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Beating Lupus: A Plant-Based Journey to Wellness

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February 26, 2014

by Janet Beckman, NW VEG Volunteer

Janet and her son, Quintin, are two of our favorite volunteers who have been involved in a number of Northwest VEG events. Read on about how Janet has successfully treated her lifelong battle with lupus with a vegan diet. This article has been reprinted with permission by Vegan Health and Fitness Magazine.

A few years ago I was given the best news-I was in remission and the likelihood that I would get sick again was really low. This gave me hope-something I previously was afraid to have. The reason is that I was diagnosed with lupus when I was 12 and it had been aggressive. Iíd struggled with this disease and its effect on my body for most of my life. In fact, when I was originally diagnosed, it wasnít expected that I would make it past high school. From the age of 12 up until my early 20ís I spent a fair amount of time in hospitals and doctorís offices receiving various treatments. My health had started to improve after becoming a vegetarian at age 19, but I still had lingering effects from the disease, mostly fatigue, joint and muscle pain, and chronic illness and infections. I just assumed this was what my life was like and I just dealt with it.

Upon hearing this great news-I felt like I had been given a second chance. Anyone with a chronic illness can understand the feeling of being cautious-fearful of doing too much or being the cause of another flair-up. So I grew up not testing my body, knowing its tendency to fail me if I did. Having good health wasnít something I had a concept of-yet. Now I felt as if I could, at almost 40 years old, start to live my life. It was like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon. I made the goal of running a half marathon before my 40th birthday and started training. As someone whoíd never been allowed to take a PE class or be on a sport team, it was a new experience for me. But I did what I could and I finished the half marathon. It wasnít pretty, but I did it. My journey had started.

However, I still felt like I was missing something. I had, for the first time in my life, gained weight and was feeling uncomfortable with myself and started searching for that magic bullet that so many of us seek. I happened upon the documentary Forks over Knives and something about it made sense. It was like all of the things Iíd had questions about were finally answered. So I started researching the movie to see how I could make this work for me. The idea of my issues- weight gain, IBS, joint pain, headaches and insomnia, going away by simply changing my diet was something I was excited about. Now I just had to find something I could follow and luckily I found that when I read about Dr. John McDougall. I researched everything I could about him and his program and it just made sense to me. So I bought his book, 12 Days to Dynamic Health, and made a plan to start May 1st, 2012.

The plan was easy-the book really does it for you with menu plans and recipes. I cleaned out my kitchen and started stocking it with staples that I didnít have already. Along the way, I went into Whole Foods for some of the items I was less familiar with. Upon asking about oil free products, I was directed to a wonderful program there called Health Starts Here that promotes healthy eating and provides support with cooking demonstrations, supper clubs, and other activities headed by their Healthy Eating Specialists. I can credit a good part of my success to my lovely friend, Leslie Otto, who is the Healthy Eating Specialist at my local Whole Foods because of the support, community, and friendship that I received by becoming a part of this wonderful group. Her guidance and willingness to suffer through my endless questions continues to be invaluable.

Armed with my new found knowledge, I started my plant based journey May 1, 2012. I made simple meals that consisted of mostly oats, potatoes, and vegetables with the determination to stick with the 12 days. The 12 days went by quickly and I branched out to try more recipes and more variety, always sticking to the basics of the McDougall program which is a low-fat plant based diet that centers around starch. This was by far the easiest plan I could follow and making this change really was effortless. I had to learn how to let go of calorie counting and my fear of the potato, but eating until you are full and filling up on carbs has been very liberating. This became my lifestyle and not a diet. Several amazing things started to happen. First, I started to lose weight. I wasnít even trying. Then my other health issues all started to fade. The months started going by and I learned more about cooking and realized I had found my magic bullet. So I decided to do 2 things. The first was getting a physical. Knowing my past, Iíve always been worried about getting labs, but I was excited for this one. Turns out my labs were so good that Iíve got nothing to be concerned about for the first time in my life. The second thing I did was get a fitness assessment at the gym to get a baseline and motivation. Turns out my results there were what were expected in someone far more active than I currently was. Coincidence? I didn't think so.

My story isn't complete yet. I am still a work in progress. I still have so many things Iíd like to challenge myself with, both physically and culinary. Iím excited to finally feel like I might know what being healthy feels like. My stack of cookbooks and recipes continues to grow. Iíve been lucky enough to meet Rip Essylstyn, Mary and John McDougall, and so many others. I have the motivation to be better in all aspects of my life and I hope at some point I can help inspire others as so many have inspired me.

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