Meridith Hayden Shares Her Journey To Size 6 And Healthy Iron Levels – All On a Diet She Rates Off-the-Scale Wonderful
Meridith Hayden always had thoughtful comments on my Facebook posts. We “met” on this networking site, and Meridith shared her odyssey of losing 80 pounds and numerous health problems simply through an enjoyable change in her diet. In her twenties, she had already experienced chest pains, shortness of breath, and low iron levels when she was consuming a typical American diet. But that all changed for her in 2007.
Meridith’s story exemplifies how wonderful whole foods, plant-based diets are and how pervasive food myths keep people eating dangerous foods. This young woman lives in Indianapolis, where she works as a librarian and serves as an enthusiastic spokeswoman for health through better food choices. Here she answers some questions I sent her so everyone can benefit from her success.
What kinds of foods did you grow up eating?
Lots of fast food and meals from boxes. My mom was a working single parent and she did cook regularly but there was a lot of convenience food. Much to my disdain, my mom would try to get me to eat fruits and vegetables at every meal. I was a picky eater and never developed a taste for things like eggs or steak but I also didn’t eat a lot of sugary foods and I never drank soda.
What kinds of foods do you eat now?
I eat a whole foods, plant-based (vegan) diet. I love vegetables! And fruits, grains, nuts and beans. I do enjoy an occasional sweet treat, usually something involving dark chocolate and/or peanut butter.
When did you change your diet?
I transitioned to a vegan diet in the summer of 2007 and gradually eliminated many processed foods a year or so later.
What made you change your diet?
I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. My weight (and stress levels) had steadily increased since I left high school and continued to rise through my undergrad and grad school years. Fast food and packaged foods were my go-to because I had little time to cook. I believe stress led me to frequently overindulge in sugary and salty snacks.
I would frequently wake up throughout the night with chest pains and shortness of breath. I got sick often. I stopped looking at the scale once it passed 210 pounds. My blood pressure and triglyceride levels were consistently high, which was frightening because I have a family history of stroke and heart disease. During my final semester of graduate school I came down with tonsillitis, leaving me out of commission for a little over a week. It was during that time that I decided I needed to make a change.
I had dabbled in vegetarianism off and on since high school and got interested in Community Supported Agriculture and local foods around 2005-06. Around that time I met someone who was vegan for “ethical reasons” and not knowing about the distinction I started to read anything I could find at the library to get a better understanding. Books like Mad Cowboy by Howard Lyman and Gail Eisnitz’s book Slaughterhouse were very influential.
Browsing vegan cookbooks inspired and encouraged me to give this new way of eating a try. I went vegan after viewing the documentary Earthlings. That was the final straw. Fortunately, doing that research and having supportive friends made the transition relatively pain-free.
I admit early on I had a couple of slip-ups, or moments of weakness, and bought a fast food burger and chicken “nuggets” but when I thought about why I bought them — it was cheap, quick and familiar — I couldn’t finish them.
What changes have you seen in your health and weight after you changed your diet?
I am lactose intolerant and before going vegan continued to eat dairy, despite the stomach discomfort and headaches. Fortunately, those days are long gone.
My seasonal allergies that used to require medication barely bother me. My blood pressure, triglyceride and cholesterol levels are within the normal range. My iron levels are good so I can donate blood; prior to going vegan my levels were often below the required minimum.
Most noticeable is my weight loss: Since going vegan I gradually lost 80 pounds and size-wise, I went from a size 16 to a 6, depending on the brand. And according to my boyfriend, my personality has become more positive. I used to have a very negative attitude, and while I still have cranky days, I feel I’m better able to see the good in people.
How much do you enjoy a diet based on whole plant foods?
I absolutely love this way of eating! On a scale of one to ten I’d say 11.
What keeps you going with your current food choices?
First, I love this way of eating and I enjoy cooking — something I rarely did previously, so despite those early slip-ups there has been no temptation to “cheat.” Second, if I resumed my old way of eating the discomforts from dairy, bloating from overeating, and the silent creeping of cholesterol and blood pressure would return. Hardly any incentive to go back.
Finally, after learning about the awful conditions animals raised for food endure and the physical and emotional traumas slaughterhouse workers are put through there’s no way I can erase that information and resume eating animal products.
Why is it important for people to eat a diet based on whole plant foods?
Plant-based whole foods diets can be healthful, delicious, and economical. People often assume “vegan food” is tasteless, and I have had some kitchen disasters and eaten less than desirable meals at restaurants, but the problem is the person’s familiarity and interest in cooking, not the food itself.
Additionally, I’ve found that my food bill isn’t ridiculously expensive. I went vegan during a time where I didn’t (and still don’t) have much expendable income, but I’ve found that buying in bulk, and sticking to the perimeter of a traditional grocery store where most of the fresh foods are located have been helpful. I also don’t eat out that often, mainly because the vegan food options are very limited where I live.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Experiment with cooking. There are so many vegan food blogs, websites, zines and cookbooks that range from cooking with minimal equipment to fancy affairs. Try out a few recipes and share the tasty results with friends, family and co-workers.
Finally, I want to mention that I came to this way of eating initially through an ethical perspective and have viewed my subsequent weight loss and improvements in aspects of my health as a wonderful perk.
At the same time I’ve come to understand that I used food to stifle or repress emotions. In a weird way I feel fortunate to have had these experiences relatively early on in my life and gradually losing weight has been a soul-searching process.
All I can advise is to love yourself at any size and surround yourself with people who love you for who you are and project positive, loving energy. Additionally, turn off the television and stop reading those insidious health and lifestyle magazines!
Intrigued? Now you can use our Whole Foods Blog Finder to target informative, fun postings on plant-based nutrition. Quick information at no cost!
Blog posting by Janice Stanger, Ph.D. Janice authored The Perfect Formula Diet: How to Lose Weight and Get Healthy Now With Six Kinds of Whole Foods. This easy-to-follow eating plan is built on sustainable food choices that can prevent, and even reverse, most chronic disease.