Friday, June 15, 2012

The Veg Origins: My Story (Part I)

So here it is. The big long post where I tell you the overly-detailed back story. I've tried to be brief, but I understand if you start to feel like you've been scrolling and reading until the end of time and want to crawl off to find some fresh air and water. Hopefully if you do persevere to the end, you will find some part or another enlightening for yourself.

I am basically writing this, and perhaps beginning this blog (although I’ve never been good at long-term upkeep with such things), because my mind and facebook have been more-or-less crowded with health articles, links, book and movie recommendations, and impassioned comments about what I see as the avoidable American health crisis. As a result, I’m sure some people are thinking, “What the heck is going on?”

Also, those who have seen me lately may be wondering why I look different (read: noticeably thinner) and worry whether I’ve gone off some health-craze deep-end that will cause me to plummet into an abyss of nutritional ignorance! (Help! Get that girl some protein! :) Also, hopefully anyone who is interested in tips, recipes, and current health advice will find some information on here that can help them to achieve better health, as well.

I will say that after stumbling upon some compelling and impressive documentaries ala Netflix a few months ago (gotta love the free educational moves!) such as Food Matters, Hungry for Change, Food, Inc., Forks over Knives, The Gerson Miracle, The Beautiful Truth, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, etc. the ball got rolling. Then I ordered and read “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition” by Julieanna Heveris, “Eat to Live” by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, M.D. and am currently going through “The China Study” by Colin T. Campbell. These books gave me a great nutritional framework and helped me get down to business. Mostly these fascinating resources helped me to realize some life-altering facts:

1). The American diet is a BIG problem as our unique health crisis and outrageous national health care costs amply prove.

2). The American idea of “eating healthy” and achieving “balanced nutrition” is sadly misleading and skewed since our health status only continues to worsen.

3). We don’t have to live this way. Other societies who do not practice an immoderate Westernized diet full of meat, dairy, processed, refined, and high-calorie low-nutrient foods do not experience anything remotely like our widespread health problems.

4). Diets mostly (90%) compromised of vegetables, fruits, grains, and beans are the most effective for losing weight; improving overall health, energy, and mood; and preventing and/or reversing diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

5). Learning more about these issues and taking back one’s nutritional agency is not a responsibility anyone should shirk as their own.

6). I, as a Christian, cannot ignore this issue and passively hope my health and quality of life will turn out okay on its own (or with the constant help of risky and expensive health care).

Perhaps these issues hit home for me, or seem more pressing than they might to the average seemingly healthy American going about his or her way, because I’ve already had more than a couple major health scares before the age of 25. I don’t take our frightening cancer and autoimmune statistics, and the revelation that they are highly diet-related and therefore avoidable, lightly. That’s because around the age 22, it was discovered that I was the next victim of both of those unwanted diagnoses.

In 2009 we found that I had papillary carcinoma of the thyroid gland that had spread to one lymph node. It was found while I was seeing a doctor for a collection of odd symptoms (aches and pains, sun sensitivity leading to arthritis, poor sleep, low energy, etc.) which all pointed to some sort of autoimmune disease. While undergoing surgery to remove my entire thyroid (which means I’m taking replacement thyroid hormone pills for the rest of my life), it was confirmed that I at least had Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis – an autoimmune disease of the thyroid gland – the inflammation of which may have been the origin of my cancer.

Last year, after consistent positive test results for autoimmune activity, I was diagnosed with “Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease” which is a fancy, tongue-twisting way of saying: you have an autoimmune disease but we don’t know what it is yet. Swell. At that time, a thorough and well-meaning doctor wanted to put me on an aggressive immunosuppressant drug which would place me at very high risk for other cancers, infections, and birth defects. (Wait! I already had cancer! I was not interested in signing up for more!) Clearly I was hesitant, especially over treating a disease which, if I even had it, was very mild and in its early stages. I decided to forgo that regimen and began taking a much less risky drug that nevertheless had the slight chance of permanently damaging my vision after long-term use.

Over the course of my doctors visits during college, it was also found that I had a host of other weird, stupid things: genetic anemia that could make my blood drop low enough to require a blood transfusion (not diet-related, but nevertheless on the pile), irritable bowel syndrome, gastritis (inflamed stomach lining), menstrual migraines, and ovarian cysts (and hormonal chin acne which has improved markedly since the diet change!).

I throw out this weird health inventory because in one sense I know we read it and think: Geez, that’s life these days. You should hear my list. I’m a mess, too! And in another sense I look back, consider that I was barely in my mid-twenties when all of this was coming to a head, and wonder why someone at my stage of life had so much health junk going on!

And so I don’t violate my own HIPAA rights in a nutrition article to suggest that, had I been eating my fruits and veggies like I ought to, all of this could have positively been avoided. Whether or not that’s the case may never be determined; I will say, however, that my eating and lifestyle habits leading up to this point were certainly no help! I ate whatever, whenever, and however much I could pack in. To give you a picture, you should know that my favorite study snack was a tub of raw cookie dough that I could sink my spoon into whenever I got a craving. I also was a die-hard bread-and-butter "starchivore" who could have easily gone a week without letting a piece of fruit pass my lips. On top of everything else, I kept late nights, rarely exercised, and was just generally stressed and frazzled. All of this is likely to have contributed to my early-twenties health crisis, but only God Almighty will know.

I do break down my health history, though, to demonstrate:

1). Why I no longer take our current state of health lightly or regard it as a passive event (crossing my fingers that the doctors will have good news for me the next time I mosey into their offices).

2). That our standard for what is considered “healthy” and “normal” in American society is way too low.

We know that the world is fallen, but I think we abdicate more of our agency in the matter than we ought to. It is fallen, people do get sick, we carry corrupted genes, and we’re all heading for a physical death as a consequence of sin. But in the time between, we certainly don’t have to be as unhealthy and burdened as we are in, at such high rates, and at such young ages. Part of redeeming creation and bringing God’s kingdom to earth is caring about and investing in things now… and that certainly includes the irreplaceable gifts of life and health.

Part II Here

Part III Here


  1. I don't think I ever knew ALL that. I'm looking forward to part 2...

  2. I'm looking forward to Part II as well!

  3. Thanks, guys! I truly appreciate your support! :)