Why I Went Vegan, and What I Eat

(I know! It’s been ages! Hi!)

When I was just a tiny little thing, my 50-year-old grandfather had a massive heart attack, resulting in quadruple bypass surgery that saved his life.

Read_John and Barbara abt 1967
Grandpa in his 40s

He’d been slim my whole life, and had just started running long distances. We were all a bit surprised, but we realized that he hadn’t ever eaten terribly healthily. We chalked it up to diet and resulting high cholesterol, and thought we had learned.

My dad, in his early twenties at the time, took up long distance running, as well. It was a great love, for him, and he ran marathon after marathon. He has always been one of the fittest humans I have ever known.

89 Jan
Dad in his 30s. 

Additionally, he’s always been pretty careful about what he eats. Then two years ago, he started struggling to get through even shortish runs, or working up to good speed. The diagnosis? He needed bypass surgery, and fast.

Dad, Grandpa, and I all have genetically-caused high cholesterol, which can of course be exacerbated by poor diet and lack of exercise. In my dad’s case, he was doing everything he could to outrun it (pun intended), but all his efforts weren’t enough. My grandfather wasn’t doing nearly enough, and it nearly killed him.

My history? Well, let’s just say it’s been spotty. I spent the first 15+ years of my adult life sitting on my kiester and eating terribly, so I had that working against me.

Jen at 200+ pounds | Fefferfit
The Queen of Pre-Heart Disease, pre-changes

Like my grandfather, I have a heart murmur & arrhythmia. Post-bypass surgery, he had a pacemaker put in to keep his heart beating properly, but I’d really like to avoid needing that. I also have heart disease/diabetes risk double-whammy of PCOS. It actually increases serum cholesterol and triglycerides–isn’t that sweet? They’re both in the healthy range, now (barely), but with my family history, I began to have concerns about protecting this lil’ body against future risk. (You know what’ll scare ya into wanting to be healthier? OH EVERYONE IN YOUR FAMILY GETTING HEART DISEASE.)

To top it all off, I had my DNA tested, and submitted my genome to Promethease.

Heart disease.jpg

Yeah. Fifty bad markers for heart disease. That’s 50 genetic markers raising my risk, and another almost 150 relating to cholesterol disease. So that’s fun. Clearly, it was time to take some action.

In chatting with my doctor, we decided the best option for me was to go at least mostly vegan. His suggestion was to be “mostly plant based,” because of the benefits of plant sterols, and the decrease in saturated fats in my diet. As a side benefit, he also thought I might see a decrease in my weight (something I was hoping for, not that he was pushing) because of the increased fiber and general lower calorie count of plant-based foods. But don’t get me wrong: this is NOT a “diet,” nor is it, for me, about animal rights. (I like them right here on my plate, if I’m honest.) This is all about keeping my heart healthy.

Vegan: day 1

So. We’re adjusting. My kids still get to eat “normal” food for breakfast and in their cold lunches, but I prepare vegan dinners. Once in a while, I make something like burgers, and make mine vegan, or we make our own pizzas or nachos and they can have cheese and meat while my plate is piled with veggies. They’re learning that chili is survivable without ground beef, and some things (like waffles) aren’t even detectably different my way. It helps that I’m an OK cook!

Note that I’m also having to work within the guidelines of insulin resistance: while I can eat most veggies, I have to be aware of glycemic load. (I try and stay away from foods that are over 10/serving) Some starchy veg and grains are out. Whole grains and high fiber are always better. A bunch of fruits don’t work for my body.

Because I’m eating vegan, I’m not eating meat or dairy, with the exception of kefir (at my doctor’s request. We’re working on pro- and pre-biotics for me, but that’s another discussion). That means meat and dairy substitutes. However, I’m not using much soy. I’ve read a bunch of differing opinions on soy, particularly as it pertains to PCOS. I’m not here to offer my opinion on what anyone else should do, but I did decide to stay away from processed soy. I eat:

  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Edamame
  • Soy Sauce

I use nut milks and cheeses (though I don’t miss cheese much).

Here’s what a typical day looks like for me:

Breakfast: Steel-cut oats, flaked coconut, berries, cashew milk, stevia, & chia seeds
Lunch: Vegan burger (frozen from Costco), wheat bun, condiments, roasted root veggies
Dinner: Vegan Enchiladas or Mushroom Stout Pie or I’m tired let’s microwave a bowl of edamame and the kids can have mac & cheese 😀

Vegan lunch + knitting = …hipster?


Some of my favorite sites for vegan recipes are:

We don’t eat out a lot as a family, but sometimes I do have lunch on the run. Here are some of my very favorite vegan meal options on the go:

  • Chipotle’s Sofritas Burrito/Bowl/Tacos/Salad (with guac, no cheese/sour cream)
  • Taco Bell Black Bean Burrito (no cheese)
  • Noodles & Co Japanese Pan Noodles (with or without tofu)
  • Wendy’s Power Mediterranean Salad (no chicken)
  • Del Taco 8 Layer Veggie Burrito (no cheese, no sour cream)
  • Papa Murphy’s Gourmet Vegetarian Pizza (thin crust, no cheese)
  • Boise Co-Op, if you’re local, has awesome vegan sandwiches, bowls, and burritos. Try the banh mi (and grab a cookie)!

Note: beware of vegan desserts. “Vegan” =/= healthy, it simply means no animal products. Check ingredients. Most desserts substitute coconut oil in place of butter, which actually means more saturated fat per tablespoon. That’s not great for heart health. (Some use smashed avocado or an unsaturated oil, which is a better option). Also, many vegan desserts are absolutely loaded with sugar. Be sure to read labels and understand what you’re getting. 

By the way, my dad and grandpa? I feel very blessed to be able to say they’re both still here. IMG_1504005 (4)I can’t imagine my life without their loving influences. Here’s hoping, with these changes I’m making, I’ll be able able to live a life just as full and rich as theirs.


2 thoughts on “Why I Went Vegan, and What I Eat

  1. Yay! Go you! It’s great you’re taking care of yourself! I’m so glad you found so much info out. I should maybe do that genetic testing. My grandpa and dad both died in their 50’s of heart disease and it scares me to death!!! Love you girl!


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