It has taken me a while to write this down, especially after the ups and downs that I have experienced in this long but worthwhile journey. But I can say now that I finally feel confident to share my learnings about first, a vegan diet and later, a whole food, plant-based (WFPB) lifestyle.
I would like to start with the end, meaning with what happened last which is my biggest physical and health achievement of all: during a seven-day journey I reached the summit of one of the snow-capped mountains in Colombia, El Nevado del Tolima, at 5,230 meters (17,158 ft) above sea level for my brother’s 30th birthday with no previous mountain hiking experience at all. Not even in my wildest dreams could I have ever imagined the physical endurance test this would be for us, and our greatest surprise was how we did so amazingly well. This was the clearest testimonial I have ever seen with my own eyes about the power of a whole food, plant-based lifestyle to provide vitality, strength, physical endurance and fast recovery.
Now, how on earth can a 37 year old wife and mother of two young boys, weighing her heaviest at 87 kg (191 pounds) (starting on the obese range for her height) just eight months ago can tell this story now? This journey really began around 21 years ago when I enrolled in medical school to become a cardiologist, with the hope I could cure my dad from cardiovascular disease after he had experienced two episodes of severe angina. I fell in love with medicine and its seeming power to cure people and prevent disease, but it did not take me long to realize that cardiology or surgery was not going to achieve my goal. So I started to focus on the preventive medicine that was taught then, which was sort of taking me in a better direction.
Being raised in an average Colombian family with its heavy diet of meats, dairy, and eggs, I could not imagine a life without these foods I thought were so important for my health. I never made the link, even after becoming a medical doctor, about the relationship between the foods I was eating and my being overweight since my teenage years. I just thought everyone had to be on a diet to have healthy weight, and I could only get close to my ideal weight by being on a low-calorie diet.
Finding the Vegan Diet
That began to change when I met my husband Denis. By this time, I had completed a masters in international public health and was doing medical research in Australia. Denis helped to open my eyes to the benefits of a vegan diet and a whole new understanding of nutrition. As a daughter and doctor, I felt very frustrated and powerless when hearing my mum´s pain from rheumatoid arthritis with Sjögren’s syndrome and adverse effects from her medications. But only a short time after I persuaded her to try a vegan diet, she was off her medication and pain free (you can read her testimonial here). This was my first real confirmation of how effective nutrition could be.
My PCOS Cleared Up and I Got Pregnant!
This was the moment that changed it all for me. I thought I had learned it all and started applying it in my own life. I did not know what to expect in my own health since I was at a (hard to reach) healthy weight then and did not have any symptoms to cure. But I had forgotten about my severe polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). I had been on medication for PCOS for more than 8 years in hopes that I would be able to conceive one day–something my doctor had told me might not be possible. After being vegan for eight months, my doctor saw in an ultrasound that I had no cysts and I was ovulating! It only took us six months after being married to get pregnant with our first son, with no medication and no effort at all. A close relative told me that I was going to give birth to an “alien” for having a vegan pregnancy, but looking today at my very healthy, intelligent, and handsome 7-year-old, there can be no doubt this relative’s doubts have been put to rest. I must say it was not easy to fight all the cultural beliefs about what me and my new son should and should not eat, but it has been an amazing experience to raise compassionate, healthy, conscious children who care about others, about animals, and about the planet. I would not change that for anything in the world.
Learning About Plant-Based Nutrition
But there was a problem. Although my child was doing great, I managed to gain 26 kilos (57 lbs) during the first pregnancy, and during the next seven years, including my second pregnancy, my weight had been up and down like a rollercoaster. It was during my second pregnancy that I made the acquaintance of Mark Doneddu, president of Vegetarian Victoria in Australia, who first introduced me to the work of Dr. T. Colin Campbell, The China Study and Whole. Especially after reading Whole, I was in shock. I could not believe my eyes about the system I was raised in as a person and as a doctor, and I got educated about many of the topics I used to believe in, such as nutritional supplementation. This made me enroll in the Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate offered by the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies powered by eCornell. I was eager to learn more since it was clear to me that I did not have the complete information about a healthy vegan diet and plant-based lifestyle. Finally, I got the best education in a clear and simple format that cleared up the many confusions and assumptions I had then about food and health, including the assumption that oil was healthy or necessary. I started to make the change and I found that for some people giving up oil can be as mentally challenging as giving up meat. Oil is found almost everywhere, so I did what I thought to be a good effort, but not good enough, to avoid it 100% of the time. By this time, we decided to move back to Colombia, where I began to work on my dream project of spreading the WFPB lifestyle information to Spanish speakers. I was immensely blessed and honored to be appointed as the official Spanish translator for nutritionstudies.org, one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. But my health story did not end there.
Focusing on My Mind, Body, and Health
In the midst of changing countries and starting a new project, I kind of forgot about myself and the other very important components of a healthy lifestyle such as physical exercise and the mind-body connection (I thought maybe I could skip these ones!). As a result, my weight problem became worse than ever. At this time, I had translated more than half (around 140) of the articles available on the Center for Nutrition Studies website. Which is the most complete plant-based nutrition website with the easiest to read, clearest and simple evidence-based information contained in beautifully written articles from world-renowned authors that teach us how to achieve an amazing health with a whole food, plant-based lifestyle.
So, there I am with all this amazing information, not only about what I had learned before but about the importance of the mind-body connection, physical exercise, chewing, a variety of recipes, etc. I was ready to change my health for the better, and I started to commit 100% to whole food, plant-based foods, daily meditation, and physical exercise through a very effective Latin dancing fitness program (I love dancing!).
This was the clearest testimonial I have ever seen with my own eyes about the power of a whole food, plant-based lifestyle to provide vitality, strength, physical endurance and fast recovery.
To wrap up my story, only seven months after committing to these changes and building my physical endurance, I was able to reach the summit of El Nevado del Tolima, powered with whole food, plant-based hiking foods: rice, oats, potatoes, non-perishable vegetables, avocadoes, legumes, dates, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, and lots of water!
I am very grateful to all the mistakes I have made, since it is only through mistakes that you truly learn the truth about how life works. A journey that has taken me 21 years to find the truth about true health (for so many of you who are reading this, you have the information right at your fingertips, so you do not have to take this long!) right now just feels like the start of many decades of true health and happiness. This is just the start.
My Family Has Experienced Great Health Benefits
My mum has been symptom and medication free for over nine years now with a significant weight loss. My dad has reversed his cardiovascular disease reaching 17 METS in his exercise stress testing (just below 20 METS for athletes) at 70 years of age! My brother lost more than 12 kilos (26 pounds) in less than 6 months after following a mostly WFPB diet. As for myself, I am more than 10 kilos (22 pounds) lighter than seven months ago with the best vitality and physical endurance I have ever had.
I am still working toward my health weight and fitness goals, but finally and surely, I am on the right path. If I could give you some recommendations, I would encourage you to educate yourself as much as you can—you have the best information at your fingertips on this website. Do not look back at what you have experienced with regret but with gratitude (otherwise you would not be learning now). Make the commitment to a very simple and easy whole food, plant-based diet, move your body in what you love doing more. Last, but most important, connect with your inner self, and start creating your life with your mind.
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