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How I found the Fountain of Youth
I had so much fun with myself this morning (see above) that I’ve used this image in two blog posts (so far.)
This post is out of order. Once I decided to put my foodie foot forward here on Substack, I immediately started posting recipes, just because I like to write them down right after I make the dish.
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It’s past time I post my intro & journey post.
Who am I?
I’m Maggie Shayne, romance & thriller novelist. 111 titles so far with most of the major houses in NY. Hit the NYT a couple of times, won like 20 industry awards, yada yada. I’m working now with a remarkable house, Oliver Heber Books.
I’m a card carrying Wiccan Witch, and I’ve written a handful of non-fiction works on the relationship between natural magic and the Law of Attraction.
I’m married to a younger man and madly in love, and since he’s pretty nuts about me too, I’ve decided to live as long, and as healthfully as possible.
I used to expect I’d die by 60 for the illogical reason that my mother only made it to 60 + 2 weeks. She’d had pancreatic cancer for 14 months by then. Same disease also got her sister. So I felt doomed.
My Health then
Primary Supra-Ventricular Tachycardia (PSVT) a condition where the heart rate will suddenly spike for no reason. Five times, I had been to the ER to have my heart chemically stopped and restarted to restore its rhythm.
I had a prescription for metoprolol, a beta blocker and heart rate stabilizer, to take as needed should a PSVT episode occur. In 2020 they were occurring once or twice a month.
Pre-diabetic with an A1C of 5.7
Chronic acid reflux and—living on Tums. (Lived on Nexium til they banned it.)
Terrible issues with scalp itch and flaking that I’d had forever.
I was barely sleeping.
Near daily headaches, and frequent muscle, joint and body aches I thought were just age.
And then, one day, I stumbled upon…
Forks Over Knives
Skimming for something to watch, I stumbled upon the documentary Forks Over Knives on Amazon Prime. It was about Dr. Caldwell Esselysten’s and nutritionist T. Colin Campbell’s groundbreaking work in treating disease with a whole foods, plant-based diet.
Oh, I thought. Well, I’m never going to do that. Although I had been feeling more and more uncomfortable about eating animals, and had started to think I might stop eating mammals.
Still, I was curious enough keep watching. I made it as far as the study where researchers were turning BRCA gene mutations on and off “like a light switch” by switching the diets of mice from 20% casein (on) to 5% casein (off). Just that easy.
Casein is the protein found in cow’s milk; skim, 2%, whole, butter, cheese, cream, ice cream, whipped cream, and in almost every processed food on the shelf.
Women who find out they have a BRCA gene mutation frequently undergo double mastectomies just to prevent the breast cancer from occurring. (Why did no one tell them the same mutation causes other cancers too? Seems like a lawsuit to me.)
Inheriting damaged copies of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes can increase the risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer in women and the risk for breast and prostate cancer in men, as well as other cancers. —Johns Hopkins Medicine:
I stopped the film and said a single word aloud, and that word was, “Shit.”
Because in my heart I knew I was going to make this change. Immediately. Because one of those “other cancers” is pancreatic—the one I most feared, and here I was handed a light switch to turn it off, and keep it off.
I also knew it was going to be hard as hell. (Only it wasn’t. It wasn’t hard at all.)
I called my husband inside and hit “start over” and we watched the video together from the beginning. The next day, we cleared out our fridge, freezer, and cupboards.
A Brief Detour
At first we had no idea what to eat, then we discovered that stores now carried a wide array of amazing “vegan” food products. Beyond sausage, Impossible burgers, “ch’ckn” nuggets, “f’sh” filets. (Plant-based foods don’t use meat, dairy, or vowels.)
And wow! Our favorite frozen curly fries and Tater Tots were also plant-based! And Lay’s potato chips, Ritz Crackers, and OMG, even Oreos!
We slid into the worst version of a plant-based diet. It was expensive as hell, and not healthy at all.
But even then, I had not had a single episode of the PSVT since we started.
In December 2022, just shy of two years eating “plant-based” (we were really eating oil-based) I was shopping when I felt an odd sensation in my chest and thought the PSVT had returned. I happened to be in the pharmacy, and it felt so weird and so different that I sat in the booth to take my BP.
I can’t find where I wrote the numbers down, but they were so high I was terrified. I immediately took a metoprolol, which I still carried around out of habit, in case of PSVT. I went to my car with a bottle of water, and texted one of my three RN daughters. (The other two are teachers.) She advised me to go to the ER. I said no. So she said take two pills instead of one, and then she stayed on with me until the meds took effect. BP came down, and I drove home.
Subsequently I saw my cardiologist, wore a monitor, had tests. It was not the PSVT. There was no arrythmia—still. All I had was out of control blood pressure. Unlike most patients, I can feel mine, that’s all. I was told to take my metoprolol daily from now on. End of discussion.
I tried the meds, but sometimes it was not enough and my BP stayed high, and sometimes it was too much and it went too low. I kept getting different prescriptions for the metoprolol; quick release, slow release, 10 mg., 25 mg., 50 mg. It refused to settle down.
I was furious with myself and the world. I had been promised great and thriving health on a plant-based diet! So I decided to watch Forks Over Knives again so I could yell at the TV.
I’d missed the key words
In our excitement over discovering the miracle (not!) of fake meat, we’d forgotten the “whole foods” part of “plant-based.” Plant-based garbage is still garbage. We started over from square one.
For Christmas my 5 girls bought us the Ultimate Cooking Course from the Forks Over Knives website. (Most of what’s there is free, hundreds of recipes, articles, videos. They even have a free recipe app by the same name that I use every single day. Check your App Store.)
We didn’t get around to starting the course until March, and that’s when we made the switch to actually eating a fully whole foods, plant-based diet. We even tried taking weekends off at first, but we felt so crappy when we did, compared to how we’d felt all week, that we quickly ended that.
I’ll tell you how to do that, too, and share the science behind it in other articles here.
Results are coming in
I immediately stopped taking the metoprolol daily, and instead checked my blood pressure 3 times a day. If it was high, I took a low dose, fast-acting metoprolol. But within a week of truly eliminating oil and processed foods, my BP settled into its old normal, and stopped its random spikes.
Three months later, I’m down to only checking my BP daily and never needing a pill.
My normal blood pressure reading now is running 101/62 to 102/70 most days. No meds. Just food. Good, delicious, filling, satisfying, healthy food.
My cholesterol will be checked again the end of the month, but had dropped 20 points overall immediately.
I’ve lost 22 pounds.
A1C dropped from 5.7 (pre-diabetic) to 5.4 (not pre-diabetic.)
I have no reflux. Zero.
I sleep much better.
The scalp issues vanished.
I’ve had like one headache in three months. Hubby just asked the other day if I could remember my last headache, because he couldn’t.
I feel like a kid again my energy is so high.
I started jogging again. I have always tried to be a runner in starts and stops, because I end up with my knees aching too much to continue. Even if I iced them immediately after and took ibuprofen for inflammation, they would hurt.
I’ve been running again for a month now, without any knee pain at all. I suspect it’s due to the lack of inflammation in my body, and I hope to have the markers checked at my next routine medical checkup to find out for sure.
Meat, dairy, and oil cause inflammation. Inflammation causes just about everything else.
Other changes are more spiritual in nature
Ever since the beginning, I have experienced a sensation of lightness. The food I eat feels light in my body, there’s none of that post meal heaviness, you know? My meals energize me.
I feel that layers have been peeled away from my emotions, as if they were somehow insulated before. My sense of empathy has expanded.
I’ve lived in this area since I was fourteen. But it’s only now, ::cough:: decades later, that I really see the baby calves chained to their plastic igloos, destined to become “veal.” I recognize only now that they bawl for their mammas, who are close enough to hear and smell, but will never again be allowed near enough to touch.
I tear up and I think, Who the fuck are we? What kind of person eats babies?
If our entire society approves of a thing, we are conditioned to believe it has to be okay. We find dozens of justifications for our abhorrent treatment of animals, from “we needed it to evolve” to “some primitive peoples have no choice” to “but where do you get your protein?” One aquaintance actually told me her physiology was different from mine and that she required meat to survive.
Note: The animals we eat get 100% of their protein from plants.
So yes, emotional changes. I’m more sensitive and get my feeling hurt more easily, but I’m also feeling my happiness more. My joy is more joyful than ever. I have been an extremely happy little shit for a long time. But this is next level.
I seem to have lost my filters. That might be due to age, not diet. Either way, I speak my thoughts freely, and often regret it. Hence this blog—I need an audience to whom I’m not related.
Because this is a hard topic.
There’s no argument against WFPB being the healthiest way to eat that can’t be disproven by peer-reviewed science. And when we humans know better, we feel compelled to do better, and doing this just feels impossible to most, and that makes them feel angry and defensive.
Especially if you’re a working parent. Because to do this does require more time spent cooking, and I know that’s time a lot of us just don’t have today.
But I am here to tell you, it can be done. It’s not nearly as hard as it seems from the outside. There are shortcuts: Pre-chopped fresh or frozen fruits and veggies, canned beans and tomatoes, and batch cooking, among others.)
I am doing this and I’m lazy by nature, running two businesses, helping hubs run his, and writing novels. I am having fun cooking. I am creative with it, building my own recipes, and tweaking some old favorites to get rid of all the bad stuff—like oil.
Sidebar: Oil, (even olive oil, despite its superior marketing) constricts your blood vessels 22% within minutes of us swallowing it, slowing blood flow, allowing plaque to form in our arteries, and damaging the critical endothelial cells that produce the nitric oxide that keeps our blood flowing freely. Source: Esselstyn, Jr., C. B. (2019). Is Oil Healthy?. International Journal of Disease Reversal and Prevention, 1(1), 3 pp. https://doi.org/10.22230/ijdrp.2019v1n1a35
“If you are over seventeen and eating the standard American Diet, you already have coronary artery disease.” Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Heart Surgeon
The good news is, you don’t have to do this all at once. I didn’t, even though I thought I had. It took me 2 years to get to the full-on healthiest part. The health benefits, however, begin immediately. And every bit of improvement will help.
I’ll be producing some pieces about batch cooking and shortcuts that will be helpful for the busiest among us.
One last thing…
Gaia needs us to make this change
In all of this, I haven’t even touched on the environmental issues. So here you go:
So this is my journey and my reasons for taking it. I no longer have any fear of pancreatic cancer.
I hope I can help others on the path to the best health of their entire lives.
Thanks for reading Maggie Shayne's Plant-Based Coffee House! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.