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Vegetarian Essays/Vegan Essays


Chef AJ's 30-Day Challenge Graduation

Cookbook author and cooking instructor Chef AJ and partner John Pierre (JP), a fitness trainer, held an unusual graduation event on Saturday, June 9, 2012 to celebrate the culmination of their students' 30-Day UNPROCESSED Challenge and Bootcamp. Students and guests gathered at the home of Melony Jorenson and feasted on an array of tasty whole-food, plant-based dishes prepared without sugar, oil, or salt, known in the class as SOS.

One-by-one the students took the stage and shared their struggle with lifelong health and weight battles. Every student's experience resulted in a positive outcome and dramatic improvements in health. The students boasted not only of weight loss, but also of inches lost, lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and triglycerides. They experienced a boost in mental clarity and vitality and expressed a happier outlook and improved self-esteem.

The celebration was a festival of inspiration and a testament that adopting a healthy vegan diet can turn health challenges into surprising health improvements.

SOS is Chef AJ's expression to encourage students to avoid processed, refined foods and to eliminate sugar, oil, and salt from their diets. In her classes she demonstrates the techniques of preparing fresh plant-based foods and teaches her students to make wiser food choices that are more nutritious and health promoting.

Recognizing cooking classes were only part of the educational process, Chef AJ devised the 30-Day Challenge Program to encourage students to support each other with daily emails as well as regular emails from her. Weekly get-togethers strengthened the program and gave students the opportunity to share their uphill struggles to stick with the program.

Partnering with fitness trainer JP, she emphasized exercise as a valuable addition to a healthy life. Each week, the gathering would begin with a 1-hour Bootcamp of stretches and movements to urge students to incorporate exercise into their daily regimens.

The program's success is the result of Chef AJ's and JP's concentrated efforts to provide the students with 30 days of daily support and continual weekly education.

Vegetarians in Paradise, in an effort to inspire others to achieve improved health, asked Chef AJ and JP if they each would make a statement about the Challenge and encourage the members of the graduation to share their impressions of how the 30-day program influenced their health and well being. The feelings of the instructors and class members are printed below.

For more information about Chef AJ's and JP's classes, visit Chef AJ's Healthy Kitchen .

Chef AJ
I have been teaching vegan cooking in Los Angeles since 2000. Even though I had been vegan since 1977, that did not make me bulletproof against disease. After 26 years as a vegan, I developed precancerous polyps in my colon from all the oil, sugar, flour and vegan processed crap I ate. In 2008 I started teaching the healthiest kind of vegan cuisine--whole-food, plant-based with no sugar, oil or salt.

Chef AJ I knew the diet that healed me without drugs and surgery could also help others. People would take my class and be inspired but they needed "the next step." I knew I could make the food taste delicious, but in order for them to stick with it, they needed more then a 3-hour class. They needed time for their palates to change, for their brain chemistry to neuroadapt, and they needed support. Hence, the 30-Day UNPROCESSED challenge was born.

The 30-Day UNPROCESSED challenge is a program where participants adopt a whole-food plant-based diet without sugar, oil or salt for a period of 30 days. During this time they meet weekly for 5 dinners where they participate in a one-hour boot camp with JP, learn new and delicious recipes from me, and share their struggles and triumphs.

The participants receive intense daily interactive e-mail support and weekly phone support. Their blood markers are drawn at the beginning and end of the challenge. Weight and waist measurements are also taken. The average weight loss in 30 days is 16 pounds; however, many participants lose more than 20 pounds. Everyone lowers their cholesterol and triglycerides and almost everyone gets completely off their medication for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

The program ends with a graduation dinner where everyone speaks about their experience. For those who wish, support is continued through advanced programs.

I incorporated the bootcamps into the program because I wanted participants to experience the joy of motion in a supportive social setting. Many had come from exercise/diet backgrounds that were excessive and unfriendly. They had come to view motion as something that was necessary but not fun. John Pierre

The bootcamps allowed everyone to try new motions that not only put muscles to work but activated the most important muscle of all--the "smile muscle." Having people work in teams, laugh, and experiment inspired everyone to view motion in a new and fresh perspective. Many were motivated to embrace physical activity in a new way--this time with pleasure, hope, and anticipation.

I've had the privilege of assisting AJ in these support groups, which have truly shown everyone the benefits of a plant-based diet.

I cannot express enough how humbled and amazed I am with the results that participants experience week after week. Each individual starts with a unique goal and frequently achieves a new lifestyle and attitude about eating, kindness, and acceptance. The supportive environment allows everyone to see that others are facing similar challenges and questions, and this helps with confidence and motivation.

It brings me great joy to see people succeed and expand their ability to similarly affect those around them in positive ways. One of the most important things that I ask of attendees is to be honest with themselves in writing down their food choices, thoughts, and fears. Once they see that others are facing similar food, weight, and emotional issues around sustenance, they are able to acknowledge what is at the heart of their fears. As they gain confidence, success is almost always assured if the program is followed accordingly.

Robin Larsen Blaydes
Robin Larsen Blaydes
What brought me to the program was learning so much about health in the stress less to weigh less class I took from Dale and Lisa, the couple who taught the health class and also who connected me to AJ.

I gained so much knowledge is this program along with losing inches. I learned how to make amazing food that changed my taste buds.

Now I do not crave the bad food I used to--I only want the good food. It has been a great journey, and I am always learning so much.

Kathy Burroughs Kathy Burroughs

    OMG--Greens Are Magic (GAM )
  • they are filling
  • they curb any food cravings
  • they melt the fat right off you--7 pounds
  • 3 inches off my waist
  • and my cholesterol down to 105

Thank you again, AJ & JP. This 30 day challenge changed my life forever--OMG--GAM.

Kat Rivera
Kat Rivera After having been on Weight Watchers for a year I decided that I needed to take my wellness to the next level and focus on nutrition. While I learned many things from WW, such as portion control, etc., I knew that there was something missing.

I had started out eating EVERYTHING but as time went by I found more reasons why I needed to abstain from meat. While I thought that sugar was my "trigger food," it was the consumption of meat that really set myself up for a downward spiral.

I was already on the road to wellness before this actual challenge, but somewhere from January 2011 'til now my cholesterol went from 327 to 219.

There is no doubt in my mind that a whole-food plant-based diet is the key to longevity. Yet, I still struggle to adapt to this lifestyle with 100% compliance, as many others would.

Some of the best things that I have taken from this experience are the friendships that I have made and the network of support/resources. I eat at least 1 pound of greens a day and this will not change. Going back to the consumption of meat is no longer an option. And learning more about myself as each day passes is proving to be one of the most beautiful experiences of all.

Rob Cohn
Rob Cohn When I signed up for the challenge, I had no idea what I was getting into. All I knew is I had a good vibe from Chef AJ and remembered she had mentioned an "Unprocessed Challenge" before.

I will be honest. I was in a bit of shock at the first meeting when I found out I could no longer have OIL! I knew that I wasn't feeling well and something had to change drastically quickly. I am getting close to 47 and I needed to get a handle on my eating issues/addiction.

What I learned is that by giving up processed foods, salt, sugar and oil, I have a freedom I have never experienced in my adult life. I feel FREE. My mind is so much clearer. I no longer have the overwhelming desire to binge on bad foods. If anything I overeat on vegetables, which is an amazing switch before the challenge.

This challenge has changed my life forever and I would not change a thing!! I lost 23 pounds during the challenge, lost 3 inches in my waist, my triglycerides went from 224 to 132, and my HDL went from 25 to 31.

Shayda Soleymani
Wow, what did I gain from this experience?

Well, lets see, I was fat, sick, and very unhappy. This experience has completely changed my life in more ways than I could have imagined!!!

First and foremost, I learned to love myself again and to be selfish. What I mean by selfish, is that I'm going to eat foods that are good for me. Just because everyone else is eating this crap doesn't mean that I have to. I'm no longer embarrassed to ask for what I want at restaurants, and I'm also not ashamed to take food with me to peoples' houses.

I've learned to say I'm allergic to oil, and to be honest, I have started believing that I'm allergic. I have noticed that people are respecting me more, and they really love the foods I bring. Everyone is asking questions, and I'm not being pushy about it.

Shayda Soleymani Since January, I have lost 37 pounds, and I didn't have to kill myself doing it, nor did I have to eat prepackaged foods and shakes. I ate whole foods--go figure! I actually ate baked potatoes, beans, bananas, corn, all the foods that for years we were told not to have.

When I started this challenge I had a tear in my tendon, and it was at risk for rupture. I went to 5 doctors. Four of them said I needed surgery immediately, except one. He said he can take care of it without surgery.

My foot was in a boot for four months, but that did not stop me. It made me more determined. In the past, that would have been my death sentence.

With the help of JP I started working out in my chair, even taking my chair to bootcamp. AJ taught me how eat and deal with my head.

After a few months of visiting my doctor, he asked me what was I doing as my foot was getting better. I told him about my new way of eating, and he was very intrigued. He said, "Well, don't stop. Whatever your doing, is working."

I'm happy to report that I'm out of the boot, doing physical therapy, and feeling better than I have ever felt before! And I owe all of this to two very special people, Chef AJ and John Pierre.

You know how I feel about exercise--I love it and want more. So, yes, more movement was fantastic!!!

As for support, are you kidding? I couldn't ask for better people. The friends that I have made through Chef AJ, and including her, will be not just friends but I think of them as family. So, yes, the support is definitely there!!!

Love you AJ!

Melony Jorenson
Melony Jorenson
For me, the 30-day challenge was not just about losing weight. That was just an added benefit of shedding 9 pounds, 1 inch off my waist, and 24 points off my total cholesterol.

For me, it was about reclaiming my health, and learning to love myself. The support we all received was unbelievable. Seriously, it is like having the best therapy sessions anywhere, and for a fraction of the cost.

I can't wait to do it again and again and again. It doesn't matter if you have 3 pounds to lose or 300--everyone can benefit and become a healthier and happier version of one's self. After all, isn't that what life is all about?

Sandi I took the class because I wanted to learn more about the benefits of eating healthy, as well as getting some yummy recipes. I got much more out of the challenge than just that. My cholesterol went down as did my weight, and I felt really, really good. Though I haven't been as good as when I was doing the challenge, my eating habits have certainly changed, and I feel that I'm on the road to a better, healthier way of living.

I need to take more classes with you AJ!! Please don't stop offering them as they are truly inspirational. Gonna try to get in a late walk at the park now. Hope it's not too hot.

Michelle Leonard
Michelle Leonard
I am thrilled to have been a part of the challenge. It was more than I ever expected! It gave me a good foundation to build my new lifestyle, as well as meeting new friends that are taking the same journey towards better health.

On top of it, I received encouragement, "that-a-girl's," and recipes. Of course, having my cholesterol drop by 68 points since last November, losing some weight, and having about 5 inches drop off my waist wasn't so bad either.

My entire family can really see the difference. I am so grateful to be a part of this amazing group of people!

Brian Hyde
I would like to start by saying that I'm an active 34-year-old male who has never had any significant health problems. I've always been on the thin/athletic side of life and the thought of a healthy diet was somewhat foreign to me. Over the past few years I began to carry extra weight in my face and around my waist, so when I was asked to partake in the challenge with my fiancé, I was open to the idea.

Brian Hyde What I learned throughout the challenge has truly changed my life forever. From a science point of view, I realized that most "food" is not real food at all. It is food that has been enhanced with artificial flavors and chemical additives to rewire my brain to want more--thus the overeating cycle begins. In addition, what I realized is that eating challenge-friendly foods is much cheaper than eating out and tastes better, too.

Before the challenge I was convinced it was going to be difficult, and I was going to be starving most of the time. I will admit that the first week was the toughest in that I was breaking my old habits and way of living and eating. Beyond that minor stage the challenge got easier, food tasted better, and I began to feel better every single day!

At the end of the challenge I had gone from 170 pounds to 155 pounds, lost 60 cholesterol points from 160 to 100, and lost 3 1/2 inches around my waste. The new challenge is trying to get my old clothes to fit, as they no longer do!

In addition to all the positives I gained from the challenge the greatest proof came after the challenge. The day after graduation I ate a hamburger and in the past few weeks a few other non-challenge meals. Every single time, I have either felt sick or slugish or both. I am convinced that food affects how we feel, our mood, the way we sleep, and a myriad of other things in our everyday lives.

After just a few non-challenge-friendly meals, I have told my fiancé, Allyson, that I want to stick to the challenge way of eating now and forever!

I have so many more things to add about how I feel, and I would be more than happy to write more upon your request. Thank you for everything Chef AJ and please feel free to keep in touch forever!!!

Allyson My mother brought me to this program because she saw a need for me to change my diet and lifestyle. I am a victim of yo-yo dieting and wanted a healthy solution to get to a desirable weight.

After 35 days, I feel better than ever and will continue this lifestyle with the knowledge that Chef AJ & JP have given me. I love the food and I love the way I feel. The best part about it is that I feel completely satisfied after each meal.

By the end of the program, I lost 10 pounds, 6 inches around my waist, and 15 cholesterol points. The proof is in the pudding, and I will pay this way of living forward to anyone that will listen!

Bill Shalhoub

Bill Shalhoub

Chart Showing My Results
Total Cholesterol 147 119
HDL 37 52
LDL 76 52
Triglycerides 171 75
Glucose 110 83
Waist 46 39.5
Weight 209 186
Blood Pressure 119/97 126/ 77

AJ Brought me in and saved my life! Thank you AJ. The gang all helped so much. Life-changing program.

I will live like this forever! Also, no more TV. It's an iPad for me!

I recommend this program.

Michael Russo

I joined the 30-Day Vegan Challenge as a fast food/junk food addict.

By far the greatest benefit that I received from the group was a support structure of accountability. Left alone, food talks me into massive consumption of unhealthy foods to fed my feelings of being sad or scared or worried or afraid. Food has been my hug

The challenge gave me a structure in which I could begin to get educated about nutrition, change my automatic way of eating, my habits, and begin to put healthy food into my body and motion of my body into my life.

As I did the program and stayed in a support structure of accountability, I experienced hope, feeling normal, a body that was being honored, and the loss of weight. I lost 15 pounds and 7 inches off my waist.

The challenge is not the end but the beginning. I will always need a loving support structure that holds me accountable for what I do with food and my body.

Anne Marie Hand
Anne Marie Hand
Yes, the challenge helped me to get a kick-start with my weight, but not so much with my movement, because of my knee. I'm being referred to an orthopedic surgeon, since it's not getting better.

I lost 9 pounds, a few inches in my waist, and lowered my cholesterol. Best part was the yummy food! Xoxo

Allen Goldstein Allen Goldstein
The challenge was definitely worthwhile, even though I wasn't mentally or emotionally prepared. I learned some core things that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Examples include how fattening any kind of oil is. Corn, rice, and potatoes are good for Type 2 diabetes. I learned some good ways to incorporate GREENS in my diet, even though it's hard.

I eat fruit more than ever, and I TRY not to eat any fast food. I need to take advantage of the support system more, but I'm pretty stubborn about asking for help. Anyway AJ, have a good trip, and I'm sure I'll see ya!

Megan Walzberg
I started the challenge because I'd read several things about the evils of processed food, especially books from Michael Pollan, who isn't even a vegetarian. I'm lactose intolerant, and not a huge meat-eater; so I wanted to try being a vegan just to see if I could do it. This challenge was a great way to cover all those bases!

What surprised me the most was how easy the challenge was. Once you get a good base of recipes, there's always something new and interesting to eat. People were convinced that in cutting all these things out of my diet I'd be hungry, but that was far from the truth. I was always comfortably full, and if I ever got hungry, all I had to do was eat some more.

Megan Walzberg Here's what I said at the graduation that was my little epiphany: "I used to think being an adult meant sacrificing your own needs to provide for others. I watched my parents do this as a child, and as I entered adulthood I saw so many around me doing the same. In my mind, not sacrificing myself would make me selfish.

After participating in this challenge and forcing myself to take care of my own needs first, I see now how wrong I was. You can't give what you don't have. If you're sick or exhausted or unhappy or stressed, you can only give so much. If you're healthy and energized and happy and at peace, however, you can give all those things to the people around you."

After reading parts of The China Study during the challenge (I'll read the rest this summer), I know I will never go back to eating animal protein. Once you've seen the light, it's impossible to hide in the dark anymore. It's the same with oil. How will I ever be able to use it knowing how bad it is? The good news is, I'm no longer afraid of getting old. The diseases I watched my grandparents suffer through and die from are preventable, and I'm going to do what I can to make sure I don't suffer the same fate.

What I can't help but notice now is how many people are living in the dark. For the time being, I will just answer questions as people ask them. Eventually I'll have to try to find a way to help bring others to the light. (The Pleasure Trap and The End of Overeating are on my summer reading list as well, so I can be even more informed.)

Also, you'll be happy to hear that although I am now a vegan for health reasons specifically, I've been noticing in my closet the purses, belts, and shoes that are made of leather, which I never really thought about before. I suppose it will only be a matter of time before I become a true vegan and stop buying anything that came from an animal.

Good luck with everything, and I will most certainly keep in touch!!!

Taking Chef AJ's Unprocessed 30-Day class is the best thing I ever did for myself on so many levels. Adhering to the program of no meat products, no salt, oil, sugar, or processed food may seem daunting at first, and it was not easy--but it is well worth the benefits.

This class is not about taking away, but rather about obtaining health and enriching your well-being.

Physically: I pared down from a size 16 to a size 6.

Prevention of a disease state: My family has a history of strokes and heart attacks. I was informed by my physician the only way to lower my cholesterol is to take medication.

Removal of a diseased state: My physician stated my hip pain was arthritis and age-induced. I was informed that nothing could be done and I would have to live with it. Following this program, the pain has all but disappeared.

Mental: My mind is much more clear. My memory has improved.

Ethical: I am no longer an on-again-off-again vegan. I do not eat meat products of any kind. I can say my diet reflects my core love for animals.

This is one of the most comprehensive classes I have ever taken to ensure that I could attain and maintain a healthy diet/lifestyle. Chef AJ has an amazing nutritional knowledge base that she readily imparts to her students. She dispels any myths related to eating only a plant-based diet.

She provides cooking demonstrations and recipes. The class is able to sample first-hand how flavorful plant-based dishes can be without salt, sugar or oil. Even people who profess they cannot cook made her dishes for the week. All this and group discussion where Chef AJ facilitates sharing of our struggles and hurdles needed to overcome in order to be successful.

If you want to know how it feels to be at your absolute best health, Chef AJ's program surpasses all others.

Belle Temkin Belle Temkin

I lost 14 pounds on this last Challenge.

My cholesterol went from 237 to 196; LDL from 150 to 100; HDL from 66 to 45; triglycerides from 235 to 252.

Gretchen Harris
Gretchen Harris I joined the program looking for help with some intestinal issues and for a way to get more in control of my eating. I received those solutions and more.

Chef AJ taught us a whole new lifestyle of health and happiness, productivity and success.

I lost ten pounds and am at my ideal weight. My total cholesterol is now 133, and my LDL is now 71.


  1. What brought me to the program?
  2. Julie Hever, RD suggested I take AJ's three-hour class. I had questions. I got answers. Did not want to live the last third of my life sickly like my relatives.
  3. What was gained? What does the experience mean to me?
  4. Statistics... I have gained knowledge of how MY body functions without alcohol, animal products, caffeine, dairy. and SOS! It truly is a marvelous vehicle! If I take care of my body temple, it will take care of me. I have treated myself as a guinea pig. I have nothing to prove. The results are in how my body looks, feels and operates now that I have gotten out of my own way!

Chart Showing My Results
Total Cholesterol 195 149
HDL 41 32
LDL 119 80
Triglycerides 177 185
Glucose 86 78
Waist 46 37
Weight 214 186
Blood Pressure 149/80 139/ 75

In conclusion, during this last challenge all I wanted was to be bulletproof. Just drive my bad numbers down. I AM BULLETPROOF! That alone makes me happy. My friends and relatives would kill for numbers like mine. AJ, I got far more than just more movement. I acquired new friends, more knowledge, support from the team and from my friends. And most of all, I acquired a better outlook on life. You can't beat that!

Melanie Hopkins
I had been on a path to wellness since Aug '10 and was trying to overcome a 30-plus-year eating disorder. Melanie Hopkins

My new neighbor encouraged me to take AJ's class in January, and it instantly made sense to me. About 15 days in I experienced a deeply moving change in my thinking. I felt that feeding myself this way convinced my soul that I do indeed love myself (a totally new concept).

Since starting the program I have continued to blossom into a healthy and peaceful person with gratitude and forgiveness. I no longer fight with food or have guilt over what I eat. I have lost weight and now am comfortable in my body.

Rebecca Martinez
What brought me (back) to the Challenge was Chef AJ. As usual, she has a way about her that convinced me that I am worth it and I knew she was THE one to help me prove it. Rebecca Martinez

I focused, really gave it my all, and have come out a winner! I've lost nearly 30 pounds (don't measure much lately), dropped from a size 18 to a loose 14 (going on 12). I feel GREAT, and I feel in control for the first time in my life.

This experience taught me a lot about real food and how to make and KEEP a loving relationship with it that will payoff a million times over. The Challenge was a total body, mind, and spirit transition that opened doors that I didn't even know I had to open.

I've been fighting weight problems for 20 years, and now, at long last, I feel like I've found the handles to my life and am getting a good grip once and for all. Thanks to Chef AJ and JP.

Tim Ray
Tim Ray This new, healthy lifestyle really works. In January of 2011 at TrueNorth Health Center, my total cholesterol tested at 230.

Over the years, I've always been told by physicians that my high cholesterol was genetic.

So, I was completely dumbfounded when my total cholesterol dropped to 148 after following this plant-based, whole-food, SOS-free lifestyle for the past year.


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