Updated April 27, 2023
It was December 31, 2011. I found myself at a New Year’s gathering, sitting at a table next to my friend, a retired doctor, Dr. Robert Easton, known affectionately as Dr. Bob. I was pouring my heart out to him. I was 43 years old. I had gained weight that winter. I weighed 160, and I was embarrassed. My face was all broken out. I had recently discovered a cyst growing on the side of my face that I had to have removed by a dermatologist. I wasn’t well. I had fairly severe anemia due to heavy menstruation, as my hemoglobin level was just 8.3 (which should be between 12 and 16). I was weak and exhausted. For the first time in my life, I had arthritis in my hands. My body felt like a giant blob of inflammation. I would barely bump something and feel sore. Alarmed after having had a painful and prolonged period that month which lasted 19 days, I had gone to my gynecologist and learned that I had more uterine fibroid tumors (ultimately 8 fibroids would be found), along with the sobering news that I was going to need surgery. One option presented was a hysterectomy. In 1999, at the age of 30, I learned of my first uterine fibroid. It was discovered during an ultrasound, which my doctor ordered after I experienced a miscarriage. This was when I was still eating SAD (Standard American Diet). Unaware that a change in diet could have made a difference, I had surgery (a myomectomy) to remove the fibroid. Even the surgeon claimed that my fibroid had nothing to do with diet, and blamed it on my genes. Because fibroid tumors can grow with pregnancies, I was concerned that the fibroid in my body might have caused the miscarriage or that it might harm a future baby should I get pregnant again. So I trusted the surgeon: I thought I could solve my problem by simply having it cut out. What I didn’t know was that the myomectomy could eliminate my future chances of getting pregnant, due to scar tissue that would form. And that is exactly what happened.
So on that New Year’s Eve in 2011, I was feeling awfully depressed. Not only were my husband and I unable to have children, but here I was suffering from these awful periods and other related health issues. It seemed unfair like I was being doubly punished. If I couldn’t have kids, why did I need to menstruate at all? I was also disappointed that my vegan diet, which I had been eating since 2003, and which had completely eliminated my seasonal allergies, was doing nothing for my other health issues. I went vegan solely for animals and not for any health reasons, but I guess I was secretly wishing that my Oreo cookies and vegan cheesecake would help me out. (Did you know that Oreo cookies are vegan?) That night Dr. Bob said to me, “You know, Tonya, you can turn this around.” He talked to me briefly about switching to a healthy, oil-free vegan diet. He left, went home, and returned with a book, The McDougall Program for Women, by Dr. John McDougall, which he loaned me.
That encounter with Dr. Bob, along with that book, changed the trajectory of my life. I soon read one book after another of Dr. McDougall’s and watched every lecture I could find on the internet. By February 2012, I was following Dr. McDougall’s diet, which at that point in my life meant eliminating oil from my diet. I began losing weight. I attended Dr. McDougall’s 10-day live-in program in Santa Rosa, California in June of that year. I loved every minute of it! I was so privileged to get to hear lectures in person by Dr. McDougall, Doug Lisle, PhD, Jeff Novick, MS, RDN and others. I was inspired by fellow attendees whose health and lives were also being transformed. The trip was worth every penny and then some. My body was healing. By the end of June, I had lost 18 pounds and was down to 142 (from a high of 160 in January). Dr. McDougall told me that the arthritis in my hands would go away. It did. I haven’t felt any pain in my hands since that summer. My face also cleared up, my body was no longer sore and (best of all) I no longer needed a hysterectomy. It’s now a decade later. It hasn’t been an easy journey. There were plenty of bumps in the road, as I have on occasion indulged and eaten off-plan (always something with oil) and caused myself excruciating pain (including trips to the emergency room) due to the resulting inflammation of my fibroids, which in turn would cause me severe constipation.
It’s now a decade later. As part of my journey, I also stayed at TrueNorth Health Center, which served to reinforce my commitment to a whole foods diet, and where I continued to see progress with my health. This wasn’t a journey without bumps in the road, as I have on rare occasions indulged and eaten off-plan (always something with oil) and caused myself excruciating pain (including trips to the emergency room) due to the resulting inflammation of my fibroids, which in turn would cause me severe constipation. Despite any struggles I have had in learning to commit 100 percent to this diet, this is a path I’m so glad I took. I couldn’t be more pleased with all my health improvements. Incidentally, my fibroid nightmare is over; I’m in menopause.
In addition to health improvements, I have absolutely loved the weight loss I have experienced. I am 5’8”. I weighed my highest weight when I was a junior in high school. I got up to 165 pounds. I starved myself to weigh 150 throughout college and as a young adult. Today at the age of 54, I don’t have to be hungry at all, and I weigh 135.
Before I close, I must make it clear that I’m proud of having gone vegan, after learning in my 30s about the myriad of ways that we confine, mutilate, torture and brutally slaughter innocent and defenseless animals. In fact, there’s nothing in my life that I’ve ever done that I’m more proud of. But unfortunately, my version of vegan was not healthy. I often like to say that I went vegan for the animals, but that I went whole foods for me.
Lastly, I want to share this story: On the final day of the 10-day live-in program that I attended, Dr. McDougall invited several of his family members to the front, including his wife, Mary, some of his children and some of his grandchildren. He talked about many active experiences that he gets to have with them as a father and a grandfather, as a result of his healthy diet. He stated, “I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for this. I would eat cardboard if necessary, in order to get to be a part of my children’s and grandchildren’s lives.” I don’t think there was a person in the room who didn’t get his point. Or who had a dry eye.