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I'm down 50 pounds after switching from junk food vegan to a WFPB diet!

Written by Caroline DiNicola Fawley
I'm down 50 pounds after switching from junk food vegan to a WFPB diet!

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.

This week, we talked with Wanda Huberman. Wanda grew up eating the Standard American Diet, and did so until she made a shocking association between her daughter's diet and upcoming surgery. When she removed sugar and dairy from her 6-year-old's diet, the surgeon told Wanda the surgery was no longer necessary. This sparked Wanda's interest in food as medicine – and she began to research the health benefits of a whole food plant-based diet.

She decided to give it a go herself and saw the benefits almost immediately. She's stronger, lighter (down 50 pounds!), and has more energy than ever. Today, helping others live a healthy lifestyle is her mission – professionally and personally – as she serves as the Executive Director at the National Health Association (NHA).

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What prompted your interest in a plant-based diet?

Prior to meeting my husband, Mark Huberman, I knew very little about vegetarian or vegan diets. I was raised on a small farm in Ohio and spent a lot of time with my grandparents on their large tobacco farm in South Hill, Virginia. I was raised having meat and dairy at every meal. Before learning of the benefits of a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle, I ate a Standard American Diet, and as a young single mother who was working and going to college, I ate a lot of processed foods or grabbed meals to go that could be prepared very quickly.  I was in my 20s, busy, didn’t have any diagnosed health issues, and wasn’t overweight. 

I started learning about the health benefits of a WFPB lifestyle in 1989. Around this same time, my 6-year-old daughter was scheduled to have her tonsils and adenoids surgically removed. I’d had the same surgery as a child and thought it was necessary for most children. Also, I was given the book Sugar Blues by William Duffy. 

After reading it and learning a bit more, I removed sugar and started limiting dairy in our diet. I began incorporating more fruits and vegetables into our meals. With just these basic changes, I saw my daughter’s health improve rather quickly. When I went back to the surgeon for her pre-op appointment about six months later, the doctor couldn’t explain why he previously thought this child had needed surgery. This was a powerful experience for me which caused me to want to learn more about a WFPB lifestyle.

Later that year I attended my first National Health Association (NHA) annual conference. I heard from amazing speakers who were teaching the message that “health results from healthful living” and the many important health reasons for and benefits of a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle. I also had the opportunity to eat the meals served at the conference, which were mostly raw and did not offer all the options that are served today at the annual NHA Conferences. 

My personal challenge was eliminating eggs and dairy, and I still consumed some seafood. The challenge became a bit easier when Mark and I were married in 1991 and he was helping with grocery shopping and meal preparation. I began eating much healthier meals at home, with a large salad being the main course for every dinner. But I still ate out a lot for lunch and was not totally committed to a WFPB lifestyle. 

Each year, Mark and I continued to attend the annual NHA conferences. While the speakers were powerful in their lectures about eating a whole-food, plant-based diet, it was Lisa Fuhrman, Elaine Cridland, Jennifer Marano, Victoria Moran, and other parents who helped me gain confidence in embracing this new lifestyle. We became friends and would spend time talking about the intricacies of raising plant-based children—from learning how to feed them to attending school events to coping when they went to sleepovers and dealing with other children when they came to your house.

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What happened?

From 1993 to 2000, I was able to work part-time with my husband, raise our two children, and lead a healthy lifestyle. However, when the girls got older, I changed careers and went back to work full-time, which involved quite a bit of travel. I found myself making one compromise after another and sliding back into the “pleasure trap” of coffee and processed vegan food. Between 2002 and 2009, my 10-year-old niece moved in with us, as did my 90-year-old mother-in-law.

"After about 10 years of eating processed vegan foods and not taking time for regular workouts, I had gained 50 pounds, lacked energy, and was having general health complaints."

In November 2011, I had my “Aha!” moment. I felt like I was aging way too fast and losing control of my health. I had become addicted to coffee and was struggling, as so many do, with striking a balance between work and family. I was sitting at my desk and realized I had more knowledge and resources about attaining good health than most people, and I could certainly take personal responsibility to get my health back in check. I knew that I needed to get back to the basics of what was being taught by the hub of doctors who speak at National Health Association conferences and write articles in Health Science magazine. At that moment I knew I could not properly care for those that needed me until I first took care of myself. Early on at the NHA conferences, they often used the phrase “health care is self care,” and I knew that was true.

I called Dr. Alan Goldhamer at TrueNorth Health Center in Santa Rosa, California, and after our conversation, he suggested I take FMLA from work and purchase a one-way ticket to California, where I would work with his team and make changes one day at a time until I was healthy enough to return home. My medical doctor at TrueNorth, Dr. Peter Sultana, sent me to the hospital for some testing and when the results came back, he said I was a great candidate for a water fast. I fasted 19 days under his and the staff’s care. I attended lectures and focused on learning and embracing philosophies and tools which enabled me to make and sustain lifelong health changes. I was so physically exhausted that I slept through most of the first 10 days of my fast.

Afterwards I attended daily lectures and cooking demonstrations. I embraced and thrived on the information I was learning and enjoyed sharing this journey with other patients. I stayed at TrueNorth for a couple of weeks after I broke my fast so that I could focus on continued learning, food demonstrations, and exercise training. Learning the importance of exercise was one of the most unexpected and profound impacts of my stay. Dr. Alec Isabeau diagnosed me with sarcopenia (muscle loss that comes with aging and being physically inactive). When I returned to Youngstown, I started taking Pilates, reformer Pilates, and yoga classes at a local studio.

 


How were you able to stick with such a dramatic diet and lifestyle change?

I had learned the importance of maintaining balance in my daily life. When I returned to work, I had six weeks of catch-up to complete. I was committed to healthier daily habits, so I made sure to get sufficient sleep, as coffee was no longer a viable crutch. I made a schedule to complete regular exercise classes and would get a good walk in before I started work. I eventually started working out with a weight trainer to maintain my strength and bone health.

My mother-in-law was still living with us and had a caregiver with her while Mark and I were at work.  They would go grocery shopping and do a lot of batch prep for cooking so that we had wonderful family meals that were whole-food, plant-based and prepared without added salt, oil, or sugar. I counted my blessings that I had so much help when I returned home from TrueNorth and had time to really make these new habits become permanent in my life.

The added perk was that within six months of returning home from TrueNorth, I had lost the extra 50 pounds and was at a healthy weight.

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What is your life like now?

It’s been 10 years since my TrueNorth stay and 30 years since I started this WFPB journey. I now have healthy habits which have enhanced my life and which I completely enjoy. I continue to eat a whole-food, plant-based diet that is prepared without salt, oil, or sugar.

If I’m traveling and staying at a location where I can arrange it, I ship already prepared food from MamaSezz ahead of time, and then I go grocery shopping for some fresh produce so I can continue to enjoy the foods that I have come to love.

I continue to work out five days a week, which I love. I feel stronger and healthier now at 61 years old than I did at 25 years old. I retired from my prior career, and in 2020 I became the Executive Director of the National Health Association, where I have the privilege of leading this wonderful organization that has been dedicated to educating and empowering individuals to understand that health results from healthful living since 1948.  I am now a grandmother and look forward to spending many active years with my grandchildren, children, husband, and friends.

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What's your favorite MamaSezz dish?

My favorite MamaSezz dish is Ricotta-Style Mushroom & Tomato Bake


What are you most proud of? 

I am proud of my husband, our three daughters, and their families. They are all kind and giving people who do their best to make life better for those around them.

I am also proud of the legacy of the NHA and the work it continues to do, as well as my privilege to lead this organization. It is so exciting to see how this lifestyle is growing across the world. I especially enjoy being able to work with the chefs and plan meals for the NHA conference each year. These chefs have never cooked whole-food, plant-based before and certainly never thought they could cook without adding salt, oil, or sugar. They prepare 8-10 meals for 250+ people over 3-4 days, and each time they exceed the challenge and surprise themselves. 

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If you could meet and have lunch with one person who would it be? 

It would be my mother. She died way too young at 67-years-old of a ruptured brain aneurysm. I would want to talk to her more about her life as a child, wife, mother, and grandmother. She was always kind to everyone she met and had incredible strength and courage for whatever life threw her way. I would want her to know how much her family loved and admired her, that her husband, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are all well, and that we all miss her.

 

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