As we at MamaSezz well know, changing to a plant-based diet can change your life in ways you never expected. 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.
In this edition of Transformation Tuesday, we talked with Alexandra Newman, a Personal Trainer and a Food for Life Instructor who battled with Ulcerative Colitis for most of her life before discovering a plant based diet. Today, she is healthy, fit, active and no longer suffers from Colitis flairs. Through PCRM, Alexandra helps others to cure their ailments with a plant-based diet, something her doctor told her was impossible.
What prompted your interest in a plant-based diet?
I grew up eating the standard American diet of meat, dairy, junk food, and a few vegetables in small portions. Breakfast was typically cereal from a box with cow’s milk, lunch was a processed meat and cheese sandwich with potato chips, and dinner was a big piece of chicken with a little side of vegetables and maybe a salad that would fit inside a small cup and with lots of oily dressing. Snacks were pretzels, potato chips, and cheese. I loved cheese. You might say I was a cheese addict. I ate it every single day. I also loved steaks, burgers, cured meats, pepperoni pizza, french fries, potato chips, and ice cream.
That eating pattern continued far into adulthood. I was always relatively thin so I never thought these foods were in any way harming me. Even when in the fall of 1993, after the birth of my first child, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (UC), a digestive autoimmune disease, I still made no connection to diet.
I was told by my doctors that it didn’t matter what I ate, that UC had nothing to do with my diet and in fact if anything, I should eat low fiber so as not to irritate the lining of my colon. I continued to eat all the cheese, meats, and junky foods and I continued to suffer with UC for years taking medication after medication which helped only slightly.
What happened? Was there a defining moment that triggered change or did you have a gradual journey?
In early 2008, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about an NFL player who had read a book called The China Study by T. Colin Campbell and it completely changed the way he ate. He said, “I was convinced [after reading the book] that the way I was eating was going to kill me.” I was immediately intrigued by this quote and checked The China Study out of the library.
It changed my life. I have a family history of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. I learned from The China Study that these are diseases of affluence and can largely be prevented by adopting a whole foods, plant-based (WFPB) diet. I was 46 years old and I decided then and there to change my eating to a WFPB diet. I was still not thinking this change would have any effect on my UC, but I just didn’t want to get cancer.
I made the switch immediately and weaned myself off the cheese and ice cream addiction within a week.
How were you able to stick with such a dramatic diet change?
I am the type of person that once I make up my mind about something it will take a tsunami to change it! I see things as very black and white so once I settled in my mind that this is the healthiest way to eat and I saw the very positive change it made in my body, I resolved to stay with it forever. I truly believe that it is the way we are designed to nourish our amazing bodies. I informed my family that I would cook only whole food, plant-based meals in our home so if they wanted to eat they either had to eat what I made or cook for themselves! Now both my husband and daughter are whole-food, plant-based eaters.
What is your life like now? How did a plant-based diet impact your health and life?
What happened was nothing short of amazing. I immediately felt more energetic. The headaches I would occasionally get disappeared. I was never a heavy person, but I lost 12 pounds. But the most amazing thing was that within a month all of my UC symptoms, which medications never really controlled, were gone...and they have never returned.
Whole food, plant-based eating has made the difference between suffering from a disease for which I was told there was no cure, to being “cured." Doctor’s do not like to use the word “cured” but I don’t know what else to call it since I have had zero symptoms for 13+ years.
I am now 60 years old and enjoy excellent health. I run and work out 4-5 days a week and take no medications. I feel so young and energetic that I actually got certified as a personal trainer!
I have always felt so resolved that this is the best diet for the health of people and the planet I started my business Resolve Health and Fitness to share this knowledge with others. In addition to my personal training certification, I am a licensed Food for Life instructor with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and have received certifications in Plant-Based Nutrition from eCornell University and the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutritional Studies; and in Plant- Based Cooking from the Rouxbe School.
What motivated you to contribute to the book about diet and our environment, Food is Climate?
I started this journey to preserve my health, but since that time I have learned much more about the impact of livestock production on animal suffering, the environment, and world hunger. I am happy that I am not contributing to animal suffering and to detrimental effects on the environment.
I was happy to contribute to Food is Climate to help in some small way to spread the word that if everyone went all in on a whole-food plant-based diet it would stop animal suffering, sustain the environment, lower health care costs, and end malnutrition across the globe.
I want people to know that not only are those things true, but it is also a really delicious way to eat! The recipes I contributed are simple to make, use familiar ingredients, and are money and time-saving. One of my favorite things to do as a recipe creator is to think about things I used to enjoy before eating WFPB and remake them into healthy dishes that are even more flavorful. Thus, you’ll find recipes, in the book and on my website, like Lo Mein noodles, mac and “cheese”, chili, pasta bolognese, veggie burgers, no-egg salad, and potato salad. I am hopeful that Food is Climate will have a wide reach because truly anyone can do this and they will be glad they did.
What are you most proud of?
I am not one to take pride in myself, but what I will say is I am most grateful for my loving husband and children and a grandchild on the way!
If you could meet and have lunch with one person (alive or dead) who would it be?
I would love to have lunch with the Reverend Dick Lucas, former Rector of St. Helen’s Church, Bishopsgate, London. His preaching and teaching (which I have heard only through recordings) have had a tremendous impact on me.