Updated May 24, 2021
My name is Evelyn. I am a 38-year-old mother of one and pharmacist from Austria who is writing this on my 10-year vegan anniversary! I wanted to thank you, Dr. McDougall; although I own many of your books, most of the essential information was free on the internet or came from your website. You are changing lives across the Atlantic and I will do my best to spread the truth I learned from you. Allow me to explain my personal health journey at length.
Throughout my childhood during the eighties in Austria, I ate a traditional Western diet: cows milk, corn flakes, eggs, sausages, fried meats, bacon, smoked ham and refined flours; along with some additional vegetables like lettuce, sauerkraut, cabbage and whatever fruit was local and seasonal. I was a frail and sickly child. Adding more sweets, I became a skinny fat teenager. I had no energy, acne and oily hair, suffered from painful menstrual periods and headaches. Therefore, I used NSAIDs often from a young age. I also remember being depressed and tired during what could have been the most beautiful and carefree years of my life. If only I knew then what I know now about food! While at university, my lifestyle did not change for the better. Several coffees a day, cookies, chocolate, ice cream and other fatty sweets were the day fixes for my late night chain smoking study sessions, plus recreational alcohol use on weekends. I felt seriously unwell in my body at my highest adult weight (60 kilograms/132 pounds at 1,63m/5’3 ½”). I started crash dieting from time to time, and even brought it down to 47 kilograms/103.4 pounds at times.
The next 6 years were spent mainly in London, and it was here I became much more health conscious. I went to the gym, walked long distances instead of using public transport and hung around at health food stores. l still did not fully give up meat and occasional smoking, coffee, sweets and recreational alcohol. My then boyfriend was Chinese (very trim), and our home staple foods were rice with soy sauce, some greens, some beans and spring onions. We had often feasted on noodles in vegetable broth and potatoes – simple foods. I became aware of the inflammatory effects of plant oils (even if I still believed in “healthy” oils) and learned from him to thicken sauces with corn flour, which is normal in Chinese cuisine in order to omit oils without losing the texture. When eating out, it was mostly simple Vietnamese, Chinese or Japanese food, low-fat options based on lots of brown or white rice. I never ascribed my then slim physique to my food habits until I read Dr. McDougall’s story about his experience in Hawaii as a plantation doctor.
It was back in Austria, a country that highly subsidizes animal agriculture and especially cow milk products, that I briefly fell for the then very powerful low carb propaganda. My diet changed to a combination of long starvation periods, raw vegetables and high protein foods, often animal-based. You could argue, as a young health professional with a background knowledge of human physiology, I could have known better. I am now ashamed, I was unable to apply what I know to my personal health situation. I felt gradually worse, too tired for exercise, had puffy eyes and swollen legs. I was unable to make the connection to my (as I believed then) kidney damaging “healthy“ diet. I even turned to the promises of orthomolecular supplements. After a few days of swallowing capsules from several plastic bottles a day, I did question my own sanity.
At 28, I felt it was time to do a raw vegan detox for a few weeks, which had also cured my menstrual pains. I did green smoothies, salads, sprouts, fermented foods, but also ate a lot of bananas, grapes, berries, and dates. I exercised intensely, as the bananas and dates gave me energy. Of course, this diet turned me into a physically more appealing person, but it was still unsustainable over time. One problem was my now low thyroid function, probably due to the years of abusing my body before (periods of dieting, probably also iodine deficiency). In spite of me being generally really fit- people were mean about the “food baby“ appearance often [bloating after eating]. What’s more, I simply was not able to buy, prepare, chew down and digest enough raw foods while going to work. In rural areas, it is not easy to buy much imported good quality organic fresh produce. It was at this point my brother introduced me to The China Study and the plant-based community. There I was, adding cooked foods back in – legumes, grains and comforting starches – and my quality of life improved tremendously! The scientifically backed information helped me turn my new vegetarian partner vegan, and now I don’t have to worry about his health. Together, we influence more and more people around us to accept a vegan diet as normal just by explaining our lifestyle choices when asked. I am grateful to people who made films like Forks Over Knives, Cowspiracy and Earthlings, and also doctors like Caldwell Esselstyn.
But most of all, I am grateful to you, Dr. McDougall, and your wife, Mary. You really made the plant-based healthy lifestyle work for me. Thanks to you, I lost my fear of eating plain rice, potatoes, grains, etc. ad libitum. My weight is stable at around 50 kilograms/110 pounds. I don’t weigh myself that much because I feel safe with my dietary choices. Even in the last days of pregnancy, I weighed less than my heaviest weight as a young adult! I gave birth to a healthy, perfectly sized baby girl in 2016 and returned fast and effortlessly to my normal body weight. My carbohydrate fueled diet helped me to get through two and a half years of breastfeeding (I could not have managed that just eating spinach, broccoli florets and grapes).
Since I eat enough starch, my thyroid function has recovered. I no longer take thyroid hormones, I just make sure I meet my Iodine needs (seaweed). When I need quick energy, I happily have white rice. Yes, I do add some salt to my starchy foods, and sometimes a little sugar. I am only strict about avoiding added oils and I am cautious even with naturally occurring oils in whole foods. Besides, I save money by not following “health food” crazes like raw chocolates, specialty oils and the like. I no longer worry when I don’t have a lot of fresh green vegetables, salads and fruits in the house for a day. I love them and I happily eat them often, but I gave up the anxiety of not having enough antioxidants if I have a simple potato only meal. Day to day food shopping is a lot less stressful with grains, starches and legumes already in the house, and saves plastic (we get grains and legumes in reusable 5 kilogram/11 pound paper bags). I am harming animals and the planet a lot less, while being well nourished and healthy.
You gave me a lot of freedom, Dr. McDougall, because you got my mind off worrying about food! Thank you. I am forever grateful.