Food for Thought

Positives from the Pandemic

The COVID 19 pandemic has been hard on so many of us. Frightening health outcomes, isolation, lockdowns, and measurable politico-socio-economic chaos make the headlines everywhere.  Here is one feel good story that is a direct result of the pandemic.

Let me introduce Miss Elizabeth Costello. We call her Aunt Betsy. At 83 years old, she has seen a lot and come a long way. This is her health story.

Betsy was born in 1937, just after the Great Depression. She has lived in Wisconsin her whole life. Her father had a large garden, and Betsy grew up eating fresh vegetables every day. However, Wisconsin being “The Dairy State,” she was raised on lots of cow’s milk, cheese, and animal products. Her father also hunted for small game, and the family was happy with whatever they had to eat.

Betsy kept to her strict Wisconsin diet as she aged. She also put on a lot of extra weight. Along with that, she developed many of the typical American illnesses, including breast, uterine, and skin cancer, hypothyroidism, congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, neuropathy in her hands and feet, type II diabetes, gout, arthritis, and high blood pressure. Pain, fatigue and brain fog have been her constant companions for the last ten years. As if that weren’t enough, she has also suffered from digestive problems that cause unpredictable loose stools. She has been taking 15 different medications daily for many years. She uses a wheelchair or motorized scooter to get from place to place.

Even though Betsy has had her share of challenges, both physical and mental, she is still quite strong. She also has a great sense of humor. She is bright, clear thinking, and enjoys lively conversations about current topics.

Betsy has lived in an assisted living apartment building for the past three years. The food there is “less than desirable” in her opinion. The menu is high in sugar, refined flour, fats, animal products, and artificial ingredients. There are very few vegetables or fruits offered at mealtimes.  When they are served, the veggies are overcooked and water-logged. Most often, the fruits are canned in syrup. Fresh fruits are limited to apples, oranges, and bananas.

In April 2020, when the COVID19 lockdowns started, Betsy came to live with us.  She stayed until the end of June, a total of 3 months. While she was with us, Betsy ate a whole food plant-based diet (WFPBD). After the first two weeks, she started to report positive changes in her health. For example, she told me that her pain was noticeably less sharp than what she had experienced at the assisted living facility. She said the stabbing pain in her legs had stopped. Overall, her pain level decreased by 70-75%  in her own estimation.

Before starting the WFPBD, Betsy’s blood sugars ran about 120-130 mg/dl in the mornings before eating. Her A1c was 7.8.  Now her morning sugars average 102, and her A1c is 6.2.

Her challenge with diarrhea was arguably the worst for her quality of life. Unpredictable bathroom patterns kept Betsy from enjoying bus trips offered to the residents of the assisted living facility. She averaged two instances of sudden diarrhea per week, so she never felt “safe” to go on a day trip.  Since Betsy started eating 100% WFPBD, her diarrhea is no longer a factor. This one change has dramatically improved Betsy’s quality of life.

As noted above, Betsy is quite sharp. However, living with the effects of all the above-mentioned illnesses, medications, and pain was mentally exhausting.  Because of that, she felt like she was in a fog most of the time. “It just took so much time to get through it all.  I felt like I was getting forgetful. I would lose track of what I was supposed to be doing. I didn’t have time to read, write, or do crafts. My world got to be so small. Now I have more time to be creative. I am back to reading and crocheting. There is just so much I want to do in a day!”

After 70 days of eating a WFPB diet, Betsy went to see her healthcare provider. Her lab work showed:

  • Decreased HbA1c (diabetes)
  • Decreased uric acid (gout)
  • Decreased pain scores and pain medication usage

Due to changes in Betsy’s labs, her doctor:

  • Decreased her gout medicine by 50%
  • Decreased her water pill by 20%
  • Decreased her potassium pill by 33%
  • Decreased her diabetes and thyroid medicines by 20%

Most days in the past, Betsy would be so exhausted just with basic living that she would have to take a nap every day in the early afternoon. Now, since her diet change, she has more energy.  Although she will use her recliner to elevate her legs, she doesn’t always sleep. She says this is a noticeable and welcome change.

“I hate what this pandemic has done to the world, but I am happy to say it worked in my favor. Look how my life has turned around! I don’t have to hang around my apartment for fear of a sudden need to go to the bathroom. I can enjoy and relax being around people. I can enjoy eating. The plant-based food tastes so good. I am so grateful. I can’t believe the difference in my life. I will never go back to eating bad food. It is never too late to start new. Tell your readers I said so!”

Ok, Aunt Betsy! Done!

Contributing Writer: Meryl Fury

Meryl Fury is President and CEO of PBNM.org.  She is a Registered Nurse with a Masters Degree in Nursing.  Professionally, she has specialized in public health and underserved populations. Personally, she is mad about healthy eating. She enjoys everything about whole-life health, especially working with older people who can greatly benefit from the healing power of whole food plant-based eating. Meryl is the founder, and CEO of Balance Forward Health and Wellness, LLC, which focuses on playfully supporting people who want to attain vibrant health over the entire lifespan. You can read more about her on her website at www.balanceforwardhealthandwellness.com.