Christensen / Alexander Families: Vegan Family

Updated May 6, 2013

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This summer marks our tenth anniversary as McDougallers. We are not your typical American family, and we are not your typical McDougallers. My husband and I have 5 children, ages 13, 12, 10, 7, and 5, all of them McDougall (the verb) and most of them are lifelong McDougallers. We live in suburban Atlanta, where there aren’t many families with 5 vegan children, but then again, we’re different in other ways, too.

How are we different? My children don’t eat meat or crave it. They love fruits and vegetables and can order a healthful meal at nearly any restaurant. Although I have never prohibited them from eating any food they like, I have educated them. My friends marvel at their unwillingness to eat potato chips, ice cream, cheese pizza and other “junk foods.” Even as babies, they have asked, “Is that sorbet or is it made with cow’s milk?” I love to see them pick up a Frito and say, “Iiiick. that is GREASY,” or hear them beg for mangoes in the produce section. As a result, they are rarely at the doctor. None of them has ever had a cavity. My older daughters (13 and 12) have clear complexions and all five have slim physiques. Their friends are amazed that they “eat all the time.” After 15 years of marriage and 5 pregnancies, I weigh the same that I have always weighed. I never diet and I am never hungry, my pants are never too tight to zip, and I EAT, EAT, EAT. “How are you so skinny when you eat all the time?” is something that I have grown accustomed to hearing. In fact, I love to McDougall because I love to eat and I love to cook. (One thing I love about the McDougalls is they believe in EATING!) My husband and I work together in a small business that we own. Recently, I was talking with one of my husband’s associates about the seasonal pressures of our business. He said “Erik [my husband] can take the pressures of the business a lot better than the rest of us. His heart isn’t going to explode, I’ve seen how he eats…pizza with no cheese…he’ll live forever.” Sure, that sounds like a pretty unscientific diagnosis, but the truth is, Erik’s cholesterol is 160, pretty impressive for a 42-year-old American guy with a family history of high cholesterol and heart disease. Ten years ago, Erik used an inhaler and took oral steroids to control dust mite and cat allergies. Within weeks of our change in diet, Erik’s allergies disappeared….remarkable since we would never have thought these unrelated allergies could be affected by diet.

We started McDougalling when I heard Dr. McDougall talk on television during the summer of 1993. At the age of 34, I didn’t yet have noticeable symptoms of the rich American diet, but my parents did. What Dr. McDougall taught me about the connection between diet and disease terrified me because I believed him. My mom and I ordered McDougall books and tapes, decided we could try the McDougall plan for 12 days with very little downside risk. Starting the plan was easy, we just followed the recipes and shopping lists that Mary McDougall handed us on a silver platter. After 12 days, my mother was off of her blood pressure medicine. Her physician had told her that there was nothing else he could give her to control it, her blood pressure was still too high but medicine had no answers for her. When McDougalling brought her blood pressure into the normal range after a couple of weeks, quitting the McDougall plan was not an option. My parents are STAR McDOUGALLERS themselves. At ages 66 and 70, they are vibrant, active, healthy and a walking testimonial to me.

Soon after we began the diet, my husband said, “Here are our choices: We can say, ‘I believe Dr. McDougall is right…so I am going to change my life and follow the plan. OR we can say, I believe Dr. McDougall is right, that I COULD control my health with my diet, but I choose to eat the American diet anyway and be sick. We don’t have the option of saying that the plan is wrong.'” The choice seemed too clear-cut and low-cost to us, so we dove right in and have never looked back.

To non-McDougallers, our life might seem weird. We eat no meat, fish or animal products and we don’t use oils or fats of any kind. But the truth is, we live pretty much like our neighbors. We eat out. We go through drive-through restaurants. We entertain. We are entertained. Our kids go to birthday parties and school functions, swim meets and banquets. Most of the people who know us, don’t know a thing about the particulars of our diet, though they eat with us at restaurants, at their home, or come to our house for dinner.

We have a big family and my mother and children and I love to cook. We rattle around in the kitchen, make huge portions of mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables and desserts which we serve for holiday dinners. Most of our company will never know that the stuffing they ate is made without animal products or fat in it. We never tell them that the pumpkin pie is made with tofu, if we did, they probably wouldn’t ask for seconds. My kids’ friends join us for tacos and spaghetti or burritos and veggie burgers and never know that they have eaten a vegan meal. My daughters love to watch the Food Network and make healthful versions of recipes that look good to them. We all look forward to new recipes in the McDougall Newsletter. It feels a bit like a recipe exchange at a family reunion, except that you never have to buy cream cheese or Jell-O to make them. My daughter, Caroline, loves to cook. She recently commented that she thought the recipes on t.v. seemed pretty easy, “All the chefs do is dump in some heavy whipping cream and cheese to make their stuff taste good.”

How is life most different for a McDougalling suburban family from your typical American family who eats the rich American diet? Preparation. That’s all. As the mother, I find that a little forethought is the sum total of my costs to maintain the health of my family. Putting McDougall soups in my husband’s desk drawer at work, looking for a Wendy’s not McDonald’s at an exit ramp on a car trip, buying a travel guide describing restaurant food on vacation, packing lunch for my kids, filling the back of my car with baked corn chips and rice cakes to stand in for French fries for sudden hunger pains, starting the rice cooker in the morning of a busy day to make supper a snap are simple steps that I take to keep us healthy. I’ve even brought a little McDougall to my neighborhood swim meets by talking some other moms into helping me by baking potatoes and making pasta salad to serve at the swim meet snack bar. Most of the moms who have thanked me for the wider range of options have no idea that we are vegans.

The fact is, rather than finding this lifestyle burdensome, I describe it as empowering. It’s a way to see the world as a little less chaotic and to take control of a part of my family’s life that may seem more random and uncontrollable to others. No one can promise any family perfect health, but the McDougalls have proven to us that it is possible to change your health by changing the way you eat. They make what may seem like a radical lifestyle change as easy to make as a new walk through the same grocery store.

The truth is, there are a world of delicious foods and flavors that satisfy and nourish. Mary and John McDougall have taught us that eating the right food is simple and rewarding. Our children have taught us that eating well is all about developing good habits. My parents have taught us that changing your diet can change your life forever. Our friends who have started McDougalling since learning about the plan from us have taught us that there isn’t really any pleasure in eating foods that make you sick and fat. If you are thinking about starting the McDougall plan, I have some advice for you. Start. It isn’t hard and you don’t have to make a 10 year commitment today. Just decide to try it wholeheartedly for the next 12 days. Let’s face it, you can do ANYTHING for 12 days. Read Mary’s recipes and shopping lists and think of this as a 12 day adventure. You’re probably sick of the recipes you make every day anyway and the “McDougall 12 day plan” found in the book, The McDougall Program – 12 Days to Dynamic Health by John A. McDougall, MD, is a whole lot more fun than the Slim-Fast diet or the grapefruit diet or the no-carb diet you tried last year.

If you tell your family and friends about your lifestyle change, you may get some resistance. That’s okay. I have two brothers and one sister, each of them have families of their own. None of them are completely committed McDougallers yet, but they all have made big steps towards health by adopting varying aspects of the diet into their own lifestyles. My youngest brother and his wife are on their way to the McDougall Clinic in Santa Rosa next week. In our family, the McDougalls have 9 down, 2 on their way, 5 who are almost there and 4 to go. Now that’s one heck of a track record when you consider that when we started, most of my extended family thought we were totally NUTS. My oldest brother snickered, “I’ll give you a month.” This is the same guy who brags today that he hasn’t eaten meat for 10 months. Never underestimate the power you have to influence the health of the people around you by quietly making better choices yourself. Don’t think it is worth it to change your life for yourself? What about the others you know? Your example could be key.

We are so grateful to the McDougalls. My 3 oldest children can whip up a healthful meal for themselves without help. They are living proof that the McDougalls have made eating right child’s play. Learning a new way to live and eat is a blessing to your health, and an adventure in the kitchen. Three generations of my family highly recommend it.

 

Dr. McDougall’s Comments:

The McDougall Program is all about families and people caring about each other — And it only takes the one person following the program for this “infectious anti-disease” to spread throughout the family. The McDougall family has known the Christensen family since they went on the McDougall Costa Rica vacation in 1999. We have known the Alexander family for almost 8 years and they have traveled with us to Alaska, Costa Rica, Peru, Panama and Belize. Our family has the fortune to count in the hundreds similar relationships. Friendships formed over positive issues, like good health, become lasting, productive and mutually supportive friendships. What better way to show caring than by having a positive influence on others?

Many of you who follow a healthy diet have been frustrated and hurt by criticism of your dietary choices and by resistance from others to make this obviously overdue change. Learn from Cheryl’s example. She lives her life as a shining example and is always ready to help people when they are ready to listen. She knows the truth about good health and is relentless in her efforts to share it with friends and family – she never gives up nor becomes discouraged. I encourage you to act the same way. Someday soon someone you care about will make the change and you will feel an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. There is no greater reward than to help other people. There is no one more important to help than a friend or family member – someone you love.