Chicken was always my go-to comfort food, whether it was a chicken sandwich combo, chicken nuggets, or fried drumsticks. I could not imagine living life without chicken, or for that matter, without burgers, bacon, cheese, butter, or any other animal product. But when my weight hit its highest at 237 pounds, I was miserable. I had no energy, no drive, and my health was at its worst.
My health has never been great. At six, I was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer – germination cell cancer of the ovaries. Thanks to incredible doctors and an experimental type of chemo, I beat the odds and went into remission. But the treatment wreaked havoc on my body, especially my reproductive system and hormones.
Fast forward a decade – at the age of sixteen, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, a minor thyroid issue, and was prediabetic. My doctor told me the PCOS and thyroid issue would last my entire life, and if I wasn’t careful, diabetes was just around the corner. My weight was 189, and my doctor told me that dropping some pounds would help with the medical issues. She told me, though, that due to my hormone imbalances and thyroid, it would take me a lot of effort; for the amount of work I’d have to do to lose one pound, the average person would lose five. Feeling hopeless, I started emotionally eating to cope with it, packing on nearly fifty pounds in four years. I bounced between 215 and 237 for another six years.
One day, enough was enough. I needed to make a change. Tired of the yo-yo dieting I’d done for years, and knowing that fad diets usually produce only temporary results, I went very simple – I wanted to eat more vegetables and fruits. To do so, I decided to reduce the amount of meat I consumed.
First, I gave up beef and pork. I started eating plant foods, which had never been very present in my life, but had mostly just increased the amount of chicken and fish I was consuming. After a month, I found it had made me feel better, but I hadn’t dropped any weight yet. I needed to increase the plants even more, so I gave up chicken, fish, and all other meats.
I didn’t intend to be a vegetarian forever. I was just going to do it for a few months, lose some weight, and then bring the meats right back into my diet. But once I gave up meat entirely, the weight started dropping off quicker than I expected, especially since I was doing no exercise. All I was doing was shifting to a more plant-based diet.
After a few months, I hardly noticed that I had stopped drinking milk. With the increase of plant foods, my tastes were becoming more sensitive, and dairy products just didn’t taste great anymore. I still liked cheese and ice cream, but couldn’t handle as much as I used to, so I cut down on them even further.
I was having so much fun trying new vegetarian recipes, I kept searching for more and more plant-based recipes. I started with meals such as pasta with alfredo sauce and broccoli, then moved towards 100% plant meals like spaghetti squash with homemade tomato sauce loaded with veggies. I didn’t even realize that I had been cooking vegan foods because the variety, creativity, and flavors had me so captivated. Before I knew it, I was vegan, quite unintentionally.
The weight started melting off, and it was unbelievable how effortless it felt. I was eating more food with more flavors than ever before, not counting a single calorie, and my waistline was slimming down. After all the crazy quick-fix weight loss gimmicks I tried had failed me, this seemed too easy.
In seven months, I lost 70 pounds. When I’d walk by a mirror, I’d catch a glimpse of myself in my peripheral and think, “Wow, I wish I looked like her – wait, that’s me!” Even a year later, it’s still hard for me to believe that the woman looking back is actually me.
Last spring, I got big news. I had gone in for a long-overdue complete checkup, and was shocked by the results. I was not at risk at all for diabetes, my thyroid was functioning completely normal, and there was not a trace of PCOS! I had to ask my doctor to repeat it three times before it sank in- for the first time in twenty years, I had a clean bill of health.
I’m never going back from veganism. On rare occasions, I’ll get a craving for something from my “old life,” but I’ve come to realize that it’s my body telling me it needs something like protein, iron, calcium, or another nutrient, which I’ve discovered I can easily get from plants. Junky foods that once were the staple of my existence now hardly even register as being edible. As the saying goes, “nothing tastes as good as being healthy feels,” but I’d like to add that healthy foods taste delicious!
Now, I’m more than two years into my vegetarian lifestyle and approaching a year and a half as a vegan, and I have changed, inside and out. Being vegan has saved my life, and allows me to thrive. I’ve found an unexpected peace in plants. This former chicken nugget addict is now at her healthiest and happiest as an accidental vegan, and she’s never going back.
Related weight loss inspirational stories: How I Coped with Regaining Weight After Major Loss
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Photo: Rov Ramz via Flickr; Stefanie Harbeson