“I now know I can be the person I want to be”

Chelsey RussellBy: Chelsey Russell

I started my whole food, plant-based (WFPB) journey 7-ish years ago—I just didn’t know it at the time!! I read an amazing book called Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Christiane Northrup. She covers women’s health in pretty much every way possible, and I instantly fell in love with the book and Dr. Northrup. One of the things she wrote about that really impacted me was the harmful effect of dairy products. She explained:

“Human milk, a living, dynamic food, is designed for the optimal growth and development of baby humans. Cow’s milk, very different in composition from human milk, is designed for the optimal growth and development of baby cattle.”

That statement just made so much sense to me, and I was immediately grossed out, and freaked out—like oh my gosh, why are humans drinking milk that is made for/from another animal?? And how have I never thought about how disturbing/unhealthy that is until now?? She then went on to explain a lot of health problems that dairy has been associated with, and sure enough I was “suffering” from one of those issues . . . good ol’ acne—and it was bad.

You know when you are reading or listening to something and you can just totally feel of it’s truth? Well that’s what happened to me while reading this book. The Holy Ghost told me that what I was reading was true . . . seriously. Moroni 10:5 says, “And by the power of the Holy Ghost, ye may know the truth of all things”—ALL things, how awesome is that??!!! On multiple occasions the Holy Ghost has testified to me the truths of eating a WFPB diet.

When I first gave up milk, my intent was to give up all dairy except for the occasional treat here and there. And I did, for a bit. But the treats started becoming more frequent, and then my husband’s job moved us to Texas—where I had been introduced to Blue Belle ice cream as a child—and the whole “dairy as an occasional treat” went completely out the window. Blue Belle ice cream was soooo nostalgic for me—so as long as the ice cream was Blue Belle it was OK to eat all the time??—Haha, crazy, I know! I was eating an entire pint of ice cream almost every night after putting my daughter to bed, like seriously almost every night. Craziness! I still believed dairy was bad, I just chose to ignore that for a bit, because well, I felt that this ice cream was worth it. It reminded me so much of my summers with my nana and papa where we ate a bowl of Blue Belle every night—so it felt, and tasted, soooo good. Oh yeah, and I was totally addicted.

About a year after moving to Texas (4 years after switching to plant-based milk), I got a random call from my mom one Friday evening. She said she had been eating vegan for the past 6 weeks (What?? Why??) and that she was really liking it. She said that she had been reading a lot of material that explained how a large amount of disease and death can be linked back to consuming animal products. I can’t really remember exactly what she said in this conversation, but I do remember the Spirit hitting me big time, like a huge wave just crashing over me, and I knew that what she was saying about animal products was true, and that I needed to give up animal products too. And I was actually kind of excited (a huge rush from the Holy Ghost is super exciting . . . ).

Actually, for some time before this call, it was kind of weird, because when I would hear the word vegan, prompting thoughts and feelings would come to me, but I would push them away because it just sounded way too hard and not at all achievable, so I would get too overwhelmed at even the thought, just way easier to dismiss it all—even though I really liked the idea of it. Which is also weird because my favorite things to eat at that time, not in any order, were hamburgers, steak, roast, and deep-dish pizza, oh yeah, and tons of different junk food/processed foods—I still can’t believe how unaware of my junk food diet I was, eek! Education is so awesome!

The spiritual confirmation I received during that conversation made me determined yet again to make a dietary change. So when I got off the phone with my mom that night, I had a pretty simple conversation with my husband. Went something like, “I’m going vegan. OK, I’m not going vegan-vegan, I am going to start eating vegan. Animal products cause all sorts of scary health problems, and I can’t eat them anymore knowing that.” My husband was not at all concerned. I knew he thought this was going to be something I said I was doing, maybe started doing, then realized I was in way over my head and stop doing. I have a bad track record, haha. And to be honest, his attitude about it, like totally nonchalant, made me even more determined to really do this.

Saturday came and breakfast was OK. I was used to not having animal products in my breakfast. Then lunch came, and I was pretty cranky, already, ha!! Oh man, I was ridiculous!! I was so discouraged! I didn’t know what the heck to eat besides PB&J and salad, and I am a BIG eater!! I really needed more substantial foods. Have I mentioned I can be pretty dramatic? Pretty sure I totally cried that day, and sooo many other days afterwards.

So, my husband cooks dinner every Sunday, that’s just our thing. I do it Monday through Friday, we go out Saturday, Sunday it’s his turn. He went out grocery shopping Saturday night pretty stressed I’m thinking, because he called my mom while he was gone. And he told her he was worried about me because I wasn’t eating much, and he asked her what he should buy to make for dinner the next day, ha, poor guy. So my mom called me and told me it was OK to eat animal products until I learned what I was doing. She said she was going to send me some books, and to eat like I always had until I had a chance to read some stuff on it. Well, that was hard! You can’t just tell a person that what they are eating is dangerous and then say it’s OK to keep eating it. But, really, I didn’t have any other choice, I was completely clueless about what to eat because I was completely uneducated and unskilled. Dang.

When the books came I read them pretty quickly. I soaked everything in, and it was awesome. I loved it, and the Spirit totally spoke to me that what I was reading was true. It was pretty motivational and inspiring stuff. But then I got discouraged, again, because oh my gosh what I was reading said not only to give up animal products . . . but also salt, oil, and sugar (SOS)?? Wow, that seemed insane, that was intense, that made me cranky. After some time and more reading, I decided OK fine, no SOS (well, 98% of the time . . . ). And I continued to be a grouch about my new way of eating. And that is probably why my meals were completely disgusting for a while.

So I got really discouraged that I was a total flop at preparing edible WFPB meals. For a period of time I honestly thought I would never enjoy food again. Oh, and I was detoxing, wow, my first detox, it was painful—not just for me, but everyone that lived with me, hahaha. My taste buds needed time to adjust too, haha, oh man . . . . and I discovered I was/am a food addict??! Wow, SHOCKING!!! Painful discovery, withdrawal was a beast! I was seriously so unhappy about the “burden” of food, something I had never experienced before. And I started to hate knowing what I knew, and I wished that I could just delete everything that I had read and felt and go back to carefree eating, because those days were so nice and so missed.

I created a lot of challenges for myself because of the attitude of loss/lack/hardship/etc. I was carrying around towards this new lifestyle. (Awesome learning experience!) Changing the way I eat was one of the most difficult, challenging, exhausting, confusing, rewarding, beneficial, enlightening, self-empowering, educational, amazing things I have ever done (all/any of the negative I experienced was due to my own issues/weaknesses).

Sometime into this journey, I experienced a shift from being incredibly down and discouraged about knowing what I knew about food to being really thankful and excited, phew!—One of the most incredible tender mercies I have ever received! I had never been one to use the Internet much, kind of looked at it as a waste of time. But ya know, desperate times call for desperate measures. The books I had been given were not helpful enough for me when it came to the “how” part—great at covering the “why,” but I needed more on the “how in the heck do I do this.” I was desperate to make WFPB work for my family (and when I say work, I mean, not only eating this way, but being happy, joyful, and LOVING it).

My intent was just to find some healthy and amazingly delicious recipes. I wanted to like food again. And no one was more surprised than me when I found so much more. Ummm, hello WFPB blogs!! I had no idea so many of these people (WFPB eaters) existed, and have existed for a while. And I had no idea how helpful and resourceful and kind and loving these complete strangers would be. Oh my gosh it felt so great to submerge myself in this whole new world. Wow, it was a lifesaver!! A HUGE blessing!! So motivational, so inspirational, so felt like coming home!

I didn’t feel alone on this journey anymore! It was such an awesome feeling to find a ton of awesome people sharing their stories and wisdom about WFPB eating, and I will forever and always be grateful for these people. So, now I kind of have an addiction to WFPB/vegan blogs, hahaha. There are way too many WFPB/vegan blogs to keep up with (which I just absolutely LOVE), so I just stick to the ones that sing to my heart, and wow, the songs have been glorious!

So yeah, my journey started out really rocky (I didn’t mention all of the boulders I let get in my way, but there were many, and this was an extremely hard time in my life), and everything didn’t immediately change to bliss once finding awesomeness in the rockiness. During my most rocky times, oh how I envied the WFPB stories (I have read a lot, I love reading about the happiness people have found in their lives by following this lifestyle) that started out easy and stayed easy. But, looking back on how much I have grown, I would not change a thing about my story, everything happened the way that it did for a reason—to benefit me in the long run, and I’m so thankful. I have learned so so much about so so many things along the way, it has all been so so worth it. Even though it took me time to realize and see the light, I now know that eating this way has completely changed my life, all for the better, and in ways completely unexpected. I’m a different, better person!!

I wish I could remember when/how I started looking at eating a WFPB diet as more fully following the Word of Wisdom. At one point I remembered my first experience and reaction to reading D&C 89 through for the first time (an experience I had forgotten about until then). I grew up in the Church, grew up learning not to drink certain things and not to use certain things because it was “against the Word of Wisdom,” but it was not until I was in high school and doing some personal scripture study that I actually read the entire Word of Wisdom for the first time. And, I had quite a strong reaction to what I read. I was enlightened, and I was extremely confused. I honestly had a moment where my testimony was shaken, because I did not personally know of one person in the Church that was really living the way the Word of Wisdom says to. It was so confusing . . .

Once I recognized, again, that the Word of Wisdom is so much more than avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and coffee/tea (and there was actually a lot of great research/evidence to prove the Word of Wisdom to be right on), I was pretty excited. And what was even more exciting, was reading story after story of people experiencing HUGE blessings by unknowingly following the counsel in the Word of Wisdom. What an incredible learning experience that was for me—the blessings from following the Word of Wisdom are for EVERYONE, not just Latter Day Saints, and these people that are unknowingly following the Word of Wisdom counsel are receiving the blessings that have been promised by doing this. So cool!!!!!!

I kind of used to hate when people would ask me about any changes I saw in myself after switching my diet, because at the time of my switch I didn’t have any physical problems that I knew of. I didn’t need to lose weight (or maybe I did need to lose weight because I actually did lose a few pounds!), and overall I thought I felt really good (I had no idea how used to feeling gross I was, so sad!!). I compared my story to other people, and in doing that I didn’t feel like the awesome spokesperson I wanted to be, all because I didn’t have this “miraculous” story to share. But I was so wrong to think that about myself and my story, and if it weren’t for taking the time to sit down and think and write about my experience, I don’t know if I would’ve ever figured that out (thanks for this opportunity Jane!!).

My blessings from eating a WFPB diet came where I needed them most, and I really think that’s true for everyone—whether that be physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, or all of the above. This journey has completely changed me, all for the better, and in every aspect of my life—eating WFPB has reached way beyond the physical health and protection I was looking/hoping for, it has touched upon and improved my entire life as a whole.

I’d like to mention a few of the blessings/changes I have seen in my life. I don’t think any were immediate, but I was pretty blind there for a while (despair tends to do that to a person, so sad I chose that route in the beginning), so they probably came quicker than I recognized. I still need a lot of help in these areas, they have significantly improved, not been perfected—and I am sure there are many more blessings that will manifest at later times.

  • I’m more teachable.
  • Food storage is sooooo much easier for me.
  • I have sooooooo much more confidence in myself and in my abilities.
  • I have learned sooooooo much about patience . . . patience in processes, learning curves, with myself, with my weaknesses, with my children . . .
  • I have gained a stronger appreciation/understanding of working hard for things that don’t come naturally and easily—and the rewards of that hard work, the learning/growing that accompanies the trial of that hard work, and how things are hard for some people for a reason—because the rewards (learning and growing) are worth it. Just because something is hard does not mean that it has to be met with negativity—duh, I have “known” this, but now I understand it, and now that I understand it, I can implement it (better, not perfectly).
  • There is waaaaaay less worry going on up in my head—about everything.
  • I am so much more educated, and it feels so wonderful—about health, the environment, animals, food, human bodies, our planet, gospel principles.
  • My testimony has grown in so many areas. I understand things I never understood before. My eyes have been opened.
  • The Holy Ghost speaks to me more clearly. It’s easier for me to hear and understand messages and promptings. I feel more in tune spiritually. I recognize the Holy Ghost in more areas of my life now.
  • Instead of wishing I could be the person I want to be, I now know that I can actually be the person I want to be—of course this will take lots more work on my part, but I now know it’s possible, and I now know how to go about making that happen, and that is so exciting.
  • I have deeper spiritual connections.
  • I’m such a better cook, and we are eating such more variety, it is awesome!
  • I have learned so much about myself.
  • I’m way more compassionate.
  • Long story short—I can now run . . . and for really long periods of time!!! For me and my body, that is miraculous.

I could go on and on and on about how changing the way I eat and more fully following the counsel given in the Word of Wisdom, has completely changed my entire life and all for the better. It has put me on the path that I am meant to be on. It’s truly an amazing thing, and at this point it would be way harder to go back to the typical American diet than to continue on the WFPB path—it’s who I am now, and I am so incredibly grateful!!!!! Oh, and I totally love raising WFPB kids, that has been amazing as well, love it. So yeah, it has been awesome, I highly recommend it.

Chelsey Russell is 31 years old and lives in McAllen Texas. She and her husband have two kids, a 5 year-old daughter, 2-year-old son, and she loves being a mom more than anything else. She graduated from Utah State University in Family Human Development. She loves learning new and interesting things, reading, playing outside, spending time with the family, and spreading the word about the WFPB lifestyle! 

NOTE: Chelsey’s Mom, Debbie Christofferson, shares her WFPB story at the end of Chapter 2 in Discovering the Word of Wisdom. Debbie also shared a brief experience here, “WFPB Relief Society Dinner.”

Comments

  1. Chelsea, I LOVE your story. I am so glad you shared it. Frankly, you could have been talking about nuclear physics and I would have loved your story. You have such a wonderful, open, personal style to your writing. I am glad to know you have had your life change for the better because of discovering the WFPB diet. As I was reading, I was brought back to the missionary blog of a young girl in our ward. She was vivacious, like you, and her writing was just SO filled with the spirit of the Lord that I, as the ward historian, have included her entire blog in our ward history this year. There wasn’t a word I could exclude. Even the discouraging moments were told in a positive way. You, too, though I am sure you shed many a tear over your changes, took the positive outlook overall. I am glad you were able to conquer many of your obstacles and I pray that you continue to fight the good fight. Your kids will be so glad you did this when they help you celebrate your 100th birthday! =) I wish I had had my eyes opened as early as you did! My daughter introduced me to veganism… I like that your mom introduced you to it! Like you, I didn’t totally stay with it at first, but I’m glad I now am following it much more closely than ever and I am benefiting from it, too. Enjoy your beautiful life with you husband and children!

  2. Chelsey, I read what you wrote several times. I found that you and I have something in common, each of us majored in Human Development, you at Utah State and I graduated from Brigham Young University, Provo, way back in June of 1960 when I majored in a brand new major B.Y.U. had just begun that year. They named it Human Development and Human Relations or H.D.F.R.

    You mentioned addictions several times in what you submitted above. I personally think that addictions are much more common to almost all humans more than most of us really realize!

    While employed full time for LDS Family Services in the San Francisco Bay Area when my and her mother’s eldest child, Jane Birch was about ten years old, I was also attending San Jose State University full time as I had been required to do by my L.D.S. Family Services leaders, I was led by the Spirit along with my natural inclinations that had certainly been shaped by my having majored in H.D.F.R. at B.Y.U. to begin suggesting to L.D.S. members that I was meeting while attending Church at various wards here and there on my assignment by my supervisors at L.D.S. Family Services, and overheard those L.D.S. members talking about their experiences in attending Alcoholics Anonymous (commonly known as “A.A.”) meetings I began suggesting to those people that we begin getting together at various LDS chapels in the S.F. Bay Area in order to hold our own “A.A.” meetings without being under the auspices of the official A.A. Program. That way we could more effectively address the addictions that L.D.S. people have more in common with one another than if they were to continue attending official A.A. meetings.

    To make a rather long story much shorter let me just summarize by saying that eventually out of that beginning in the S.F. Bay Area the official Addiction Recovery Program of the L.D.S. Church was begun.

    Because of my being transferred by L.D.S. Family Services to serve as the agency director of the agency they were establishing in Kansas City, Missouri right after I had earned my M.S.W. degree at San Jose State, I quickly lost track of what those special recovering L.D.S. alcoholics were doing in the S.F. Bay area after I left. Anyway, after many years had passed I was assigned by my bishop here in Murray, Utah to assist a divorced L.D.S. man who was raising two children by himself to attend an L.D.S. A.A. type of meeting because he was seriously addicted to alcohol!

    I was really impressed with the effectiveness of the actual functioning of that L.D.S. meeting which had been adapted originally from the official A.A. program. However, Because it had been thirty years since I had actually been instrumental in starting that program I didn’t make “the connection.”

    Right after that experience my wife and I, not Jane’s mother, served a two year mission to Finland where I had served as a young missionary and I had kept up on my Finnish language skills faithfully over the years, and there in Finland and subsequently in a number of other European nations including England, as a result of our initial efforts, the Church’s official Addiction Recovery Program was begun. Alcoholism was so very prevalent in Finland, that program took hold very rapidly.

    Now skipping over to this year, 2014, I attended several official L.D.S. Addiction Recovery meetings and found out that there are a good number of members of this Church right here in Utah and surely where you live also, who are attending those meetings and are benefiting greatly in overcoming their “eating addictions.”

    Anyway, after that summary background information I will end by congratulating you for having overcome your food addictions using the whole food, plant-based approach! I also recommend to anyone with a food addiction to find the L.D.S. Addiction Recovery program near where you live (or online) and give that a try!

    I can tell you are a very special lady! I pray the Lord will bless you greatly in any efforts you pursue! Your friend, J. Neil Birch

  3. Oh, I’m so happy you took the time to share your beautiful story with us! You are one amazing woman Chelsey! I appreciate how open you’ve been, as I know many can relate to the challenges that come from switching to a plant based diet. I know I sure can. It is not easy but so worth it. You have inspired me, once again, to do better! Thank you!

    • Sandi, I’d love to share some blogs! I’m just going to copy and paste them in here real quick (hahaha, I had to come back up here and add this–ok, not so quick…). I don’t actually keep up with all of these blogs anymore, but once upon a time they kept me very informed, pretty entertained, and very motivated. At the time of my high blog reading I was nursing a baby ALL DAY LONG and it was soooo easy to read a ton of different blogs on my phone during that time. What a blessing, it was awesome. So the very first WFPB blog I found was healthygirlskitchen.com. For some reason I just instantly and totally fell in love with Wendy, seriously love that woman. She doesn’t post much anymore, but I still get warm fuzzies when I see she has posted something. She used to have a blog roll and I would just hop around from blog to blog from there. Wendy then updated her blog and the blog roll went away and she created a resource page, here: http://www.healthygirlskitchen.com/p/blogs-i-love.html

      These are the blogs that I enjoyed reading regularly, and when I get the chance, these are the blogs I’ll check in on:

      http://www.straightupfood.com/blog/ I love that Cathy uses wholesome easy to find ingredients, and she is very strict on the no SOS (I’m not as strict as her, so don’t know why, but I really love/apperciate that about her), and she is very descriptive, that was soooo nice for a beginner plant based cook.

      http://www.forksoverknives.com/ These recipes are good and I enjoyed reading the articles/stories they posted

      http://kriscarr.com/ Oh my gosh, I love Kris Carr. I actually found her a little later in my journey–while I was pretty comfortable with WFPB eating. I am amazed and inspired by Kris, she’s awesome. I have never tried her recipes, haha, just love to read what she has to share.

      http://www.eatunprocessed.com/ Wendy introduced me to Chef AJ. I really like Chef AJ a lot, a lot a lot. She’s very smart and creative and I love her passion for WFPB food and education.

      http://www.healthytasteonline.com/chef-aj-teleclasses.html This isn’t a blog, but still a great resource I like. Sometimes when I am cooking dinner and the kids are playing great together I will listen to one of these. I have really really enjoyed every one that I have listened to.

      http://sandysveganblogsandblahs.blogspot.com/ There was just something about these next three blogs that made me want to go back and read them. I liked their simplicity, liked their down to earth approach, I don’t know, just liked reading their blogs.

      http://sunnyhawklane.blogspot.com/

      http://nanabon.blogspot.com/

      http://engine2diet.com/ Kind of read this for the same reasons as Forks Over Knives…

      http://jlgoesvegan.com/ JL is an awesome vegan. No idea what it is about her, but I really really like JL, really really.

      http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ I also love Sayward, another awesome vegan. Wow, this girl has taught me a lot, she’s super smart and she does a lot of really cool, interesting things. When I first found her blog I spent days of nursing sessions just reading and reading and reading.

  4. Thanks for the links, Chelsea. You reminded me of how much I have loved the recipes on Engine2’s recipe site. Have you tried the “Raise the Roof Lasagna”? My husband thinks it’s the best lasagna he ever ate, believe it or not? I love to read about WFPB, too. That’s why I love reading Jane’s blog. So many amazing stories in here. It’s like reading a book of miracles! Thank you again, Chelsea.

    • Hi Phyllis! I have tried that lasagna, a friend made it for us for dinner one night, and it was delicious!! It was one of the first plant based meals she had prepared and it was soooo good and I was like, “What the heck??! How did your first attempt at this turn out so good??!” I was impressed. I love the Esselstyn’s recipes, they’re really good about creating tasty, satisfying, yet pretty simple recipes. I like simple…

  5. Thank you Chelsey – both for sharing your story, and for sharing the list of your favorite blogs. I was also going to ask you to share your favorites, but Sandi beat me to it (thanks Sandi!). I get so excited each week because I know Jane is going to put a new success story on here – and I appreciate all of you who are willing to share your lives and your hearts with all of us. It has helped me so much!

    • Hi Deb, you’re welcome!! I totally agree, I love and appreciate other’s plant based stories as well, because they have also helped me so much! It’s kind of like when someone shares their testimony and it touches me and inspires me and teaches me and motivates me and builds me up. I relied on other people’s “plant-based testimonies” for quite a while, and I’m so thankful I had so many to rely on before gaining a strong one for myself–really loved and appreciated all of those stories so so much. I continue to be built up and inspired by them, they’re so great.

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