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  • Writer's pictureCynthia Chin-Lee

My bumpy road to a plant-based diet

Updated: Jun 11



Although I did become a vegan overnight, I don’t want my conversion to a plant-based diet to look easy. It wasn’t. Before my cancer, I tried many times to go vegetarian (not even vegan) in the last two decades. Remember that vegetarians (unlike vegans) eat dairy and eggs. A few people have mentioned to me that they would not give up cheese as why they won’t even try being plant-based, and I get that. Cheese (and meat and seafood) are tasty. And most of us grew up in a culture filled with dairy, meat, seafood and processed food.


I wanted to be plant-based before I actually had the will to go plant-based. Let’s start in 2011 when the documentary Forks Over Knives came out. The movie shows that many illnesses, from obesity to cancer, can be prevented and treated through a whole foods plant-based diet. It took some of its data from the book The China Study (2005) by Professor T. Colin Campbell of Cornell University in which he compared disease rates in 65 counties in China over 20 years. The counties where the people are primarily plant-eaters had the lowest mortality rates due to diseases such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, and many kinds of cancer.



After seeing the documentary, I tried going pescatarian, eating fish, fruits, vegetables and grains. (Not to be confused with being Presbyterian, which I am as well!) I also continued having eggs and dairy products, including milk, yogurt and cheese. I tried this for almost 9 months. By 9 months, I was sluggish and made an appointment to see my internist at Stanford. She ordered a few blood tests; nothing in the tests showed there was anything wrong with me. Then she told me, “Start eating meat again.”


FAIL! First Attempt In Learning. Although I admired and tried to emulate my vegan and vegetarian friends and coworkers, I didn’t succeed at even eating pescatarian. And I admit that my husband and kids were still munching their McDonalds and mac n’ cheese.


I tried other strategies; eat vegetarian when I went to restaurants. After all, those professional chefs can cook a lot better than I can. But I don’t actually eat out that much and overall, it is safer, less expensive and healthier to eat in. According to nutritional studies, frequently ordering takeout or dining out at a restaurant increases your risk of dying from any cause by nearly 50%. [1] Honestly, my budget can’t take eating out that much although I think I might enjoy it.


I tried the reverse, too. Eat only meat and seafood when I go to restaurants so I wouldn’t have to prepare raw meat and seafood. That seemed more practical. And if you’re still on the fence about eating plant-based, that may be an effective strategy for eating less meat, seafood, and dairy. Good for your health and good for the planet. Raising seafood and livestock takes a big toll on our planet in terms of water, fuel, and land use. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine says that meat and dairy contribute to the climate crisis while plant-based diets help protect the planet [2].


 

Where did that leave me? I was still just a wannabe vegan...I personally couldn't do it; I just felt anemic.

 

Where did that leave me? I was still just a wannabe vegan and I looked up in awe at those healthy, caring people, people who loved and protected animals. I personally couldn’t do it; I just felt anemic.


Then in March 2021, I got my cancer diagnosis. Bam! I became vegan overnight. When you have a gun to your head, it’s actually not that hard. Ha. I really don’t wish cancer, stroke, or heart attack on anyone, so just eat a little more veggies and a lot more fruit if you can. Your path to eating more healthily may be bumpy, but know that the path was filled with obstacles for me, too.


It’s 2024 now and I fully embrace the plant-based diet, especially since my non-invasive treatments (low-protein plant-based diet with supplements/nutraceuticals and hormone therapy) sent my cancer into remission. All without the need for surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Doctors be damned. Now I understand why my yoga teacher, fellow cancer thriver, and friend Joy Lee said that cancer would be a gift. I certainly didn’t feel that way when I got the news. But cancer was enough to scare me into changing; it was a catalyst for personal transformation.


So no meat, seafood, eggs, nor dairy. Do I miss them? Not really. For me the hardest part is social acceptance. The worst part is when people have said things like, “We didn’t include you in the dinner because we didn’t want you to feel bad when we ate meat and seafood.” That has happened to me. And my friend Joanna said she gave up being plant-based because her friends didn’t know what to serve her at parties.


Personally, I’m fine with other people eating what they want and I’m happy to bring my own food. Now I’ve started socializing with more plant-based people. My friend Ann M. invited me to a potluck for plant-based, oil-free dishes and I was so happy not to have to “defend” my choices. If you want to meet more plant-based people, go to meetup.com and put “vegan” in the search field. At one of those vegan potlucks, I met the joyful Esther Lebeck Loveridge, author of From Donuts to Potatoes, who has thousands on her Facebook page, Esther’s Nutritional Journey. If you’re on Facebook, look her up.






Du Y, Rong S, Sun Y, et al. Association between frequency of eating away-from-home meals and risk of all-cause and cause-specific mortality. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2021;S2212-2672(21)00059-9. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2021.01.012




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