Why I Will Never Go Back to a Vegetarian Diet

Candice Billings, Certified Holistic Nutritionist

Like the majority of Americans, I grew up in a household where eating meat and dairy was a normal part of our daily meals.  We had eggs with bacon or cereal with milk for breakfast.  We had deli sandwiches with potato chips for lunch.  For dinner it was chicken with mashed potatoes, or something of that sort.  We also had no shortage of soda, frozen treats, and other sugary or salty foods to snack on between meals.

I ate this way every day for the first half of my life and for as long as I can remember, I have suffered from intense gastrointestinal (GI) or digestive problems.  The symptoms would come on randomly after eating a meal.  I would have sharp pains in my digestive tract and feel extremely bloated, or I would be nauseous after eating.  Most of the time after eating I would also feel extremely fatigued.

I went to see different doctors throughout my childhood and my mother even had to take me to the emergency room a number of times because my stomach was in so much pain.  But even with having tests, scans, and blood work done no doctor was ever able to diagnose me or find anything wrong.

Although I did grow up in a household where meat was served at most meals, I never really enjoyed eating meat.  As I grew older I significantly cut meat out of my diet until I eventually was completely vegetarian.  I lived on a vegetarian diet for several years and I really thought that I was eating as healthy as I could.  But during this time my symptoms of pain and bloating, nausea and fatigue never went away.

A couple of years ago I decided to go see a new doctor because my pain was becoming more and more frequent.  This doctor recommended I have a colonoscopy procedure done so they could check for any abnormalities in my colon that could be causing my symptoms.  After my procedure my doctor told me that he was very surprised to have found a polyp inside my colon and he removed it and sent it off to be tested.  A polyp is an abnormal growth of tissue that grows inside the body that usually does not show any signs or symptoms and can go years without being detected.

After the results came back from the lab my doctor had me come back in for a follow-up appointment.  I was told that the tissue removed from my colon was pre-cancerous, which means that it was an early sign of colon cancer in my body.  If it would not have been removed it had the potential to turn into colon cancer.  My doctor told me I would need to have a colonoscopy every 3-5 years for the rest of my life in order to make sure pre-cancerous tissue does not come back.  As for the pain, bloating, and nausea I was suffering?  He was unable to diagnose me with anything, but wrote me a prescription for a pill I could take every day that would relax my colon to hopefully prevent pain.   That was the end of my appointment.

After this appointment I felt both startled and defeated.  Here I was, in my 20’s and already showing early signs of colon cancer.  It seemed to me like there was nothing I could do about it.  I would have to have screenings every 3-5 years just hoping that I didn’t develop this deadly disease.  This was terrifying.  I also felt defeated that once again, they were not able to find any reason for my stomach pain, so I would continue to have to live with that as well.

For the next few months I continued my regular life, including my eating habits of a vegetarian diet.  At this time I was studying public health in school, specifically about nutrition.  I was researching information for a paper I was writing and I happened to come across a book called The China Study.  This book caught my eye because it read on the cover “The most comprehensive study on nutrition ever conducted”.  This statement seemed very interesting to me and although I didn’t really know what to expect, I purchased the book and read it cover to cover.  I was blown away by the information!  This book taught me how important the relationship is between the foods you put into your body and the outcome of your health.  I continued digging deeper and found even more books with evidence-based nutrition studies that prove how the relationship between consuming meat and dairy promote not only colon and other cancerous growth, but heart disease, diabetes, obesity and tons of other diseases.

At this time, I was still on a vegetarian diet.  But like many vegetarians, dairy was a big part of my diet.  I also ate eggs for breakfast most days.  After reading this research I decided to try a completely plant-based diet and eliminate all animal products from my meals.

Within 1 week I was already feeling positive effects from changing my diet.  My energy and mood improved significantly.  So much so, that some people even commented on my energy level and I had not even told them I made any dietary changes!  Within 3 weeks I did not suffer from any more stomach pain.  No more bloating, no more nausea, no more fatigue!   A lifetime of living with these symptoms and no doctor was able to find anything wrong with me.  I removed dairy and within weeks I am cured of these symptoms!

I am sharing this story with you because I am hoping to spread a positive public health message.  We are told our entire lives that we need meat and dairy in our diet, when in fact, it is just not true.  At one point in time people thought that smoking cigarettes was harmless, and now we all know that smoking increases your risk for developing lung cancer.  The same exact thing holds true for consuming animal products.  There are hundreds upon thousands of evidence-based studies that prove animal products promote disease but fruits and vegetables prevent, treat, and have the ability to reverse disease.  I don’t think the message could be any clearer!  I don’t want you to just take my word for it, do your own research, or even just try to limit meat and dairy and incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet and see how you feel.  Like many people, I thought that I was eating a healthy diet and I had no idea the damage I was doing to my body.

If you are thinking about changing to a plant-based lifestyle but have no idea where to start, feel free to reach out to me through our website at radiantlifeproject.org.

As always, thank you for reading and allowing me to share my story with you.

-Candice

Books I have read and think you should read too:

  • The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted And the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, And Long-term Health
  • How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease
  • Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure
  • Keep It Simple, Keep It Whole: Your Guide To Optimum Health
  • Proteinaholic: How Our Obsession with Meat Is Killing Us and What We Can Do About It

IMG_3785Candice is a certified holistic nutritionist focusing on a plant based lifestyle. After battling years of pain and discomfort she was able to cure herself with a plant based lifestyle and is determined to spread awareness to others.  She is also a yoga practitioner, MPH student, urban garden volunteer, and a loving cat momma.

Is a Plant Based Diet Too Difficult?

A plant based diet?  I know what you are thinking; you are going to be living off of carrot sticks, celery, and lettuce.  You will never feel satisfied after a meal.  You need meat and dairy for essential nutrients, such as protein and calcium in order to maintain optimal health.  But this could not be further from the truth!

A plant based diet can be as strict or as lenient as you choose it to be.  Adding just a serving of spinach or 1 apple to your diet per day has been shown to decrease your risk for certain diseases!  However, the more plants you incorporate into your daily meals and the less meat and dairy you consume will have the best outcome for your health and prevent chronic disease.

Think switching to a plant based diet is too difficult?  In all honesty it does not have to be, but it can seem difficult depending on your current lifestyle.  If you think about it, you have probably been eating a Standard American Diet for most of your life.  You were probably told that milk builds strong bones and you need meat for protein, and other nutrition misinformation.  If you are now asked to cut out the very foods your diet has been centered on this can leave you feeling frustrated and wondering what you are supposed to eat.  Good thing there are plenty of easy recipes that can help you make a transition and start a healthier lifestyle today!

If you are curious about transitioning to a plant based diet, or you are ready to add some plant based meals into your current diet then the following are some very simple recipes that I eat most days.  It does not have to be difficult.  It can be as simple as trading your bacon and eggs for some hearty oatmeal or opting out of chicken or steak fajitas and instead piling on the veggies!

I start every morning off with a fruit smoothie so I will begin my day with about 1 ½ servings of fruit to boost my energy.  Did you know that berries have the highest amount of antioxidants compared to most any other food?  And may help to prevent diseases such as cancer and heart disease?  Bring on the berries!  I also add 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed to my smoothie because it is extremely good for you.  Flaxseed has been shown to not only protect against high blood pressure but also to prevent and treat breast cancer.

Berry & Banana Smoothie

1 banana

½ cup of mixed berries

1 handful of spinach or kale

1-2 tbsp. of ground flax seed

Add Water or your choice of dairy free milk (cashew milk, almond milk, or soy milk)

smoothie

I usually get hungry for something a little heartier in the mid-morning.  I keep oatmeal with me at work and at home so I always have access to a healthy and satisfying breakfast.  Oatmeal is good for you because it provides your body much needed fiber as well as help to prevent heart disease.

Hearty Bowl of Oats

½ cup dry oatmeal

Add hot water

Dash of cinnamon (if desired)

2 tsp of chia seeds

1 handful of fruit and nut trail mix, or any nut such as almonds or walnuts

Top with unsweetened shredded coconut (if desired)

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If I am hungry before lunch I will reach for a handful of nuts and seeds.  I like almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds.  Not only are nuts and seeds an inexpensive source of protein they are a good source of healthy fats.  They have also been shown to protect the body against cancer growth and lower the risk of heart disease.

Lunch time is when I try to get my large serving of greens for the day.  Most days my lunch will consist of a bed of greens with choice of beans, choice of grain, and topped with whatever veggies I have leftover in the fridge.  Did you know that spinach is high in antioxidants and protects against several different types of cancer?   It is also a good source for protein, and can reduce the risk for anxiety and depression.  Beans are also an excellent source of protein.  I usually add chickpeas to my every day salad.  Chickpeas specifically have been shown to lower cholesterol and to prevent and treat diabetes.

Greens, Beans, and Grains Salad

2 cups of dark green leafy vegetable of choice

Add veggies of choice (carrots, broccoli, tomato, cucumber, zucchini etc)

½ cup of grain of choice (brown rice, quinoa etc)

½ bean of choice (chickpeas, black beans etc)

Choose a salad dressing without oil.  I usually make my own dressing by mixing horseradish mustard with white wine vinegar and a little agave nectar to sweeten and then mix to the right consistency.

I will usually get hungry again in the late afternoon before dinner.  I always take a piece of whole fruit with me to work, or else I will bring a bowl of fresh berries to snack on.  One of my favorite and most convenient snacks to keep with me during the day is an apple.  Apples have so many health benefits including lowering your risk for heart disease as well as providing your body with much needed fiber.  Apples have also been shown to increase energy and improve your mood, which is why I try to eat one when I am starting to feel a little sluggish on a mid-afternoon workday.

Dinner time is when I like to experiment with new recipes if I have time.  I have about 5 go-to recipes that I make if I am short on time and veggie fajitas is one of them.  I like to use bell peppers, onion, mushroom, and zucchini, but you can use any type of vegetable that you wish. Pile on the fresh salsa and add fresh avocado slices or guacamole to make it even yummier!

The benefits of including a variety of vegetables in your daily diet are endless. But it has been shown that eating a large variety of vegetables daily lowers your risk for Type 2 diabetes, a disease that is currently on the rise due to the Standard American Diet.

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Veggie Fajitas with Fresh Salsa and Avocado

1 zucchini chopped

2 bell peppers chopped

½ white or yellow onions chopped

5 white or baby bella mushrooms sliced

Whole grain tortillas (Stacey’s Organic Tortillas are Vegan)

Chili powder

Cumin

Garlic Powder

Vegetable broth

Lightly sauté mushrooms and zucchini in a pan with vegetable broth. (Just enough so the veggies don’t stick)  Add garlic powder and pinch of salt and pepper to taste.

In separate pan lightly sauté peppers and onions with vegetable broth (Just enough so the veggies don’t stick) Add cumin, chili powder, and pinch of salt and pepper to taste.

When veggies are tender to your liking take off heat and add them to a whole grain or corn tortilla.  Top with fresh salsa and avocado if desired.

You can also make a side dish seasoned of black beans and brown rice if desired.

As you can see a plant based lifestyle does not have to be difficult or leave you feeling unsatisfied.  These recipes are not only easy but they all took me under 30 minutes to make and left me feeling full.   Adding more servings of fruits and vegetables to your current diet will not only make you feel more energized, it has countless advantages for your health!  I hope I was able to introduce you to some new ideas for replacing even 1 of your current daily meals.

Thank you for reading and stay posted for more tips on living a whole health lifestyle!

-Candice

To see me making all of these recipes click HERE