Here’s to Our Health: Vegan?

I have been eating vegan, plant-based for two years. The physical transformation and healing of my body have been unbelievable. But within the past couple of months, I have experienced increasing fatigue. Why? This week, I had an annual physical with a new primary care provider [I relocated to Florida]. Much to my surprise, she also specializes in weight loss, no surgical bariatric procedures. All of my lab work was normal, except for Vitamin D [found a vegan supplement].

As I relayed reaching a weight loss plateau and feeling more fatigued since relocating, my Dr. began to ask about my dietary intake. When I responded that I was vegan, plant-based, we explored my sources of protein. I eat legumes, nuts, my own recipes for veggie burgers, and nut-loafs. However, when looking up the nutritional value of the legumes and nuts, I was amazed at the low count of grams of protein in a serving.

The question, “What changes have you made this year in your diet? I gave up all prepared veggie meat substitutes…too high in sodium, and reading the last five or six ingredients, I am not interested in feeding my body with things that I cannot pronounce. Still, my protein intake was only 25% of what my body required.

And over time, a lack of protein can make you lose muscle mass, which in turn cuts your strength, makes it harder to keep your balance, and slows your metabolism. It can also lead to anemia when your cells don’t get enough oxygen, which makes you tired. WebMD.

Adding to the equation of increasing my protein intake is my pre-diabetes diagnosis. Nope, I did not care for my body for five decades, and now my pancreas will not secrete enough insulin for a carb overload.

Last year, through research of credible resources, I have changed my lifestyle to lose additional weight and develop discipline. I have incorporated daily intermittent fasting for the past year, which means I only eat two meals a day with a fruit snack. If I am not hungry, then I can’t eat. 

But my physician is impressive. She does not take the cookie-cutter approach with her patients. Instead, we developed a patient-focused life plan to increase my protein intake, eliminate fatigue, incorporate daily exercise, and facilitate further weight loss.

Goal: 100 grams of protein and limit carb intake to 100 grams daily. 

Plan: Incorporate a plant-based, no-whey protein shake 1-2 times a day made with almond milk. Choose legumes and nuts that have the lowest carb intake–still exploring my options. So far, almonds, avocados [she is a fruit], and black beans are at the top of the list. Also, use an app (Lose it) that identifies the nutritional value of the foods that you eat. 

Outcome: Within four days, I have lost four lbs, and I have my energy level back. Awakened, ready to take on the world and did an early morning walk. 

I have been asked the question, “What does one eat when following a plant-based diet?” There are endless possibilities. I can assure you that my food intake is not mundane. I never eat food prepared the same way. You do not have to have the skills of a chef, but you have to have an open mind and explore your creativity.

Love God, Love Others, Love Yourself 

©2021 Sonya Johnson

The Celebration of Our Health

I was born into a family with a mother who had southern roots. Although we lived in the Northeast, we acquired the taste for the mouth-watering, high-calorie foods that were home-cooked dinner every day. Entering my father’s background from Upstate New York with a passion for pastrami, corn beef, and steak meant that there were no boundaries for the delicious meals served. Mom made sure that we ate a variety of green vegetables. Still, the meal always consisted of cholesterol-packed meat and a kid’s favorite, macaroni and cheese, and scalloped or fried potatoes. You would think that nothing else could be added to the table. That was far from the truth. We lived for dessert, homemade cakes, cookies, brownies, and pies always topped with a scoop of ice cream.

As to be expected, at the young age of 11, I had childhood obesity. My mom is 88 years old, which makes me a “Baby Boomer.” So the norm was to have plump and happy children. Even so, my childhood was not like the new age children playing high-tech games or watching television until their body is in a state of sleep deprivation. No, I roller skated, jumped rope, played tennis and badminton, and was a swimmer. Nor did I eat all day long. We were allowed regular meals with a snack.

Fact: Weight gain or loss is 80% dependent on your food intake. Exercise for hours, but if your nutritional intake is saturated fat and empty, high-calorie [non-nutritional junk foods], your body will begin to decline regardless of your physical activity.

Fast forward to my mid-fifties, and my overtaxed pancreas started a revolution. I was diagnosed with Diabetes type 2 to partner with a prior diagnosis of controlled Hypertension. In 2015, I was also diagnosed with End-Stage Osteoarthritis in both knees, defined as “Bone-on-Bone. No cure. Total knee replacements are the answer. I made a few changes in my diet but still enjoyed the foods that I loved including desserts after every meal.

In 2017, my physician relayed that he was very concerned about my health due to our family history of Heart disease, Heart Attacks, High Blood Pressure, Asthma, Diabetes, and Breast Cancer. My cholesterol was abnormally high, with the good cholesterol at its lowest point and the bad cholesterol waging war. Now, I had Asthma, High Blood Pressure, Diabetes, Osteoarthritis, and High Cholesterol. The probability of me surviving a heart attack was slim to none.

When the Doctor recommended three additional medications with a fourth on hold to add in one month if my body did not respond appropriately, would you believe that my emotions kicked in? I felt angry. Surely, he was over-reacting by bombarding me with all of these prescriptions. In that moment, I transitioned from a health care professional to a resistant patient. I agreed to take one medication–the daily injections for Diabetes that would kick start my pancreas to produce more insulin. My Dr. soon realized that I was overwhelmed and began to speak to me from a Doctor-Nurse perspective, forcing my rational nursing mindset to rise above my emotions. I asked him to give me 30 days to make a change.

The Downward Spiral:

My job required visits to physician offices that involved extended driving and long walks from the parking lots. Texas is a big state. My knees worsened as my mobility decreased, and my joint pain hit an all-time high. At my Ortho visit, I was told to resign, use the custom knee brace, and a cane for stability. I secretely laughed. Yes, I would wear the brace, but there was no way that I was leaving one of my best jobs. We know that life does not work according to our plans. Soon after, as I was walking to a provider’s office, my knee buckled, and I fell to the ground on both knees. The rest of the story, I had to resign.

Challenge #2: Our insurance carrier had annual testing for four tests that identified high-risk subscribers for Diabetes, Hypertension, and Heart Disease. I failed all four tests. The penalty was an increase in the already expensive monthly premiums for the following year. 

My Journey

I desperately needed help. I was enslaved to my tastebuds. Was I willing to play the game of chance and keep destroying my body? No, I took this life-long problem to God in prayer. It was then that divine intervention began. Within two days, I received a call from the insurance company’s Health Coach, who was assigned to develop strategies for a healthy, new lifestyle. Our church Health Ministries Dept. had previously scheduled a “Reverse Diabetes” seminar with a medical missionary to teach the principles of healthy living [that I did not plan to attend]. Even so, I had to change my lifestyle or face serious consequences.

God did not forget that I could no longer work as a nurse. In 2017, I received SSD approval–total and permanent disability within one week of self-filing although there was a three-year waiting period in the state of Texas.

    1. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvelous are Your works, and I know this very well. Psalm 139:14
    2. Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in your body as you are strong in spirit. 3 John 1:2
    3. So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31

Human Effort + Divine Intervention = A Victorious Outcome

Lifestyle Changes:

As of today, I have lost 70 lbs. My journey still continues to lose the final 40 lbs. The orthopedic surgeons who were ready to give me bionic knees have been waiting since 2015. With the weight loss, I am free from the chronic knee pain that required cortisone injections. I walk in the early mornings, one mile every day, which allow time for Jesus and I to have our little talks.

The most significant change that led to further weight loss is that my tastebuds have been retrained. All of the childhood foods that nearly took me out, I have not eaten in four years. Currently, I enjoy eating a wide variety plant-based diet. I have developed vegan recipes that include a pecan loaf and delicious veggie burgers. Yes, I still have the sweet tooth and must have a dessert after dinner. No more cakes or pies, I enjoy popsicles made with fruit, almond milk, coconut whip, and agave that are perfect for anytime treats.

God taught me not to focus on my physical limitations. At times, I cannot walk a mile. Still, if it’s only two blocks for that day, I have accomplished movement. My energy along with increased mental alertness allows me to laugh out loud. God has given me the ability to practice self-control. I am no longer too tired to study the Bible, and pray. Every day I celebrate my health by expressing my gratitude to God for fearfully and wonderfully making the human mind and body. Thank you, God!

Considering the five decades of self-destructive behaviors, I know that I am blessed. When I reflect on my mind-body changes, I pray that you can understand why I love God with all of my heart, soul, and mind. The transformation from certain death to optimal health did not happen without divine intervention. I could have never accomplished these changes on my own, even with a Health Coach. God truly answers our prayers. Whatever your health challenge is, take it to Him in prayer, and exercise the faith to believe: I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

Bible Reading: 1 Corinthians 10

Prayer: God, we thank you for the ability to change the counterproductive habits of our past and present. We thank you for your love, grace, and mercies that we receive every day. Please give us the strength to achieve optimal spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical health. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen. 

© Sonya Johnson 2021