Interview with Rachel Swindle, Runner, Yoga Instructor and Vegan

Disclosure:  Rachel is my daughter and has been very conscientious about following a self-taught plant-based diet without professional training. This is her story!

Are you vegetarian or vegan?

I was vegan for two years, then vegetarian for the past six months or so with the occasional serving of chicken. Currently, I mostly adhere to a vegan diet but living in Oregon I do consume seafood in small quantities about once a month. I’m not strict about it when eating out or if at a dinner party, I will try to stick to veggies and grains but won’t send something back if it has cheese or butter on it.

How long have you been vegetarian/vegan?

I went vegan in January of 2015; vegetarian-ish for about six months in early 2017, now mostly vegan again.

Why did you decide to become vegetarian/vegan?

Several reasons-

  • I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease during the summer of 2008 and struggled with it intensely for several years. In 2012, during a summer break from college, I worked on an organic vegetable farm and naturally transitioned to a more plant-based diet and noticed that I felt quite a bit better. Those months were the first in four years that I was symptom-free. The diet didn’t stick when I went back for my senior year of undergrad and the flare-ups came back, but several years later I decided to make the switch. It was coupled with a piqued interest in yoga, as I was in a teacher training at the time and was learning about ancient ethical standards of living and how vegetarianism fits into that lifestyle. I spent weeks researching various studies that had shown a positive correlation between plant-based diets and remission success rates for Crohn’s patients. Dairy and high-fat meats seem to be of particular concern for those suffering from irritable bowel diseases. Further, a side effect of Crohn’s that I frequently struggle with is arthritic joints, specifically in the knees and spine. I found evidence that plant-based diets could reduce the inflammation that correlates with or causes (depending on who you ask) this pain. Pain and inconvenience are, by far, most deleterious to the quality of life for patients with Crohn’s disease. Modern medical approaches to treating pain are unsustainable for most, and I personally did not want to rely on medication to feel okay every day. At the time that I made the switch, I was at the beginning of my professional career, which necessitated a more viable solution to Crohn’s symptoms. In college it’s acceptable to go to class in sweatpants or ask your friends to record lectures when I had fevers; the same approach does not suffice in corporate America. Prior to committing to a yoga and meditation practice that reduced stress levels and a plant-based diet, I felt like I was constantly reacting and playing defense with my health. While I am not a strict vegan anymore, I still feel as though a 90% plant-based diet coupled with exercise and meditation has been and continues to be a vital aspect of sustained well-being and improved quality of life.
  • Animal agriculture is one of the largest producers of greenhouse gases, a huge cause of deforestation, and it uses grain and water resources that could be directed towards humans instead of livestock maintenance. I care about our planet and felt that cutting out animal products was an easy way to protect limited resources.
  • Health- there seems to be statistically significant links between increased meat consumption and higher rates of certain diseases. Vegans also have, on average, lower BMIs than meat-eaters. Also, as someone with Crohn’s disease, I had found some research indicated that a plant-based diet can produce favorable results for patients with inflammatory bowel diseases.
  • Ethical concerns regarding the treatment of animals. I grew up with a dog, whom I loved dearly, and it seemed counter-intuitive to me to be opposed to eating my dog but not to eating a cow. Further, animals raised for meat and dairy are treated horrifically.

What benefits do you receive from being a vegetarian/vegan?

I’ve noticed increased energy and easier and more regular digestion when adhering to a mostly plant-based diet. I’ve also noticed easier recovery from workouts (I’m a runner and a yoga teacher/practitioner).

Are there any difficulties with being vegetarian/vegan?

It is challenging to eat out sometimes. It’s quite easy to be vegan in Portland, as it’s a popular lifestyle here, but living in central Illinois and going to restaurants often presented logistical issues. Another difficulty is attending dinner parties with few vegetarian options because you don’t want to be rude by not eating what the host has provided but you also don’t want to be difficult by requesting something that suits your diet. I usually try to avoid this situation by offering to bring something that I know I can eat.

Once you became vegetarian/vegan what there anything you missed?

Cheeseburgers, Papa Del’s deep dish pizza (Illinois girl at heart!), my dad’s steaks, Velveeta and shells (college guilty pleasure), sushi (when I wasn’t eating seafood), and ice cream from Custard Cup.

What is the best advice you would give for anyone thinking about becoming vegetarian/vegan?

Do your homework! There are a ton of resources available for those considering the switch. I used and still use Pinterest all the time to find healthy, protein-rich plant-based recipes. (Below are a few of my favorite websites.) If you work a standard 9-5 job then make a dish on Sunday that can serve as your lunch all week. Figure out an easy breakfast (mine is usually a smoothie, oatmeal, or fruit) that you can rely on. And write down WHY you’re making the switch so that when you feel tempted to veer off course you can reference why it is that you’re doing this.

Also important is making sure you’re getting enough essential vitamins and minerals; your PCP can run a blood test to check iron and B vitamin levels, which are common deficiencies in vegans (remember that most meat-eaters also take vitamins, it’s okay for you to do the same!).

Be forewarned that there is a lot of vegan junk food out there, which is great for the occasional indulgence, but just because something is vegan does not make it healthy!

Lastly, try to ignore anyone who heckles you about your diet. Eat what makes your body work the best for you and if a vegan or vegetarian diet makes you feel good then who cares what anyone else thinks! Just be prepared to get some inquisitive and confused comments from your [grand]parents 😉

This blog was posted by Robin Allen, a member of the Military Families Learning Network (MFLN) Nutrition and Wellness team that aims to support the development of professionals working with military families.  Find out more about the MFLN Nutrition and Wellness concentration on our website on Facebookon Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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