VEGANA SPOTLIGHT: Laura O'Connell
Vegan Since: 2006
Heritage: 50% Mexican, 50% European (German, Norwegian, Irish, and Swiss)
MY VEGAN STORY
Throughout my teen years I severely struggled with my weight. Bad habits such as binge-eating quickly became a comfort zone and coping mechanism. At just 17 years old, I had reached my highest weight of 300 pounds and ultimately had to make a decision to change my life for the better or spiral down a path that would lead to future health complications. I had struggled for years with stomachaches, insomnia, heartburn, and was on the verge of developing type 2 diabetes.
I was no stranger to fad diets. While a couple of them helped shed some weight, it was not for the long-term. My body felt drained and weak and to top it off, I had gained back almost double the weight I had lost. I felt defeated every time my attempts at dieting had failed. As an overweight teenager, I felt isolated and depressed. I didn't see the light at the end of the tunnel and became pessimistic about the future. After a night of binge-eating and being struck with food poisoning, I had finally reached my breaking point. My brother who was already vegan for two years encouraged me to read books about the vegan lifestyle. I was skeptical because I was afraid of change. This was a foreign subject to me. How could I live without animal products? Don't I need milk to build strong bones and where will I get protein? Those were just a couple of the questions running through my then naive state of mind, but since I really needed a change, I knew I needed to do my research first. Books such as Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin and Eat To Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, ignited a flame inside of me that I never knew I had.
I soon became knowledgeable about how to sustain a healthy lifestyle on a plant-based diet by ditching meat and dairy and actively seeking out alternatives. I began including whole plant foods into my diet such as more leafy greens, steamed vegetables, beans, whole grains, potatoes, and healthy fats such as seeds and nuts. Occasionally I would include mock meats and vegan junk food but it was not a priority. In the first year alone I had lost a great amount of weight with just changing my dietary habits. My stomach pains disappeared, my sleep routine regulated and I was no longer a candidate for developing type 2 diabetes. Over the course of 9 years, I lost a total of 120 pounds and gained newfound confidence. My passion for this lifestyle truly shines when I am able to share my story with others. I truly believe that adopting a vegan lifestyle saved my life and it can save the lives of many more.
- Take it slow and allow your body to accept these changes.
- Keep small goals in mind. Don't be too hard in yourself, otherwise you may lose focus on why you wanted to adopt a vegan lifestyle in the first place. Every day is an accomplishment!
- Plan your meals before going out. Pack a lunch for work or at least know where you can find vegan options. Also, if you know you'll be out all day, food such as bananas, cooked sweet potatoes, dates, vegan energy bars, and apples are always good to pack.
- Knowledge is power. Do research. Read books, articles, blogs, and watch videos on YouTube about being vegan.
- Get out there and attend different events. Vegan Meetups are always fun and a great way to connect with people who share in the same lifestyle. If you don't have any in your town, consider joining online groups.
- Don't be afraid of trying new food. Experiment with recipes and try different vegan restaurants. You may be surprised at how delicious plant-based cuisine can be.
- My last tip is to never be afraid of change. Your life, health, the life of animals and our environment is too important to not take that step forward. Change is beautiful.