It wasn’t a complete artistic drought this past year but it took a potentially life altering medical health scare to get a couple drawings out of me. I drew these pages in between spraining my knee last year and having to deal with the idea that I could potentially have Diabetes last March.
For those who don’t know, I’ve been a big girl for most of my life. When I was a teenager, I was going through a lot of pressure to be pretty and thin. I was in the correct BMI bracket, but I was Chinese. Somehow it wasn’t enough to be normal. I felt that I had to do things like not eat at all for a couple days or to diet very strictly. And nothing worked or ever lasted. But I gave up torturing myself this way and was finally happy with myself. Sure I eventually grew to be overweight, but I was justifying it with my genes (my dad is a very large man) and I was more than my body. I didn’t think my body had anything to do with my capacity with being a good and successful person. I didn’t want it to stop me.
Well something did stop me. I was not one to exercise because I had knee issues. I’ve been dislocating so often since the 7th grade. Nine times on my left knee in fact- and I had to get that corrected with surgery. My right knee suffered through 2. I had joint pain whenever I walked long enough, and I’m horrible with balance. But it’s okay! I can totally make this work. I wasn’t going to be an athelete anyway.
Fast forward ten years later and I was sitting in front of a specialist doctor. I just wanted to know why I was getting these infections. He took one look at my weight and just outright told me, you’ve got diabetes.
How can this man say that to me when we haven’t even done the blood work? I sputtered out a string of questions: BUT HOW? Sure I’ve been carefree but I actually do tighten my carb consumption and I count my daily sugar intake. I never drink soda. I read all my food labels. How is this happening? But he was talking to me like I had it- like it’s the only explanation.
I stewed in my flat for a couple weeks, crying and freaking out. It took forever to get my test results back from the lab. Alex held my hand and said definitively: “No. We’re doing something about this. We’re going to make a plan.”. I watched these health documentaries on Netflix and read my first nutrition books. There was a time when I was so discouraged to even do HIIT exercises. Every time I did this, I always failed. How was this time different? But Alex looked me in the eye and just said No. “We are growing old together. And we are going to run after our hypothetical dogs.” I was going to make this work.
The lab tests came back. I was a negative. I had health complications from something else and I didn’t have Diabetes and I was not even pre-diabetic. It still doesn’t change the fact that I weighed heavier than I had ever been in my life. Just 6 pounds shy of 200. I had done everything from restricting carbs, doing Paleo, eating more protein etc. etc in my life.So I tried something I’ve never ever thought about doing ever: Eating Vegan.
Quick disclaimer, I’m not Vegan. Being Vegan is about the animals and my reasons are entirely selfish and about my health. I just really want to share how eating Vegan food has completely changed my life. I can finally say that I’ve lost close to 20 pounds since March which puts me back to my “normal” average weight in the past decade. But anyone can lose weight in any number of ways. I’m going to talk about being Pain Free.
It never occurred to me that my knee pain was more than just having to go through surgery. I thought it was natural that I can’t do things anymore like going through a flight of stairs without holding the hand rail or not being able to run. I just assumed that I was partially disabled.
But once I started eating mostly Vegan food, the change was almost immediate. In a week, my bunion didn’t hurt anymore. I started to be able to run. I was the heaviest than I have ever been but I was quickly becoming more fit than I have ever been in my life. I did HIIT exercises and my joints could take it. I survived a whole walking trip in Japan, and my blisters have given me more reasons to pause than my knees ever did. I did my first Asian squats in my life. I can do lunges. WHAT! I run through the center of the subway stairs to get to work. It was life altering to not be scared anymore when taking the stairs. In my life, people have constantly told me that if I just weighed less- my knees would hurt less. I’m sure there’s truth in that. But I’m still on my long journey to a normal weight number and I’m already active and mostly pain free.
Eating Vegan also allowed me to experiment with foods. I’ve found that whenever I cheat and eat Roasted Duck Rice, or a handful of shrimp crackers- these things have cause me joint pain a couple hours later in the day. It’s like an informal inflammation test where I figure out my pain triggers. I was also able to identify that feeling bloated was not normal. Eating something like fried chicken makes it hard to breathe. I had no idea that there was a distinction between being normal and being bloated, when all my life my body was just in that default state of bloat and inflammation. I didn’t now any better.
I want to clarify that before all this, I wasn’t the type to keep chips or sweets at home. I snacked on pumpkin seeds and the very rare chunk of dark chocolate. I kept a bar of butter and cheese in the fridge but I used it sparingly for marinades, sandwiches and toppings. I ate eggs, chicken, salmon, and had just started to cut red meat out of my life. But removing meat and especially even the ‘tiny’ amount of dairy in my life had effected my cravings profoundly. Even with casual dairy consumption, I have found myself dying to eat a whole pizza in the middle of the month. Now, the cravings are a rare occurrence.
I highly recommend reading The Cheese Trap. Though a couple chapters don’t work (the book tries to gross you out of eating cheese by saying something like the same bacteria in smelly feet is also in cheese. I’m Asian. My culture eats EVERYTHING)- it was still incredibly educational in regards to how meats and dairy contribute to inflammation, allergies, and other diseases. I also read The Starch Solution. I don’t follow the program but I use it as a guide when I cook my meals at home.
I have stopped counting my carbs and have actually adopted a carb friendly diet with whole wheat pastas and breads, potatoes, sweet potatoes, salad greens, etc. I make roasted garlic hummus sandwiches, airfried vegan dumplings with a side of wilted Chinese greens, spicy Gochujang noodles with mixed vegetables, curries, vegetable hand pies, hot pot, “cream” of artichoke and spinach topping and rustic eggplant spreads. I’ve also begun craving weird things like a can of baked beans with hot toast. Again, I don’t eat like this all the time. Sometimes I’d forget to bring lunch and would eat anything from the Cafeteria. I still love sushi and I’ve earmarked a Spanish tapas place for my birthday lunch. It just feels great to have control in my life and to be finally be able to really live. I don’t know if this novella is going to help anyone else, but I really am proud of everything I’ve accomplished so far. I hope to always remember this feeling, and to look back on how far I’ve come.