Vegging out: It’s time to focus on yourself with a healthy lifestyle

It’s so easy to grab a snack when you’re working from home—or in my case, when you're retired and stuck in the house during the pandemic. My go-to snacks now are Skinny Pop popcorn, some nuts, sprouted pumpkin seeds, or an organic apple. But that wasn’t always the case for me. Oh, how I love chocolate! How do I really get serious about healthy eating and true lifestyle change? For me, it’s been baby steps with a nudge from friends and family.

 

A year ago, a close friend Bill and my husband Dennis attended a concert—a band at the Winchester in Lakewood that played Stevie Ray Vaughan covers. Near the end of the set, Bill said he either had really bad indigestion or was having a heart attack.

 

Bill was able to get to the car and my husband called Bill’s wife who met them at Fairview Hospital Emergency Room. Things appeared stable and my husband went home. Bill’s wife, Colleen, is a nurse and noticed a change in Bill’s heart rhythm—a precursor to an attack—and ran to get the doctor. Chest compressions and many shocks from paddles helped to get a regular heart rate and then Bill went into emergency stent surgery.

 

It was a very scary experience for me and I felt the pain and concern that Bill and his family went through. With many prayers and some sleepless nights, I’m happy to report that Bill is a miracle—he runs several times a week and has lost 60 pounds thanks to a dedicated, whole foods vegan diet.

 

What a wakeup call for Dennis and me. I believe it was a sign—an opportunity to learn and begin to get serious about changing our own eating habits.

 

When we get together with Bill and Colleen, we now eat vegan, supporting local restaurants by getting takeout and at home eat vegan or vegetarian meals two to three times per week. One of the first vegan recipes Bill shared with us was Red Lentil Masala Soup, or “Bill’s Soup,” that I now make several times each month.

 

At first, we tried to cook vegan or vegetarian every day—and it was tough. I settled on meatless Mondays and Fridays at a minimum. Personally, I’m cutting back on flour and refined sugars, and focusing on complex carbohydrates like whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fiber-rich fruits like berries and apples. I find that I feel good when I’m eating these types of foods. When I eat beef, it doesn’t sit well in my stomach.

 

It’s not easy changing your shopping routine and planning healthy meals with new ingredients—like nutritional yeast (aka, nooch) or coconut aminos—but I’ve really enjoyed cooking new, delicious recipes.

 

We eat more legumes and grains like quinoa, farro, and barley—which I never had in my pantry in the past. Once a week, I plan our weekly meals using recipes from Michael Symon’s Fix It with Food, Thug Kitchen 101 (if you can tolerate the swear words in this plant-based cookbook), and The Blue Zones Kitchen by Dan Buettner.
 

My 90-year-old dad turned me on to the Blue Zone lifestyle (based on five places in the world with the longest lifespans) after hearing a lecture by the cookbook author at Lakeside Chautauqua in Lakeside, Ohio.

 

If you want to live to 100, eat like healthy people from blue zones around the world—90% to 100% of their diets consist of whole plant-based fare. And their surroundings nudge them into the right behaviors.

My dad often reminds me that his Greek mother lived to age 107 eating a Mediterranean diet that included garlic and raw honey.

 

Rather than my prior shopping routine of buying what was on sale in ads from several different stores, I now shop for specific ingredients for healthy dishes and only organic to avoid pesticide residue on foods like kale, spinach, and celery (known as the “Dirty Dozen”).

 

When we’re not eating vegan/vegetarian, we include chicken or fish in our diet and occasionally Dennis cooks a brisket or pork butt on the grill.

 

I still like my chocolate and sweets and acknowledge that these are my greatest temptations. When I bake, I’m using almond, tapioca, or coconut flour and maple syrup, monk fruit sweetener, or raw honey.

 

I find myself craving something sweet after dinner and realize that I am self-defeating my weight loss plans when I eat several pieces of chocolate or have dessert. Weighing myself every day confirms that when I eat too many carbs and sweets, I gain weight the next day.

 

A healthy lifestyle goes beyond what I eat. Dennis and I walk, go for a hike, or do yoga just about every day. Even when it’s snowing and too icy, we walk the parking garages at Crocker Park.

 

My body weight is about the same as a year ago so it’s time to get serious about trimming down my gut with recipes and portion sizes to help me reach my goal. Think about how much more I will enjoy hiking carrying around 10 to 20 fewer pounds.

 

The answer is staring me right in the face: If I want to live a long life, I need to continue to make incremental changes in my diet to achieve a healthy weight. Then I can continue to live life to the fullest. Now if I can just replace chocolate with a healthy alternative!

 

What are your healthy eating secrets and tips? Any “aha” moments for you during COVID-19?

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