Amazing transformation
by JoAnne Schwab

While standing on a street corner or shopping at the Big Carrot and I'll hear a voice behind me say, "Is that you, JoAnne, you're looking wonderful". Thank you, I say.
"How much did you lose?"
Seventy pounds.
"How long did it take you?"
Eight months.
Thinking about this now, I realize the answer closer to the truth is somewhere between twenty and twenty-five years.
In my early teens, I started to notice that my eating habits were creating extra weight. Back then my whole family and I were junk food fanatics. The more unhealthful and sugary the food, the more we all loved it. No shredded wheat for me, hand me the sugar frosted flakes, grab me the Hersheys, no not that bag, the larger one.

From my teens till my early thirties, I stayed thin by starvation diets or by going off and bingeing. Many more days of starving then days of bingeing enabled me to keep my weight down. In my late twenties my husband and I decided to leave Maryland and move to New York. After living in New York for a short while, we saw a film on a small educational station that showed graphic scenes of a slaughterhouse. That was it. We both became vegetarians the next day. At the beginning, we remained ethical vegetarians with no concern or knowledge for our own health. Gradually, like others, through lectures, reading articles and books and becoming knowledgeable, we kept evolving step by step. After five years in New York we immigrated to Toronto and a short time after that, joined TVA. This was around 1984.
In 1986, my husband started an animal rights group, Canadian Vegans for Animal Rights. At this point I was trying, but could not stay vegan 100% of the time. I was basically a vegetarian who would not eat anything without reading every label: no preservatives, no sugar, no colouring, no white flour, and no hidden animal products, i.e. gelatin. I was perfect except for one thing, I couldn't stick to low calories and for the next fifteen years, I stayed very much overweight, eating only what I believed to be 100% healthful foods. But for some reason, I still could not stop overeating. I rationalized that I was bingeing on health food, so it wasn't so bad. I prided myself on knowing everything about what was healthful and not healthful. I should have known, since my husband produced and hosted an animal rights, environmental and health radio show for eight years, having all the leading medical doctors in the movement on his show. He arranged lectures with Dr. Klaper and others.

I used to joke to people about me being the only fat veggie they're likely to see.

When we had information tables, although I was fully knowledgeable on all the reasons why vegetarianism is healthier, I would never speak since, I wasn't a picture of health. I'd talk about the ethics, and questions of health I'd turn over to my husband or to other volunteers. I used to joke to people about me being the only fat veggie they are likely to see.

Over the next few years, reading and learning more, I evolved again and became a strict vegan. I can look back now and see it so clearly. When we gave up meat, cheese became our staple. It was from the health food store, and rennetless. When I finally became a strict vegan and gave up cheese, it seemed all the foods I liked had to have lots of OIL-again, only cold-pressed for us. It's cold pressed from the health food store, no need to measure, just pour; here, give me the bottle, don't be stingy. More oil makes it taste better. Well, here I was now, a high fat, and still overweight, vegan!
Finally a year ago, I was able to return to a healthy weight. What changed my life? It was not the knowledge that most of us eventually learned, about eating all you want as long as it's low fat. It was the new, wonderful turn of events in the food market which has made low fat eating delicious, nutritious and easy.
If people turned to low fat eating, even as little as ten years ago, they wouldn't have had anything to eat except bland, tasteless food. A few who knew and understood how fats, including oils, should be used sparingly, would have had to spend hours cooking everything from scratch. Most food companies did not consider the importance of low fat.
We are so lucky today because we have hundreds of delicious and nutritious food products to choose from. We have cookbooks and recipes from not only magazines like Vegetarian Times that always list low fat recipes (they have a separate magazine on the newsstand now called Low-fat & Fast), but also from mainstream magazines and cookbooks. Everywhere you look, food companies have come up with low fat or no fat foods that taste, as Loblaws' lower fat food line brags, "Too good to be true".
Are you a high fat veggie?
Even thin vegetarians or vegans who eat high fat foods are also at risk for heart disease, breast cancer and other diseases. I've been running a Dr. Dean Ornish support group once a week (Bloor and Yonge area).
It's a three part program:
1. low fat food discussion, the latest studies and great recipes
2. group sharing of feelings/relieving stress, support of group members
3. meditation or yoga (meditation at my location).
These groups are for people seeking prevention for heart and other diseases. If interested please leave a message for me (JoAnne Schwab) at the TVA, and I can let you know where the nearest group is.