I'm a huge meat lover. It used to be that unless my meals contained a meat protein, I wasn't satisfied. I tried several times to become a vegetarian after seeing the insides of chicken and pig farms, but it never stuck. My cravings for meat were too strong, and soon the images of those mistreated animals faded into the background while I chomped on my burger.
In 2006, however, everything changed. At 26 years old, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. My jaw, knees, ankles, wrists, fingers and elbows were all stiff and sore, causing me to walk with a terrible limp and gimpy arm. It was like someone took a hammer to every joint. Sitting perfectly still was the only time I felt relief.
I was a girl in my 20s who glimpsed what her future 80-year-old body would feel like, and I spent most days feeling quite sorry for myself — hopeless, even. The slightest touch from my boyfriend (now husband) caused me to wither in pain. To say I was depressed would be a complete understatement. I was a wreck.
Eventually I pulled myself together and managed to work up the determination to improve my health. My rheumatologist had prescribed me a medication that wiped out my immune system, relieving some of the pain, but I was looking for a cure, not a temporary fix. I'm not one to idly sit by and wait for things to happen. I've always been a go-getter, and my health was no different. I was out to get my health back.
After being told time and again from my rheumatologist that diet has nothing to do with the improvement of arthritis, I decided to toss his pessimism aside and become a vegan anyway. After all, what I did I have to lose?
Making the decision to go vegan was the easiest choice I've ever made. Not only was I still affected by animals I saw caged up and mistreated, but I also learned that vegans tend to be healthier overall than meat-eaters.
After I changed my diet, I began to notice a few things:
1. My digestive system, admittedly sluggish, started to work normally for the first time in my life after the first week of living on a plant-based diet. Hello once per day versus once per week!
2. After my family and friends kept stressing, "You can't live without protein," I learned that you can actually get plenty of protein on a plant-based diet. I am still just as strong as before I went vegan, losing no amount of muscle mass that everyone claimed I would lose.
3. My flare-ups reduced after one month of being strictly vegan, and I could go for two weeks or longer without taking my medication.
4. The pain in some of my joints has completely vanished. I no longer have pain in my toes, jaw or one of my fingers. This may not seem like a big deal, but when your joints are swollen and tender, any joint that is saved is a huge deal.
There were some added bonuses to becoming vegan as well that have nothing to do with the arthritis but are worth mentioning anyway.
1. I lost weight. I'm not overweight to begin with, but I am sure that the reduction in the ten pounds lost relieved the tension on my joints.
2. I became a more spiritual person, feeling at peace that I was no longer contributing to the consumption of unhappy animals, pumped with hormones and antibiotics.
4. I feel more alive after meals instead of sleepy. The energy and life within fresh vegetables and plants invigorates me.
While going vegan certainly hasn't cured me of arthritis, I cannot ignore the drastic change in my overall condition. I even feel happier. I am a 34-year-old vegan, and I feel more connected to the earth and animals we share it with ever since that first week without meat.
Every day I learn new things about my body and soul, listening to what it tells me. Ever since I tuned into the power of eating a plant-based diet, I have become healthier, happier and more at peace with my condition, confident that one day, it will be gone.