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The Vegan Experience By Mondez Durden

Sitting with friends during an impromptu get together at a local eatery can be quite stressful for the practicing vegan, with quite a bit of internal monologuing. “Why didn’t I look this place up on when she said it was Brazilian? I hope the pasta is egg free. I wonder if they have a vegan friendly menu. I hope my friends don’t think I’m high maintenance. Please, God, let them have plain fruit as a dessert option.”

In the last few months, I’ve experienced the highs and lows of being vegan. From dealing with the lack of com- parable restaurants that serve anything vegan friendly, and handling the derision one gets from others who see this diet choice as abnormal, unhealthy or just plain foolish; to the numerous healthy benefits I already see occurring. Transitioning into a vegan lifestyle was less a marathon type change for me than it was a quick sprint around the bend. Veganism and the passion to not aid an industry, which treats animals as commodi- ties were the surprising byproducts of my search to live a healthier life. I wanted to lose weight, minimize my body’s inflammatory response (the cause of many common diseases like Alzheimer, arthritis, and IBD) and lower my cholesterol.

These needed positive changes, I thought, would work in concert to help control an often unspoken about condition I have: Crohn’s Disease. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s about 5 years ago and though my intestinal inflammation was better than at its peak, it was by no means at stellar levels. I often experienced cramps and lethargy during the day from lack of proper nutrition absorption. I suffered from weekly weight fluctuations and my lower back ached with the steady throb of a spasmodic condition, making walking even moderate distances uncomfortable. The urgency for swift action in changing my diet came in the form of swelling feet, from water retention, which I began to notice one day as I sat at my desk, writing for my blog. Edema in the lower extremities is often a sign of being over weight but it can be a signal for burgeoning heart issues.

I’m a young man when one considers the advancing health conditions I am dealing with, so I began looking into eating healthier: no fried foods; cooking without salt; lowering my simple carbohydrates intake, and eliminating anything from my diet which contained high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. I began to feel better but I still experienced great discomfort from inflammation. I began juicing and found that helpful

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too. But still, it had limited effects. I then began watch- ing documentaries on healthy eating and how the food culture in the west makes us sick. All were informa- tive but none gave me that ah ha moment until I came across “Folks Over Knives,” a documentary about “The China Study,” a groundbreaking research project which sought to better understand how types of foods and their nutritional compounds affect human health. The implication was that eating more than 5% of meat pro- tein in our diet may be the biggest factor in developing many chronic and debilitating diseases.

The lingering cravings I had for meat, cheese and eggs vanished after watching a documentary, which exposed factory farming for what it is; and I therefore went from being a leery, occasional meat eater to a complete vegan in the time it took to make up my mind I wanted to live better. Amazingly enough, with that immediate change in diet, began an immediate positive response in my health. I began quickly losing weight, dropping two pants sizes in a month. Small blemishing on my face, some I had for years, began clearing up, and the feel of my skin overall has tightened yet feels more hydrated and smooth as though elasticity is coming back. My intestinal inflammation healed within a few weeks of the transition. I have more energy and I’ve begun a daily exercise regimen. Even my mood has elevated.

These changes have been so severe, my son took the plunge and became vegan. In less than two months, he’s lost 16 pounds and has more energy than when he was an active teenager. My elderly mother, two weeks after I turned vegan, became a vegetarian herself. She was unable to make the full switch. But even still, her health has dramatically begun to change for the better by cutting out meat. After decades of suffering chronic head aches, chest discomfort, sharp arthritic pains in her fingers, hips and feet to the point she could not walk more than a few yards without needing to sit, she now joins me on morning walks at the local track, free of most her pains, free of most her discomfort. No head aches. No chest pains. For me, her achievements are a telling sign of the health advantages of eating a plant based diet.

Yet even with all these amazing benefits, I still can’t stop feeling nervous about sitting with friends at an impromptu get together, wondering what everyone thinks about the silly vegan and his silly vegetable plate.

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