One of the things that I’m regularly asked, is how did I come to a point where I made a decision to adopt a no added fat, whole food, plant-based diet? I can tell you, that this was not something where I just woke up one day and decided to eat nothing but plants.
I really love my food, in fact over the course of my lifetime it became quite an obsession for me. If I wasn’t talking about it, cooking it or trying to fight the effects of it through diet or exercise, I was probably dreaming about it!
For most of my life, I’ve fought a battle with my weight, whilst not really acknowledging that the resultant pounds and stones that I carry around are a direct result of the food choices and portion sizes of what I have eaten over the years. I tried most diets: The Cambridge Diet, Weight Watchers (numerous times), South Beach, Atkins, Glycaemic Index etc I would lose weight; some of which I had probably seen before and then like an unwelcome but familiar old friend, it would return invariably in a greater quantity than before.
I tried more radical solutions such as Xenical. I can remember being in La Jolla in California staying at the hotel for a company event. As usual these events involved a good deal of eating and drinking throughout the period of our stay. I recall walking down the corridor and realising to my shame that I had soiled myself as what these tablets effectively do is to make the fat bypass your stomach and exit through your bowels. Pretty depressing stuff!
For several years I went to OA. Overeaters Anonymous. I met some very lovely people but after several years I discovered that for me it only served to reinforce negative eating habits.
I also spent a small fortune on Paul McKenna’s “I can make you slim” programme. For me it should have been called “I can make you poor and fat” as that is what happened after I spent several sessions with a certain “Paul McKenna official counsellor”. Whilst I am a firm believer in hypnotherapy this guy could not hypnotise me. After a number of sessions he argued with me that despite my putting on weight his very, very expensive techniques were working. I’m certain that he appreciated the contributions I made toward the refurbishment of his east London home.
After many more years of other diets including Atkins and South Beach and my own hybrid combinations, I was fatter than ever. My health was on a trajectory to chronic disease. The most likely being heart disease as that was what the men in our family typically had to look forward to in later life. I guess we are genetically pre-disposed to it.
In 2006, I discovered LighterLife, the meal replacement VLCD (Very Low Calorie Diet). The one endorsed by Pauline Quirke. It was just before my partner and I were due to do our Civil Partnership. I wanted to look good in the photographs and to feel good as we celebrated our commitment to one another after 21 years together. As a result, I followed the LighterLife plan for about 9 months, in total losing somewhere in the region of 100 lbs. This is a huge and dramatic weight loss, but at the time whilst I felt good in the photographs and at the civil partnership, I kind of knew it was unsustainable. LighterLife provides around 560 calories a day during the main phase of the programme through bars, soups and shakes. No “real food” at all. You then reintroduce food gradually after some basic cognitive behavioural therapy. I do not doubt that for some this works well and that the founders are sincere, although it did feel to me like once they get you hooked you have to keep going back for more products to maintain your weight loss.
Over the course of the next 5 years from 2007 to 2012, I slowly but surely put back all of the weight that I had lost when on LighterLife and more besides. I went to an event run by weight loss coach Gillian Riley. It was a good event and at the end she talked about some other resources and materials that we might be interested in. One of these, was the China Study. a book by T Colin Campbell. At the time, it seemed like quite a weighty and worthy tome which didn’t excite me and so I ignored it.
The next “expert” I followed was Patrick Holford. This signalled a small but significant shift in my diet and weight loss journey. A shift in focus away from fat but to the quality of what I was choosing to fuel my body with. I think it was a kick back against those powdered shakes and manufactured bars to proper food.
It was reading Patrick’s books and attending one if his weekend courses that stimulated my interest in nutrition and what I was choosing to eat. My diet improved somewhat but I was still overweight.
I cannot recall now how i found out about Dr Joel Fuhrman. An American doctor of medicine and former figure skater who uses nutrition to heal his patients. I read “Eat to Live” by Joel Fuhrman which stimulated my interest in eating healthier food, but whilst I changed my diet, I was eating a lot of nuts, seeds, avocados and oils.
I went to see the chap behind “Fat Families” – Steve Miller. I briefly worked with him, but again to no avail. Having some chap moan at me for overrating was never going to work. It was similar to all the hypnotherapy I’d had. I just fell asleep and when I woke up my appetite was the same as usual. My last diet was The Gabriel Method. A lot of what John says makes sense to me, but it did not result in significant weight changes. What it did was to emphasise that the quality of what I put in my mouth was as important as how much food I consumed.
Around the same time that I stopped going to Overeaters Anonymous, I had a major breakthrough. That was that I often ate for emotional reasons! Not the most mind-boggling discovery. Most people experience some form of emotional eating. What I discovered was the link (for me) between self-esteem and food intake. I had experienced a number if significant major emotional events in my life that had an effect on how I ate and saw food. My personal theory is that this is a contributory factor with many others who consistently overeat.
A key and valuable resource for me at this time was Nathaniel Branden’s book – The 6 Pillars of Self Esteem. This helped me see myself in a more positive and caring way. I do think that self esteem is one of the critical elements in weight loss. How can you care for your health if you don’t care for yourself?
Sometime later, through Dr Joel Fuhrman, I discovered more about the China Study, and I started to get interested in ways in which I could change my diet and improve my health. I suddenly made a further shift away from the notion that I needed to lose weight in order to be healthy to a mindset where improving my health would naturally result in a corresponding change in my weight. This took a while to really embed in my consciousness but I started eating a more healthy diet although at the time I was travelling back and forth across the Atlantic for work. I commuted from London to Toronto for 2 and half years travelling regularly sometimes every other week back and forth in economy. In 2012, I had a year of illness. This culminated in taking 6 weeks off with a very severe bout of viral pneumonia. I contracted the pneumonia on a plane journey across to Toronto and it was diagnosed some days later whilst in San Francisco. I had to be taken onto the plane and off again in a wheelchair. I was unable to walk any distance, I had no energy and I felt dreadful.
To get myself well, I started researching what I could do in terms of my diet. I had the mentality that I couldn’t really starts to exercise and build strength in my body until I’d lost weight. I did some juicing, and really got into how juicing could supply my body with the nutrients in a concentrated form that I desperately needed. Juicing is a little bit like lighter life, whilst it’s good in terms of helping you for a short period of time, it’s not something that is easy to incorporate into your life full-time as a permanent lifestyle change.
On one of my many trolls around the Internet I found T Colin Campbell again and the course being offered online through E Cornell University. The course wasn’t cheap, my wonderful partner, Mr G bought it for me has a gift for my 51st birthday. I can’t thank him enough, taking the course really changed my life. I will be ever grateful to Mr G who bought me the course as a present.
When I enrolled for the course my tutor mention that she had also taken the course and that now following it both she and her family were entirely eating a plant-based diet. I can remember thinking “oh yeah that’s really interesting, you stupid woman, shut-up and just register me for the course”. I did the course over a period of a number of months and during this time I did quite radically change my diet and introduce many more plant-based dishes. What I didn’t do was to commit to this as a way of life or even see it as a long-term solution to changing my health destiny.
In April 2013, having completed the course. I travelled to the US for work and when I was planning my trip I recall seeing an email the related to an event being held in Orange County the weekend after my company conference. I thought nothing of it until I remembered that it was by the people who had created the “Engine 2 Diet” and who were behind the film “Forks Over Knives”. I looked into attending the event, and managed to snaffle the last room available at the hotel. I can remember very clearly flying to Los Angeles, picking up a hire car and driving down to Orange County. The event was being held at the Hyatt hotel. When I arrived, I questioned my sanity as to what I was doing there and what benefit I would get full spending all this money and time.
I also expected the event which was called “Farms to Forks” being full of rather earnest hippy type vegans who would drive me bonkers. That weekend was quite an incredible experience. It started with the huge evening banquet on the Friday night as the hotel staff in the kitchens had all been trained in the plant-based cuisine. The food was delicious and there was just so much of it and it was all plant-based. The food was vibrant healthy and contributed to a sense of well-being that I have never felt before in my life. Even after only 3 days of being in the incredible environment, I was changed. I’d finally found something that just seem to work. I felt good, I felt light and I felt healthy. I felt “clean”. An odd word maybe but that is how the food consumed seemed to me. Clean and fresh. Nourishing my body rather than placing a burden on my body. Okay so I had not suddenly become size 0 overnight! But I felt clean and I felt that my body would respond given the foods I was consuming.
I came home, back to the UK made the decision to a predominantly plant-based food circa and 95 to 98% commitment. I made it a 95 to 98% commitment as I didn’t want to feel that I was on diet.
This has been an amazing process for me and it continues to amaze me. What is interesting is to find that my weight has reduced, my gym performance improved, my blood pressure has reduced as has my cholesterol level has reduced in the 6 months since I started eating and no added fat whole food plant-based diet.
My father had a major coronary aged 46. He died aged 61. I’m planning to give myself the best chance to live to a ripe old age, or at least to have the best quality time health wise. Watch this space for updates on my journey and my progress as I try to alter the course of my health destiny.