This post will be a blend of my blog and an article, since I’m sharing a little bit of personal with a lot of information.
For the month of March, I went 100% plant-based to see what effect it would have on my overall health. In trying to figure out issues with my sleep, mood and thyroid nodule, I needed to see which variable was effecting the others. The one variable I could control was diet, so I eliminated all meat and dairy from my diet entirely (normally I am 90-95% plant-based) and charted the results to see if trends would change from previous months on my mood and sleep.
Before I get to the results…as you all are aware, right in the middle of the month we were grappled with COVID-19 nationwide. So many things changed for me during this time, as I transitioned to working from home, then got slammed with PPP loans working my day job as an SBA Processor and was working overtime. It was also the end of the semester, which brought another type of busy as I had end of semester projects to complete. In addition to that, I had a final project for my last assignment for my nutrition certification. So long story short – this post is coming two months later than I had planned!
First, for the happy news, because I’m too excited to contain it! According to my degree plan, I should have had two more classes to go before graduation. When I reached out to my advisor to ask why I couldn’t get in to register for fall classes, she emailed me back and told me I’d completed my requirements for graduation and didn’t need anymore classes. She sent me my intent to graduate form, I signed, and I am officially a UMASS AMHERST GRAD with a journalism degree!!
What an exciting day and happy surprise that was! You may not know, but when I first registered for classes in 2004, I found out I was pregnant with my now 15-year-old son two weeks later. Everything changed. I became a wife and mom full-time, and a college student part-time. I settled for my associates degree, figuring I could go back later and get my bachelor’s. I finished my associates in 2009, by that time a single mom, and finally began my bachelor’s in 2012. In 2018, I changed course from business, to journalism – where my heart has always truly been. I also changed schools from Southeast Missouri State University, to University of Massachusetts Amherst University Without Walls.
After eight years, it feels SO GOOD to be finished with my degree and able to call myself a journalist at last! Right on the heels of my bachelor’s degree, I am finishing up my holistic nutrition certification as well. I just finished my last assignment, which included working with my first volunteer client. I’ve already started my exam and have about 100 more questions to go before I’m officially certified! I couldn’t be more thrilled to be completing both of these goals at the same time!
The next step is to start coaching. I have already built the website for my coaching business – Planted Nutrition & Wellness Coaching, and will be launching it the moment my certification is complete. It will be linked here to my news and blog site, and this site will also be linked to my coaching site. They will be sister sites that are fluid and compatible with each other. My Instagram will be changing to focus on coaching, and I will also be launching a YouTube channel this summer. I’m over the moon about all of this forward momentum!
And now for my Vegan month results! I should really call it my plant-based month, because veganism is not necessarily healthy, as it allows foods that are not nutrient-dense as long as they are free of animal products. I eliminated all animal products entirely, all oils, and even caffeine. The worst was definitely the caffeine, because even though I was only drinking one 12 ounce cup per day, I had a couple of days of withdrawals, which included mostly headaches and extreme fatigue.
The first thing I noticed once I made it through the caffeine withdrawal was that my constant low energy level and sleepiness went away, as did my anxiety. By this point in my life my anxiety was well-managed, but I would still get that jittery feeling in my gut over little things that should not have been a big deal. I would dwell on things and feel it in my stomach and my chest. That stopped immediately. The first time something popped up that I should have felt anxious about, I instead felt calm.
My sleep improved pretty much immediately. I might still have nights where I didn’t sleep as well as a I wanted to, but the big difference was that when I had those nights of mediocre sleep, it didn’t ruin my whole day. Before, I could get seven hours of sleep instead of eight, and I would be good for nothing all day long. I would be in a state of grogginess that I couldn’t break out of and just felt awful all day long. Now, I might feel a little on the tired side, but I’m not fatigued or in a fog. My brain still functions well and I can focus…which has been a life changer.
In studying a book for my nutrition cert, which is actually not required reading for the course but I felt would better prepare me to assist people with weight loss, Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fhurman, I learned why:
“Halting stimulating behavior…unmasks the fatigue that was always there. The power reserve in a battery is proportional to its use. The less we use it, the more life it has and the stronger it remains. Likewise, when there is continual stress on your body from stimulating foods and caffeine, it gives the false sensation that we have energy, when actually we are using up our nerve energy faster. This ages us. The fatigue is hidden by the stimulating (aging-inducing) effects of sugar, caffeine, and toxic protein load.”
So as we continually fuel ourselves with caffeine, we are actually depleting the body of its ability to self-regulate its energy levels. The very thing that we are using to try to fuel our energy is actually depleting it at alarming rates. This was shocking to me, because I truly did not think that my one cup of coffee per day would even have an effect, but I had read as I was starting this experiment that even one cup of coffee in the morning could potentially disrupt sleep, and so that is the one reason why I chose to give it up. Now that I have, I realize it’s the thing that has made by and large the biggest difference in my sleep and my energy level, and I will not ever give caffeine that kind of power over my body ever again.
The other major difference I noticed is that my acne cleared. I have had chronic acne since I was 11 years old and first started having periods – which I now know from my studies is too young to start puberty, and increases the risk of developing breast, uterine, or ovarian cancer later in life. Historically, before we were consuming dairy products at alarming rates, puberty happened in later teens, around the same time we would be graduating from high school.
Now, thanks to an influx of hormone-disrupting levels of milk, cheese and ice cream prevalent in the American diet, we are not only seeing puberty at earlier ages, but a significant amount of acne along with it. Dr. Neal Barnard explains that all dairy comes from a pregnant cow, and that a pregnant cow is flooded with estrogen, which we then consume when we eat and drink dairy. Those estrogens are harmful to our health and disruptive to our body’s natural estrogen balance, leading to conditions such as acne, endometriosis, infertility in both women and men, thyroid complications, even reproductive cancers such as breast, uterine and ovarian in women, as well as prostate cancer in men. In fact, dairy is cited as a leading cause of all of those cancers.
I am 90-95% plant-based, meaning I would still have a serving of cheese or so per week. Which was apparently just enough to keep my hormones from being able to come back into balance. It’s the equivalent of a smoker choosing to cut back from two packs a day, to one pack per week, and expecting the damage caused by the habit to heal. Healing cannot occur until we stop damaging ourselves, completely. As long as we continue to fuel the fire, even just a little at a time, it will continue to burn.
For the first time, my skin was clear – aside from some scarring and permanent redness from having acne for 23 of my life. And when the month was over and I had cheese again for the first time in four weeks – the acne immediately came flooding back, after only one serving of cheese.
Another wonderful side effect of cutting out the meat and dairy completely for a month – my period came and went almost unnoticed, with no cramping, no breakouts, no moodiness at all, and no sugar cravings. It’s truly amazing what happens in the female body when we stop engaging in activity that disrupts our hormones.
In Dr. Michael Greger’s book How Not to Die, he talks about how uncomfortable menopausal symptoms like hot flashes do not exist in cultures where dairy consumption is virtually non-existent. Historically in Japan, for example, dairy was not a part of the diet, and in the Japanese language a word for “hot flashes” did not exist – because the condition did not exist. According to the book, an entirely plant-based diet free of all meat and dairy makes for a mostly smooth and seamless transition from our child-bearing years, into menopause, as our hormones are able to “do their thing” naturally without an artificial elevating of estrogens from our diet.
Since this experiment I am now caffeine- and dairy-free, except for on the very, very rare occasion. I learned that these two things were the biggest culprits in the ongoing issues I had, even more-so than the meat and oils. Meat and oils tend to create problems more internally, that are less noticeable until we develop cancer, or chronic conditions such as heart disease, type II diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Often times people don’t even know there is a problem until they have a heart attack or a stroke.
Inflammation is also another major factor, which has been implicated especially in autoimmune conditions. I was lucky enough to have a question answered on The Exam Room, a live broadcast done daily on the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine YouTube channel. Because my grandmother and my boyfriend both have identical types of Non-Hodgkins Lymphomas, cancers that are autoimmune, I asked about the connection between diet and immune system cancers like these.
Dr. Loomis said that unfortunately there have not been a lot of studies done on these cancers and diet, so a lot of detailed information is unknown. However, he suspects that the main link between diet and these cancers is the same as diet and other autoimmune conditions – inflammation. This is something I will be discussing more in a future article, but consumption of meat and oils is also connected to this silent condition within the body, as is dairy, caffeine, alcohol, and sugar.
I am still occasionally having some meat or seafood, but I also am now eating more leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, fresh fruits and legumes than I ever have, and I feel better than I ever have. My energy is higher than it’s been since childhood, my mood is good almost all of the time, I feel consistently motivated and productive more than I ever have, and I made it through a time of extreme stress during the month of April without anxiety. Most importantly – I am sleeping so much better!
It started as an experiment to find the secret behind my poor sleep, and ended with positive changes that will last me a lifetime.