Is Change Possible?

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”  So the saying goes and I had it thrown at me by a family member who was trying to justify a different family member’s refusal to make meaningful change to improve his health.  While it’s  a familiar refrain, it’s definitely not true.  I had a student change her diet to completely plant-based after having a heart attack at age 56; she had a severe health scare and it was the launchpad for her to eat better.  Thousands of others like  her have done the same thing; they’ve seen their health declining or threatened and have effected meaningful change to stop that threat.   The aforementioned family member, however has had open heart surgery, requires oxygen on an almost constant basis, is overweight and still partakes in fast food, eats high salt foods and rarely allows a vegetable to pass his lips.  What makes one person embrace change in a way that is going to improve their life while another, despite all the evidence indicating they should, stays mired in their unhealthy ways?

Reading various articles on what makes people change didn’t answer the question definitively but it did give me some insight.  Change comes about when someone perceives a need for that difference in their life. It could be something as simple as needing a bigger (or smaller house) or something as grand as a career change after 15+ years.  Someone sees that the status quo isn’t acceptable and they make strides to introduce upheaval.  Desire or wanting also play a factor.  If someone wants something badly enough they usually take steps to achieve it.  What’s interesting is that both the desire and the need are the result of  some type of anxiety, some unrest in one’s life,  but leaving that status quo also produces anxiety. Change will happen if one type of stress is greater than the other,  if the need to leave the status quo overwhelms the uncomfortableness that results from playing it safe.

When it comes to changing one’s life for health reasons, a couple of things come into play.  The pharmaceutical industry has done a bully job of convincing the American public that all their ailments can be cured, resolved, lessened or attenuated with a pill.  Watch any prime time television program and you are likely to hear the familiar refrain of, “Ask your doctor if ___ drug is right for you.”  Doctors take classes on pharmacology, not nutrition (or very few do) and thus are very comfortable writing a prescription for blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol medications, for example, however very few are comfortable prescribing a whole food plant-based diet and assuming a posture of watchful waiting. In their defense there are any number of things that cause them to write a prescription:  doctors are trained to DO something, not watch and wait and since plant based diets aren’t considered standard of care (yet!,) in today’s litigious climate if a doctor has a patient with a potentially deadly condition and they don’t do something with rapid effect and the patient is hurt or dies, the doctor is in a lot of trouble.  The end result of this is that many people come to their doctor expecting that they can be cured with a simple pill.

The second thing coming into play with health changes can be that many people view diseases like diabetes, heart attacks, strokes and cancer to be maladies that are either inevitable or out of their control.  It’s easy to see why: those 4 consistently make the Centers for Disease Control’s top 10 leading causes of death.  And with our 2/3 of our population being overweight or obese, it becomes common, almost expected, to know someone affected by one of these.  When an entire population believes that being afflicted with one or more of these is inescapable, individually we stop believing we can affect the course of our health.  And if the stroke or heart attack is inevitable, then why not enjoy the path to get there (in the form of cheeseburgers or other highly palatable, processed food)?  It’s going to happen no matter what I do so I don’t need to change  (goes the thinking).

The tragedy in that type of thinking is that it casts the person as a victim, but in fact, when it comes to your health, you have the power to control much of your body’s destiny.  You do have to do that one, not so little thing…change.  Changing how you eat can be easy, it can be difficult but a lot of it has to do with your mindset.  If you focus on all the things you can’t do, all the things you can’t eat, eating a whole foods, plant-based diet will be a hardship.  But if you look at it as an adventure, as a gift you are giving yourself and allow yourself the freedom to explore the myriad of options, you can thrive and be grateful you took the risk and allowed yourself to metamorphosis into a new, healthy, happy person.











Food for Life, baby!

I found out about Food for Life after going to the Lifestyle Medicine conference, and like I said, I knew I wanted to do it.    I went home and within a month, had a video with a cooking demonstration on YouTube as part of my application and paperwork filled out and I settled in to wait.  And I waited.  And waited.  When I submitted my application, I didn’t realize that the deadline for submission was 5 months away with a decision date of 2 months after that!  In order to fill my time I took a plant-based nutrition class through eCornell which I thoroughly loved.   I enjoy learning and while I’d considered myself well read on the benefits of a plant-based diet, I was gaining new knowledge with every class.

Finally August came and I was off to Washington DC for my training.  I had no idea what to expect, even down to how many people were enrolled.  I had in my head that maybe 20 were attending but had no idea where I got that number.  It wasn’t 20, but 80!  The room was packed with people as excited as I was to start learning the process of teaching Food for Life classes and the energy was so high, you could almost see it.

The people ranged from health professionals to restaurant owners, fitness professionals and reporters.  Their experiences were all personal, whether it was getting off diabetes medications themselves or wanting to help a loved one increase their survival.  The thing that we all held in common was feeling passionate about wanting to spread the “gospel” so to speak.  Also, there seemed to be a sense of relief about being around people who got it.  I am lucky in that in my everyday life, I get to surround myself with people who are interested or curious or on the same page as I am and sometimes I forget that the majority of the world doesn’t eat like I do.  Sometimes I remember because someone says something that is just jarring , usually about eating meat.  And then I remember that as far as the rest of the world is concerned, I’m the abnormal one.  Being in the same room with these people felt like being home in a way I haven’t felt in a long time.  I didn’t get to meet even half of them but it didn’t matter; the commonality was just soothing. I made sure to sit someplace different every chance I could so I could meet someone new and even though I’m an introvert by nature, I found myself walking up to new people and sticking out my hand for an introduction.  The fact they were at that class meant that I wanted meet them!

The training was great.  Some of it was rehashing of stuff I already knew, some of it was just fandom (Neal Barnard, what?) but a lot of it was real life experience with tips and tricks for how to really run a class.  And there were a lot of questions.  There really wasn’t time for all the questions we had but they sure tried to answer as many as they could.  And as I’m trying to figure things out a month or so later, I didn’t even know what to ask.   But I’m figuring it out slowly.  And in the meantime, I made some friends and contacts and created a support system that will carry me through this journey so I couldn’t be more excited.

American College of Lifestyle Medicine and Food for Life, baby!

A brief caveat:  I haven’t written anything besides an evite since nursing school and I’m sure I’m going to struggle finding my voice in this blog.  I know I used to be a good writer lo, these many years ago, and I’m excited to get back to that.  Please, God, let me get back to that.  I’m cringing right now, reading my stilted prose but I promise to get better, as fast as humanly possible…

Almost a year ago, my husband and I went to the American College of Lifestyle Medicine’s conference in San Diego.  It was an event for a couple reasons: it was the first solo trip my husband and I had been on since our daughters were born 3 and 5 years prior (cue angels singing) and it was a veritable who’s who of nutrition dignitaries.  Dean Ornish, T. Colin Campbell, Michael Gregor and Caldwell Esselstyn were just a few of the notables speaking; I geeked out just being on the same elevator as Michael Gregor and even though I’d basically heard his speech before, somehow hearing it from HIM made it better.  The other thing was that the conference was at least 500 people, correction, 500 like-minded people who all believed that Americans are slowly killing themselves with a knife and fork AND that we have the power to prevent and even, reverse disease.  It was a heady experience.  Oh, and the food was amazing.  A-MAZing.  I felt bad looking at the boring food other conferences were being subjected to.  Well, not that bad.

Prior to this, I’d worked as a pediatric nurse, mostly in the intensive care unit.  I applied to Master’s programs in both peds and adult medicine but the latter was very begrudgingly;  I didn’t like working with adults and their co-morbidities and there was always the vague blaming going on.  Blaming, in that they had brought this on themselves because they didn’t have enough will power to put down the potato chips, cigarettes and candy.  Graduate school was delayed by the birth of my daughters and in that time, I started eating plant based, then started eating healthy plant based and learning more about how the food industry stacks the deck against people being healthy AND I started working in an adult ER.  This was eye opening, mostly in that now I had individual faces who were suffering, it wasn’t faceless statistics on obesity, heart attacks, strokes and diabetes.  I was seeing people losing digits and limbs from diabetes, losing their lives from clogged arteries and knowing that it was all so preventable made me angry, but I still felt powerless.  I’d gently mention a plant based diet here or there, answer vague questions on protein and calcium  but I could tell I wasn’t getting through.  I felt like I didn’t have the credentials to persuade people and I was leery about my ability to counsel someone through a change.

At the ACLM conference I found out about Food For Life, the PCRM’s community outreach arm (at least, that’s what I call it) and the spark that had been being nurtured burst into flame.  Here was a turn-key, guided nutrition program with recipes, scripting if desired and the full support of the prestigious Physician’s Committee.  I went for it, hook, line and sinker, turning in my application within a month (had to get my cooking demo just right, ya know) and then realizing that the deadline for submission was 5 long months away.  Finally, June 12, 2015 came and when I received my congratulatory email, I may or may not have screamed, startling my 5 and 3 year olds who then joined me in a celebration dance around our kitchen.  I was going to go to Washington D.C. in August.

What happened in August?  That’s a topic for next time, my lovelies.

Jumping in!

I’ve been thinking about doing this blog thing for a long time now; I’m definitely late to the game.  For awhile I was content to read what others had to say, maybe comment (maybe not) but more and more I’ve been feeling like I have something to say, hence what you’re reading now!

My name is Elyse and I’ve been vegan for over 4 years.  Being vegan wasn’t something I thought I’d ever be, wasn’t on my radar at. ALL.  Soon, I’ll write about how I came to this way of eating and living but for now I’ll stick to why I started this blog.  When I started eating vegan I initially replaced all my favorite foods with vegan versions which, while delicious and lacking cholesterol and saturated fat, could hardly have been called healthy.  Over time, I started eating a less processed diet and moved to one very low in oil, sugar and salt.  I haven’t eschewed them completely but the use of them is few and far between.  Currently, I work in a busy emergency room and while I can’t quote exact statistics, I’d say a large majority of the patients I see have problems stemming from their consuming what is known as the standard American diet (SAD).   I’ve been trying, when the opportunity presented itself, to tell people about the benefits of eating plant based, of how to get their calcium, protein, etc. without meat, dairy or eggs but I’ve felt like I can only reach a few people that way, and I haven’t felt confident enough in my ability to express myself in a persuasive way.  To that end, I took T. Colin Campbell’s eCornell plant based nutrition course and I’ve just become a Food For Life instructor through the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (hereafter to be known as PCRM; I do not type fast and the less characters I have to go through, the better!).  I’m beyond excited to start teaching people through actual classes about how easy and delicious this way of eating is.  I’ll be back regularly with posts about various nutrition topics, about how I went vegan, and about classes I’m going to teach.  I look forward to “meeting” you!