It’s time for a new episode in the Everyday Heroes series, and today I’m excited to introduce you to Sandy from California! Sandy’s story is particularly interesting because she became a vegetarian 40 years ago and then made a switch to veganism 20 years later, but still struggled with her health. Eventually Sandy took the leap and went fully plant-based. Not only did she lose a lot of weight since then, these days she also enjoys life to the fullest as an active hiker and a volunteer at an educational farm.
1. Introduce yourself: your first name, city, state.
My name is Sandy and I live in Los Altos, CA which is in the middle of Silicon Valley. I am 68 years old.
2. What inspired you to go vegetarian, then vegan and eventually plant-based?
I started reading about animal abuse and exploitation and became a vegetarian about 40 years ago. I joined many animal rights organizations and decided to take the next step and became vegan more than 20 years ago.
I also became interested in vegan nutrition and health. I started reading authors such as Dean Ornish, Neal Barnard, John Robbins, and John McDougall. I was interested in how diet affected health, especially heart health since I was an Operating Room RN and before retiring worked primarily in open-heart surgery. I was intimately acquainted with how the standard American diet was influencing coronary artery disease, diabetes, and obesity.
In the last 15 years, many vegan products became available in the supermarkets, especially Whole Foods Market where I mostly shop. Many of these vegan foods were high fat, calorie-laden, but very tasty. I was excited to find so many vegan desserts. As a result, I started gaining weight until I was about 45-50 pounds overweight. I am 5’2” tall and weighed close to 150 lbs. In addition to that, I retired from O.R. nursing 7 years ago and was not expending all the energy I used to during work hours. I was already 15-20 lbs. overweight when I retired.
Two years ago, I was listening to Jeff Novick discussing the no added fat, whole-food plant-based diet on YouTube. I decided to try eating this way to lose weight. I started shopping at the farmer’s market in addition to Whole Foods. I also found Susan Voisin’s Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen blog and incorporated many of her recipes into my new diet. One of Jeff Novick’s tenets is “don’t drink your calories” which I embraced heartily. On a whole food plant-based vegan diet it was easy to limit my calories to 1100 a day. I also began walking 6 miles a day five days a week. I got a Fitbit, used the Map My Walk app, and My Fitness Pal app to help me track calories and exercise. Drinking only water and herbal tea works well for me.
3. What changed for better (or worse) in your health and outlook since you went vegan, and then plant-based?
Within a year, I had lost 45-50lbs. I had more energy and a more positive outlook on life. My doctor was concerned that I was too thin at 95lbs. That did make my BMI a bit low, so I agreed to keep my weight around 100lbs. An added bonus to losing all the weight was the opportunity for a whole new wardrobe! Because I have been a vegan for so many years, my cholesterol has been around 150.
4. What type of physical activity do you regularly participate in?
When I was younger and before I gained so much weight, I was a runner. That ended when I tripped while running and broke my shoulder 7 years ago. Now I walk 6 miles a day five days a week. I also volunteer at a small educational farm one day a week mucking out a barn, cleaning the chicken coop and rabbit area, and doing other farm chores.
5. What challenges do you experience as a vegan living in your area? How do you overcome them?
Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I find it relatively easy to be a vegan. I can easily purchase whole foods: fresh fruit, vegetables, beans, and grains which are the basics of my diet. There are also many vegan restaurants in this area. However, most of the vegan restaurants serve high-fat, calorie-laden dishes. It is a challenge to eat out on a no-added-fat plant-based diet. Usually I can find a simple salad and bring my own dressing in a small container. Sometimes, I can also get steamed veggies and a baked potato. I find that I am happier cooking my own dishes at home.
6. Cooking. Where do you find inspiration (sites, cookbooks, etc.)? What are your favorite recipes?
My favorite cookbooks are Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and The Great Vegan Bean Book by Kathy Hester. I do modify all the recipes to be no-added-fat. I also use Susan Voisin’s Fat Free Vegan Kitchen blog, Maria’s Slow Motion Miracle blog , and Alina’s Vegan Runner Eats blog [Awww, thank you Sandy! – Alina] frequently. They provide truly remarkable recipes. I print them and keep them in binders for weekly meal planning.
Some of my favorite recipes are:
- Beluga Lentil Borscht and Cornbread-Topped Casserole (The Great Vegan Bean Book by Kathy Hester)
- Zuppa Vegana, Beet and Quinoa Salad w/Maple-Balsamic Reduction, Banana-Maple Oatmeal Cookies, and Fat-Free Balsamic Fudge Cookies, all by Susan at Fat Free Vegan Kitchen blog
- Portobello Mushroom BLT from Vegan Runner Eats [Note from Alina: I can’t take the credit for this recipe, but I did try it out in this post.]
- Red Quinoa Brown Rice Stuffed Squash by Maria at Slow Motion Miracle blog
- Roasted Portobellos, Lemony roasted potatoes, Sauteed Seitan with Mushrooms and Spinach (Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskovitz)
6. Any advice for those who just switched to a vegan diet/lifestyle?
My advice would be to use all your resources: cookbooks, vegan blogs, and vegan websites.
Sandy, thank you so much for sharing your story with the readers of Vegan Runner Eats! It’s great to know that the plant-based diet has done so many wonderful things for your health and wellbeing. Good luck to you on your journey!
See other inspiring stories from the Everyday Heroes series over here.
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