Kelly's Vegan Health Story: Gaining confidence & conquering IBS, PMS
I had the pleasure of getting to know Kelly, a 44 year-old vegan from Troy, Michigan, over a raw food vegan lunch at the Quintessence Cafe in New York City. This is where we both faced a very dubious bowl of lukewarm bright green soup and talked about our experience going vegan.
(It was delicious, by the way, but we both agreed we liked hot soup even better.)
Big problems with IBS
Before going vegan 5 1/2 years ago, Kelly always considered herself very healthy even though she'd had diarrhea throughout her 20's and always carried Pepto Bismol and other anti-diarrhea pills in her purse.
"I thought that was just the way I was. After turning 30, I started having more digestive issues and was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)," explained Kelly. "I also experienced frequent indigestion and heart burn, but these things were considered 'normal,' right!?"
5 years ago when she was nearly 39, Kelly donated a kidney to a colleague’s husband. Before the surgery, she met with a Registered Dietitian (R.D.) who asked her about her diet and told her to be careful about her sodium intake.
Deciding to give vegetarianism a try
"I took the R.D.'s advice seriously and started reading labels. I was shocked to see the amount of sodium I was regularly consuming and switched out my regular soy sauce for the low-sodium version. For some reason, at the same time, I also decided to give vegetarianism a try. I told myself that I'd quit eating meat after the surgery," said Kelly.
Kelly figured it would be easy to give up eating meat because she could still eat fish. Growing up in Japan, she didn't consider fish to be "meat." So, she became a pesco-lacto-ovo vegetarian at the end of July 2011,, but found she still had the same digestive issues and occasional, extremely painful ovulation pain.
After the surgery, she decided to cut her sodium intake even further to less than 1500 mg. per day along with cutting the meat and that's when her palate quickly changed.
"Slowly but surely, consciously not eating meat led to a shift in my mind, and I began to look at meat for what it is: a dead animal. And I saw dairy and eggs as just the secretions of an animal and nothing I wanted to or should eat," she explained.
In January 2014, Kelly came across the book, Whole, by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D.
"As I read the book, everything Dr. Campbell was explaining made sense to me. He referred to his previous book, The China Study, several times, and every time I saw the title, which sounded very familiar to me, I couldn't shake this feeling that it would be the most important book I'd ever read," Kelly said.
Going vegan all the way
While reading Whole, Kelly decided to adopt what Dr. Campbell called a "whole food plant-based diet" (called WFPB, for short). She knew then that she really wanted to give this lifestyle a try, but wasn't sure how.
Next, she read The China Study, also by Dr. Campbell, and became more and more convinced that eating this way was the right thing to do, although it didn't tell her how to do it.
"Luckily I found that Dr. Campbell's daughter had written, The China Study Cookbook, so I got the cookbook and just followed the recipes," said Kelly. "I quickly learned how easy it was to cook this way. I couldn't believe the wide variety of vegetables and legumes that I had never known existed!"
Kelly continued to gather more cookbooks and recipes and really began to educate herself about the whole food plant- based way of living.
"The more I learned, the more passionate I became about this lifestyle, and I've been attending conferences and gathering resources ever since," said Kelly.
IBS, PMS gone and other unexpected health benefits...
The first health effect Kelly noticed after adopting a WFPB diet is how quickly she recovered after an intense workout.
"I used to attend a boot camp class that was quite challenging and I soon noticed that I didn't get tired as quickly as I did before adopting the diet. During an athletic drill, I recovered fast, which meant that I could keep going while others were dying and taking a break," she explained. "I felt very light and really, really good during workouts."
Around that same time she noticed she just didn't have the same digestive problems any more, either. She said her periods also became lighter and shorter and the back pain that was part of her PMS and other symptoms such as stomach cramps during her period and ovulation pain in between her periods had simply vanished.
As for her blood work, that improved quite a bit, although it was never "bad" before.
"While I was on my semi-vegetarian diet my total cholesterol was 164 milligrams per deciliter, which is considered 'normal' by American standards. But about 6 months after I adopted the WFPB diet (the next time I was tested), my total cholesterol went down to 130 milligrams per deciliter."
Kelly said she wishes she would have known how much better she would feel and how much healthier she'd be if she would have quit all animal products initially.
"I just didn't have all the information all at once but I'm so glad that I've finally come to see the light," she said. "I've learned a lot in the past 2 1/2 years, and I am very excited to continue to live the vegan lifestyle, although I think its absolutely necessary to consume whole foods for your health and not just go vegan without that piece," she cautions.
A most welcome surprise: The confidence boost
Kelly explained that the biggest change she's experienced in herself since going vegan is the unexpected boost to her confidence level.
"I got certified to teach group exercise six or seven years ago, but I never had the confidence to actually do it. I always had excuses for not doing it. I also wanted to pursue a degree in exercise science, but I didn't want to do the internships since I didn't feel comfortable working with clients. Once I changed my diet, things changed. I don't know how to explain it, but I just felt so great that I began to see myself differently. I felt more confident in the way I relate to people and in my ability to do the things that I hadn't tried before," explained Kelly.
Kelly started teaching group exercise, is a certified personal trainer and also completed a master's degree in exercise science. She is currently pursuing another master's degree in nutrition.