The plant based nurse

My family's excellent adventure to better health!


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Engine 2 nationwide challenge, day 4, “I’m going to eat a ton of these potatoes, because I can!” -The Plant Based Husband

I was really tired tonight, and didn’t want to eat out since we just ate out yesterday. I stood in the kitchen and grabbed things out of the cupboard trying to come up with some kind of concoction. I wanted to make rice and beans, but I only had chickpeas and cannellini beans. So I gave up and left my fire roasted diced tomatoes, beans, and BBQ sauce on the counter and sat down to finish some work and watch you tube videos. I happened to be watching Potato Strong’s channel and I thought, BAKED FRIES, one of the easiest and most delicious meals on the planet! I was also dying to try the BBQ sauce we bought on our field trips to Whole Foods Market on our way home from Philadelphia the other day, so I crumbled up some tempeh and poured some Bone Suckin’ Sauce on top to heat it up to have on the side.

Next I sliced some Yukon gold potatoes and a sweet potato into wedges, no peeling required, topped them with extra spicy and Southwestern Mrs Dash, garlic powder, and onion powder, and sliced a yellow and green pepper and an onion and threw them around the potatoes on the silicone baking mat. The fries baked at 450 degrees for 30 min with no turning or fussing and while they were baking, I put a couple of handfuls of prewashed chopped kale in a pan with veggie broth and lemon zest and put some fresh broccoli in a pot to steam.

Potato fries going into the oven

Potato fries going into the oven

My husband came home to the aroma of potatoes baking in the oven and was excited and said, “I’m going to eat tons of these because I can!” He proceeded to tell me how he loves it when we eat a ton of potatoes and then laugh about how much we can eat. Yes, this is a romantic moment in the Hayes house, a couple of plant based nerds having fun eating potatoes and  laughing about how much we eat!

Have fun with your food and enjoy!

Engine 2 day 4

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Ready to rock plant steady? Educate, immerse, and enjoy!

You’ve tried out a plant based diet and decided it’s for you, but you feel like you still have so much to learn! You may feel like you need to learn everything you can as fast as you can. That excitement will help you maintain your new lifestyle, but don’t wear yourself out. There is so much information and it can be confusing at times. Is coconut oil good for you or evil? Should you eat nuts or avoid them like the plague?

I think one of the most important things in educating yourself about healthy plant based eating is to consider the source. Don’t trust the latest news in the newspaper or the nightly news until you check it out. Often these highly lauded announcements that “research says” are often poorly designed studies funded by the food industry. I don’t have time to evaluate each study for its own merit, so I look to reputable people I trust like Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. John McDougall to help me evaluate the latest nutrition information. My first year eating a plant based diet, I bought some wonderful books that have helped me in my quest to learn all I can. Some of my favorites are “The China Study,” “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease,” My Beef with Meat,” and “The Starch Solution.” There’s no hype in these books, just good solid science and I also appreciate that many of the books contain wonderful recipes. After all, if you’re going to recommend that people change their diet, they need tools to help them with the “how.” pb books I also found a lot of wonderful educational videos by the authors of these books to augment and reinforce what I was learning in the books. Lectures by Dr Esselstyn, Dr. Campbell, Dr Barnard, and Dr. McDougall can be easily found with a quick google search. Some of them even have YouTube channels. Not only are these knowledgeable experts well versed on their topics, but it is a joy to hear them speak. Their passion for healthy living shines through. They make the information understandable, interesting, and yes, even entertaining! Here is one of my favorite videos from Rip Esselstyn:

The last thing we did to immerse ourselves in our new lifestyle was to attend educational retreats. My husband was having some trouble completely getting on board with our new lifestyle. He had worked as a chef and wasn’t quite sure about how to cook without his old ingredients. When I told him about Dr. McDougall’s 10 day program, I was very happy and surprised when he expressed interest. The program turned out be very cost effective even though I was worried at first it might be too expensive. After learning the tools he needed to succeed on a plant based diet, he was able to eliminate 9 of his 10 oral meds and greatly reduce his insulin doses which saved us a ton of money and more importantly improved his health. During the 10 days, he attended lectures about the science behind plant based eating and health, went to the grocery store to learn how to read labels, attended cooking demonstrations by plant based chefs, met Jeff Novick, Registered dietitian and Grateful Dead fan and even went out to eat with the McDougalls to learn how to order healthy plant based dishes without oil. There were also opportunities to participate in exercise sessions and yoga. He didn’t suffer too much at this program since it was held at a very nice resort in Santa Rosa, CA. They had wonderful feasts at every meal and were encouraged to take leftovers to their rooms in case they got hungry. He also got to hike in a redwood forest and looking back at his photo with the redwood tree, I hardly recognize this man from 2013!

June 2013

June 2013

April 2014

April 2014

The same summer Scott attended the 10 day McDougall program, I decided I would go to an event called Plantstock in Claverack NY at the Esselstyn farm. I had been involved with the Engine 2 program and this weekend long retreat was being lauded by the folks on engine2extra.com, as a magical weekend of fun and learning. I found a friend from engine2extra to share a room with at a local motor lodge and it really was magical and fun! We heard speakers like Dr. Esselstyn, T. Colin Campbell, Rip Esselstyn, Jane and Ann Esselstyn, Doug Lisle and more! I met so many wonderful people who had transformed their lives with plant based eating and all outdoors under a giant tent right on the lawn of the farmhouse. I enjoyed it so much that my husband decided to join me for Plantstock 2014 and it happened to fall on our anniversary. It was a great way to celebrate! There are several Engine 2 retreat weekends held throughout the year around the country and even a week long event in Sedona Arizona and the dates for 2015 should be announced soon! Here are some highlights from the last 2 years.

Lisa and I Plantstock friends dr essey tables at plantstock

IMG_0034 SAM_0774

So, do you have to spend a lot of money on books and retreats and cute t-shirts to immerse yourself in the plant strong lifestyle? Absolutely not! Dr McDougall has his entire plan on his web site for free with tons of great recipes and Engine 2 is starting a Nationwide 28 day challenge in 2 days on January 12th and you can download all the information you need for free, including a free ebook with guidelines, recipes, gorgeous photos and even exercises to help you dive into a plantstrong lifestyle!

Soak in all the plant based information you can, decide you CAN do this  and rock steady!!


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Meet Bonnie, my plant based wonder sister!

I’m excited to share my sister Bonnie’s story with you. She is a real success, not just because she has done a great job incorporating delicious plant based foods into her life and that of her family, but because she is a success as a loving and giving human being.

Bonnie and I were separated when I was five months old. Our mother, Ruth who was very ill when I was born, died of cancer and our father couldn’t work and take care of four children and an infant.

Ruth Hastie

Ruth Hastie, 1923-1962

My father’s brother, Gilbert and his wife, Mary came to Michigan to bring me back to Pennsylvania to care for me. Over a year later, the family returned to Pennsylvania with the plan to reunite. I have been told that my Aunt who had been raising me as her own could not bear to give me up and my father let me stay with the understanding that I would not be adopted. I would also be told about my family and would visit my brothers and sisters. As we grew up, we visited occasionally, but Bonnie and I never had the opportunity to really know each other as sisters.

While in nursing school in 1984, I was caring for two patients with melanoma and studying about this deadly form of skin cancer. I thought I was being a hypochondriac when I noticed a mole on my upper back that looked darker than I remembered. I went to speak to my nursing instructor to calm my fears. Instead, she told me to march right over to the dermatology clinic after she showed me her scar from a melanoma excision. After I received word that my mole was melanoma, I called my birth mother’s oldest sister Jeanette to see what kind of cancer my mother had. She told me my mother had melanoma and that she had also had one. Soon after, I went to visit my sister Bonnie and her husband Craig and asked her if she had any moles that had changed. She lifted her shirt and showed me a large mole on her chest and I remember being very upset as it looked like one I had seen in a textbook. It was shaped like a butterfly, had irregular edges, and was not uniform in color. She told me she had been watching it and thought it was fine. I urged her to please get it checked and left hoping she would. I also found out she had our mother’s death certificate which showed that the melanoma on her leg had spread to her brain and liver.

Months later, Bonnie finally went to have her mole checked and unfortunately, it was also a melanoma. We were both fortunate that we caught these lesions before they spread to our lymph nodes or organs and since that time, we have each had a total of 6 melanomas. We also discovered that there have been 14 other family members with melanoma. We learned that in about 10% of melanomas, there is a genetic component and that in our case, we had a dominant gene which means our children have a 50/50 chance of having melanoma.

Bonnie and I kept in touch while I was away at nursing school and then when I married and moved away for 4 years, but when I moved back home when my son was 18 months old, we finally were able to get to know one another better and be sisters. Bonnie helped watch my kids when my husband and I had to work on weekends and her youngest daughter and my daughter spent a lot of time growing up together and loving one another like sisters and fighting like sisters too. We worked with the youth of our church and church conference together and went on church youth retreats together. Bonnie is a woman of tireless energy, from making her own wedding gown to working her way through junior college, then earning her bachelor’s degree and master’s degree while raising a family and working full time. She continues to work long hours at a major financial corporation managing things I don’t understand and compassionately managing many employees.

Bonnie and Craig

Bonnie and Craig

Bonnie has always been health conscious and I don’t ever remember her ever being overweight. She has been cooking without oil for quite some time to reduce fat in her family’s diet and she used to go to aerobics after work to stay active. We had a terrible scare a few years ago when she had to have a hysterectomy for a very large benign ovarian growth. I will never forget the phone call from my brother in law that she had to be taken back to the operating room after surgery for hemorrhaging. After a second surgery and 4 units of blood, she was very weak and took quite some time to gain her strength back from this “routine” surgery. She scared us again a couple of years ago when she developed neurologic symptoms and had to be hospitalized. She has been diagnosed with autoimmune illness, most likely lupus and possibly Lyme disease also as she has had multiple tick bites. It has been very hard to see the healthiest one in the family have all of these problems.

After I watched Forks over Knives and told Bonnie about my newfound excitement about plant based eating, I think she thought I had lost my mind. Her daughters Danielle and Erica were already vegetarian and she was not convinced this was a healthy way to eat. She had always been thin, but had gained some weight that we were attributing to the medication she was on for lupus. When she saw our family losing weight, she decided to try it out and her oldest daughter Amanda joined her in trying some recipes. I remember being surprised when she texted me to say she was going to the store to buy “rabbit food” and wanted to know what to do with this kale stuff.

Before I knew it, Bonnie was making up her own recipes, especially delicious veggie soups like creamy potato soup and hearty veggie stew. The weight quickly melted off and her pants were soon falling down! Her daughter Amanda also lost the last of her baby weight from her second pregnancy and her sons love all sorts of veggies and tell us their favorite meal is salad! She gives them wonderfully healthy meals and snacks and she proves that kids will eat what you teach them to eat and if you keep offering them healthy food, they will learn to love it. Bonnie is the best grandma ever and the boys call her “Bon Bon” since she looks and acts way too young to be called Grandma. She has a heart of gold and will help anyone in need if she can. She visits the patients at our local state hospital for those with mental illness with a group at our church, has taken in family members and friends to stay in her home when there was a need and helps with no judgment or expectation of anything in return. She is also a star volunteer at our yearly mission trip to Appalachia to repair homes to make them warmer, drier, and safer. She can work a drill and a hammer as well as she can run a sewing machine.

Bonnie and I in Appalachia doing home repairs

Bonnie and I in Appalachia

Plant based eating has not eliminated all of my sister’s health challenges, but we both feel that since we have outlived our mother and are still here in our 50s, maybe we need to do whatever we can to be as healthy and independent as we can for as long as we can. We also have hope because of the work of people like Dean Ornish MD and T. Colin Campbell that our genes are not our destiny. We once felt resigned to the fact that we would die an early death from the cancer that took our mother and now we have hope that we may be fortunate enough to live a normal lifespan and enjoy watching our children grow into wonderful adults and even enjoy grandchildren. I’m so glad she joined us in this journey!

Bon Bon, Amanda, Dylan and Devin

Bon Bon, Amanda, Dylan and Devin

Bonnie's family

Four generations


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Plant determined? Step back and check your numbers!

You’re ready to start an exciting adventure to improve your health through plant based nutrition. Step back for a moment and get a grip on where you stand with your health and check some markers to see where you are before you begin.

You may want to have a checkup with your primary care health provider before you begin if you haven’t had an exam in a while. Have your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and weight checked and I like to ask for copies of my results. If you are up to date on your health exams and just want an updated number, you can pick up a home cholesterol kit at the pharmacy. If you have elevated blood pressure, you may want to purchase an automatic blood pressure cuff to self-monitor. As your weight and blood pressure improve as your diet improves, you may need to work with your healthcare provider to adjust medications. It can be dangerous to adjust doses on your own, so always consult with your primary care practitioner. For diabetics, it is important to watch blood sugars closely as you may also need dose adjustments in insulin or oral diabetic medications as your numbers improve. The American Heart Association has some good information about target values for these markers. Dr Caldwell Esselstyn goes further than the AHA by recommending getting cholesterol below 150 along with eating a healthy oil free plant based diet to make you heart attack proof!

Some recommend speaking with your healthcare provider about changing your diet before you start, and some like Dr. Esselstyn recommend just mentioning that you will be trying to eat a more healthy diet and you would like their assistance in monitoring your progress. Many people are so excited, that they want to find an MD who is well versed in plant based nutrition and as excited as they are about their new diet. Unfortunately, this is not realistic for many of us as most doctors have few courses in nutrition in medical school and even less background about plant based nutrition. My husband and I both told our physicians we were embarking on this path and they were supportive and told us to go for it.

It is not our job to educate our physician or provider but they may ask about how you achieved your fabulous results which will give you an opportunity for discussion. Of course, since I have to share my excitement with everyone, I gave my doctor a list of resources and at my last visit, gave her a signed copy of Dr. Esselstyn’s book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease and a copy of his latest study, “A way to reverse CAD?” She probably thinks I’m out of my mind, but if I can help her or any of her patients, it’s worth it. My husband’s doctor wanted to know where this program was that he attended so she could tell her patients about it since he is doing so much better than he has in years. Last June he attended a 10 day program by Dr. John McDougall to help him learn more and get on board with this way of eating.

I was already taking a B12 supplement before I even thought about eating a plant based diet, because on my meat laden diet I was running a borderline low B12 level, but if you don’t know your level, you may want to have it checked, especially if you’re over 50. You can ask your provider what dose of B12 they recommend for someone on a plant based diet. My physician gave me pretty much the same advice offered by Dr. Neal Barnard in this brief video.

If you are super organized, or yearn to be, you may want to organize your health history and your lab and diagnostic study results so you can track how you’re progressing toward your goals. I recently met a fellow nurse at a Holistic health fair, Judy Rienzi, who has developed tools to help people better track and manage their health. She has developed the Connect method to help people organize, guide, and plan for success. I love that she uses the phrase plan for success! We plan for all sorts of things, retirement, vacations, and we even plan for our death by buying life insurance. Why don’t we plan for success in getting healthy?!

Let’s make a plan!

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Iron chef challenge #2, Scrumptious squash with rosemary roasted apples!

I didn’t think I was going to have time for this challenge on engine2extra.com between assignments for eCornell and making a dish to take to a going away party for the Sickler family who is a part of our local Engine 2 group and was featured in one of my blogs recently, “Meet the Sicklers.”

I really didn’t know what I was going to do with the ingredients once I roasted the squash, apples, and rosemary. I decided after they came out of the oven and in a flurry of mess making cooking merriment, this is what I came up with right before I jumped in the shower:

I cut 2 acorn squash in 1/2 and roasted them skin side up until they were fork tender at 350° along with 3 cored apples with sprigs of rosemary on top and some on the baking tray. I peeled the skin off of the squash and put the squash in the food processor with the rosemary and some thyme and about a tbs of maple syrup. Then I placed the squash in a pretty dish and saved a ring of squash to place on top. Lastly, I sliced the apples and placed them around the flowery ring of squash, et voila! And it was fun!

Acorn and apples

Acorn and apples going in the oven Roasted acorn and apples finished acorn and apples

Scrumptious squash