Up until 2009, I thought of myself as somewhat healthy, though I’m not quite sure how I came to that conclusion. I was morbidly obese with a fatty liver; I was developing thyroid disease; I suffered from continuous migraines and urinary tract infections; my face was always tinged red with rosacea; I ate antacids like candy; had an irregular heartbeat and was on four medications for high-blood pressure. As a teacher, with kids coughing and sneezing in my face, I was sick almost constantly during the winter, going from one virus to the next, chronically fatigued. And yet, not a single one of my doctors ever asked me what I ate.
I’d tried lots of diets over the years: Jenny Craig, Richard Simmons, Atkins, Weight Watchers (the point system made me crazy). These programs worked short-term, but as soon as you stopped, all the weight—and then some—returned. Because short-term diets are not the solution to larger lifestyle diseases.
In 2009, I was rushed to the hospital with a 105.8-degree fever. My blood pressure was off the charts. My body couldn’t fight off the infection. I was truly terrified. I had to keep a stick between my teeth to stop myself from chipping them, as I couldn’t stop chattering. This went on for a week and ended up costing me over $30,000.
The crisis turned out to be a blessing. It turned out that the doctor who oversaw my case was a nutritionist as well, a rare combination (only one-fifth of Ameircan medical schools require future doctors to take a single nutrition course, according to David Eisenberg, adjunct associate professor of nutrition at Harvard). It was because of her that I discovered I had heart disease, and it was because of her that I discovered Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr. The rest, as they say, is history.
In 2011, Forks Over Knives came out and I knew I was on the right track. I was so excited by the research it contained that I dove into reading everything I could find. I attended plant-based conferences whenever I could, including PlantStockf at Dr. Esselstyn’s farm. It was like a trip to Mecca for me.
I went on to earn a certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies (CNS) and complete The Starch Solution course through The McDougall Program, and through the Wellness Forum Women’s Health and Food Over Medicine program.
Since that hospital stay, I have lost over 100 pounds, reversed my fatty liver syndrome, gotten off my blood pressure medications, and healed my thyroid. I no longer have migraines and UTIs are a thing of the past. The rosacea is gone, I am rarely sick, and if I ever do come down with something, my immune system gets me back up and running in a short time. My energy levels are improved—I feel better now, in my 60s, than I did in my 30s! I can hike, bike, and kayak pretty much all day without pain.
This personal growth has also connected me to other people. Discovering that I could change my health destiny by living a whole food, plant-based (WFPB) life was a gateway to a community in which I am still very active. I love to hear stories about how people have changed their lives, and I am fascinated by the research. I am constantly tracking down authors or medical doctors to discuss their research. I share these stories, interviews, and cooking videos on my YouTube channel Jeanne Schumacher, Simply Plant-Based.
As a teacher of over 35 years, educating people and spreading the message is very important to me, especially when it comes to my students. I have witnessed startling changes over the years, with rates of chronic illnesses among youth increasing all the time—childhood obesity, behavioral and learning issues, and more.
In the town where I grew up, most children were normal weight and rarely had problems learning. There were a few exceptions, of course, but nowhere near the same level we see today.
Over the years, some of my students have gotten the message about eating WFPB and seen improvements in their health, weight, and grades. One young lady had major learning issues, acne, and food allergies. Her allergies were so severe, in fact, that there were few foods she could eat. Though it’s only anecdotal, her story does prove that food can be medicine. After going plant-based, her learning issues disappeared, her face cleared up, and she overcame almost all of her food allergies. Unsurprisingly, she went on to earn a master’s degree in nutrition and she has become a registered dietician.
Seeing my students change in front of my eyes got me thinking—what would happen if we could educate mothers before their pregnancy? What effect might that have on trends of childhood obesity and learning disorders?
With the help of Dr. Debra Shapiro, a plant-based OB-GYN, we “gave birth” to The Pregnancy Advantage (www.PregnancyAdvantage.net) program to help educate women about the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle. Dr. Shapiro and I both feel that if we are going to make major changes on this planet, we have to educate mothers before they have children. If we can do that, then the very next generation can get their health back.
I built the website www.SimplyPlantBased.net in order to share interviews, resources, and classes. It is a work in progress and a total labor of love. Since that hospital trip more than a decade ago, everything has changed for me. I am truly grateful to that doctor who was trained in nutrition—she literally saved my life. And now, all I want to do is pay that forward.
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