Thursday, March 8, 2012

Your Stories: Melissa Brannin

Tonight is the beginning of what I hope is a whole series of posts.  A series I am calling "Your Stories." I want to hear from you.  I want to hear your stories.  I want to know what brought you to the point where you started your journey to a healthier lifestyle.  Because you all inspire me and keep me going.  Hearing your stories gets me excited and helps me know that I am not alone.  Because we aren't alone!  We are all in this together.  If you'd like to participate and share your story (which I hope you will) shoot me an email at: kimthehealthnut at gmail dot com.

So tonight I will introduce you to a good friend of mine named Melissa.  You might recognize her.  This is the same Melissa I introduced you to back in January as she started her 30 day vegan challenge.  I'm happy to report that she's made it to 30 days AND BEYOND!!!  Read her story below:


Hey there.  My name is Melissa, I'm a 28 year old folk singer in Northern Virginia.  I love meat.  I love chicken.  I love ham.  But, I tell you what, I love fruit!  I love broccoli!  I love fresh juice!  And I've learned so much in the last 62 days of being vegan.

I got married a year and a half ago.  I dieted pretty hard before my wedding (don't we all), and looked great on my wedding day, but really burned out.  After that, I took life real, real easy.  I'm talkin' 20 lbs easy!  Woo, and it was delicious!  But not so attractive.

As the last year wore on, physically, I felt worse and worse.  A combination of not working out and not eating the best was taking its toll on my energy levels, my sleep patterns, my confidence, and my happiness.  Don't get me wrong, life is/was great, but I was being lazy.  I felt myself getting more dependent (or addicted) on sweets, baked goodies, fatty food, and making more and more exceptions.  Then, the Holidays.  Oh, gravy.  By the end of December, I felt like garbage and needed a big change.

Sometime last fall I saw "Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead" and loved it!  If you haven't seen it, you should watch it.  Its a documentary about juicing.  I've always loved fresh juice, but never had a juicer.  My interest was piqued and in November/December I started watching every food related documentary on Netflicks.  (Check Kim's blog for a pretty thorough list of some great documentaries.)  The opinions and evidence presented in the documentaries was very compelling, so at the end of December I decided to commit to a plant-based whole-grain diet, mostly based on "Forks Over Knives".  I figured that if I was going to make a change--reverse my bad habits in a sustainable way--that change would have to be fairly extreme and totally complete.   I gave myself a 30 Day Vegan Challenge.  I needed to "reboot"--wipe the slate clean and start again.  My husband bought me a juicer for Christmas.  I started exercising 4-5 times a week, and let my husband finish all of the meat/eggs/dairy in our refrigerator.

I made it the full 30 days without a hitch.  As I type this, I have been vegan for over 60 days.  Here's the breakdown of what I learned along the way:

Juicing:  I am not a coffee drinker, but the way that people describe the effects of coffee sound like how I would describe my reaction to fresh juice.  I feel a jolt from juice!  I "pep" up, wake up, and brighten up.  It energizes me and gets me ready for the day, so I usually juice in the morning.  It is such a great way to jump-start your veggie (vitamins and minerals) intake, and I'm getting addicted to it!

 Grocery Shopping:  At first, shopping was hard.  I didn't know what to buy and I didn't know what to do with the new things I bought.  Those first few trips took a lot of patience, and a good window of time.  I shop at the same organic food market all the time, so now (after 2 months) I can walk through, grab all the stuff I need and get out of there in 20 minutes.  I actually spend less time shopping now, because I only ever go to the produce section!

 Meal Planning:  When I started, I'd search for recipes online, skim through about 6-10 and chose the one that sounded the most appealing.  I cooked it, and my husband I ate it.  Sometimes it was great, a few times it was amazing, and a few times it was awful.  But that's how it goes.  Now, I realize that my situation (only needing to satisfy myself and a superbly amicable husband) is different from the situations of most women my age, what with all of your babies and all.  For me, with this lifestyle change, my situation was a blessing; it would probably be more difficult with kids around the table.  One thing I learned for sure: there are recipes that everyone will like.  It might take some time and patience to find them, but when you do, you add it to the playlist.  When we found "our favorite" new dish, we ate it 5 times in 3 weeks and LOVED it.  Fruits and veggies are delicious and I believe in that power.

Exercise and Energy:  If we want results (perceivable improvements and the accomplishment of goals) we know we have to exercise.  I started back into my exercise routine (which I am no stranger too, but relinquished for over a year), which includes jogging, weight training, P90X and other workout videos, and activities like basketball, racquetball, and yoga.  I can’t distinguish whether the results I’ve experienced have come more from the changes in my diet or increased amount of exercise, but I know that both aspects are crucial when it comes to results. (Those results include, but are not limited too, increased energy, better overall mood, increased vitality, improved motivation, better sleeping/waking, weight loss (almost 10 lbs!!), improved strength and endurance, decreased sugar cravings, increased confidence in my ability to do HARD things, etc.)      Exercise is hard.  Plain and simple.  Its either hard and you love it or hard and you hate it, but it is hard for everyone.  Its hard when you start, and its hard when you get better.  As adults, we don’t like to do hard things—we study hard, we work hard, we raise families, have complex problems, and it is all-to-easy to not do one more self-imposed hard thing.  Exercise can be a paradox; if we do it, it is hard, but it can make our lives easier by making us healthier and feel better.  If we don’t do it, we take the easy way, but our lives are soon made harder by decreased health and feelings of well-being.  It was easy to forget how good and sustaining exercise was for me after I stopped doing it, but it took only a few months to suffer from the consequences, and for those consequences to compound until I felt really terrible.  I am so much happier now doing the HARD thing with a forward-looking attitude.

Husband and family:  I am quite a lucky girl.  My husband is a peach pie, and fully supported my decision to pursue a goal that would make me happy.  I have a part-time job, and he works full-time, so I almost always cook our meals.  He always eats what I cook.  When he cooks for himself, he eats like a 12 year old (bread/quesadilla/chips with cheese on top in the microwave—he would live on this, and has).  So, most of the time, anything I cook for him would be better than what he would make for himself.  He has supported me 100% and has been willing to try everything I make.  I also have allowed him whatever he wants to eat, he just has to go out of his way to get it.  If he wants a big juicy burger, he can have one, etc.  However, because he’s so awesome, he feels guilty “cheating” when I’m “being so good”.  Win for us both!

The bottom line is this: a vegan diet isn’t nearly as hard or inconvenient as I thought it would be.  The food I eat is delicious, satisfying, and healthy.  I am always learning, and am far more open to new things and new experiences that are having a positive impact on my life.   Accomplishing a 30 Day goal was much easier than I thought it would be, and the last 30 days have wizzed by.  I have no intention of reverting to my old habits.  I am excited to see how my body and my mind continue to change, adapt, and improve.  It has been a grand experiment—one I would recommend to ANYONE.

To read about my journey in more detail, including recipes I tried and my experiences along the way, visit my blog at