I have to start off by saying that I have never liked meat. Being a vegetarian was something that just came naturally to me. Except for the fact that I was the worst vegetarian ever. I didn’t eat meat, but that doesn’t mean I ate healthy. Being a vegetarian didn’t mean I only ate vegetables. I ate nothing put pasta, pasta, and oh yeah… pasta.
My culinary expertise went as far as boxed macaroni and cheese. I could boil water, cook pasta for 10 minutes, and then add the powdered cheese and milk. Honestly what else did I need to know? It was quick, easy, cheap, and kept me full for the evening.
Rewind to October 24, 2011. I woke up after having one of the best birthdays I’ve had in a while. I drank wine all day with my brother and went out to dinner with my cousin and her (now) husband. It was the Olive Garden, my favorite restaurant ever. (Pasta anyone?) We had great conversation, ate good food, and drank more wine. For me, that was the perfect way to spend a birthday.
That morning I woke up with the worst stomach ache I have ever had in my life. I usually don’t have issues with my stomach, so this caused a bit of alarm. But here I figured “Well I’m 27 now, I must be old and my body is telling me I can’t drink like that anymore”. I waited out the day but the stomach ache never went away. Finally after complaining about the pain to my brother, he handed me a couple Pepto Bismol tablets and told me that would make me feel better. It did. I could feel the pain break up and disappear. I thought my problem was solved.
If only I knew back then that was just the start of everything. As time went on I started to get stomach aches whenever I ate really acidic foods like orange juice and tomato sauce. It hurt after drinking alcohol and coffee. I got frustrated and after 2 months I finally did some research on what could possibly be ailing me. I came across articles about “heart burn” and “acid reflux”.
That started my rounds of Prilosec. I would be on medication for a while, then I would be off for a while. I’d feel better then I’d feel worse. It didn’t matter what I ate I got to the point where I always felt like crap. My upper abdomen became tender to touch and I was uncomfortable all the time.
The whole time I was blaming myself. “I must have ate something to do this to myself.” “If only I didn’t like wine so much then maybe I wouldn’t hurt all the time!!” The self blame got worse when I finally went to see a GI specialist and they told me I had acid reflux because I was fat.
Yes, I had ballooned up to 143 lbs. I wasn’t in the habit of weighing myself, but I had gained at least 10 lbs since the year began. During this whole saga I felt that the only food I could eat that would keep my stomach from hurting too bad was pasta with alfredo sauce and white bread. I was depressed, fat, angry, and hurting.
Oh and complaining all the time. To anyone who would listen. Looking back now I feel horrible for my friends who had to listen to me go on and on about this. I just was so upset all the time and I didn’t know what else to do. Finally one of my friends said to me “Jill, there are very few things that can’t be fixed by diet and exercise.”
I took that to heart. I needed to change, and medication wasn’t going to help me with my problem. It took over a year to figure this out and it was time to work on getting better. So I started to exercise and I started to cook.
I picked up a cookbook I had for many years but never used. It was called “The Moosewood Cookbook”. Supposedly a famous vegetarian cookbook that I received as a gift from Secret Santa at work during a time where people only knew me as being “that vegetarian girl”. I never thought I would use it. I didn’t know how to cook anything but pasta and this book was very intimidating. Recipes that take 40+ minutes to prepare?! No thanks!
For whatever reason I picked up this book and I found the most simple recipe I could: Eggplant Curry (pictured above, my first home cooked meal!) I took one bite of this dish and I was hooked. I could actually make something that tasted good! I honestly couldn’t believe how easy it was. After what felt like a lifetime of macaroni and cheese this was some sort of miracle!
While this was going on, my GI doctor finally admitted it was time to look into other sources of my discomfort. If it truly was acid reflux, the medication should make me feel better. Instead I was just getting worse. She sent me for an ultrasound of my abdomen. My symptoms were pointing to gallstones.
Results of my ultrasound came quick. I didn’t have gallstones. I did however, have an enlarged liver. It appeared that my liver was storing fatty deposits instead of healthy liver tissue. I started out with one problem, and ended up with two!! Blood tests confirmed that I had medium high cholesterol. I continued to feel worse, and I had more questions and zero answers.
At this point I was done being depressed, and ready to tackle this like a new challenge. I tried to figure out how I could lower my cholesterol and reducing the amount of animal products I ate came to mind. Where else do you get cholesterol in your diet? I couldn’t think of anything other than the copious amounts of cheese I was eating. I also remembered this book I saw many months ago that I just happened to flip through:
Chloe’s Kitchen, by Chloe Coscarelli http://www.chefchloe.com
A cookbook on how to cook comfort foods the vegan way. Normally that wouldn’t have interested me, but this page caught my eye:
Fettucine Alfredo without any heavy cream? Without cheese?! I was dying to try this! I bought this book and started cooking out of it right away. I automatically started to feel better once I started to cook my own meals. Was it possible that processed food was causing my pain?!
I love Chloe’s book and all her recipes are delicious. Even so, a lot of them are cooked with oil and I was looking to try to cut down on the amount of fat I was eating even more. (I thought that fat deposits in the liver may be because I ate too much fat…) It was the new year, so of course all the book shelves were full of diet books and healthy eating cookbooks. I would hover around them and kind of look, but nothing seemed to be just right.
That was, until my best friend pointed this book out to me:
The Happy Herbivore, by Lindsay Nixon http://www.happyherbivore.com
She thought the title was cute. I zoomed right in on the “fat free and low fat” vegan recipes. I flipped through the book and it was everything I was looking for.
I got to cooking out of both cookbooks and noticed that as time went on I finally started to feel better. My stomach pains were reduced, and there were some days I actually woke up without feeling like crap! I couldn’t believe the change I saw in myself. I was less bloated, had more energy, and noticed my mood was much better than it had ever been. And it turns out that I was actually somewhat good at cooking! I couldn’t believe it.
Over time though, my stomach pains came back. The tenderness in my abdomen came back. Finally the doctor said to me “I’m not convinced it isn’t your gallbladder” and I was sent in for more tests. I got a call a week later and was told my gallbladder was functioning at 10%, and that 35% is the lowest they will allow a gallbladder to stay. I had to have mine removed.
Within a few weeks I had the surgery and was healing. Everything happened so fast for me. I noticed the difference right away when I was awake from the surgery. The stomach pain was finally gone!
After the surgery people asked me if I would go back to eating animal products again and I really thought that the whole vegan thing would be a phase for me. It helped me through until I had surgery but I really missed cheese. And yogurt. And butter!
I went back to eating all those things, but I always kept coming back to my cookbooks. I really enjoyed all the food I made while I was eating vegan. I also thought about how it helped me deal with my stomach pains until the doctors were able to figure out what was wrong with me. Plus, I lost at least 10 lbs. since the beginning of the new year. I was feeling great! Why would I want to give that all up?
Now I continue to follow a (mostly) vegan diet. I eat animal products if someone makes something for me. But whenever I have a choice, I always choose to eat vegan. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
If you are considering going vegan, or incorporating vegan meals into your diet, I say go for it! I suffered for a year and a half before I finally found some relief from my pain. It was a horrible experience to go through, but it really opened my eyes to my health and how to take control of it. For that I’m glad. I was introduced to a whole new world of cooking and healthy eating.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go back 🙂