Meet Rachel Echols, PharmD
I grew up in a typical Latter-day Saint family in Orem, Utah. We ate the standard American diet. We always had a garden and fruit trees, but we ate a fair amount of meat, cheese, and other dairy products, and our vegetables were always covered in butter or cream.
I was always thin until I got married when I soon began having problems keeping a healthy weight. After having my two children, I struggled to get the weight off, especially after the birth of my second child, and, as the years passed, I gained more and more weight. I also experienced frequent migraines, sugar addiction, and food cravings.
I tried various diets, but even when those resulted in weight loss, I could never keep the pounds off. Over the years I started using food as a crutch; I was addicted to sweets and other rich foods and was an emotional eater. If there was chocolate anywhere in the house, it never lasted long around me. Sometimes my husband would buy treats and hide them from me because I would finish them off while he was at work.
After many years of being a stay-at-home mom, I enrolled in pharmacy school at the age of 40; my weight problem got worse. By the time I graduated, I had gained another 35 pounds. I was at my highest weight ever. A visit to my doctor, who I had only been seeing for a short time, revealed I was not only obese, with a BMI of 37, but also had very high cholesterol – 260. She advised me to eat less meat, dairy and eggs, and to strive to follow a whole food, plant-based diet—a regimen I had never heard of. She often posted on Facebook about the science behind this lifestyle and shared how it had literally saved her life by reversing her severe heart disease. I subsequently watched the documentary, Forks over Knives; it was an epiphany for me. Soon thereafter, in January 2019, I transitioned from the standard American diet to a 95% whole food, plant-based diet in three days. For the most part, adopting this lifestyle was not too difficult as I soon found many delicious plant-based alternatives to the dishes I was used to eating. The most challenging aspect in making this change was the elimination of oil.
In the first 30 days of adopting this diet, I lost 14 pounds and felt more energetic and better than I had in a long time. My migraines lessened, my sleep improved, and my ability to concentrate increased. I also noticed a difference in my spiritual understanding. At the end of this month-long period, I knew I could never go back to eating the way I used to.
By September 2019 I had easily lost 50 pounds and was feeling like a whole new person! Recognizing that I still needed to lose more weight, in January 2020 I started John McDougall’s Maximum Weight Loss Program. By eliminating nuts and seeds, tofu, flour, and other calorically-dense foods, I continued losing more weight.
I have been living this amazing lifestyle for two years. I am down a total of 87 pounds from my highest weight, and my cholesterol has dropped 105 points, from 260 to 155. I exercise 5-6 days a week, with both strength training exercises and a four-mile walk. Remarkably, I do not battle food addictions and emotional eating any longer—the food-related problems that had plagued me for so long are gone. I feel energized and healthy, and it gives me joy knowing that eating this way has allowed me to be my best self, both physically and spiritually. Although some people may think that adopting this lifestyle is difficult, I do not feel any deprivation. I eat when hungry and stop when I’m full. My weight is stable and is easy to maintain.
This journey, however, has not been without its struggles. Friends and family have not understood why I would choose to eat this way. I have felt moments of extreme loneliness as I navigate this healthy lifestyle with, at times, no support. But I have a complete conviction that I have made the right choice.
I enjoy sharing the story of my lifestyle change with others. I have helped several family members and friends reap the benefits of a whole food, plant-based diet. It still amazes me how simply switching to eating whole plant foods has been shown to dramatically improve or even reverse high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and many inflammatory and autoimmune conditions, as well as helping with weight loss without hunger and deprivation.
Currently, my diet is simple. I eat a lot of whole grain pasta, potatoes, winter and summer squash, steamed vegetables, both white and sweet potatoes, fresh fruit, beans, large salads, and whole grains like oats, millet, quinoa, barley, and wild and brown rice. I can say I genuinely love and enjoy my food!
Rachel Echols is 47 years old. She lives in Loveland, Ohio with her husband of 28 years, Kyle. They have two grown children. She graduated from the University of Cincinnati James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy in 2017 with a Doctor of Pharmacy degree. She currently works as a consultant pharmacist for a long-term care pharmacy. Rachel enjoys cooking, gardening, reading, and nature photography. She is a monarch butterfly conservationist and has a certified Monarch Waystation in her yard.