SUCCESS STORIES: Star McDougaller Janet Beckman

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Janet Beckman, Diagnosed With Lupus at 12


My name is Janet Beckman and I was diagnosed with lupus when I was 12. My parents were told that this was an aggressive form and that my case was terminal. I was treated by one of the best Rheumatologists in our area and given the best treatment, however, given my age and the severity of the disease, my parents weren't given much hope. Luckily they chose to keep this from me. I was on medication daily for the inflammation and infections that were a result of the disease, sometimes more than 20 pills a day. My senior year in high school, I got very ill and was found to be suffering from nephritis that I ended up having chemotherapy for. After going through the treatments for a while, I decided I was done. I felt like the treatment was killing me more than the disease. I moved away, not telling anyone I had stopped treatment.

Around this time, when I was 19, I watched Diet for a New America and decided I could no longer eat meat and became vegetarian. Back then there were no meat replacements as there are now, so I started eating a simple diet of mostly rice and vegetables. By the time I did visit a doctor again, they said that my lupus was miraculously under control, but that I still needed monitoring. I had been told that my diagnosis was still considered to be terminal. I was told that I could never have children or a normal life. Despite this, I was determined to try to live my life as well as I could and not let this disease control me. As life went on, I still suffered through the typical lupus symptoms of joint and muscle pain, fatigue, chronic infections and added to the list was IBS. I dealt with these things the best I could trying not to take conventional therapies as they always made me feel worse.

Then a miracle occurred (from what I had been told). I got pregnant, something I had been told could never happen. Although there were complications, and I had to have medical intervention to stay pregnant, I was able to have a relatively normal pregnancy outside of all of the high risk testing. I am grateful for my OB who stood by me and took such good care of me. I was able to have a normal delivery, outside of it being a month early, and gave birth to a healthy baby boy. I had relatively few issues from the pregnancy, but again was advised to be monitored due to complications that can happen after birth.

And life went on. A few years ago, I had a checkup with my Rheumatologist who told me something I never thought I'd hear. She said I'd been in remission long enough that she didn't think I'd have any more issues. Upon hearing this great news-I felt like I had been given a second chance. Anyone with a chronic illness can understand the feeling of being cautious-fearful of doing too much or being the cause of another flair-up. So I grew up not testing my body, knowing its tendency to fail me if I did. Having good health wasn't something I had a concept of-yet. Now I felt as if I could, at almost 40 years old, start to live my life. It was like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon. I made the goal of running a half marathon before my 40th birthday and started training. As someone who'd never been allowed to take a PE class or be on a sport team, it was a new experience for me. But I did what I could and I finished the half marathon. It wasn't pretty, but I did it. My journey had started.

However, I still felt like I was missing something. I had, for the first time in my life, gained weight and was feeling uncomfortable with myself and started searching for that magic bullet that so many of us seek. I happened upon the documentary Forks over Knives and something about it made sense. It was like all of the things I'd had questions about were finally answered. So I started researching the movie to see how I could make this work for me. The idea of my issues- weight gain, IBS, joint pain, headaches and insomnia, going away by simply changing my diet was something I was excited about. Now I just had to find something I could follow and luckily I found that when I read about Dr. John McDougall. I researched everything I could about him and his program and it just made sense to me. The reason I'd never gone vegan before was that it seemed too hard, but Dr. McDougall made it easy, without complicated rules and supplements. The only things I had to eliminate from my diet were any dairy products and all added oils. So I bought his book, 12 Days to Dynamic Health, and made a plan to start May 1st, 2012.

The plan was easy-the book really does it for you with menu plans and recipes. I cleaned out my kitchen and started stocking it with staples that I didn't have already. Along the way, I went into Whole Foods for some of the items I was less familiar with. Upon asking about oil free products, I was directed to a wonderful program there called Health Starts Here that promotes healthy eating and provides support with cooking demonstrations, supper clubs, and other activities headed by their Healthy Eating Specialists. I can credit a good part of my success to my lovely friend, Leslie Otto, who is the Healthy Eating Specialist at my local Whole Foods because of the support, community, and friendship that I received by becoming a part of this wonderful group. Her guidance and willingness to suffer through my endless questions continues to be invaluable.

Armed with my new found knowledge, I started my plant based journey May 1, 2012. I made simple meals that consisted of mostly oats, potatoes, and vegetables with the determination to stick with the 12 days. The 12 days went by quickly and I branched out to try more recipes and more variety, always sticking to the basics of the McDougall Program, which is a low-fat plant based diet that centers around starch. This was by far the easiest plan I could follow and making this change really was effortless. I had to learn how to let go of calorie counting and my fear of the potato, but eating until you are full and filling up on carbs has been very liberating. This became my lifestyle and not a diet. Several amazing things started to happen. First, I started to lose weight. I wasn't even trying. In total, I lost 25 pounds. Then my muscle and joint pain, along with the IBS symptoms all started to fade. I could finally eat without having physical discomfort afterward and no longer had to rely on anything to help with digestion. Physically I could actually do more, like run, and not have pain during or the pain after that had always prevented sustained physical activity in the past.  The months started going by and I learned more about cooking and realized I had found my magic bullet. So I decided to do 2 things. The first was getting a physical. Knowing my past, I've always been worried about getting labs, but I was excited for this one. Turns out my labs were so good that I've got nothing to be concerned about for the first time in my life. The second thing I did was get a fitness assessment at the gym to get a baseline and motivation. Turns out my results there were what were expected in someone far more active than I currently was. Coincidence? I didn't think so.

I went back and re-watched Diet for a New America and was dumbfounded to see none other than Dr. McDougall. I felt like I could kick myself-I mean I could have started this long ago. However, in life we cannot move back, only forward. What I do have now is hope. I still have so many things I'd like to challenge myself with, both physically and culinary. I'm excited to finally feel like I might know what being healthy feels like. My stack of cookbooks and recipes continues to grow. I've been lucky enough to meet Mary and John McDougall. I have the motivation to be better in all aspects of my life and I hope at some point I can help inspire others as so many have inspired me.  And the best part is that I've been able to share this with my son, Quentin, who has enjoyed all the benefits of this change as well. He is now an advocate for healthy eating and wants to go on to be able to help people when he grows up.

The reactions from others have also been inspiring. I met with a new health care provider armed with my copy of The China Study.  When I told her what I was reading, she said she recommends Forks over Knives and fully supported me in my diet choices. Warming over my son's care providers only took taking in a copy of what he normally eats in a day that I'd entered into Calorie Counter that clearly shows his diet is lacking nothing and in fact is far better than anything they normally see. Friends and family have also been supportive after seeing that I'm finally healthy without any of the normal complaints that I had suffered from before, or even of those common to most people of my age (43). Living in the Pacific Northwest I've been fortunate to meet other people who follow this way of eating to further the support. Even those who have been the most skeptical tell me, after they've tasted my cooking, that they'd make this change if I cooked for them.

Janet Beckman


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