Welcome to this episode of Living Meatless Tales, featuring author and educator Rachel Joy Olsen.
Each week, you will be inspired as you are taken on an adventure of transformation and understanding as each one of our weekly guests share their experience of making the switch to a plant-based lifestyle and inspiring others to do the same.
In this episode I, Rachel Joy Olsen, will share with you my personal journey to Living Meatless as I have had many of you ask me how and why I chose this lifestyle.
A little about me…
I have been working in the heath and fitness industry for almost 20 years and have a great passion for inspiring people to embrace a healthier, more compassionate way of life.
I have been through may of my own struggles with body image, weight management and finding my way in this life so I feel that the lessons I have learned can be used to help others reach their goals.
I currently teach fitness and yoga classes, coach one-on-one clients in nutrition and lifestyle, am the author of the Living Meatless blog, Morgan’s Journey, The Magic of Living Nutrition, MeatLESS and I am working on two new books.
I am a huge advocate for the ethical treatment of animals and helping people not only love each other but themselves, all living beings and the environment.
Please join me as I share with you my journey of Living Meatless…
If you have ever thought of going vegan then you have probably been asked these questions:
Why would you want to go vegan?
Are you crazy?
Where will you get your protein?
You’re going to be sick!
These are all questions and statements that I heard when I first decided to embrace a plant-based lifestyle. If you have ever thought about going vegan or have made the switch you have probably heard many of these same things.
I won’t deny it…making this decision and actually flowing through was not always easy but it has been one of the best decisions I have made in my life.
Here, I share my story, why I chose to go vegan and why I am now writing this blog for you. I know that if I inspire even one person it’s all been worth it!
Where It All Began
For as long as I can remember food has been a significant part of my life. My paternal grandmother and maternal great grandmother were fabulous cooks and loved to have a freezer full of treats just in case company decided to drop in for a visit.
As far as my grandmothers were concerned it just wouldn’t be right to have people over without serving something sweet.
Every Sunday, and special occasions, my family would get together, usually at my grandparents’ house for a nice meal. The traditional meal would be a large beef roast with mashed potatoes, creamed corn, some other kind of creamed vegetable like green beans, a small salad, fresh buns topped with butter and of course an assortment of baked treats for dessert.
Even though my diet has changed significantly, my mouth still waters when I think about these meals. Not only was the food delicious it was also a very happy time.
Everyone sat around the table and talked about their day, what was going on in their lives, and the room was always full of love. We would eat until we could not eat any more. Often we were so full all we could do is waddle to the closest couch or bed and take a nap.
Two hours later my grandmother would be calling us back to the table to nibble on an assortment of mixed nuts, chocolates, and more baked desserts. I am positive that this was how Grandma showed her love.
And love us she did! We never went away hungry. The chocolate mahogany cakes slathered with brown sugar icing, homemade sugar cookies, and melted cheese buns were some of my favourites.
These foods always filled my belly and soul with a sense of warmth, love, and security. Let the emotional eating commence!
The sense of comfort and security I gained from eating sweet or rich foods like candy, baked goods and cheese as a child followed me through my teen years and well into my late twenties.
Food was my friend.
For me a fun night consisted of a movie, a dinner full of cheese and some other heavy food and all the yummy treats, such as candy, chocolate and baked goods I could eat.
Unfortunately, anytime I was sad and angry I would turn to food for comfort, eating everything I could find in the fridge and cupboards.
Anything sweet and sugary, especially baked goods that reminded me of my grandmother were my top choice. If it had sugar in it, I loved it!
Food would then quickly become my enemy as I rolled on the ground in pain or passed out from a sugar coma.
In my early to mid-twenties I began to realize I had a problem. My binges were becoming more and more frequent and my addiction to sugar was similar to a drug addiction. I went through physical and emotional withdrawal if I didn’t have a hit of sugar various times throughout the day.
I will never forget one day when I realized I had a problem with emotional eating and binge eating disorder. I had an exceptionally stressful day at work, I had a fight with my boyfriend at the time and came home to an empty house. My roommate was still at work. I began to rummage through the cupboards, eating everything I could find in a box or bag including crackers, cookies and candy.
I then moved to the fridge and found ice cream, bread to make toast and peanut butter, and more. I continued to eat until I could feel the food right at the bottom of my throat. I was so full I was going to throw up. I knew I had overdone it so I went to lie down on the bed to allow my stomach to settle. I felt sicker and sicker. My stomach was so full I felt like it was literally going to burst open.
All I could think was, “what have I done? This is bad.” Then the guilt set in. I kept thinking, “how could I have done this to myself. Why can’t I stop this? Why I am I so weak? When will I ever learn?” These thoughts flooded my mind.
At that point I thought the only way to reverse this situation was to throw it all up. I peeled myself off the bed and slowly made my way into the bathroom. I kneeled in front of the toilet, lifted the lid and began to talk myself into sticking my fingers down my throat and bring all the food and calories I had just inhaled back up. I always hated the feeling of getting sick so I was dreading what I was about to do.
I took my pointer and index finger and gently placed them in the back of my throat. Nothing. A little further and I gagged but nothing came up. Again, I gagged. This wasn’t working. I thought that maybe if I drank some water it would be easier for things to come up. So, I chugged a big glass of water. Now I felt even more full! I thrust my fingers down my throat again. I gagged even harder that time. My eyes were watering, my stomach was hurting, and mentally I felt terrible. I began to cry. I lied down on the bathroom floor clutching my stomach.
It was getting late and I had to work the next day. I knew there was no way I would feel better by the morning so I called in sick to work. I knew this was bad. I had literally eaten myself sick. What’s wrong with me? I knew then I had a problem.
It Was Time To Get Help And Make Changes
Concerned about my addiction to sugar, and food in general, I sought out the advice of a herbologist, whom I hoped would give me something to curb my cravings. He proceeded to tell me that I had a serious sugar addiction and if I didn’t get it under control I was going to get diabetes within two years.
He said sugar is an addictive chemical that affects the brain much like cocaine. It is in so many of the foods we eat, and that coming off of sugar addiction would be harder than cocaine.
I was shocked. Sugar like cocaine? I hadn’t really thought if it that way; however, when I started to research the brain stimuation similarities between sugar and cocaine I knew I had to make a change.
This newfound knowledge of the detrimental effects of sugar on the body and knowing that I had a food addiction overwhelmed me with sadness.
I knew that if I wanted to make a change I would have to let go of all the yummy, comforting foods that had been there for me when I needed them to help me feel better. It was like they were my friends and I had to let them go so that I could have a better life.
This proved to be much more difficult than I expected. Every time I promised to give up sweets, or other comforting foods that were not good for my body, the cravings would kick in even stronger. Even though I knew the dangers these foods posed to my health I gave in time and time again eating until I felt sick, then would beat myself up for not having enough willpower to refrain.
This, like any other addiction had a strong emotional component that I was not yet ready to admit.
Over the next few years I began to take my health a little more seriously. My job required me to take care of individuals who had various chronic conditions, including heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer, which were all the result of poor lifestyle choices. Seeing these people, and how much they suffered, scared me. I knew I needed to take things more seriously or one day I would be the one sitting in front of a young healthcare professional asking for help.
I had started working out in the gym when I was in high school. Although I loved working out hard I never quite saw the results I desired because of my poor nutrition. I also suffered from digestive problems such as extreme pain in my guts and constipation.
I love to read so in my quest for knowledge to enhance my health, I came across a book that started my transition to a plant-based lifestyle. This book is one that many people have heard about, “Eat Right For Your Type,” by Dr. Peter D’Adamo. It is one theory of nutrition among the sea of other theories.
Dr. D’Adamo’s research shows that people with specific blood types process food differently that eating according to your blood type, A, B, O, or AB, will reduce inflammation, weight loss, and enhance overall health. I found this book intriguing and thought I would give it a try. What did I have to lose?
For my blood type, A, Dr. D’Adamo recommended a diet rich in plant-based foods and as close to vegetarian as possible. Red meat seemed to be the biggest culprit of digestive problems due to its slow digestion time. I immediately stopped eating red meat after learning that an individual with my blood type, A, has low stomach acid making digesting meat more difficult.
At first I craved red meat, especially in the summer when my friends would fire up the barbecue and cook a filet mignon to perfection; however, when I made the choice that feeling better was worth denying the fleeting satisfaction of tasting the meat it became much easier to stay away from it.
Taking Things To The Next Level
A few months after giving up red meat I realized that my digestive system was still not as healthy as I knew it could be.
I continued to experience cramps, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. So, I decided it was time to slowly cut out other animal products to see if this would make a difference. I soon gave up chicken and shortly after all poultry.
For quite some time I continued to eat fish, eggs, and dairy yet my digestive problems persisted.
I returned to school in my early thirties to obtain a Master’s in Business degree and met many wonderful people. I was fortunate enough to meet a psychologist, who eventually became my friend.
Since we had developed a friendship I discussed my digestive problems with him many times. He one day observed that I was suffering with stomach cramps after we had lunch and suggested that perhaps it was dairy that was causing my problems.
Lactose and casein, two proteins in dairy, often cause symptoms like pain, cramping, and bloating in the digestive tract, which I experienced often after eating. I did not want to hear this and refused to believe his suggestion as dairy products, including cheese, yogurt, and milk chocolate, were among my favourite foods.
Knowing how stubborn I was my friend challenged me to cut out dairy for one week to see if it made any difference. Since I wanted to prove him wrong I accepted his challenge and immediately cut out all dairy for what I thought would be only one week.
Within three days, my stomach and intestines felt noticeably better. I began to study the effects of dairy on the body and was shocked to find out that it causes mucus build-up and many other problems. Knowing that the issues dairy causes in the body are mostly due to the infection, pus, steroids and other toxins contained in the products from conventional farming methods I knew immediately I had to cut out dairy products forever to avoid the negative health effects.
With hesitation, I admitted that my friend was right and I thanked him for the suggestion. If it weren’t for his challenge I don’t think I could have been able to cut out my favourite foods and begin to feel better.
After a few months, I finally began to lose weight and see positive changes in my body composition. I was working out hard, was feeling great and my stomach aches had diminished. I still experienced constipation and diarrhea on occasion but for the most part the regular pain was gone. I decided it was time to take my diet to the next level.
As a personal trainer and fitness enthusiast I had always been interested in the bodybuilding industry and I even trained for a couple of figure competitions. Figure is a division of bodybuilding that requires women to have a more natural physique.
Sadly, due to my food and sugar addictions I was never able to lean out enough to stand on the stage. My training diet in the past had included a vast amount of meat. I knew going back to eating meat was not an option. I decided to train for competition again but this time as a vegetarian.
I began to research vegetarian bodybuilders and coaches, which at the time proved to be harder than I expected. I soon found a fitness pro in Toronto who was raw-vegan. A raw-vegan diet is one where all food is consumed raw or cooked at temperatures below 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
After speaking with him, I knew he would transform my body and help me lean out enough to stand on the stage and finally realize my goal as a figure competitor.
I was still eating fish and eggs so he suggested that I cut those foods out of my diet and go completely vegan.
I had always been curious about eating a diet that was 100% plant-based, or vegan. I was not sure I knew enough about how to get the right balance of nutrients I needed to be healthy. He promised he would help make the transition easy and show me what I needed to know to be successful.
I quickly learned that many of the foods I was already eating such as spinach, kale, and other leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils were providing me with high amounts of protein and other essential nutrients. These plant-based foods proved to be easier to digest and were much more satisfying to me than animal based foods.
Over the next four months of eating clean and training hard I lost about 25 pounds. I very was close to my ideal competition weight. My muscles were defined and I had the lowest percentage of body fat that I ever had in my life. Four weeks out from the stage my coach decided to place me on an all-juice fast, which he believed would help me lose the last little bit of fat I still carried in my belly and my glutes, or butt muscles, and legs.
For ten days I juiced a variety of green vegetables and apples. This was one of the hardest things I had ever done in my life. Because food had always been comforting to me I missed the act of eating. My social life seemed to be slipping away and I became more and more unhappy. Although I was leaning out and losing more weight I continued to look in the mirror and hate what I saw.
Two weeks from the big competition day I asked my coach if he thought I would be able to lose the last little bit of fat I still carried in my belly.
From what he saw in my pictures he didn’t think I would be ready. So, even though I had worked so hard the last three and half months, had lost almost 30 pounds and was lean, I decided to quit.
Coming off of a juice fast and feeling like a failure threw me right back into my old habits. I started eating heavy foods like nuts and seeds, sugar and other junk food.
It didn’t take long before all my hard work was gone. I was 25 pounds heavier again! Right back to where I had started! Then I knew my emotional eating, lack of self-love and self-esteem was still a big problem.
I had allowed my negative emotions and skewed view of my body to take over; however, I recognized the great benefits I saw over the previous few months of training. My digestion was improving and I had a ton of energy. Even though I would not step on the stage I knew that I was now vegan for life.
This is when I decided to get certified as a vegan nutritionist and chef to inspire others to take control of their own health and wellness. This then lead me to writing my books, hosting cooking classes, starting LivingMeatless.com and inspiring hundreds of people to either fully, or partially, embrace a plant-based vegan lifestyle. My biggest goal is to at least raise awareness and get people thinking about their choices.
Over the past few years many people have asked things like are you still doing that vegan thing?
Is that some kind of a cult?
Where do you get your protein?
Don’t you miss eating meat and cheese?
To answer many of these questions I have written numerous articles, including “Terrific Reasons To Go Vegan.”
I have to admit there were many times that these comments caused me to question my choices and I thought that I might be making a mistake. However, the more I learned about the vegan lifestyle the more it resonated with me.
To this day, I continue to educate myself on the top trends and health aspect of vegan nutrition. I have been blessed to learn from the top educators in the world including Dr.’s Brian and Anna Clement from the Hippocrates Health Institute, Colleen Patrick-Goudreu, Dr. T. Colin Campbell (author of The China Study), Dr. Michael Greger and more.
Essentially, the more I learn about how animals are treated and the amount of disease, infection and drugs that go into our bodies when we eat animal flesh and by-products, I know I cannot ingest or support the use of animal products. It just didn’t feel that it’s right to love my dog and yet support the cruelty and killing of another animal.
My vision, by writing this blog, is to educate and inspire you to learn from my experiences, the stories of my guests, and make the best choices for your life.
Although I have chosen to follow a vegan lifestyle I understand it is not for everyone. However, everyone will benefit by adding more vegan options into their life. Fruits and vegetables contain life force energy from the sun and transfer this energy, along with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to us. This healing energy is what our bodies crave and require to be healthy and happy.
My goal is to always use this blog to raise awareness to help reduce and prevent animal cruelty as well as upgrading human consciousness. When we love ourselves we can love another human being. When we can fully love other humans, and see that we are all one, we will then be able to love other living beings just the same and treat them with the respect they deserve.
The traditional vegan definition is: living a compassionate lifestyle where one does not consume or use any products that have come from an animal. This includes meat, dairy, eggs, fur, leather and food additives such as gelatine.
My definition of vegan is:
This, to me, represents a collective of individuals who live a compassionate lifestyle.
Who love themselves enough to treat their bodies with respect through proper nutrition, exercise and soul work.
To step into their own purpose and create a life of abundance in all areas including health, wealth and happiness.
I hope that you will gain much value from the info I share with you in this blog that you can take and apply to you own life.
If you are already vegan I would love to hear your story and why you chose to make the switch. Please leave this in the comments below.
If you are not vegan, but have thought about it, please comment below and let me know what’s been holding you back from going fully plant-based and if you have any questions I can answer that will help you on this journey.
Thanks for reading and sharing!
Until next time,
Namaste… The soul in me, sees the soul in you.
Rachel Joy Olsen, BSc., MBA
Author, Health & Wellness Coach
Read my “Frog Killer To Compassionate Vegan” story…