It’s been a week and I’m still basking in the glow of renewed energy from my weekend in Marshall, Texas at HealthFest 2017. Inspired after listening to the interview with Ed and Amanda Smith on the Plant Yourself Podcast, I felt called to attend. Even though I’ve been plant-strong for eight years, I’ve quietly stayed out of the social scene, except for an occasional Engine 2 Potluck that Rip would host at his house back in the day! So, when I brought up HealthFest to my husband and he responded with a resounding, “Let’s Go!” I felt like a kid who had just been told she could finally have her pet pony. Really? You mean it? You actually want to go?
I purchased two tickets that day and was excited for weeks to be renewed, reinvigorated and downright captivated by the entire event. HealthFest didn’t disappoint, which is why I chronicled my many take-a-ways from the weekend. If you weren’t there, I hope you find these more than reason enough to attend such a life-changing weekend in the future. If you go every year, then you already know the power of being with your tribe.
Become the Person You Want To Be – HealthFest was jam packed with so many experts, stories, anecdotes and viewpoints on a plant-based lifestyle. There were moments I felt overwhelmed with seemingly contradicting information. Should I eat avocados or is that too much fat? Is raw vegan the only way to go? Should my plate be 70% starch or mostly green? Is it o.k. to eat dessert on occasion or am I traveling down a slippery slope of self-sabotage? My mind swirled, but I left with the understanding of “change” that I’ve always had: No matter what movement or philosophy I follow, the only diet (read: way of eating) I will ever adhere to is one that makes sense for me. The bottom line and commonality of all the speakers was this: eat a majority of fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. Avoid too much fat and oil. Or, as Chef AJ said, focus on the caloric density of your food and “eat to the left of the red line!” (The image to the left is similar, but you eat above the red line!) Be you. If you want to have some tofu, then by all means, feast away! If you want to enjoy some wine and a tasty dessert, have at it. In our own little veganville neighborhoods, most of our houses may have the same basic foundation (no animal products and plenty of fruits, veggies, whole grains), but how you decorate your house (what other foods you eat) makes it your own personal home. Become your own advocate and stop putting too much pressure and guilt on yourself to be perfect all of the time.
HealthFest Is For Everyone– No matter where you are in your journey to health, HealthFest has something for you. In fact, I was actually surprised at the demographic of attendees. I expected the crowd to be the stereotypical lean, tall, thin, lifelong vegans, but a large majority of the audience was comprised of those who are very new or contemplating their plant-strong journey. Some may have been hearing this message for the first time and it was impressive to see hundreds of average people absorb these proclamations of hope. Hearing inspiring stories like Adam Sud’s recovery and Josh Lajaunie’s unfathomable journey to fitness may very well be the tipping point for someone in a desperate situation. I know I was moved by the simplicity of Dr. McDougal’s keynote along with Mary McDougal’s comprehensive (with handouts!) guide to meal planning. Who couldn’t benefit from knowing exactly what to have in your pantry? These simple takeaways make HealthFest accessible to anyone on the verge of changing their life.
We Love The Lifestyle-Whoever thinks vegans are a sad and miserable crew needs to come hang at HealthFest for the weekend. If you think we’re sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves because we don’t eat chicken, think again. I saw people dancing, running, doing yoga, eating, enjoying wine and cheese, laughing with each other and making lifelong intimate connections. These aren’t the characteristics of a people who have imprisoned themselves in a lackluster lifestyle! This is a group of like-minded individuals who embrace health, ethics and vitality, and actually have the energy and enthusiasm to want to share it with others. Even the experts, our vegan celebrities, if you will, are accessible, approachable and so very passionate about their message. The paths we all have travelled to get to this point may not have been easy, so events like HealthFest become our victory party; a place to remind us that we’re in the right place with the right people. Here, you fall in love again with new recipes, new speakers and new friends that you meet on the streets, restaurants and in conference rooms. There’s most definitely a magical unspoken bond with all attendees and organizers.
A few years ago, I proudly earned the nickname “Beans Barrett” when I went to a restaurant with friends and asked them to, “Bring out all the beans and rice you have in this place!” We all got a good laugh when they straight-up brought out a huge kettle of black beans and sarcastically asked, “Is this enough, M’am?” (It barely was). When I first switched to a plant-strong diet in 2009 (Thank you Rip Esselstyn and Engine 2), I kept it on the down-low for a while for fear of failure. It was actually my Lenten sacrifice. So, yes, my journey to a plant-based lifestyle started with a little 40 Days of Catholic guilt and ended with a 60 point drop in cholesterol, a 10-pound weight loss in just eight weeks and a 30-minute Ironman PR two months later. There was no turning back. Why would I? I was waving the vegan banner for all to see! Actually, my baggy jeans were waving it for me. People wanted to know what I was doing to lose weight and feel so much better.
Years have passed now and I had admittedly gotten complacent with my decisions and eating habits. If there’s a little cheese on my salad, who cares? (Lord it tastes good). If my hummus is dripping with oil, does it really matter? Will I die if there’s a little egg in my pad thai? While none of these things are inherently evil, they represented my state-of-mind prior to attending HealthFest. Those little compromises were ultimately leading to a virtual cliff dive back into old unhealthy patterns. I could see it coming. The scale could certainly see it coming.
- That’s why, I’m convinced it was fate that I listened to Howard Jacobson’s interview with Ed and Amanda Smith on his Plant Yourself podcast when they promoted HealthFest.
I knew I had to attend and represent. That weekend in unassuming little Marshall, Texas, was the ammunition I needed to arm myself, once again, as a soldier of the plant-strong lifestyle. It is important for me to stand my ground and spread the word in a positive way. For me, that’s about competing on the running and triathlon scene as a proud plant-strong advocate and it’s about writing stories for publications that just may change a mind or two. Most importantly, though, it’s about not compromising my beliefs for the sake of convenience or laziness. That was my biggest gift from the weekend.
As I said earlier, HealthFest has something for everyone and I’m honored to have been a part of this year’s event. I am already looking so forward to attending the 2018 Event and look forward to, once again, spending the weekend with my tribe!