As we at MamaSezz well know, changing to a plant-based diet can change your life in ways you never expected. Some try a plant based diet for weight loss, others for disease reversal. In this series, we talk with some of the world’s most soulful, dedicated (and often funny) individuals. We get to hear their stories of suffering, transformation, and service — and we learn how food is an essential part of their journey.
This week, we're bringing you Wendy Wassink Swiger, a vibrant 65 year old woman,who even though she was vegan, struggled with obesity most of her adult life. Wendy discovered permanent weight loss and the way out of yo-yo dieting with whole food plant based foods.
Here's her story:
In 1979, when I was a young college student, I met an older (45) Daoist man who was a vegan. He was always sharing his food with us college students, and I was continually amazed at how good it was. Because of him, I tried to go vegetarian for several years up until 1987 or so.
What prompted your interest in a plant-based diet?
There was no internet, and I had no mentors, so we ate cheese and dairy, not knowing about the torment they cause or that they are worse for health than meat. I was more interested in stopping the cruelty, anyway. No one is interested in preserving health under less than 55 years old
Then, around 1990, I saw an underground documentary about industrial pig farming. Eyes and hearts scalded, my husband and I gave up ham and bacon immediately. I will never EVER willingly have any part of that again.
What was life like before starting your plant-based journey? (what was your diet/life/health like before?)
I have been obese for most of my adult life with brief periods of lower weight after having used brute discipline to follow some crazy diet. I've lost and regained significant weight in the last 5 decades. None of the diets worked long term -- because they were diets, not lifestyles --shifting to plant-based nutrition is a lifestyle choice
I have done ALL the diets.This is the first time I have lost this much weight and, and certainly the first time the weight STAYED off. I started this journey 3 years ago and I'm still 50 lb/23kg below my top weight of 198 lbs/98kg. I'm 5'3", so that feels good.
Was there a defining moment that triggered change or did you have a gradual journey?
It's scary that I found all this out by accident. I had started a vegan potluck Club here in Charleston in 2013, and we were eating all the processed vegan junk just like most folks do. I had been an obese vegan for 8 years, since giving up dairy in 2011. I thought I was healthier by avoiding cholesterol. For some reason, I never made the fat connection to understand the burden oil adds.
At one of our monthly meals, I stumbled into a fellow who said he had lost 70 lb on potatoes. I rolled my eyes, but went home to look up his Dr McDougall, who promoted a primarily potato based diet.
The potato plan sounded doable, and what could it hurt? After reading about Andrew Spudfit Taylor and hearing his poignant testimony, I jumped into a 12-day potato reset, following the daily vlog progress made by Brian and Jessica Krock, of KROCKS IN THE KITCHEN. Thanks to their videos, I was prepared to plow through a difficult 3-day start.
The POTATO RESET challenge was perfect for me -- because it shows dramatic results quickly.
I don't do "gradual" well. I get bored with the struggle and lose hope. I'm an ALL-IN person.... or I'll give up too soon.
After more than 30 years of chronically high blood pressure and high cholesterol, I had finally submitted to blood pressure pills. I was not on statins (yet), but cholesterol was trending high with each year. I was pre-diabetic, so more pills were lurking ominously around the corner.
AFTER ONLY 3 DAYS OF POTATOES
A friend had warned me what it feels like to achieve a drop in blood pressure, which I had been trying to achieve with copious amounts of hibiscus tea for a year. Google and everybody confirmed that hibiscus tea could lower my blood pressure. .... Yet it had not affected mine. But because of this warning, when I was slightly dizzy after 3 days of potatoes, I ran down the hill to my doctor to check my blood pressure. It was 118 / 78! Even though I was still on blood pressure pills, it was usually 20-40 points higher. I took myself off blood pressure pills that day and 3 yrs later, haven't taken them since.
A month later, at my annual physical, my doctor's jaw was dragging on the ground when she saw my lab results. She told me it was the biggest drop in LDL she had EVER seen, not due to pharmaceuticals.
Weight started to shed at around 2 lb/week, and then 1 lb/ week, then 1 lb/ month.... Until I had lost 50 pounds. It took about a year and a half to lose that much while learning how to eat mostly potatoes in a WFPBNO lifestyle.
I started a *new* social media group, to help myself learn this new lifestyle. I was hoping to find like-minded people in our little town -- Strength in numbers! *And* ....I was SO excited to share ... It is challenging to swim upstream in such a downstream world.
None of my friends wanted to hear it, not even my husband, rolling his eyes at the oddity of it all. I needed a support group, which is how WVegan was born. My head would've exploded, otherwise.
We got worldwide exposure when I was interviewed by several influencers (Andrew Spudfit Taylor, Jeanne Schumacher, T Colin Campbell Center For Nutrition Studies), and in 3 yrs, WVegan grew quickly to 720+ global members.... A fun, interesting group.
After finding good admins to help, we sorted out the *local* members and started the WVegan Supper Club to facilitate local potlucks.
I enjoy the challenge of creating a beautiful new dish once a month to share with others. I love to taste other people's new foods, too! We trade recipes, tips, info. There is always a bit of pressure to show off, so the food is usually outstanding. ...So helpful in learning, growing. I'm a much better cook than I was even 3 years ago when I used to lean on oil to make food tasty.
Fellowship is reaffirming, and necessary for strength on this path, in my opinion. It's too hard when we are swimming against the tide solo -- FELLOWSHIP is the main reason for the creation of WVegan and its Supper Club.
After my 12-day potato reset and immediate success with blood pressure, I began to aggressively follow this movement on YouTube and in facebook support groups. I listen to great leaders like Drs John McDougall, the Esselstyn family, Dean Ornish, and so many more. Thank God for YouTube, keeping this movement alive!
I DOVE STRAIGHT INTO WFPBNO-NO DABBLING beyond the occasional bad choice.
Andrew Taylor's SPUDFIT CHALLENGE was the first and most helpful social media support group. Free too -- important for those of us on limited incomes.
With access to so many free lectures and such great information, I simply did what the doctors recommend.
The weight kept coming off, lab numbers kept getting better. All kinds of people kept asking what I did to lose the weight, so I set up a private FB group called WENDY'S POTATO RESET to share what I did.
PHYSICAL EVIDENCE ISN'T ENOUGH
Sadly, even dramatic changes don't convince loved ones to join us. My husband continued to eat all the vegan foods I knew we must avoid. Family grew tired, wondering if I had joined a cult. Friends started to cross the street rather than have to talk to me.
I was beside myself with worry for them all, and my husband got bigger, lab numbers worsening. I put a calorie density chart on the refrigerator that only *I* looked at.
HE DID CHANGE HIS MIND, but not (directly) because of me. Here's what happened:
..... It took a while for my husband to come to WFPBNO. A year, in fact. He knew underneath that he should change his food, because he watched me transform right in front of his eyes. After three decades of alarmingly high numbers, I had gotten off blood pressure pills in only 3 days of potatoes!
I realized after a year that Chuck was never going to change because of anything I had to say -- so I learned to be quiet. But I knew it was going to take a health scare, so I prayed for God to hurry up and bring it →and let him live. About 3 months later we had a near fatal car wreck, turning our convertible upside down in a rock-filled creek.
Miraculously, someone saw us on that unpopular dirt road... and we were rescued before dark, before the creek rose.
Unable to move, we were pinned under 3,000 lb of metal as the sun slid closer to twilight. Honestly, I believed we were going to die there.
As we were both hauled off in ambulances, Chuck had a heart attack from the stress.... And yet my blood pressure was only 120/70 after 3 decades of chronically high numbers.
As Chuck recuperated in the hospital from the new stent in the problem artery (they weren't able to fix the other one -- a 60-70% blocked Widowmaker, which he still carries), I asked him if I could throw away his granola, nuts, candy, peanut butter. He said yes -- and that was the beginning of our clean household.
I had quit drinking 6 months before that, and he stopped drinking a few months after the wreck. We went to a twelve step program together to cement our decision and only had to go twice. We are both firm in this decision to stop alcohol poisoning. I've been sober 2½ years, 1½ for Chuck. It's easy now.
The transformation is amazing. We had both been obese vegans for 8 years, but now we are healthy, normal weight herbivores with excellent blood labs.
RESULTS- HERE'S WHAT WE FIXED:
Medical issues we no longer have:
High blood pressure
High blood sugar
Excessive edema in the ankles
We both had scary eyesight issues with retinal tearing, which now seems to be stabilizing. For 30 years, I have had thick cracked heels with painful fissures sometimes; they are smooth and supple now.
Chuck's chronic eczema is almost gone (painful bloody patches needed expensive creams and shots).
I have had crippling arthritis pain in both my left knee and dominant right shoulder ... Totally gone now.
Chuck also had serious arthritis pain -- now gone. We can walk miles with no problem. We never get colds... It's been 4ish yrs for Chuck, and at least 5+ years for me.
How were you able to stick with such a dramatic diet change?I was inspired by my father, though not in the way you might think.
My father was a brilliant Dutch doctor who survived Nazi occupation in Holland as a boy. Rebounding from near famine conditions, he raised his children on the best cheeses money could buy, lots of steak and beef, tasty processed foods. He ate a ham and cheese sandwich every day for lunch for as long as I can remember. Because he was able to manage a normal weight and always looked healthy, he didn't know he was wrecking his cardiovascular system. He had to get a pacemaker in his early seventies, less than 10 years from where I am now. At 87, he had a stroke-like incident which put him in a nursing home for the next 4½ yrs ....until he died there. He became a prisoner in a blob of meat that just didn't work right.
My brother and I spent a full 2 days' round trip traveling to visit him there (bro from MA, me from WV). We went every 6 weeks. Though mostly clear in his mind, Dad had double vision and couldn't read. He couldn't follow a complex thought for very long; he couldn't watch a movie. Could no longer do Sudoku or chew on advanced calculus problems. How did he pass the time?!!? A wonderfully funny, gregarious fellow, tragically, he could no longer communicate clearly. It was his lot to watch everyone ELSE chatting. Though he could still translate Greek and correctly diagnose a complex medical issue, He couldn't speak clearly -- Pantomime was never enough. We watched his frustration helplessly.
The stroke knocked out some motor skills; he couldn't swallow smoothly.... when thirsty, had to drink thickened liquid glop for fear of choking.
He couldn't write legibly. He couldn't walk and had to use a bedpan most of the time -- no one there most times to help him out of bed. Sometimes the caregivers drugged him illegally to make him more compliant or easier to deal with, but we couldn't prove it.
.....We watched him slowly dwindle into a shadow. FOUR AND A HALF YEARS burnt into my brain. It was his life-saving gift to me.
I find the prospect of following in his footsteps absolutely terrifying, but it's in the cards for me with our strong family history. My chronically high blood pressure, cholesterol, and other symptoms are typical of potential stroke victims. Now that I've learned how much abuse I've given my cardiovascular system, Impossible burgers and vegan ice cream are no longer appealing.
I'VE READ THE EXCELLENT BOOKS, seen the top-tier YouTube vids, read the impressive footnotes in this WFPBNO movement. Thank God for social media! Drs Dean Ornish, Caldwell Esselstyn, and John McDougall have 40+ yrs experience, are well-published, and claim stellar track records with their patients. More than ever, I am grateful for the fine education my father provided, that I can discern through the mud.
What is your life like now?How did a plant-based diet impact your health and life?
At 65, I'm on no pills. I regained about 10 lb since my lowest recent weight 2 years ago. Unlike in the past, I'm not a bit worried because I know how to get it off. It's just about tweaking calorie density... Finding lighter foods I can enjoy in bulk.
I've had two arthritis scares: just after starting this diet in Fall 2019, my right shoulder could no longer reach up without severe pain -- so much pain, I started using my left arm to get things from the upper cabinet. X-rays confirmed arthritis, news to me. Chuck was having arthritic hip pain about the same time.
After about 6 months, the pain began to lessen for both of us, until it completely disappeared. I continued eating whole, mostly unprocessed plants with occasional bread and condiments. Dec. 2021, my left knee would not walk a quarter mile without severe pain requiring rest. I was really scared. Kept eating whole unprocessed plants. By March, pain was completely gone. As I write this in September 2022, both joints feel better than ever!
I no longer have high blood pressure or high sugar; I'm not on diabetes pills. I've successfully avoided statins! I no longer have sleep apnea, cracking painful heels, headaches, excessive ankle edema. I've lost 50 lb, so thrifting for clothes is fun again. I have more energy than ever, feel 30 years younger. Colds are a thing of the past. Much hope for a vital, vigorous, clear-minded future, realistic hope for the possibility of dying in my sleep or from a very short illness -- rather than with the lingering misery of my dad.
If applicable-What is your favorite MamaSezz food/dish?Our lifestyle is such that we don't need ready made foods, but boy am I grateful you are producing them! My daughter told me about your company. She and her husband love your food, but I don't know which ones they like best. They are both busy engineers in Charlotte.
What are you most proud of?
My ability to focus on the prize in spite of intense pressure to go the other way. It is so hard to adopt a lifestyle seen as cult-like and ridiculous. I did it because the quality of my remaining life depends on it.
I made a crazy bet, and it paid off in spades. To pay it forward, I've been able to use our group, WVegan, to convince others to try whole plants. My supper club idea is coming to fruit, too! We now have 40 members in our local potluck group. Three friends recently told me that I've started a "tsunami" of no-oil health awareness right here in Charleston.
THAT FEELS AS GOOD AS SIZE 8 PANTS
It makes up for having to helplessly watch so many loved ones trundle towards disease and decay, refusing to experience their unique prize from this Cracker Jack box.
What is your life motto or creed?
A MAN WHO NEVER MADE A MISTAKE NEVER MADE ANYTHING
... For me it's about never giving up, always striving for the goal. Progress -- not Perfection. When knocked down, we get up again.