“I went vegetarian for my girlfriend. In 5th grade!” says Thomas Robinson. And he stuck with it for the most part, until during a deep dive with drugs and alcohol, he ate a cheeseburger and decided he wanted more of that stuff too. That dive, describes Thomas, was rough. Thomas says he didn’t expect he’d live past age 27.
Spoiler alert. Thomas is now 44. He outlived his personally predicted life expectancy, but outpacing his struggles took longer. Making his way to sobriety had Thomas in and out of rehab. At the same time, Thomas also worked in hospitality and foodservice and found that he loved to cook. Ultimately Thomas stepped away from the hospitality and foodservice scene – it can be a difficult environment in which to maintain sobriety – but the skills and experience are his to keep.
Today, Thomas Robinson is four years sober and two years fully plant-based. He feels terrific, finds himself doing things he never knew he was interested in and is intensely motivated to look after himself, his family, and serve and support others.
Making the change: As Thomas describes it, each little bit of feeling better led to another and a desire to be helpful. First, there was the getting sober. “I ate my way out of alcoholism, and not in a good way,” says Thomas, whose weight on his 5’11 frame once topped 260 pounds. He started walking his three dogs, which felt so good that it became a habit. Getting fresh air and sunshine worked their magic. He started cleaning up his diet and found inspiration and information in three key sources: The Rich Roll Podcast (www.richroll.com), Simon Hill, RD (www.plantproof.com), and Michael Greger, MD (nutritionfacts.org). “Eventually, I was 90% plant-based, but decided to go 100% as a wedding gift to my wife, on our wedding day,” explains Thomas. “Cat’s plant-based, but I’m the cook in our family, and I wanted to be able to take care of her.”
What Thomas Eats: Thomas sets a blender whirring for the couple’s breakfast smoothies, which usually include apple, banana, kale, celery, and sometimes berries. Thomas batch cooks each week, stocking the fridge with salads for lunches and dinner bowls, so meals are at the ready. “Our bowls generally involve some blend of brown rice and quinoa blend, sweet potato, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, and spinach, and I rotate the seasonings and sauces among our favorite flavor profiles, Asian, Mexican, Mediterranean, and Italian.” Keeping things super simple means one bowl style for several dinners in a row. “When your food tastes great, having the same meal for a few nights in a row is a great strategy,” Thomas explains. Each week he also makes up batches of granola bars to have on hand for snacks. (Thomas’ recipe for his Dinosaur Bites is shared below.) Thomas notes that he and Cat allow themselves a vegan junk food meal once or twice on weekends, which might be a Beyond or Impossible Burger and some vegan cheese or ice cream. Thomas describes that Sunday dinners have been an important family meal for as long as he can remember, something that was an integral part of his mom’s childhood too. He looks forward to Sundays when he’ll take time crafting a new culinary creation or try a new recipe.
The Payoff: “Your body loves you!” remarked Thomas’ physician at a recent checkup. “That’s a meaningful thing for her to say,” Thomas explains, given that he sees the same physician today as he did when he was in the throes of substance abuse and eating the Standard American diet. “I’ve lost 80 pounds, and my weight’s still dropping, my blood pressure and cholesterol and all my health markers are in good shape.”
Further, Thomas says, interests are popping up unexpectedly. “I don’t remember ever wanting to run,” he explains. “But 32 weeks ago, I woke up and decided to give it a try, so went out and out and ran a couple of miles, and did it again the next day. Then committed to running some on every day that the weather allowed, and eventually ran a half marathon.”
Feeling good is inspiring itself, Thomas explains, and in contrast to the years of feeling poorly, he is eager to serve, support, and be helpful to Cat, their dogs, his family, to others who’ve struggled as he did.
Thomas’ Insights: “Going plant-based was easier than I thought it would be,” says Thomas. Having culinary skills helps, of course, but Thomas finds that animal products do not have a lock on creating satisfying flavors and textures. “When I was a kid, being a vegan seemed weird, and that’s just not the case anymore at all.”
# # #
Thomas’ Dinosaur Bites
1 cup pitted dates
1/2 cup prunes
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 cups mixed nuts*pecans, walnuts, almonds)
1 cup oats
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
3/4 cup natural peanut butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tbsp chia seeds
2 tbsp flax seeds
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup of dark chocolate chips (optional)
*Thomas notes that he purchases pecans, walnuts, and almonds in their unsalted, unroasted form found in a grocer’s baking section.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, combine the first 3 ingredients for a few minutes until they form a paste. Remove the paste from the processor. Put the nuts in the food processor and pulse or blitz it a few times to break the nuts into smaller pieces. In a cup, mix chia, flax, and water and let sit for a couple of minutes. In a microwave-safe bowl, warm the combined peanut butter and maple syrup in the microwave for 90 seconds. Add all the ingredients to a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and let it go on slow for 3 to 4 minutes. Press the blended mixture into a small baking dish and bake for 20 minutes. Cut into 1″ cubes and refrigerate.
# # #
Want to read more Iowa’s Own Plant-Based Success Stories? Click here.