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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarian Essays/Vegan Essays

Shayda Tells Her Story About What SOS Has Done for Her:
100-Pound Weight Loss & No Medication

By Shayda Soleymani

Back in 1997, a very prominent doctor who specialized in internal medicine, weight management, and metabolism disorder told me the following: "It would take Herculean efforts for you to ever lose weight and to maintain that weight loss." Well, needless to say, that did a number on me mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Since my late 20s I have tried every diet out there, always losing weight, but always gaining it back and then some. It wasn't until my late forties that I hit my highest weight at 240 pounds and started feeling really bad about myself. My cholesterol at its highest was over 400, and my triglycerides well over 700. Needless to say, I was pre-diabetic and was on medication for cholesterol, triglycerides, and diabetes. I was also told I had metabolic disorder, insulin resistance, and syndrome X, to name a few conditions.

When I turned 50, I had back surgery, and the doctor had told me I needed to get the weight off if I wanted my back to be healthy. I thought I was eating healthy because I was vegan, but I was the classic junk food vegan. After all, French fries, Diet Coke, bags of nuts, and dried fruit were vegan, right?

Shayda Soleymani The saying goes, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear!" That was so true for me. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I had hit rock bottom and didn't want to continue living like this anymore. Something had to change.

Watching Dr. Fuhrman
I remember visiting my mom one day. When I arrived at her home, she was listening to a guy named Dr. Fuhrman, who had a special on PBS. As I sat typing on my computer, I asked my mom, "Who is this guy?" And she responded saying, "Listen to him. I think you might like him."

After listening to him, I started liking what he was saying, and started looking him up on my computer. I found that he was having a retreat in Utah for 7 days, and I asked my mom if she would be interested in going. She said, "Maybe." The following day I called and learned they were completely sold out. I asked if they could put me on a waiting list. Two days later I get a phone call, and they said some rooms have opened up and asked if I was still interested in going. I said yes, and signed up my mom and me.

Little did I know what this program was and the ripple effect that was about to happen. That was June 2011. We met some wonderful people and really enjoyed our trip. Even though we had spent a week there learning about plant-based eating, I still didn't really know how to apply everything once I came home. But I knew I had stumbled onto something great; it made sense to me.

As we were headed back to the airport, my mom asked the person sitting next to her if she knew of other events like this one. She said that since I lived in Los Angeles, there was an event called Healthy Lifestyle Expo in Woodland Hills. That was great, since I worked in Woodland Hills. So, I signed us up for that event as well. That weekend I was sitting by the pool during one of our breaks and met a guy who asked me If I knew of Chef AJ. I said, "No, who is she?"

Where Is Chef AJ?
He said, "Find me tomorrow, and I'll introduce you to her. The next day I found him, but Chef AJ was not there because she was at another event. He got my name and number and said that he would forward it to her. Because I had no patience to wait for him, I started googling Chef AJ and found her website. I emailed her and her husband, introducing myself and wanting to find out if she taught any classes or had any events I could attend. I truly was on a mission, and there was no stopping me.

Honestly, I didn't think I would hear from AJ or her husband. But guess what? They responded!!! I was so thrilled!! Then they told me that she was teaching a class at Whole Foods in Orange County, which was close to my mom's house. So I signed up again. When I met her, I knew in my heart I had found the person who was going to change my life. I loved her energy, and her food tasted out of this world.

At this event her husband was selling tickets for Healthy Taste of LA, so I bought the tickets for my mom and me to attend. It was at that event that I met John Pierre, familiarly kown as JP. He was absolutely amazing. It was also at that time that I tore the tendon in my ankle. I visited 5 doctors who all told me that I needed surgery. Ugh, another surgery!! After JP's lecture, I went up to speak with him, and he told me that he could help me.

Signing Up for the Unprocessed Challenge
Shayda Soleymani Ever since I was a kid, I loved to exercise. For years I couldn't exercise because of my back issues, and now because of my foot. When I get depressed, food is my best friend, especially sweets. At the event, AJ said that she was going to have a 30-day Unprocessed Challenge starting on Jan 12, 2012. But before taking that class, I had to take the one-day class at her home.

At the same time I hired John Pierre to help me as well. The doctor had put a boot on my foot, and I was not allowed to put any pressure on my foot. I had no idea how I was going to exercise, but leave it to John Pierre. Twice a week he came to my apartment. I never thought that sitting in a chair I could get such a workout. OMG!! There were no more excuses; we not only worked out, but he also worked on my head. He never talked to me about how much weight to lose; he kept talking about getting healthy.

With JP, it wasn't all about exercise; we talked about nutrition, compassion, and especially about myself. He figured out quickly how to get into my head. I trusted him and did everything he told me. The other thing he did, was throw my scale behind my couch where I could not get to it. He always says, "Only a fish needs scales!" I was addicted to it, and like most people I let the scale determine my mood, which was stupid.

My Life Changed Forever
January 12, 2012 was the day my life changed forever. What an amazing group of people I was with, and AJ had built this safe environment for all of us! After the first meeting, AJ passed out some healthy dessert that she had made. As the tray came around to me, I looked up and locked eyes with John Pierre. He said absolutely nothing, but I focused on his eyes. I did not touch the dessert and just kept passing it along. I think that day set the tone of my getting healthy. Abstaining from dessert, even though it was healthy, was the best thing I ever did. He also told me that if I continue eating this way, I would not need surgery on my ankle.

When I had signed up for the 30-day Challenge, my friends and I had decided that at the end of it, we would go out and celebrate. Well, I'm happy to report that we never went out. At the end of the challenge, I had lost 18 pounds, and I was on cloud nine. I told my friends I'm not going out, and I'm planning to continue eating this way. I loved what I ate!!! For years I was told I could not eat bananas, rice, potatoes, beans, mangos, etc. On this new program there were no restrictions. What?? Eat till I'm satisfied??

I would be crazy to give this up. And the best part, my weight was moving downward. I had never felt better. I was very determined, and wanted to succeed so badly! I wanted to be healthy more than anything else. I did everything Chef AJ and John Pierre told me to do. I worked the program the way they said to do it, not my version of what the program should be. Like JP says, "You need to have laser beam focus!!" And I did. Nothing was stopping me.

Immersion into This Program
For one year, I totally immersed myself in this program. I took every class that was being taught. I went to every lecture, every conference, etc. Learning how to cook delicious food is the key. If the food doesn't taste good, you're not going to stick to it. I love to cook, so I really enjoyed the challenge of learning new recipes. Some of my favorite meals that really helped me were steamed greens in the morning, balsamic Dijon roasted Brussels sprouts, large salads, nutrient-rich black bean soup, the stuffed potato meal, and mushroom chili, just to name a few. I truly believe that you need to immerse yourself completely and always continue to learn and grow. Keeping it simple is key to weight loss and also for maintenance.

Shayda Soleymani I also went to the McDougall 10-day program toward the end of the year. When I went there, Dr. McDougall took me off all my meds. He even taught me how to handle my own doctor. Four months after leaving Dr. McDougall, my mom and I went to visit our doctor. We both have the same doctor, and I had taken my mom off her meds as well. When he came in, he was very happy. He said he was very pleased by my numbers, and that the higher dose meds were helping me. He was also pleased that my weight had come down.

What, No Potatoes?
Well, I was about to throw him a curve ball. I said, "Doc, I have something to tell you. I stopped taking my meds four months ago." He was shocked!! I said, "Let's sit and talk." I explained to him that the meds he gave me really helped to make my numbers look better. But if I ate whole foods, unprocessed foods, it could create miracles, and I wouldn't have to take any meds. He asked what I was eating.

    My mom said, "Potatoes!!" I thought his neck was going to snap.
    "You can't have potatoes," he said.
    "Why?" I asked?
    He said, "You're pre-diabetic."
    So I asked, "How's my A1C, CRP, glucose, cholesterol, and triglycerides?"

He said everything was down. My glucose was perfect! He could not believe it. He sat back in his chair and wanted to hear more. So I began to explain everything to him. I explained that I'm eating a whole-food, plant-based diet -- salt, oil and sugar free. He was intrigued.

    I asked him, "Isn't it true that the potato is not the problem, but what people put on it -- butter, sour cream, bacon, etc."
    He said, "Yes."
    So I asked, "Why can't I have a potato, if all I'm putting on there is salsa, veggies, or beans? After all, sweet potatoes are healthy on their own."
    He couldn't argue.

Educating My Doctor
I brought him all the books: The China Study, by Collin Campbell and books by Dr. Esselstyn, Dr. Fuhrman, Dr. McDougall, Dr. Goldhamer, Chef AJ, and John Pierre. He was truly amazed by what he was hearing. He said, "OK, I want to see you in again in 4 months."

Four months later, my numbers continued to come down, and he loved the results. It's now been 4 years since I started my journey. I never had the surgery on my ankle because everything healed. I am completely off all my meds, and I have lost a 100 pounds. I went from a size 1x to size 6, sometimes a 4, and I have never felt better in my life. My weight continues to come down, and I feel so much better.

My doctor and his family are now eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet, SOS (Sugar, Oil, Salt) free, and he is teaching this to his heart patients as well. Every time we get together we talk about recipes, and he wants to know what else I have learned. I truly believe we must educate our own doctors, and we must take control of our own health.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Chef AJ and John Pierre. I couldn't have done it without them. Four years later, I still take classes, I still immerse myself in this program, and I hang around like-minded people. For me, continuing education is key. There's always more to learn. I'm constantly fine-tuning myself.

Meditation is my next goal that I want to work on, and this is the perfect place to do it. It's the first time in my life that I have not gained weight back, and it's still coming down. By the way, I hold myself accountable to my two mentors. Thank you, Chef AJ and John Pierre for saving my life! I'm truly excited to share my journey with all of you!

Click here for past Words from Other Birds Articles

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