Sam's journey to wellness

For many people, the connection between diet and health takes time to discover. It was no different for me. Coming to understand the impact of food on well-being led me on a long journey through some difficult territory.

My family’s love of cooking was heavily influenced by Italian traditions and American standards. We ate a lot of meat, pasta, cheese, pizza, sandwiches, chips, and baked goods. I snacked on milk and cookies like any kid and spent my summers sucking down ice cream cones, hot dogs and fries. Sometime during high school, I decided I needed to lose weight. Going vegan seemed like a logical way to pursue this, especially since I was starting to lose my taste for meat.

I had no idea what I was doing. (A journal entry details my first “vegan” shopping trip, in which I bought “a quart of soy milk, some bean sprouts, tofu, veggie burgers, and soy-based hot dogs.”) Vegetarianism seemed easier, so I got myself a copy of The Clueless Vegetarian to get started. I didn’t completely phase out meat until the summer of 2008, but I still ate a lot of dairy products.

All through childhood and well into my early twenties, I got sick on a pretty regular schedule with all the common ailments. As I got older, I began to experience bouts of

shortness of breath, skin problems, muscle aches, bone pain and hormonal imbalances. I was put on a rotating litany medications, and I took a lot of over-the-counter painkillers. Doctors never asked about my diet, and I didn’t know enough to realize food might be a problem.

I didn’t give up the few dairy foods I still loved until the summer of 2009 when the lactose intolerance that kicked in at age 10 became so severe that nothing could control it. That sparked my first serious foray into veganism. At first, I relied heavily on vegan “convenience foods.” Despite enjoying things like beans and rice, my diet included very few of the wholesome dishes characterizing today’s plant-based movement.

Earlier that year, I underwent minor surgery to correct a problem I now firmly believe was caused by excessive consumption of dairy products and caffeine. The surgery touched off another series of health problems, which sent me through the revolving door of of the medical system yet again. After a litany of tests, doctors diagnosed my condition as “chronic idiopathic adult constipation” and put me on a daily regimen of laxatives.

This was the single most dangerous thing they could have done. Nobody knew that my perception of my body had been going downhill since high school. By the time doctors put me on laxatives, I’d already tried them – along with “natural” ideas for “cleansing” — in a misguided attempt at weight loss. Once I had permission from doctors to take a laxative every day, all hell broke loose.

It didn’t look like that from the outside. I was running a coffee shop with my best friend and performing folk music on the local scene. At the same time, I was abusing laxatives and alternating between extreme dieting and binge eating. I lost a lot of weight, but not so much that anyone, even doctors, said anything about it.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this, I came across 1 Corinthians 3:17 while reading my Bible: If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. By God’s grace, the passage was the wake-up call I needed. Although I later learned the verse has a much different context, at the time it made me realize God didn’t want me to be hurting my body the way that I was, and I began a journey to reacquaint myself with food in a way that was healthy and nourishing. I’m still on this journey I’m today, and putting my faith and trust in the Lord is a big part of what keeps me grounded when things threaten to spiral out of control.

Going vegan during that time helped me re-learn how to enjoy food instead of fearing it by opening up a  new world of cuisine to explore. I started a food blog dubbed “Quantum Vegan” as a reference to my love of all things relating to quantum physics. I wanted to use it as a platform to share my vegan experience with others as I got creative in the kitchen and gained more insight into the plant-based life.

The China Study, The Food Revolution, Fast Food Nation, Eating Animals, In Defense of Food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food, Inc. educated me on the health benefits of abstaining from animal products and opened my eyes to the horrors of factory farming. When I saw Forks Over Knives in early 2012, I realized how many processed and packaged foods I was still eating. The film galvanized me; I was ready to give up the garbage and go whole-food, plant-based.

That summer, I enrolled in the Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition course offered by the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and was fascinated by all I learned. The more I studied, the more I wanted to go beyond sharing recipes on a blog. I wanted to tell other people about what I was discovering so that they could experience the benefits.

After some searching, I came across the Nutrition Consultant program at Bauman College. While not 100 percent plant-based, I appreciated its inclusion of scientific background and focus on total health.  When I graduated with honors  in 2014, I felt officially ready to turn Quantum Vegan from a blog into a full-fledged wellness consulting business.

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My journey to a plant-based diet has had a profound effect on my health. As I progressed from “flexitarian” to vegetarian to vegan, I was able to stop taking laxatives and prescription medication. Although my digestive condition never received a proper diagnosis and isn’t completely cured, I’m able to live more comfortably just by eating plant-based and staying active. Struggling with digestive difficulties has led me to independent reading and research on the gut microbiome. It’s fascinating to me just how much the health of our gut bacteria can affect the whole of our well-being. To me, it’s just more evidence that God designed us according to His perfect plan and gave us all we need to be healthy.

Embracing a diet that allows me to be creative with meal planning and use fresh, seasonal ingredients has helped me move beyond the majority of my disordered eating habits. Today, I approach meals as enjoyable experiments, the results of which often wind up being shared on my blog.

In addition to cooking and developing recipes, I’ve  given talks on veganism and eating disorders, hosted a screening of Forks Over Knives and taught several demo-style cooking classes. I have appeared on  Focus on Albany and WAMC’s Food Friday and shared articles and recipes in Eco Local Living magazine and on One Green Planet, WishGarden Herbs, Reduce Footprints and The Happy Body Network. My recipes have also been featured in the NutritionFacts.org Daily Dozen 2017 calendar and the Albany Times Union 2016 “Naughty or Nice” Christmas Cookie Challenge.

When I’m not cooking, writing or blogging, you can find me walking, busting it out with a good HIIT or strength routine, knitting, reading through the Bible, spending time with my family and shopping for food like some people shop for shoes. (If I have any shopping addiction, it’s farmers markets!)

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