas was a big deal growing up, my Granny would prepare for weeks getting ready for the big Christmas Eve meal. In Italian families, Christmas Eve is a really big deal, we celebrated “The Feast of the Seven Fishes” or as we called it “Oh Holy Fish Night”. It was a night about family, friends and a lot of food.

My Granny spent hours cooking, baking, decorating, all for this feast. We would eat for hours, each course more elaborate than the last. And the desserts! The long table was filled with all of the desserts you could ever imagine. Everyone loved Christmas Eve at my Granny’s house, it was kind of legendary.

After the big dinner, after everyone went home I’d stay up with my Granny past midnight, past bedtime. We’d sit in the kitchen, at the small round glass table, the lights would all be off except for the little night light and the christmas lights all around the house that were put up. We wouldn’t say much, we just sat together drinking sleepy time tea.

For a long time I thought that the holidays were about food. That is how I grew up. However, when my Granny passed away from complications of type 2 diabetes when I was 16 years old, I realized that I didn’t miss her cooking, I didn’t miss the eating, I missed those late nights in the dim lit kitchen. What I miss most is having her to talk to when I really need someone to talk to. What I missed most was not having her dance at my wedding.

My Granny suffered from T2 diabetes for a long time. At the end of her life (her late 50′s) the disease progressed to the point she had to be put on dialysis. She would eventually get an infection in her leg and when they told her it would have to be amputated she decided to stop dialysis, she did not want to suffer any longer. She died a few days after her decision to end treatment. Her life, taken far too early because of a disease that is 100% preventable and can be controlled and even reversed through diet.

I know this, because 9 years after her death I would become T2 diabetic, for 5 years I suffered with this horrible disease and I would also be told by doctors that an infection in my leg could lead to amputation. But my story did not end, like my Granny’s story. I found out about eating plant-strong. I changed my diet, changed my life and today I am medicine free, no more infections, no more neuropathy, no more suffering. I have my entire life ahead of me.

This year for Christmas my family will come in to town. We have the house decorated, the presents wrapped. But unlike the decades of celebrating with lots of disease causing food, we will enjoy a nice, plant-strong meal together. But most importantly, we will enjoy being together.

I am positive that had my Granny found out about eating plant-strong she would have done it in a heart-beat. I knew her well enough to know that she cared more about her family, her grandchildren, her friends, her life, than she did her food traditions. Would have it been hard for her? Absolutely. But is the cost of suffering and leaving this earth earlier than someone should, worth the taste of one meal? Absolutely not.

This year for Christmas I am celebrating the best gift I was ever given, the one of healthy living. To live a life with out needless suffering, to be ALIVE is something to celebrate. Make your food decisions ones to be celebrated. Focus on what really matters around the holidays, your family, your friends and the celebration of life. I don’t pretend that this change is an easy one for anyone, but the alternative is far too high of a price to pay.

I would give up every big Italian feast, every bite of (unhealthy)  lasagna, every cookie, every piece of cake, if it meant just one more Christmas with my Granny.

So next year, do something for yourself, and do something for your family. Decide this is the year that you will become plant-strong, this is the year you will look back and remember that things turned around for you, that you decided that you did not want to live a life of suffering and that you did not want to leave this earth earlier than you need to.

Traditions are a part of us. Sometimes they can feel like they can not be changed or altered in anyway. The thing that many of us forget about traditions is that they are nothing with out the people who started them and keep them alive. It’s okay to change the way your family does things. Sit down with your family and talk about ways to celebrate health and ways to become healthy as a family.

We here at Engine 2 will be there for you through all of the ups and downs. We want to see you happy and healthy. Above all we wish you a happy and plant-strong holiday season.

—This post was written by Natala Constantine part of the Engine 2 Diet team.

About the author

NatalaE2
Natala is the director of communications for Engine 2 Diet, she is also one of our coaches on our support site, Engine 2 Extra. A few years ago, Natala was at the end of her rope. She was on almost 15 medications daily, had out of control Type 2 Diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, issues with nerve damage, and was morbidly obese. She was just over 30 years old. She decided to take her life back by becoming plant-strong. She has lost over 200 pounds, got off of all of her medications and now has great health numbers. Natala plays the violin and studied music therapy. She became passionate about plant-strong nutrition, received her Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition through Cornell University, a certificate in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and is currently pursuing a degree in nutritional sciences. Natala is also a featured speaker at our Engine 2 Retreats she talks about the reality of our nations obesity epidemic as well as providing practical steps to becoming a healthier person.
  • http://healthygirlskitchen.blogspot.com Wendy (Healthy Girl’s Kitchen)

    Natala-Wow, what a powerful and moving story. Thank you for sharing this. I think that many of us following a Plant-strong eating style share similar familiar backgrounds with loved ones suffering from food related illnesses. I myself have a very similar story to you, but it centers around my beloved grandfather whom I lost when I was ten years old. I will never get over losing him. We are going to end this cycle. Thank you again for highlighting this very important point. And have a wonderful and very merry and PLANT STRONG Christmas! You too Rip! xoxo, Wendy

  • Debbie

    I need to read this every day. I get so wrapped up in what my family will think, I cave in all the time! Most of them are already suffering, so am I for that matter. You are 100% right, what good are traditions if we’re dead or hurting?

  • http://www.veggieteach.wordpress.com Jude

    I totally agree. You can eat plant strong no matter if you’re cooking or someone else (sure you may need to bring a side dish– one of my favorites is a quinoa salad because is is loaded with protien and you can add all the fruit or veggies you want). I have decided that my health is important for me to live a long and happy life “with” my family and friends.

  • Fran

    My husband died of a massive heart attack when he was 43. He always joked about the bad food he ate and he always made fun of his vegetarian friends. I used to think the idea of healthy food was ludicrous until he died. It sickens me every day that it took his death for meto think about my health and my kids health. We celebrate Christmas with out him now, because of a heart attack that did not need to happen, but happend because of bad food choices. Would Christmas have been any different with out the ham? No, not at all. This is beautiful Natala, I hope to hear more from you on the blog.

  • Jen

    Thanks for the morning cry! This is so touching and reminds me why I eat the way I do and why I am changing the way our family traditions are as well. It’s been an uphill battle, but this has reminded me of why need to keep up the good fight!

  • Melissa

    I think Natala is the main blog contributor? I got to meet her back in September, she is incredible and her story is really amazing. I love all of her posts. Thanks so much for all you do.

  • http://twitter.com Lindsay

    This was beautiful. Thanks for sharing Natala.

  • Mary

    Thank you Natala, and thanks for all of your work with Engine 2!

  • http://facebook.com Jeff

    Beautifully written. I’ve really enjoyed all your posts lately. Thanks again.

  • Marissa

    I lost my Nanna to type 2 diabetes as well, it’s why I’m working so hard to not get it, I saw how much she suffered. Thanks Natala this was a nice reminder today. Thanks for all your posts, I learn so much every day!

  • http://facebook.com givingupmeat

    I needed to read this today. Thanks for the good food for thought Natala. I really have been enjoying the blog as well. Thanks Rip!

  • http://facebook.com Tricia

    This made me cry! When is your book coming out???? You are such an inspiration Natala, thanks for sharing your journey and really walking the walk. There are so many people who promote health who have not been in my shoes, you are the real deal, so glad I met you at the immersion! Merry Christmas, I know your Granny is proud of you!

  • Allison

    Wow Natala, that’s a beautiful story about what really matters in life…..the ones you hold dear to your heart and the time you get to spend with them. I’m sorry your Granny was not able to be there at your wedding. Its heartbreaking when you miss the ones that you love and cherish. I honestly feel that a plant strong diet could have saved my mom too….and I wish I knoew about this years ago….. Thank you so much for sharing your story Natala.

  • http://facebook.com Mike

    First time commenter, long time reader. I just wanted to add that I really appreciate this story, I needed to hear it today! I have been the one cooking the holiday turkey for years, we got a deep fryer a few years ago! This year I made the hard decision to not do that, even though I wouldn’t be eating it. We’re having a vegan Christmas, it meant some of our friends and family decided not to join us, that’s okay by me. I had heart disease last Christmas, this Christmas I do not and I am alive and that is what matters. Thanks for the lovely post Natala! Blessings, Mike.

  • Jane

    Ugghhh I needed to hear this today. My family is doing a meat infested Christmas and I was feeling really guilty that I wouldn’t partake and even thought I might, this gave me lots of hope today. We lost our Mom a few years ago to heart disease and type 2 and you’d think my family would get smart and stop eating shit, but they haven’t and I’m the lone weird vegan now. Thanks for writing about this. Thanks for every thing Engine 2, I love your facebook page Rip, it’s been helping a lot as well. Happy Holidays!

  • Sarah

    Merry Christmas Natala and to Rip and the Engine 2 Team! Thank you for changing how I eat! And thans for the daily inspiration!!

  • Don

    I don’t cry often, but this post really struck a nerve. I lost my Grandfather when he was only 55 to a heartattack, I have high cholesterol and I keep putting off changing my diet. I don’t want my kids to grow up with out a Dad and I don’t want to have them celebrate xmas with out me. I thought I’d wait till the new year to change things, but I’ve decided to change now, why wait? It will be hard with out our comfort foods, but it will be harder if I’m not there. Thank you Natala, for the reminder. Have a happy holiday.

  • Patti

    My friend posted this on her facebook page, I’m not vegan, I did watch a movie Forks Over Knives and it got me thinking about changing my diet. I’ve been afraid to give up my traditions, it is why I haven’t tried changing, I knew Christmas was coming and I didn’t want to change before Christmas. I have diabets already and a lot of health problems. It really got me thinking today about what I value in life, do I really value my food over my family and children???? I’ll be getting your book. Thank you.

  • http://moreapplesaday.com Peter

    “But is the cost of suffering and leaving this earth earlier than someone should, worth the taste of one meal? Absolutely not.”

    That says it all. One thing I have always said and it holds very true for my family: We become so involved with our food over time that it leads to a marriage with it, and nobody wants a divorce.

    I strive for lifestyle that will allow me to live longer than anyone ever has, but anyone can do this. Unfortunately it often takes an emergency or a life threatening disease to even open the minds of those afflicted, and those around them, to lifestyle modifications. This does not even guarantee change and I feel tradition is often to blame for this.

    Dying in our eighties or nineties is only normal because that is when the majority have worn out their bodies from years of wear and tear. If we continue this way, we will continue die way too early and suffer the consequences of an early death.

    Strive to be healthy, strive to live longer, strive… LIVE Longer We Will!

    Merry Christmas

  • Missy

    Wow, thank you! I am in the process of changing my eating to all plant based. The majority of my eating already is except for slips I have now and then. Plus, all my plant based choices aren’t always the healthiest..just yet but I am working on it and this article put the fire under me to move it along. I lost my father to cancer on Aug. 14, 2010 so this will be the second Christmas without him. I know his food choices led to his heart disease and probably to his cancer and kept it growing. He wasn’t aware of alternate choices at the time and I was just beginning my own research. I’d like to think he would have changed the way he ate, had he known. The doctors advised him to eat whatever he wanted which was mostly sugar products because he couldn’t really eat due to the tumor in his neck and radiation. I know it’s definitely put me on a quest for better living for myself and my family. This is my way to kick cancer in the butt for taking my Dad. We too have our tradition of getting together with food on Christmas Eve and then Christmas Day. My family already thinks I’m a little nutso for being interested in this kind of thing but we are responsible for what we put into our mouths not only for ourselves but for our family who is counting on us. I would give anything to have one more Christmas with my Dad and wouldn’t need to eat a thing…only need to see his smiling face. My mother too suffers from COPD, osteoporisis, irregular heartbeat. What road do I have to look forward to if I don’t change. Not a very fun one, that’s for sure. Thank you again for writing this. It really puts it all into perspective for me. Merry Christmas!

  • Mary

    I am so glad you are part of the Engine 2 Team, I got to meet you last year at an Immersion and you were the inspiration that made me change my diet. I’m really glad you are part of this now. Happy Holidays Natala and the Engine 2 Team!

  • Jen

    Ditto, I’m glad there is someone who gets it and has been in my shoes, Natala it is refreshing. Thanks for what you are doing. Jen

  • Jill

    I’m so sorry about your grandmother, but thank you for sharing your story!

  • Mike

    I loved this story. Reminds me of my family. Big gatherings with food, food and more food, dripping with fat. Unfortunately, my mom and dad, 3 grandparents, a brother and several aunts and uncles all gone due to “western diseases” like diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Natala is right, who wouldn’t give up the feasts just to have loved ones back. 2012 is the year for me and my kids to get plant strong. It’s going to be tough to get the kids to buy into a new diet but with their type 1 diabetes I feel like I have no choice based on my family history.

  • Greg

    This was really beautiful. Thank you Natala for the reminder of why I have made these changes and why we had a ‘non’ traditional meal. I hope to hear from Natala more!

  • Marcia

    I’m looking forward to hearing Natala on the tele class tomorrow! I learned so much last month from her! She is incredible!

  • Linda

    Just seeing this now, after my Christmas dinner with my family I really needed the reminder. Great article Natala, I’m glad they put you on the team as well, you really “get it” and get the struggle.

  • PlantStrongDiva

    Looking forward to your call tonight! I also love that you have walked and are walking in most of our shoes! Most of the books out there are by skinny people who have never had trouble with weight, being discriminated against because of their weight, or who have had family problems. You really need a book! You’d help a lot of people!

  • Cathy Lewis

    Thank you, Natala. It really is all about family and having them there for us. My family and I are changing our traditions for our new plant-based life. We actually think it’s fun, even my 11 year old. (I’m blessed, He loves Kale!)