(Lynne here) I met “Santa Jack” & Trisha of Happy Times Two about a month ago when they passed thru Chicago on their “around the U.S.” RV tour. Their vegan transformation this year has been nothing short of AMAZING (together, they’ve lost a staggering 120 lbs and counting!). I just knew that fellow Vegan Vagabond readers would love to hear their story, so I asked Jack to write this guest blog post. Enjoy!)
We’re Jack and Trisha, and are currently 6 months into a 7 month RV excursion around the country to celebrate Trisha’s joining me in retirement. When we started planning this trip, we were excited about seeing so much of the country, but as it’s turned out, by far the greatest gift we’ve received from this experience is a total transformation in our health, as we’ve become “mostly vegan!” I can’t begin to describe how wonderful this has been, how much better we feel physically, and how our outlook on life has changed since we started this journey.
First, a little background. All my life I’ve wrestled with being overweight, starting in childhood. Through the years I’ve done probably every conceivable diet, with some success at times, but invariably I’ve put back on the weight I had lost, and steadily gaining more. I’ve often said my closet looked like a men’s store--from slim and trim sizes all the way up to designs by Omar the Tentmaker! Even though I had run a marathon at age 35, in recent years I had become much more sedentary and less active. I started taking cholesterol and blood pressure medications years ago, and my doctors kept having to increase the dosage. In January of this year my doctor added a third BP med to my regimen, and this was pretty unsettling-- I had figured I would always be on these meds, but adding this new one was sobering.
Some “Before” pictures--
Well, about this time we were preparing to embark on our trip and while surfing the web for tips on RVing, I ran across Lynne’s WinnieViews blog, discovering to my delight that she had the identical model RV we had recently bought. Her blog was incredibly helpful, and she was kind enough to answer many questions I had. But by far the most significant thing about her blog was her link to Vegan Vagabonds, and a gift for which both Trisha and I will be forever in her debt.
On a lark, I just started reading some of her posts on this blog, as well as those from Tessa and Evelyn and a light just went off in my head, I mean like exploded!! For reasons I can’t really explain, the picture she posted of the spinach and kale smoothie just hit me like a ton of bricks--just a sudden enlightenment moment!! I was also intrigued by her stories of weight loss due to adopting a plant based diet. I showed Trisha the picture and some of the blog posts and we both just said “Let’s do this!”
At the beginning of our trip!
So I ordered a Blendtec, and we both read Dr. Fuhrman’s Eat to Live, and were amazed at the many success stories he described. What was without a doubt the most helpful advice to us from his book, as well as from all three wonderful women who started Vegan Vagabonds was that you didn’t have to be a slave to this approach. As Lynne says, she occasionally eats non-vegan foods, just doesn’t make a habit of it anymore. We had known some vegans who were just Nazis about it and this approach was something of a turn off. But hearing that you could successfully be “mostly vegan” was just the approach both of us needed.
I had been scheduled to go back to see my doctor in February since she had been concerned about my increasing blood pressure and she wanted to monitor it more closely. We had just started this new way of eating a couple of days before my appointment and when I told her what we were doing she was just ecstatic! She told me that she and her husband eat about 80% plant based, eating some meat/fish/dairy usually on the weekends, but with this way of eating her husband had been able to get off his blood pressure medications completely.
I went back to see my doctor in March, just before we left on our trip, and in this one month I had lost 24 pounds, and my blood pressure was starting to come down! In just one month! So she told me to send her a log of my bp readings so she could decide whether to reduce my meds. It’s now been 7 months since we started eating this way and I’ve lost 80 pounds, and she has taken me off two of the three bp meds! Hopefully, by the time we get back home in another month she will be able to take me off the other meds as well. Trisha has lost more than 40 pounds, and we both just marvel at how much better we feel.
We didn’t have bikes when we started our trip, but bought some 7 speed bikes in Alabama and started riding. By the time we got to Colorado we traded these in for 24 speed bikes and we’ve done some 20 mile rides and one over 30! We’re hiking a lot and just feeling super!
And it’s been much easier to eat a vegan diet on the road than what you might expect. We brought our Blendtec on the RV and have smoothies just about every day for breakfast. When we are dry camping and can’t run the generator, we have oatmeal, with blueberries, sometimes craisins, sometimes a little honey. Our smoothies are variations of the recipe Lynne posted on this blog--we add some chia powder, sometimes a couple tablespoons of cocoa powder and use just frozen blueberries for a dark chocolate flavor/color; sometimes we add peanut butter (we have been able to find stores where we can grind our own fresh), and we’ve just experimented with different frozen fruits. When we’ve been able to get fresh berries at farmers markets or “u-pick” places, we’ve frozen those to use later.
For lunch we usually have tomato sandwiches, made with either whole wheat pita pockets or other whole grain organic breads we’ve found at health food stores along the way, usually just using one slice, open face style. We use tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, avocado, greens of any variety. We’ll usually top this off with some fresh fruit.
For supper we have a variety, lots of times with quinoa or black rice topped with steamed or grilled veggies, a salad made with whatever fresh veggies we’ve been able to find at roadside stands or farmers markets--for grilling, we like to use chunks of onion, beets, carrots, yellow and zucchini squash, sweet potatoes, peppers, cauliflower, whatever. We’ll spray a little PAM over this, use some Mrs. Dash salt free seasoning, some basil, maybe other spices, wrap it in foil and use our little portable grill out on the table at the campsite. We discovered black rice on this trip and really love it, either hot and topped with veggies, or cold added to salads; same with quinoa. I’ll often saute some tempeh, tofu or seitan to put in salads as well.
Always load up the salads with chickpeas, black beans or other types of beans, and add some seeds or nuts. We often use nutritional yeast sprinkled on salad, or over the steamed veggies, great flavor, more protein--good on corn on the cob!
For snacks we usually have carrots and hummus, some we buy and some we make, or some raw cashews or almonds and dried fruit. When we’re out hiking or biking, we take along a baggie of nuts and dried fruit, apples or oranges, and usually some Cliff Bars--the Builder Bars have a really high protein content and this really helps.
We love finding farmers markets along the way, stopping at roadside fruit and vegetable stands for whatever is fresh and in season. We’ve been able to find lots of health food stores or organic/natural grocers along the way, so we can stock up on protein powder. almond milk--unsweetened original--ground flaxseed, dried fruits (especially love white figs!). In Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Colorado and Oregon we discovered Winco grocery stores, where we found wonderful bulk items, including a hummus powder we use to make up batches of our own.
We eat mostly meals we fix in the RV, but we do eat out from time to time, usually when we want to enjoy local specialties, like sampling the seafood gumbo along the Gulf coast, Mexican food in the Southwest, or a lobster roll in Maine. When we do this we try to make sure we avoid side dishes like fries, bread, etc. We’ve had great success using Happy Cow to find vegan friendly places to eat, and it’s always a good bet that at Mexican, Indian, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants you can find several vegan choices. More and more places are responding favorably to requests to make something vegan by either withholding cheese, cream, etc. or substituting a vegan alternative.
Vegan Platter we ordered at a restaurant--
We use recipes from Eat to Live, Everyday Happy Herbivore, and the Blendtec cookbook, but more often than not, we’ll just make it up as we go along, with whatever fresh veggies we have on hand.
Delicious dinner of corn on the cob with a little salt free Mrs. Dash, salad topped with black rice and sauteed seitan--
We’ve found a brand of prepared dishes we really like, called Tasty Bite. Mostly Indian, like lentils or chickpeas, and they also have different rice varieties--great for when we’re late getting into a campground and are tired, just microwave for 90 seconds and you’re done! We make a lot of soups, using some quick dry mixes we’ve found at health food stores, some from bean mixes we brought from home. One of our best purchases was a small microwave steamer we got at Camping World, and we use that a lot. It will steam a meal of vegetables in 5 minutes or less and it’s just so easy!
Now I can honestly say I don’t find myself craving all those foods that I always have, such as ice cream, donuts, fries, etc. People ask how hard this is, and for both of us it has been so much easier than we had ever thought possible. When we go out to eat, if there simply are no vegan alternatives, we just find the closest thing we can and don’t worry about it. When we’ve visited friends along the way, we’ve let them know about our eating pattern, but have always insisted that they not go out of their way to change, and we’ve been able to do okay just eating mostly salad and veggies that are usually part of their meals, and when they have asked, suggesting things to fix that aren’t radically different from what they usually have.
All those times in the past when I would go “on” a diet, I would eventually go “off” of it, which inevitably lead to the regaining of the weight. Now, we look at this not as a diet, but just a different way of eating, and I can’t imagine ever leaving this path. There are so many benefits we’ve already experienced, and I know our lives are so much better now! Not only are we able to exercise more and more, but just simple things of everyday life are so much easier, like walking up stairs, bending down to pick something up off the floor--before, we would tend to find excuses for not doing things, but now we look for ways to be more active. It’s just made a tremendous difference in all aspects of our lives!
We had the wonderful chance to meet Lynne when we were in the Chicago area! What an inspiration she has been to us and thank you to Tessa and Evelyn as well for all your wonderful inspirational blog posts!!