Today I bring you a first on the Veg Blog: a guest post.
I first met Natala Constantine when she came to my family’s house and took pictures of us after being recommended to us by her sister-in-law, a friend of my wife’s. I was surprised when veganism came up in the conversation and was even more amazed when I heard the details of Natala’s story. Sometimes, I don’t give as much credit to those who come to veganism for health reasons, but Natala’s story reminds me that it is indeed possible for people to become vegan for purely health reasons but then open up to the ethical reasons as they dig deeper. I’m going to shut up now and let Natala tell you her story…
I stood in the kitchen, tears rolling down my cheeks and splashing against the floor as I talked to my Granny on the phone. I was 15 years old, she was 57, and she called me to tell me that she was giving up, that she could no longer go through diabetes, that she could no longer have dialysis treatments, that she could not face the possibility of getting her lower leg amputated, that she had no more fight in her. I wanted so badly to tell her that it would be okay, that something would change, that she could hold on just a little bit longer. But I was witness to the life my Granny had lead up till that moment, the countless doctors, the insulin injections, the pills, the complications she suffered from diabetes. For her, death was the better alternative, better than having to go through another day with diabetes. She opted to stop dialysis, and not more than a day later, I sat beside her as she drew her last breaths of life.
It was ten years later that I would find out that I was also a diabetic. I sat in a doctors office, head spinning, as words were flying all around me. I watched as they pumped insulin into my veins, sitting still, numb, and wanting it to all go away.
For five years I was insulin dependent, a severe diabetic. I went to doctor after doctor and have been put on medicine after medicine. I was told that I would always have to take insulin, that insulin and medication were the only answers to controlling my diabetes. Paired with medication, I was given numerous handouts and book suggestions on how to eat as a diabetic. Every single doctor and nutritionist that I encountered, every single hand out, every book that was suggested had the same exact advice: eat lots of meat (it was suggested on several occasions that I try South Beach or Atkins). I was told over and over again to stay away from ANY carbohydrates, that I should never eat fruit, and that I should fill up on meat. Sure, every so often they would throw in “eat salads,” but really, it was a side note to eating a diet that included a large portion of meat protein every day. The standard percentage was to eat less than 20% of my diet in carbohydrates and the rest in meats and low carb vegetables.
When I say that I tried every thing to help my diabetes, it would be an understatement. I was willing to do anything to change the course of the disease that took my Granny. But my biggest mistake was relying on a medical industry who was making money off of me staying on medications, not to mention relying on a medical industry who was having no success after the millions of dollars in “research” that it had been doing for the past 50 years or so on curing diabetes. I was trusting an industry whose record is devastating. In the past 50 years the rates of diabetes have gone up in numbers that are atrocious. And decades later, diabetes is treated the same way, with the same nutrition advice: take more insulin, eat a meat protein diet. There is a great saying “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.” And every day in this country, thousands of people sit in their doctors office, terrified about a diagnosis they have just been given. They are handed a prescription for insulin and other diabetes drugs, and they get a piece of paper with a guide to eating healthy as a diabetic, sponsored by a major pharmaceutical company.
This past August, my life changed when I decided to take my health into my own hands. A very good friend of mine started me on a quest of searching for natural healing books. It was on this search that I came across a book called The 30-Day Diabetes Miracle. I will be the first to admit that I nearly put it back on the shelf after seeing the title. I am not one for fad diets, or anything that claims to be a “miracle.” But I started to thumb through the book and quickly realized that the book was describing the very problems that I was having regarding my blood sugar numbers. The book went on to say that for diabetics, the best diet was one that was completely plant based. It referenced several studies, including ones that they had done on their own (they are part of a large clinic), and the results were astonishing. People were going off of insulin in just days after switching to a completely plant-based diet. I started to research more about a plant-based diet, and decided that at this point, it could not hurt. My blood sugar numbers were already bad, and this was one of the only things I had not tried.
With in a few short weeks I was off of insulin. For five years, I took insulin every day. I was told that I would never go off of insulin. And in a few weeks of going on a plant-based diet, where I completely eliminated animal fats and proteins, I was off of insulin. My blood sugar numbers were the best they had been in 5 years.
The more I looked, the more I found other stories like mine. People who had been on insulin for far longer than me, were going off of insulin and reversing their diabetes in a matter of weeks.
When I called my Dr. at the time to schedule an appointment, and told him what I had done, he simply stated that I should stay on all my medication, because chances are I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the “strict” diet. So, basically, stay on medication so that I can eat poorly and not reverse my diabetes, all because a plant-based diet might be difficult.
I, of course ignored this advice. And I am still insulin free, continuing to learn as much as I can about this disease and the cure that already exists for it.
The why and the ethics of it all
A lot of people ask me a lot of questions about why I’ve done what I’ve done, likewise a lot of people tell me that they could “never” do what I’ve done, some going as far as saying that they would “die” rather than stop eating animal products.
This sentiment is echoed so much, not only by people I’ve talked to, but in society at large. It is completely devastating to me. I’ve lived with diabetes for five years, and I can not think of many things that are worse, and I did not suffer some of the complications that a lot of diabetics face. I do not understand how things like blindness, amputation, stroke, nerve disorders can be better and more easily adapted to than eliminating a few foods. The addiction to animal food products in our society is something that I’ve only been able to see after adapting this new lifestyle. We are inundated with commercial after commercial that sensuously display animal based foods. They appeal to addiction in ways that are no different (if not worse) than what the tobacco industry has done. The public at large collectively covers their ears when the overwhelming ethical side to all of this is stated. They yell and scream when the undeniable health benefits are presented clearly before them. The right to eat foods that are killing them is ingrained deeply in their psyche, as I know it was in mine a for very long time. I am ashamed of how long it took, and what condition I had to get to, to take my life and health into my own hands. I also can look back and see exactly why it is that I ate the way I did, and why I never wanted to consider a different way.
We’re told to trust doctors. And we’ve also all seen the effects of doctors who are nothing more than snake oil salesmen. Doctors in the United States are in a horrible position. Can you imagine if a doctor were to tell a severe diabetic to not take insulin, but to instead go on a plant-based diet? If that patient did not hold up their end of the bargain, the lawsuits would begin, claiming that the doctor did not adequately care for their patient. Doctors, in many cases have become experts in prescribing medicine. Every doctor I went to spent a maximum of 5% of the visit talking about nutrition, and when they did it was essentially “eat lots of animal protein.” The rest of the visit was explaining the new medication they were going to be giving me and explaining why I needed to increase my insulin dosage each day. It wasn’t until I decided to take my health into my own hands that I realized that my doctors were not concerned with reversing my diabetes, they were interested in controlling it with the aid of medication. As I read through books and talked to people that were on the side of natural health, I started to understand the negative effects of the medication I was on. I found out that insulin is a growth hormone. The medication that I injected into my abdomen every day was indeed a growth hormone and it slowed weight loss. So, losing weight, which would greatly improve my chances of reversing diabetes, was that much harder because of a medication that I was taking every day, a medication that my doctors all prescribed and promoted.
I remember sitting in a doctor’s waiting room looking through a diabetes magazine and being alarmed by how many advertisements there were for various diabetes drugs. Every other page had something insulin related, paired with advertisements for things like Splenda, Subway, and Kraft. So, some of the very things that cause diabetes to progress were there, advertised right along with the things that help people continue to eat poorly, that being medication. I wonder what would happen if doctor office magazines promoted legumes and broccoli? What if instead of drug companies pushing their brand new diabetes drug, a local farmer walked in to promote their lovely new spinach? What if the pens we fill out our co-pay checks with did not have a giant pharmaceutical company’s name plastered on them, but instead an apple?
We have the cure for type 2 diabetes, and yet it is completely ignored by most doctors. We sink billions into diabetes research, yet the cure is there, and has been there for a very long time. How is it morally right for this continue? How can we continue to ignore this, and put the health of ourselves and future generations at risk, simply because we want to continue to eat foods that hurt us?
I do not want to lay the blame completely in the hands of doctors. I think they have a huge responsibility. However, ultimately, we are the ones who need to be the doctors. We know our bodies better than anyone else and we have time to do research on the truth of what will heal us. If we simply rely on a 20-minute check-up every six months, we are doing ourselves a huge disservice. It is astonishing that people will spend upwards of four hours per day watching television, but will not crack open one book that could potentially save their life. There are plenty of people that will call me up to talk about the latest political or entertainment news, but at the mere mention of health, the conversation quickly ends. As a society, we have done a marvelous job in ignoring every solid piece of evidence presented to us regarding our health and we continually turn our heads away at the mention of changing the lifestyles we’ve become addicted to. Doctors play a very small roll in our health and it wasn’t until I made this realization that I was able to really take control of my life and health.
Animals, meat processing, and the truth I knew, but ignored.
A few years ago my husband and I watched Super Size Me and Fast Food Nation. Since then, we have not stepped one foot into a fast food place. It wasn’t just the horror of what was done to the food itself, or the animals. It was the ethics of what these giant corporations were doing. They are committing mass murder (on several levels) and we could not justify supporting them any longer.
During the process of going vegan I would come across articles and books talking about the food industry and exactly how animal products were made. The truth is, when I was eating animal products, I knew some of the horrors of what was done to the animal I was consuming and I knew all of the poisons that were pumped into that animal that I was consuming. I knew that pigs were pumped full of sugar to fatten them up (often giving them diabetes) and I knew that most animal farms were using more drugs than we would ever legally give a human being, and yet, I would sit and eat my chicken sandwich anyway. Going vegan meant reading more and more about the food industry and what was really going on before I grilled up my Perdue chicken. Looking at it from the vantage point I have now, I still completely understand why people have continued to eat the way they do. No matter what the overwhelming evidence says, it is easily ignored.
My Grandfather used to smoke. He told me that back in the forties “everyone smoked, including the doctors.” He would tell me that despite logically knowing that putting a cigarette to your mouth was a bad idea, it was easily ignored because there were ads for cigarettes everywhere and there were even doctors who promoted smoking them. He told me that the people who were early advocates in the anti-tobacco movement were considered to be “quacks” and were largely ignored. After all, how could television and newspapers allow something to be advertised that would kill you?
This is exactly how I see what is going on with our food industry. Our society puts their trust in advertisers and large corporations. People at large can be given very clear evidence of why eliminating animal meats and proteins from their diets is not only healthy, but ethical, and they go home, turn on their TV, and right in front of them is a barrage of commercials negating every thing they started to consider about a plant-based diet. They go to their doctor, who knows close to nothing about being on a plant-based diet and are told that eating that way is not healthy. They’re given large amounts of wrong information by a person that they trust with their life. The contradictory information is overwhelming for so many people, I know it was for me, which is why I had to do a few things before being able to completely adapt to this new way of life.
- Taking health into my own hands. I spent all of my free time reading and studying. My life all of a sudden became my most important priority and I no longer wanted to put my life in the hands of other people. I wanted to do the research all on my own and come up with my own conclusion.
- Just a few weeks… I decided that going on a plant-based diet for a few weeks was not going to hurt me and that I could do anything for a few weeks. For me it was easy to see what a difference going plant-based was doing. My blood sugar numbers were dropping and I was able to go off of insulin. I wish that all people could have something so visible and obvious to see when making the switch. Aside from that, I started to feel a lot better. I was having far fewer days that I felt depressed, I was feeling well rested more often, and I was starting to lose weight. Paying attention to how my body was feeling was really key for me. I could not deny that I was starting to feel physically better.
- Research. I picked up several books, and was given a few as well, that became my course on going on a plant-based diet. I took on my health like I would a college course (well, one that I really cared about, at least). I realized that my body was one thing I had very little expertise on. Being that I spend a lot of time with my body, I decided that needed to end.
- Talking to people who were already doing this. It always takes me by surprise, the number of people who have been doing this for years and who very casually talk about going on a plant-based diet. The more people I meet who have done the same thing, the easier and easier it gets for me. There have been days where I feel overwhelmed by it all or I feel that I can’t possibly keep it all up, and I am then reminded of the millions who have been doing this for a while.
- Not letting negative people get to me. I am always discouraged by how many people will put down my new lifestyle. The lifestyle that is saving my life and preventing things like amputation seems to be a joke to a lot of people. I understand for many it is very threatening, what I’m doing and how I’m changing my life, but in order to really take control of my health, I had to work to eliminate some of that negativity from my life.
- Getting rid of TV. We made the decision a while ago to get rid of our cable. It was the best decision we ever made. No longer do I watch commercials which tell me to eat bad food or watch television shows that use product placement to enforce negative behaviors.
- Caring enough about myself. Part of my eating poorly was my own depression and this underlying feeling of not caring about myself. I had to work a lot from the inside out, getting in order some of the emotional hang ups that I had, and reasons that I did not want to be as healthy as I possibly could. I had to care enough about myself to want to change.
For vegans: Why to not lose hope on society
I never thought I’d go vegan. And yet, here I am, planning out my three bean chili for dinner and finishing my hummus sandwich with micro greens, bean sprouts, and cucumber. It took a devastating disease to wake me up, but I do not think that it has to be that way for most people. Keep doing what you are doing. Keep eating the way you do, keep supporting stores that are doing their part. Keep writing about your life and your health. You are more powerful than you realize. Even as people dismiss you, make fun of you, question you, know that you have planted a seed, somewhere, and that you could help someone unlock the door to their health. Be encouraging to those who are seeking to live a more healthy life, don’t give up on people, once they realize just how strong they are, there is no telling what can happen in our society.
For the non-vegans
You can ignore every thing I said, you can put it in the category as another health nut hippie who is telling you to give up your favorite foods. You can do all of that and it won’t effect me one bit. It makes no difference in my life. I urge you, however, to attempt going on a plant-based diet for a few weeks. Yes, you will crave things. Yes, you might even feel like crap for a few days. But what you will discover is that you have the choice to live a much more healthy life, one where you don’t have to constantly worry about what you are eating, how much you are eating, and how it might one day effect you. You will soon realize that eating a plant-based diet is plenty tasty and fulfilling and that a lot of your food addictions will start slipping away. You might even start to see the ethical side of going on a plant-based diet and all that happens in our food industry.
Become your own doctor. Start doing your own research. Don’t take my word, or anyone else’s word for that matter. Take your life into your hands.
Some books/resources to help you get started
- The China Study – T. Colin Campbell
- Becoming Vegan
- The Free Vegetarian starter kit (you can find it at the pcrm.org web site)
Other favorite books/cookbooks
- Eat, Drink and be Vegan (I am currently attempting to cook every thing in the book!), Vegan with a Vengeance, Veganomicon, La Dolce Vegan!
- The 30-Day Diabetes Miracle (if you are a diabetic, or if diabetes runs in your family)
- Fast Food Nation (also watch the movie)
- The Food Revolution
- Vegan Freak
- Vegan: The New ethics of Eating
- Skinny Bitch (for a quick, in your face kind of approach to it all)
Ok… really quick, I wanted to get into my husband’s health. My husband is not vegan, but very much wants to be. I am hoping that someone reading this might know someone, or might themselves know some of good resources for us. In short, my husband is allergic to plants. He has a reaction (oral, mainly) to any raw fruit or vegetable and has reactions to some cooked plants as well (tomatoes and spinach, for starters). He has a severe nut allergy and has adverse reactions to some beans and grains, as well. We have been looking for a doctor that might be able to help, but have had little luck. We’ve tried to find anyone online who has gone through the same thing and also have not had much luck. So, if you are reading this and you know of someone that might be able to offer any insight, we would love to hear from you. We can travel pretty much anywhere and are willing to try just about anything. He certainly has a rare condition, but I am convinced that we can find answers, just like I found answers to diabetes.
Thanks so much for reading about my journey. Really, that is all I have to offer, just my personal experience with all of this. I wish I could help to open up the eyes (and minds) of people that are in the same situations that I have been in, or are on their way there. There is no food worth having this disease. There is no food that tastes as good as being healthy feels. And for me, there is not a food that is worth compromising my own ethical and moral standards. The fact is that we have the cure for type 2 diabetes, for obesity and probably many other diseases. It just doesn’t fit into the lifestyles that our society has become addicted to, and that is one of the greatest tragedies of our lifetime.