By Farin Montanez
I don’t have an “I lost 80 pounds” story. I don’t even have an “I got back to my pre-baby weight” story.
Actually, when I talk about the changes I made to my diet to become a healthier human being, weight isn’t a factor at all.
But why change my diet, if not to lose weight?
Faced with overwhelming evidence that a plant-based diet reduces the risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other chronic illnesses, plus adds years to one’s life, and is better for the planet and the animals we share it with, there was no other logical choice but to change.
Let’s make one thing clear: It took a long time to come to that conclusion.
I used to be that person who said, “I could never go vegan.”
(Ask every vegan you meet if they ever uttered those words, and I bet 99% of them would say yes.)
Meat, dairy products and eggs are ingrained in American culture, and they are marketed to make us think they’re part of a good diet. So naturally, as an avid runner with a general interest in nutrition, I thought my diet was healthy.
Sure, I ate burgers sometimes and took my kids out for ice cream occasionally (“everything in moderation”), but more often than not, my plate was filled with salad, brown rice and lean protein like boneless, skinless chicken breast or grilled salmon. I bought low-fat dairy products and cooked with egg whites. I ordered fruit smoothies with whey protein.
These were the things I saw athletes and fitness trainers eating and drinking. I’d marvel at their meal prep photos on social media featuring glass containers with perfect portions of broccoli and grilled chicken. I’d zoom in on photos of their muscular bodies and their #protein captions.
But then a few documentaries on Netflix—Forks Over Knives especially—caught my attention and opened my eyes to a different message: Humans thrive on a diet full of plant-based foods.
Study after study showed that vegetarians live longer than meat-eaters, and vegans live longer than vegetarians—and with better health.
More research showed those following a whole food, plant-based (vegan) diet could reduce rates of cancer and prevent and even reverse heart disease and diabetes. I read story after story about people who cut meat, dairy and eggs from their diet and were able to get off their blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes medications. (Yes, including insulin.)
I started to wonder what a vegan diet could do for me. I had already gotten my cholesterol level out of the danger zone through exercise. I wasn’t overweight, and diabetes doesn’t run in my family.
At that time, the possible benefits of a plant-based diet didn’t outweigh the thought of giving up burgers, chicken, cheese, yogurt, ice cream and deviled eggs.
After watching a couple more documentaries, however, my thoughts on eating animals changed. I found irony in the fact that I had absolutely no problem biting into the skin and muscles of dead animals, even sucking the very last bit of flesh off their bones, yet I complained to the server if I found a hair in my food. Why did I think that some parts of an animal’s body are OK to eat, but not others?
Becoming vegetarian wasn’t terribly hard after that. I simply didn’t want my body to be a graveyard.
While I did feel a bit lighter and my energy levels increased a bit—no more post-lunch slump—switching to a vegetarian diet didn’t seem to have a dramatic effect on my health.
It took me another year to decide for moral reasons to cut dairy products and eggs from my diet. Since April 1, 2017, I have survived and thrived solely on plant-based foods: fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts and seeds.
I said at the beginning of this column that I don’t have a dramatic weight loss story, but what I do have is an “I got rid of my migraines” story.
I’ve suffered from debilitating migraines since I was a teenager. Anyone who has had a migraine knows that it is so much worse than a headache.
My migraines would start with an aura, which meant I would see spots, squiggly lines or other flashes of light in my vision. About 15 minutes later, the excruciating vice-grip headache would begin. I’d also be hit with waves of nausea and sensitivity to light and noise.
A prescription migraine medication would cut the duration of a migraine down to just a couple of hours, but it would also make me terribly drowsy and force me to take a nap.
Getting a migraine would ruin my day, causing me to miss work and find someone else to take care of my son and daughter while I recovered.
You can imagine how ecstatic I was when I realized after a few months of veganism that I hadn’t succumbed to a migraine. Almost 14 months later, I’m still migraine-free.
I’m also leaner and have way more energy than I used to. I even recover faster after races, from fun 5Ks to 100K ultramarathons. If I had known how awesome I would feel on a plant-based diet, I would have switched years ago.
That’s why I’m now on my way to becoming a certified holistic nutritionist. My life’s mission is to help others take control of their health by transitioning to a vegan diet.
I wholeheartedly believe a whole-food, plant-based diet can save the lives of people, animals and our planet. (I’d love to tell you more about that in future columns.)
For now, add Forks Over Knives or What the Health to your Netflix queue, or download How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger on your Kindle. Watch and listen with an open mind, and you might just find yourself skipping the chicken on your next Caesar salad.
Farin Montanez is an ultramarathon runner, a mother of two and a military wife who holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Fresno State. She helps people transition to a plant-based diet through her blog, SpiritedVegan.com. Follow her on Instagram @spiritedvegan.