By Sabrina Nelson, VegSource.com
When veteran homeschooling mom Evelyn Johnson of Abilene, Kansas first discovered VegSource.com in March of 1998, she was looking for some good deals on the site’s busy curriculum swap boards.
Little did she know that an ad for a set of vegetarian related books, tapes and videos on a “miscellaneous” swap board would radically transform her life — and that of her husband and children — forever.
The books and videos were by VegSource’s own renowned health and nutrition expert John McDougall, MD, and included his best-selling The McDougall Program – 12 Days to Dynamic Health. “That was the best twenty dollars I’ve ever spent!” enthuses the 38-year-old mother of four.
Dr. McDougall’s 12 Day Program features a low-fat, pure vegetarian (“vegan”) diet consisting of a healthy variety of plant-based whole foods. Evelyn says that she had “played around” with ordering meatless selections from menus in the past, but had “never dreamed I would become a vegetarian.”
Evelyn remembers well the day she “went vegan” — December 13, 1998. On the eleventh day of her new life, December 24, 1998, Evelyn’s husband Tom gave her a wonderful Christmas present: he decided to eschew all animal products as well, and joined her on the McDougall plan.
“We went from being a big meat and potatoes family to total vegan over night!” says Evelyn. “I convinced Tom to ‘McDougall’ with me by telling him I needed the support. He promised to do the 12 day program, probably more to help me out than to do anything for himself.”
Tom liked the idea of shedding a few extra pounds, as well, and so he decided he would “McDougall” with Evelyn for three or four months, then go back to “regular” eating.
Instead, 75 pounds later for Evelyn, and 45 pounds later for Tom, McDougall’s 12 Day program has turned into a “Rest of Your Life Program,” as Evelyn describes it.
In her glowing tribute to Dr. McDougall on his testimonial board, Evelyn says, “Pre-McDougall, [Tom] had headaches 3 times a week. He has not had a headache since McDougalling. And he has more energy…it is a rare occasion that he goes from the dinner table to the recliner (and he used to do that quite often!).”
Prior to McDougalling, Evelyn hadn’t bought a swimsuit for 15 years. Shopping for a new one was a delicious experience, she says.
“It was a major milestone for me to purchase a suit and feel great about it. I had fun shopping this year! When I was in the mall with Tom trying on a couple of suits, I ran into an old highschool classmate. She didn’t say anything about how I looked probably because she hadn’t seen me all these years. But I had the satisfaction of being trim and fit.”
As she tried on the swimsuits, Evelyn offhandedly mentioned to the clerk that her last swimsuit was a size 14, but now she was a size 10. “The clerk was surprised, and so I whipped out a before picture that I always carry in my purse, and showed her what I used to look like.”
When the amazed clerk asked how Evelyn had dropped so much weight, Evelyn responded, “My husband and I just started eating a low-fat total vegetarian diet with no animal products.” Evelyn said the clerk’s mouth just dropped open. “You have to remember that we live in Abilene, deep in the heart of beef territory. Tom and I laughed later about her reaction. It was one of those moments that will keep us smiling for years to come, like remembering one of those cute things that your kids say.”
Evelyn’s four children switched to a McDougall-style diet at the same time Evelyn and Tom did — and have benefited, too. “My 16-year-old, Emily, has gone from a size 12 to 7. Craig, 12, no longer has headaches. Heath (7) and Lydia (9) tell people in stores and restaurants, ‘We used to eat that, but now we’re McDougalling!'”
Evelyn says the changes in her family have gone beyond the physical. “My daughter Lydia and I were at the store one day, when we came to the meat department. I stopped and looked and for the first time it occurred to me just how many animals were killed to fill the case. Then I walked past the freezers filled with all the turkeys and fish, then on to the TV and frozen dinners, and so on. I thought how this was just one store, and there was another store just down the street, and another one after that. And it hit me: That’s a lot of killing.”
Evelyn says that before that moment she had never even given a thought about how all these animals had gotten there. “It sounds crazy, but I don’t even think that I had thought about them as being ‘animals’ until that point. I remember suddenly thinking to myself, ‘I will never eat an animal again.'”
Evelyn says her children are “so much more aware than I was at their ages — they have a different attitude towards nature than most people do. I believe their becoming vegetarian has something to do with that.”
Evelyn has also inspired other VegSourcers to follow in her successful footsteps, as she leads a mini-McDougall support group at the HomeSchooling Breakfast Nook board.
Vicki Walker, one of Evelyn’s protegees, started “McDougalling” in February, 2000. “I have lost 9 pounds to date, and feel great,” says Vicki. “Evelyn was a big part of my deciding to do this. She offered her support early, and has kept me focused on the long term goal. She continues to be there whenever I need a swift cyber kick – or a hug. It really helps to know of someone personally who has tried and had such success with the program. It makes you think, ‘I can do it too!’ and makes you work harder to meet that goal. She is an inspiration to all of us, and I hope we all can meet one another in person some day.”
Another homeschooler Evelyn met on VegSource, Michele Teal, decided she’d give McDougalling a try, too. Changing her eating habits has paid big dividends for Michele. “I no longer take medication for Lupus and I don’t have many ‘bad days’ without it, either,” she says. “Also with all the hormones they have had to place me on due to Endometriosis, I have actually lost about five pounds instead of gaining the 10 to 15 that most people do.”
Like Evelyn, Michele’s family has benefitted as well. Evelyn told Michele that shortly after she started McDougall’s program, she would find herself enjoying physical activities with her children again. “It was so true. We now have mountain bikes and ride often with the kids and all of us have benefited from the diet change — even my hyperactive daughter has improved.”
Another friend Evelyn made on VegSource, Renee Crites, said, “Never in a million years did I expect to be a vegetarian! It still makes me laugh! Especially since I am so wonderfully content with it!” Prior to starting the McDougall program, Renee had high blood pressure — but now it’s normal. “Also, my acid reflux is doing better, which has been a big problem for me over the past few years. I need to lose a lot of weight and have lost 35 pounds since beginning the McDougall program in December.”
So, do Evelyn and Tom find low-fat vegan food “boring?”The question amuses both of them.
“Last weekend we had a getaway with just the two of us, and had dinner at a sushi restaurant. As we ate our veggie sushi rolls and udon noodle soup, we discussed how if we had been served this a year and a half ago, Tom would have turned up his nose. But of all the vegan food we ate that weekend, his favorite was the sushi!”
Evelyn said that before McDougalling they had never had a lot of different foods, like sushi, and so this was just another example of how fun and exciting sampling new foods has become for her. “We’re much more adventurous when it comes to food, I’d say. Now you want to talk about burgers — that’s boring!”
“I am so grateful to Dr. McDougall and to VegSource,” Evelyn concludes. “Becoming vegetarian has made my family happier and healthier than ever, and I cherish the wonderful, close friends that I have made on the VegSource boards.”