Everyday Heroes Series: Sandy’s Journey of Going from Vegetarian to Vegan to Plant-Based, and Gaining Health and Wisdom on the Way

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.

Everyday Heroes series - the journey of Sandy from going vegetarian to vegan and then plant-basedHere’s Sandy’s story in her own words:

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:

  1. Beluga Lentil Borscht and Cornbread-Topped Casserole (The Great Vegan Bean Book by Kathy Hester)
  2. 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
  3. 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.]
  4. Red Quinoa Brown Rice Stuffed Squash by Maria at Slow Motion Miracle blog
  5. 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.

In case you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends or anyone who could benefit from it! And stick around for more awesomeness – you can follow Vegan Runner Eats by subscribing in the top right corner of this post, or by following the blog on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram!

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About Alina

Alina first made a switch to a vegan diet in 2013 to optimize her athletic performance as a marathon runner. Being vegan eventually opened her eyes on the issues of animal welfare, environmental protection, human rights and feminism. Alina hopes that her blog will help its readers on their path to making this world a better place.
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7 Responses to Everyday Heroes Series: Sandy’s Journey of Going from Vegetarian to Vegan to Plant-Based, and Gaining Health and Wisdom on the Way

  1. Susan Voisin says:

    Sandy, congratulations on your good health! I can’t tell you how much it means to me to hear that my site helped you find plant-based recipes, and I’m sure Maria will be thrilled, too. Thank you, Alina, for letting me know about this post. I can’t wait to share it with my readers!
    Susan Voisin recently posted…Banana Bread PuddingMy Profile

    • Alina says:

      Susan, thank you for all of your wonderful recipes, and for helping us all become healthier while eating delicious plant-based food!

  2. Kaylee says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story Sandy! As a woman who has recently transitioned into a vegetarian lifestyle and trying for Vegan/Plant Based this story really touched home. I’ve dealt with weight issues my adult life and first going plant based I immediately lost ten pounds, then it got harder to stay on track and keep focused. I appreciate your story because it shows I can transition through the steps and not change everything overnight. It also let me know I’m not the only over weight vegetarian. I look forward to checking out the many websites and cook books you mentioned. Congrats on your success.

    • Alina says:

      Thanks Kaylee, I’m sure Sandy will appreciate your comment! Good luck on your journey to getting healthier on a plant-based vegan diet!

  3. Marjie says:

    Wow! I can only wish I can do as well as you can. I’ve been going on a once a week no-meat diet and some days it’s been tough.. getting easier though. I’d love to be able to extend it further. Very inspirational.
    Marjie recently posted…What is the Best Cardio Machine to Burn Calories?My Profile

  4. Heather says:

    Thank you for this series of vegan success stories, however, this particular story concerns me, and I will tell you why.

    The woman profiled in this story strikes me as more of an anorexic than a vegan – limiting your diet to only 1100 calories a day, and cutting out all overt fats (for no apparent reason) is a very unhealthy thing to do, especially long term.

    This kind of unnecessary restriction is a hallmark of eating disorders, and is rampant in the vegan community unfortunately. Thousands of eating disordered women flock to veganism because they believe it will keep them skinny.

    If I were you, I would consider removing this story from the series, as it highlights some bad practices (extreme, unhealthy dietary restriction) that you wouldn’t want readers to assume is the norm in the vegan community, and be turned away because of that.

    Just my two cents.

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