Meet Janelle Hall. Avid traveler, antique collector, and Barbie-doll humorist, Janelle faced a crescendo of worsening health and weight gain in her mid-40s, culminating in a diabetes diagnosis. All of to which she eventually said, “no.” As Janelle describes, she sulked about her health crash for a bit.
But then, by starting with an “I’ll try,” Janelle ditched diabetes and downshifted her weight by – drumroll here – embracing a diet that one, she didn’t think would work, and two, she didn’t think she could do. “I had no idea, what I could do,” Janelle says.
Let’s take a look at how that played out, and where she is now in 2020.
Rolling back to 2014, Janelle was coming out of a marriage – she and her husband had spent years eating out more often than at home, generally choosing rich steak-and-fries type fare – and her health was showing signs of wear. “Meanwhile I was driving through McDonald’s too often, tucking into cans of Spaghetti-O’s … most Americans think that stuff’s food, right?” Despite being a light drinker, Janelle developed fatty liver disease, and her digestive system was crying foul, frequently leaving her nauseous or bathroom-bound after a meal. By spring 2015, Janelle left a doctor’s appointment with a raft of bad news: high total cholesterol at 245, very high triglycerides at 513, and an A1C (a measure of blood sugar over time) positively diabetic at 7.2. Her doctor sent her home with a prescription for Metformin to manage the blood sugar.
“I was pretty unhappy about all that,” Janelle recalls. “To me, having diabetes meant that I didn’t take care of myself, and not taking care of myself didn’t square with who I thought I was. Yet, there I was.”
Janelle mentioned her diabetes to Ruth Hardin, an acquaintance she’d met in a roundabout way who’d eventually become a friend. Ruth was a whole-food, plant-based vegan and wise to what that diet could do for health. “Ruth told me that I could fix my diabetes through diet and that others had done so successfully. I didn’t believe it,” says Janelle, “for no other reason than because I’d never heard such a thing.” Ruth kept after Janelle. “She’d invite me to events and meetups in Des Moines’ vegan community and point out places that I could try out vegan meals, so I could meet people and try vegan food. And, Ruth made it clear that I did not have to accept diabetes as a done deal.”
Inspired, Janelle took two more steps. She kept on increasing her fruits and vegetables, and dropped meat and poultry, hanging onto dairy, eggs, and the occasional fish dish. Then she hired a health coach. It was a union that lasted just a few sessions (the coach was committed to animal sources for protein) but helped Janelle hone some skills. “She told me ‘If you’re unwilling to quit drinking pop, I can’t help you,’ ” Janelle recalls, so she quit pop, and, learned how to read labels and avoid high-fructose corn syrup, sweeteners, and additives.
By the new year of 2017, Janelle was feeling increasingly better, still shedding weight, and seeing her lab numbers improve. She wanted to take the eating-for-health diet further, her fourth step. Ruth had told Janelle about a CHIP (Complete Health Improvement Program) a 6-week class taught by Karen McCarthy at the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Des Moines. (CHIP is a research-tested, intensive lifestyle medicine intervention solution designed to prevent, arrest and facilitate the reversal of many common chronic diseases. Founded in 1988 by Hans Diehl, DrHSc, MPH, FACN, the CHIP community and employer-sponsored classes and in-home study program has served tens of thousands of people worldwide.) Janelle knew that the CHIP case taught a whole-food, plant-based diet, which would mean giving up the dairy and eggs. Intrigued but skeptical, she tried the diet for a week on her own just to prove – in advance of the March class – that it was doable!
Janelle’s Results: By the time CHIP concluded, Janelle was down to 197 pounds, her total cholesterol 174, blood glucose 113 (it had been 130), and her A1C was below 6, out of diabetic range. “I didn’t believe Ruth when she first told me I could change my health with diet, but it was very clear to me at this point that I could.” Her digestive issues are resolved and fatty liver on the mend. Janelle cites energy and mental clarity as unexpected benefits. “I feel better now than ever. I feel light on my feet, capable, and clear-headed. You can’t know what ‘feeling good’ feels like until you experience it, but wow.”
Janelle notes that she is both happy where she’s at, and, that she “may, probably will” make further modifications as she chooses. As her diary notes, she eats well to serve and nourish herself, not to meet others’ expectations, and because it works. Her weight is stable, up some from CHIP, but she knows the point at which it doesn’t feel good and can ratchet it back. In a perfect world, Janelle would prefer to eat plant-based all the time but allows some wiggle room. She eats fish very occasionally. “Jesus did, right? Though, Jesus’ fish was cleaner than fish available to us now.” When she travels or attends group events, she will eat vegetarian meals. During spring 2020’s virus social distancing, she bought dried fruit to stretch the time between grocery runs. “The promo warned against eating the whole bag at one sitting, and I thought ‘who would do that?’ Well, dried fruit’s pretty addictive, over sweet, and not great for blood sugar. I’m still learning, and in I’ll be sticking with the whole fruit!”
How She Does It, Janelle’s Plant-Based Life:
Everyone does a plant-based diet a little differently based on where they’re at with it. Here’s Janelle’s MO right now:
- Empty-nester Janelle enjoys eating out several times a week, and she typically orders a take-home dish for a later meal. Plant-based Brightside Kitchen in Clive along with Asian omnivore restaurants Cool Basil, Banana Leaf, Siam Table, and Firebird are her favorite dine-out spots. She also loves original Dirt Burger to go and 5 Borough Bagels’ whole-wheat bagel with tofu cinnamon walnut cream cheese.
- “I like to eat on a schedule: breakfast, lunch, dinner. I could probably do with less, but for now, it keeps me from going off the rails.”
- Out of the kitchen by 7 pm. “I feel more productive in the evening if I’m not full of food.”
- Doctor visits? Gone are the days of follow-up scans, ultrasounds, and colonoscopies. “I go in twice a year to get my lab numbers. That’s it.”
- “My favorite home-cooked dish – which I’ve had to resurrect since COVID-19 is making it harder to eat out – is pasta, preferably the whole-wheat bowties or rainbow rotini, which I toss with oven-roasted yellow and green squash, colored peppers, mushrooms, a can of artichokes, Kalamata olives and sun-dried tomatoes.”
- For purchased food to eat at home, Janelle likes the boxed McDougall soups, Amy’s barley vegetable soup. She also has a thing for the tofu “egg” salad that Campbell’s Nutrition Centers will make on request, so she does.
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Janelle’s story here is part of a just-getting-started roundup of Iowa’s Own Plant-Based Health Success Stories.
Read them all and feel free to share the posts and stir the conversation! And if you have an Iowa or Iowa-rooted plant-based success story or know of one, email me at [email protected], or on Facebook.