Some of you have commented about my weight-loss. As of January 2014, I had lost 78 pounds. Many have asked how I did it, so here’s the facts. No judgement or preaching, just sharing my story and what worked for me. I’m adding links so you can check out the references, if you so desire.

I grew up in the1970s-80s when exercise science and aerobics were just going mainstream, and the mantra was “eat less, exercise more.” That’s what I did. And I gained weight. The weight started creeping up on me and getting out of control while I was working as a fitness instructor and coach. At one point I was working/working out at multiple gyms (water fitness, lifeguarding, yoga, weight lifting, teaching swimming lessons, aerobic dance, coaching competitive swimming, training other instructors, swimming laps because I loved it, and more) up to 70 hours per week. Crazy right!? I gained thirty pounds one summer alone.

I also had Crohn’s Disease, and that caused additional issues with eating. Eating caused intense pain, vomiting, and diarrhea, so I ate as little as possible. Finally after too many trips to the ER, a friend and co-worker at one of the gyms started talking to me about what I was eating and suggested I try a vegetarian diet. She was also a nutritionist, a vegetarian, and one of the most fit and energetic women I’ve ever met. I rolled-my eyes. The food plan she suggested was more than I was then eating in a week. This was the first time someone suggested to me that you have to eat to lose weight. Finally, to get her to stop nagging me, I decided to give it a try. For one week only. It shocked me to admit that by the end of the week I felt so much better. But the next week was 4th of July, and family BBQ’s were planned. I was so sick, and landed back in the ER. I mentioned to my GI doctor how much better I had felt without meat, and he said that the medical community had known that since the 70s. Why didn’t anyone tell me?!? July 5th, 2003 was the last time I knowingly ate meat.

Being vegetarian caused my Crohn’s and related Ankylosing Spondylitis to become asymptomatic. I felt so much better than I’d felt in years. And, I stopped gaining weight. Wanting to do this right, I started meeting with a sports nutritionist. She had me keep a food journal for the first time. I kept it for two weeks before she analyzed it and started suggesting changes. We discovered I was averaging about 500/calories per day. That’s too little for anyone, let alone someone as active as I was. She explained that my body was in fast mode, and storing every calorie I ate. Then the nutritionist ran some tests to determine how my metabolism worked, and set me up on a program that limited my exercise and upped my calorie intake to 1600/day. I felt better and started losing weight.

Then, at 37 years old came the strokes, heart surgery, and herniated disks. A lot of time spent eating hospital food, lying in hospital beds, rehab, relearning, and gaining a lot of weight. At my heaviest the scale read 283. One of my favorite doctors, a hematologist, looked over my food journal, and agreed that my situation didn’t make sense, but was not sustainable. He was also a vegetarian, an oncologist, and was very interested in nutrition. He suggested a number of books on the subject, and took a personal interest in getting me off medication, and helping my other doctors figure out what had caused the strokes in the first place We also found that I have a clotting and a bleeding disorder. Even at my heaviest, my blood pressure and blood glucose ran low, and my cholesterol was normal. He encouraged my vegetarian diet, but knew we’d have to tweak it.

In February 2013, I discovered Forks Over Knives, and did more research on vegan diets. I learned that just because one eats a vegetarian or vegan diet, that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. So I chose to put my research into practice while house-sitting for three weeks, and followed the low-fat, plant-based vegan diet that Dr. Campbell, Dr. Esselstyne, Dr. Joel Fuhrmanand Dr. McDougall recommended. In those three weeks I felt better than ever, had more energy, and lost weight. And, I was full all the time.

After years of not eating, I had destroyed my appetite, and I had no concept of healthy portion sizes. I knew I needed to get a minimum of calories, protein, etc., so I searched for the easiest (free) nutrition counter I could find and discovered MyFitnessPal. It has a mobile app for my android, and I could share my daily diet and exercise with friends who are also using the app. I set a goal to lose five pounds per month, and did a monthly check-in with my Facebook friends for accountability and encouragement. I still walk, swim, and work out with weights, but I do so in moderation a few times per week, with a focus on continued stroke rehabilitation and enjoyment.

I am still planning to lose another 40-50 pounds, but my doctors are very pleased with what I have already accomplished. I enjoy eating lots of great seasonal fruit and veggies, although I still struggle to eat enough calories and often require a bed-time snack even though I’m not hungry. I am still on a few prescription medications, but the dosage is a third of what it used to be. I have learned about the evils of genetically modified organisms and try to purchase organic and GMO-free whenever possible. Best of all, although doctors gave me a very grim prognosis with what they believe is the neurological disorder that caused my strokes, I have been much healthier than expected and haven’t had a single hospital visit since changing my diet.

Here’s to organic fruits and veggies! Happy Eating!!