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Today, we hear from E2X member, Anne. Anne has a very popular blog on Engine 2 Extra, she goes through her day to day food journal with lots of insights and reflections. Today she shares how she put plant-strong pieces together.
I’ve always considered myself a physically active person, and took an ‘everything in moderation’ approach to eating which I thought very reasonable. I rarely ate red meat, and instead favored chicken, turkey, fish, and pastas and salads with lots of “healthy fats” like olive oil….and indulged occasionally in sugary desserts… In spite of this thinking, my plant-strong journey started in August 2011. At a family reunion, my sister dropped a seed in fertile soil.
At the time, I was starting to feel not great physically in a very general sense – I was getting headaches, felt sluggish and congested, was annoyed that I started to gain a few pounds…you know, I thought I had a case of the 40’s and telling my sister about it was perfect…after all that’s the stuff your family gets to hear since nobody else wants to, right? My coping strategies were not the best and involved working hard, reliance on drinking too much coffee…and eating was sometimes an unplanned afterthought. But it really didn’t seem right that I should tolerate a slow slide into diminished health.
For years I had experienced chronic on again/off again low back pain from a bulging disc which I coped with by limiting physical activity that aggravated pain. This meant I walked and hiked, but did not run. I stopped doing some sports I used to enjoy, like waterskiing. What alarmed me more, however, was I started to get pain and swelling in joints in my fingers and toes…and sometimes tingling and numbness. This, along with the other general not-feeling-great things I had going on motivated me to reach out, talk about it, seek answers. My symptoms all checked out as “normal” with doctors I consulted…they did not find anything to explain what I was experiencing, but I really didn’t want to accept this state of being as “normal” anymore.
I sat there in August 2011 over a Greek salad with feta cheese and oily dressing, while my sister told me how changing her diet made her feel so good. Later that week, she told me about the documentary Forks Over Knives and a very scientific approach to nutrition and health, with doctors /scientists from Cleveland Clinic and Cornell. Upon returning home, I watched Forks Over Knives…twice.
I started trying to implement a plant-based diet, but was not sure what I was doing. I was allowing myself to be influenced by social reinforcement of moderation messages along the lines of “I’m plant-based 70% of the time”, “When I go out with friends I eat anything”, and “as long as I incorporate more good things than bad things I’m okay”, etc. I knew I was supposed to stay away from animal protein and dairy, but did not understand the role of oil, or the pervasiveness of processed foods and sugars. I knew that I didn’t know what TO EAT or how. I was struggling.
At that same time I ran across something interesting at Whole Foods – a little package of microgreens. I was intrigued to know more about where they came from and looked up the farmer. Turned out they were local, and Heritage Prairie Farm in Elburn, IL had a lot going on…farm dinners, a farmer’s market, a gift shop. I signed up for their events newsletter. In early 2012 I received an email about an Engine2 immersion at Heritage Prairie Farm…what on earth is an Engine2? Oh wait, those are the Forks Over Knives people, and they were coming to Heritage Prairie Farm for a weekend immersion in the summer of 2012…An immersion weekend to learn how to implement this into my lifestyle was exactly what I was looking for. I had noted in my journal in April that my back pain was getting worse and that I wanted to change my story and become who I was meant to be. Okay, I know this is a literally a Tony Robbins-on-Oprah moment! I also started writing down foods that I thought I should avoid. I knew attending the Engine 2/Farms2Forks immersion would pull the pieces together for me.
At the immersion, I immediately sensed I was at a life changing event. Things were NOT going to be the same for me. I took COPIOUS notes on every speaker….Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Rip Esselstyn, Ann Esselstyn, Doug Lisle, Jeff Novick. Their intense focus, knowledge, drive and physical energy levels were remarkable. I walked away understanding that the state of the current standard American diet was radically wrong and I needed to radically change my diet to be more attuned toward health. No OIL! No caffeine! No animal protein, dairy, or overly processed foods. And emphasize leafy greens, while focusing the diet on beans, oats, fruits and vegetables. I learned new guidelines for reading ingredients and nutritional labels of packaged foods. The food served at the immersion was heavenly and delicious, and there was no need to “portion control.” I could definitely see myself eating this way, and I finally felt empowered with knowledge.
I immediately changed my diet on June 30, 2012 the first day of the immersion. I bought the Engine 2 Diet and Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease books and started cooking recipes from them. In my first month being plant-strong, I initially lost about seven pounds and while I struggled with cravings for salt, caffeine, and sugar, I felt great. After one month, I had my cholesterol checked in August 2012 and it had dropped dramatically since April. Total Cholesterol: 158 from 213; Triglycerides: 107 from 111; LDL: 94 from 118; HDL: 43 from 73. My success definitely reinforced my resolve, and I was feeling more energized with great improvement in my congestion. I even waterskied this summer for the first time in about 15 years. However, things were not quite right.
Throughout August and September, I found myself attempting to find “perfect processed foods” like finding baked no oil tortilla chips and then thinking I could eat a lot of them since, you know, there’s no portion control. I also made a lot of tofu-based recipes and dishes with added sweeteners. In hindsight, I was mis-applying some concepts and rationalizing what was essentially an addictive quality of processed plant foods, plant-based fats and sweeteners. I thought I was being a good plant-strong ambassador by making really delicious plant-based dishes with tofu and sweeteners for friends, but actually I was using friends as an excuse to eat more processed plant-based foods and sweets myself. This dynamic was not really happening at a conscious level…but it started showing up at the level of my bathroom scale.
While losing weight had not a big priority for me (feeling better was!) I certainly did not like gaining back the weight I had initially lost on a plant-based diet…but that is exactly what happened. In late September, I decided to join Engine2Extra for additional support in navigating the plant-strong pathway. I started journaling everything I was eating and drinking, and all physical exercise on the Engine2Extra blog. I immediately received feedback from Engine 2 Team members like Char, Natala and Ami. They quickly and gently pointed out areas that I could improve. They encouraged my participation in further activities that would serve me well, like doing a 28-day challenge and weekend challenges. These activities greatly appealed to my natural desire for accomplishment (I LOVE a challenge!) and I am essentially an experiential learner (aren’t we all?). I hopped right on-board with a challenge to increase the greens to fill up ½ my plate each day during the weekend…I immediately noticed a difference in how I felt…lighter, more satisfied at meals. I also found so many new resources for great recipes, and friendly encouragement from fellow Engine2Extra members.
I started a 28-day challenge in October, and because I also love data, had my cholesterol levels taken as a baseline. I fully expected them to be at or below 150, which was my goal. After all, my level in early August was 158…so it should be even lower. Wrong. The two months of eating plant-based pies and too much tofu and nuts took their toll. Total cholesterol jumped to 196 with LDL back to 117, almost as high as levels were back in April when I was using oils and was a committed flexitarian. While this was discouraging, I quickly recognized the lesson and opportunity this setback presented me with… to refine my approach and yes, my “relationship” with food toward improving my health and well-being. My past errors had direct impact on my present self, and every decision I make going forward will directly impact my future self. What we put in our bodies…food…is powerful stuff. Game on! I was indeed going to change my story so I could become the person I was meant to be.
At the end of the 28-day challenge, I had another lipid panel on 11.09.12. Total Cholesterol: 141; Triglycerides: 100; LDL: 74; HDL: 47
I addition to hitting my goal to get my total cholesterol below 150, I had lost 6 pounds and noted the following physical changes:
- higher sustained energy level and generally more alert feeling
- sleep requirement went from 9-10 hours/night to 7-7.5 hours
- much more interest in daily physical activities such as working out
- back pain is greatly improved
- joint pain/swelling is gone
- tingling/numbness in hands and feet is greatly improved
- sinus congestion is gone
- I’m tolerating loud noise/sounds better
- I have less eye sensitivity to bright sunlight (previously uncomfortable in bright sun)
- I look thinner/more fit
- went down two sizes in jeans
- I feel like my hormone levels are more balanced out
- I feel happier and lighter in spirit, better able to handle stressful situations without becoming irritable
- I feel stronger
But I’m not going to tell you its all ponies and butterflies either. It takes daily effort, the humility to learn and be honest with myself, and the boldness to ask for what I need. Cravings still come and go, come again and require management strategies. I’m continually learning and growing with the help of the remarkable staff and courageous members of the Engine2Extra community, and through reading authors like T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Rip Esselstyn, Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Neal Barnard, Doug Lisle, Alan Goldhammer, and Lindsay Nixon.
I sometimes think about how before I was hitting a wall, and what I needed to do was stop throwing myself against that wall and instead find a doorway through…Engine 2 was that doorway for me, and I’m so grateful to Rip, Ami, Natala, and Char for putting the handle on that door in a place where I could reach it. And to my sister, Mary, I owe a debt of gratitude for always looking out for me and pointing me in the right direction to change my life for the better. Thank you Engine 2 for helping me put the plant-strong pieces together so that I could change my story and start becoming who I was meant to be.”
Thank you Anne for sharing your story!
If you’d like to join Anne and other E2-ers on Engine 2 Extra, be sure to sign up soon! We’re running a holiday special, which comes out to less than 8 dollars per month/about .25 cents pre day for Engine 2 Extra. When you sign up you get all of the past interviews including Dr. T.Colin Campbell (China Study), Dr. Alan Goldhamer (The Pleasure Trap), Jeff Novick, RD, Dreena Burton, Shira Lane, Lindsay Nixon, Kathy Freston and more! You also get our 80+ page Holiday Cookbook. In addition we will start off 2013 with a new 28 day challenge with new meal plans for all levels and tele-classes with the best in plant-strong nutrition. We have daily support, coaching, groups, live chats, challenges and contests and it is all completely private. Sign up and start your new years resolutions now.