The Plant Rx

Your resource for a plant-based diet

Anastasia I. D. Brown

My name is Anastasia I. D. Brown, also known as The Veganbetic.  Here’s my story: In 2007, I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes three days after my forty-fifth birthday.  I like to say the warranty ran out. Of course, I knew a little about the disease because I have high blood pressure and hereditary high cholesterol, and for years I’d heard my doctors say that I was heading for trouble because of my lifestyle. I didn’t listen, natch.  I’ve never liked being told what to do.  Who does?

So, all of a sudden (or so it seemed to me), I had this disease, and—hey, presto!—playtime was over. I was a champion eater in my past.  One pound of pasta…I could eat that for dinner with no difficulty.  A pint of Ben and Jerry’s for dessert was easy. And I loved eating like that.  I absolutely adored it. And it was now kaput.

The first thing I learned about managing diabetes is that doing so is a discipline. Anyone here like discipline? Anyone? Bueller? Naaah, didn’t think so. The second thing I learned about diabetes is that the road to managing diabetes through discipline is the same as the road to hell: it’s paved with good intentions. So I bought the books, joined the websites, got my little medical tag to wear around my neck.  But soon I’d backslide, get rebellious, neglect to take my meds, and would fling myself back into the food orgy.  Then the guilt would smack me in the head, I’d resolve to take better care of myself, and for a few months, I’d be the model diabetic patient.  But then the cycle would start up again.

Here’s the funny thing:  I am a Zen Buddhist.  No, that’s not intrinsically funny—wait; yeah, it is.  Anyway, my particular Zen Buddhist gig consists of pretty much one thing.  It’s called shikantaza, and basically what it means is to Just.  Freakin’. Sit. And it’s boring.  Unless you do shikantaza, you have no idea just how horrifically boring it really is.  And it’s uncomfortable, you itch, you have to go to the can, your nose runs, and it just all around sucks at times.  Shikantaza makes doing your taxes look entertaining (I was going to write that it makes going to the Department of Motor Vehicles look entertaining, but then I remembered that visiting the DMV is actually a total scream). But if I could sit for a half hour a day and sometimes longer as part of a discipline which really seems to have no point at all whatsoever (that’s right!  No point, kids!), then why the hell couldn’t I take better care of myself as part of a discipline that has some defined goals—things like heading off lovely little issues such as neuropathy, limb amputation, renal failure, and more?

That’s when I realized that diabetes management is not just a discipline, just as shikantaza is not just a discipline.  It’s a practice.  What’s more, it’s a practice that takes practice.  You have to—as RuPaul says—work it, beeotch.

**** So, for the last three and a half years, I’ve been practicing.  And I’ve been getting better at this diabetes thing. About a year ago, I got me some H1N1 and was very sick.  I hadn’t been taking particularly good care of myself at the time, and swine flu made my Type II go to the outer limits.  Diabetics, prepare to faint: my HbA1c was 14.

Yes.  14!

After two months’ recovery (and because I was too sick to eat everything I could get my hands on), my HbA1c dropped to 12.  My poor doctor was almost in hysterics.  I promised him I’d take care of myself. It was about this time that I hied me to my local Borders and bought a book called Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program For Reversing Diabetes.  Dr. Barnard advocates a vegan diet in this program.  I read the book and was inspired.  And to inspire a wiseass cynic like me takes a lot. I had toyed with vegetarianism and veganism in my past, switching between both from time to time, but always returning to an omnivorous diet.  I had also been a natural foods chef for a number of years, so I was always preparing food for people who didn’t eat meat or any kind of animal products.  To me, going permanently vegan would also take discipline and be a discipline…but, first, it would be a practice that took practice.

I started by adding more plant-based foods to my diet.  Due to a commitment to the ocean environment, I had already given up fish about two years before.  Poultry was next to go; that was easy, because I never really liked chicken or other fowl.  Giving up pork, lamb, and other meats was also—to mix a metaphor and show off my mordant but corny diabetes wit—a piece of cake.  Kicking red meat to the curb was a bit more difficult; I always loved a slab of rare steak.  The hardest part was giving up dairy.  That was the last to go, and the one that caused the most wailing and gnashing of teeth.  But damn if I didn’t do it.

In one year of “vegan practice”, my HbA1c has gone from that horrific 14 to a 5.4. Allopathic medicine may scoff at this and call it unfounded and unscientific, but I know what I know.  I am the diabetes patient here.  Therefore, I can say with no reservations that living a vegan lifestyle helps my diabetes management.  And I want to share this with other diabetics, with pre-diabetics, with everyone.

Visit Anastasia’s Facebook page:  The Veganbetic!

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