As a dietitian, I love learning from my peers and sharing their incredible work. This week I’m eager to offer Part 1 of a fabulous interview with my friend Julieanna Hever, MS, RD, CPT.
E: Julieanna, what’s your story? What led you to become The Plant-Based Dietitian and how long have you lived a vegan lifestyle?
J: When I was a teenager, I read John Robbins’ book, Diet for a New America, and it changed my worldview. It was the first time I learned of the implications of the food choices I make and how interconnected those selections are to my health, the planet, and the treatment of animals. From then until now was a long journey towards understanding how best to apply this knowledge in a healthful and intentional way. Going to graduate school was the most effective part of my process as it enabled me to dissect scientific literature objectively. In the past five years or so, I have grown confident in my choice to eat and teach a whole food, plant-based diet because of the dramatic difference I have witnessed with the health and results of my clients and students. After being in the health and fitness world for more than 16 years, I can honestly say that nothing comes close to the power of eating this way. It is indeed the best medicine we have at our disposal.
E: How has vegetarianism influenced your family, and your, life throughout those years?
J: It has changed everything…literally! My entire perspective of my career is different. I was frustrated by the lack of results I achieved with clients: weight loss was difficult; it was considered successful when we were able to maintain a chronic disease state or symptom without it progressing further; fitness success was slow. Once I implemented whole food, plant-based eating, it was the complete opposite. Now my clients easily lose weight, they actually reverse their chronic diseases (something I never thought possible), their fitness levels soar to new personal bests, energy explodes, and on and on. It is nothing short of miraculous.
Personally, I feel a lot healthier. I had always suffered from massive gastrointestinal issues (which was always chalked up to irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, and allergies), but I finally have that under control now. My weight is no longer difficult to maintain, something I struggled with my entire life as a dancer and actress. I recover from my workouts (and minor illnesses) much quicker and am, therefore, more fit now than when I was younger.
E: Plant-based eating has grown in popularity recently; what specific changes have you seen over the past 5 years in the veg world?
J: It has been extraordinary and very exciting to be a part of. Huge happenings have changed the playing field. Things like having President Bill Clinton go plant-based, a nationwide release of a documentary on the subject (Forks Over Knives), and mainstream television shows like The Dr. Oz Show having guests like me, Drs. T. Colin Campbell, Caldwell Esselstyn, and Neal Barnard are bringing whole food, plant-based nutrition to the forefront of the healthcare scene. I regularly meet random strangers in places like the market or school who just happen to also eat a plant-based diet. Physicians and Dietitians are also slowly starting to make changes in their treatment decisions, which ultimately is most important since so many people look to their healthcare professional for advice. I have always been told that major change always starts with a grassroots movement…I believe we are in the thick of a huge shift.
E: How did your role as the Executive Director for Earth Save International transpire? What sort of work do you do for the organization?
J: I was asked to come in as Executive Director about a year and a half ago and have been working on our Meals for Health Program, which we first launched this past spring. We took 20 food bank participants from the Sacramento Food Bank through a whole food, plant-based diet for 28 days. It was truly successful, even more so than predicted. All of the participants effectively completed the challenge. The average weight loss was 17 pounds, average reduction of prescription medications was 84%, and multiple common chronic non-specific conditions (like constipation, heartburn, and migraines) ceased! One woman went off her high blood pressure medication she had been on for 22 years prior to this experience within a couple weeks. Another woman was taken off of eight medications by the end of the 28 days. Blood pressure and cholesterol levels significantly decreased and the group and their families were exceedingly optimistic, energized, and committed to eating this way in the future. We are hoping to have this written up in the scientific literature, to create a film documentation of the program, and to generate a template usable by other groups nationwide.
E: What recommendations would you make for those wishing to preserve our environment at a national, local or personal level?
J: The number one thing you can do to protect the planet is to eliminate, or at least limit, your consumption of animal products. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) released a report entitled Livestock Long Shadow in 2006 showing that factory farming is more detrimental to the environment than all transportation combined. It is literally leaps and bounds more effective to minimize your animal product consumption than a combination of driving a hybrid car, recycling, minimizing waste, and using non-toxic household and beauty products combined. I love the saying that a vegan driving a Hummer is a lot better for the environment than a meat-eater driving a Prius. Every choice you make impacts the planet…we all need to be aware so we can do as much as possible. How we are currently living is unsustainable for the planet and major changes must occur if we have any hope of stopping this downward spiral.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Julieanna’s interview where we learn more about her film, To Your Health, her book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition and her passion for wellness!
Image Source: Danny O/Flickr