I have asked Steven to kindly share his journey with us. Below you will discover how he made the transition, and how you can too! Enjoy!
What kind of meals did you have growing up?
Growing up my family ate lots of meats. This was due to our culture. My parents are from Argentina and migrated to the US in the early 1980s. My grandparents were from Ukraine and migrated to Argentina in the late 1930’s so we had a mix of both cultures. In Argentinean culture, meat is the centerpiece of every meal. Our family always had more than we could eat. We ate vegetables, so, not quite the Standard American Diet (SAD), but it makes me a little sick now to think about the amount of meat I ate growing up. We didn’t know what the word vegan meant, and I would love laughing at memes making fun of vegetarians. Much has changed since then. Years and years of this diet would have certainly affected my long-term health. I am so glad to have made the change to a plant-based diet.
What was your first exposure to a plant-based diet? What inspired you to learn more?
To sum up my story briefly, I used to work for a movie theater company in high school and some of college. From this job, I could invite one guest to see any movie for free. In 2011, a friend asked me to see a limited release movie in a local theater called Forks Over Knives. The deal was that he would drive, and I get us in for free. The movie was about health and that was becoming an interest in my life, so I agreed. After watching it, my whole view on nutrition and the healthcare system was shaken. The idea that our biggest killers could be reversed didn’t seem possible. I was truly inspired so I began to think of ways I could start changing my diet. By August of 2012, I was fully vegan.
How do you feel now compared to earlier in your life? What have you noticed?
I was fortunate to not have any health ailments that I needed to reverse. Although, I do have a small family history of heart disease and cancer. The first thing I noticed was an increase in mental clarity. Instead of eating meat, dairy, and eggs, I started eating tons of fruits and vegetables. Adding more whole plant-based foods has increased my energy levels, mental clarity and has helped with regularity. It is only when I drift to a more junk food vegan diet that I start feeling sluggish and tired.
Describe the changes you had to make?
For example: was the change gradual, how did your diet evolve and what did you incorporate?
The change for me took nearly one year. A couple weeks after watching Forks Over Knives, I went vegetarian. Then over the course of several months, I had longer and longer stretches of being vegan. I decided to fully make the switch at the beginning of my sophomore year in college. I was lucky to go to a college where it was easy to be vegan most of the time (Shout out to UNC Wilmington!). At first, I realized I wasn’t eating enough calories. I was eating mostly raw fruits and veggies, and I would get hungry less than two hours after eating. For those seeking to lose weight, that diet works tremendously well, but that wasn’t my goal. Once I started eating more grains, beans, and starches, I wasn’t getting hungry shortly after meals.
What have you learned through this journey so far?
From my nursing education, experience, and knowledge of whole foods plant-based nutrition; I have learned there is a huge disconnect between the power of lifestyle and the mainstream medical community. I have learned that diseases I was taught in nursing school as being permanent, can be reversed. Depending on who you talk to about this, you might be perceived as being crazy. As a healthcare professional, I see firsthand that many people do not know about the potential to reverse disease and are living with a poor quality of life which can largely be improved. Improvement is done by adopting a whole food plant-based diet, moderate exercise plan, and effective stress management. I have learned the most from nutrition books and conferences. The very first plant-based nutrition conference I attended was P-POD in Raleigh, NC in 2017.
Who do you seek inspiration from now?
My inspiration comes from the speakers I have had the opportunity to see at conferences. To name a few of the amazing speakers I have met and seen that have inspired me to continue are Scott Stoll, Kim Williams, Brenda Davis, Caroline Trapp, Neal Barnard, and Alan Desmond. This by no means is an exhaustive list. I have met so many amazing passionate plant-powered people. I hope to be a presenter at a plant-based nutrition conference in the future. I want to be a resource for my community, and state, by improving the lives of those around me.
What are staples in your diet?
The bulk of my calories come from grains, beans, and fruit. Rice and black beans or lentils with mashed avocado is one meal I can have any time. I also love grilled tofu. I have a mini George Foreman grill that cooks sliced tofu perfectly without using any oil.
What did you think would be nearly impossible at the beginning of this journey that has become second nature?
When I first started this plant-based lifestyle, people would ask me why I do it or about the health benefits. I struggled to give a convincing answer. Now, when I am asked about it, I can explain things clearly and concisely. I can talk about it for hours. I love educating my patients in the hospital about this because they are the ones that need to hear it most.
If someone were to say, “I want to begin a plant-based lifestyle.” What would you tell them?
The first thing I say is “AWESOME!” I tell that individual to rush into switching to a plant-based diet or any new lifestyle change. For a new behavior to become routine takes about three weeks. I provide numerous resources. Ideal resources I recommend are the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart from PCRM, Forks Over Knives, and film on Netflix, Plant Pure Nation Film on Netflix and YouTube) and YouTube for any plant-based recipes. Lastly, I would offer my number or email to reach out to me for any help. If the individual is local, I will gladly offer to go grocery shopping to seek out healthy plant-based options. It can be overwhelming at first and it is important to understand that feeling is normal. If I told you to train and run a marathon next week, you would laugh it off. Meaningful change takes time. It is important to stick with it and develop a support system in order to remain accountable. First, they should seek out educational materials on why and how plant-based nutrition improves health and find recipes to experiment with. I like to say, “it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.” My transition was about nine months. If yours is longer or shorter that is okay. Stick with it and remember WHY.
I would like to thank Steven for taking the time to write this article. If anyone is willing to share their story, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.