Why One DIFM RD Recommends a Plant-based Diet

June 27, 2017

Monique Richard MS, RDN, LDN (left) and PPOD Speaker with Alyssa Luning RD (right)

Congratulations to DIFM Member, Alyssa Luning, who won the 2017 Plant-based Prevention of Disease (PPOD) essay contest! Learn why Alyssa recommends the plant-based diet and about her own transformative health experience on a plant-based diet. Thank you for your contribution, Alyssa!

A Plant-based Diet: My story ---

For the last three years, I have been working as a bariatric dietitian. I have seen people do incredible things for the sake of their health, some would say, even “extreme.” I love the empowerment. People become motivated that they have the tools to change their direction in health, and they really do blast off. What has always brought me the most joy, has been seeing people resolve type 2 diabetes. The weight loss is great, but when I see people walk further and further from disease and closer to their improved quality of life, I am all smiles. However, the improved quality of life does not always sustain. Researchers, scientists, doctors, and RDs alike are flailing at the concept of weight regain, bariatric revisions, and continued complications with hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and unfortunately, reappearance of their type 2 diabetes.

My own dietary adventure began with influences coming from many places over the years, but ultimately, I landed in the health benefits of a plant based diet (Social media handle: The Little Green Pea – imagine my surprise when I saw the title of this conference). As a young professional in the world of nutrition, my main theme was to always attempt to try to help people to find their own path to overall optimum health through food. I knew my way would not be the way of others, as to each their own, and considered the way I chose to eat truly personal. As I became more and more familiar with the plant-based community of health professionals and enthusiasts, I was taken away. Essylstein, Cambell, Greger, Rich Roll, the list got longer. Then along came Dr. Garth Davis who wrote the book, Proteinaholic. This was it. The game changer.

I so related with his story that I became angry. I was frustrated, confused, and just about at a loss of words. My concept of providing optimal nutritional care became so cloudy that I could not decipher how to approach patients any longer. I was also overworked, stressed, and depressed. The only thing I could do was “mozy on,” and continue to teach patients willing to change their own bodies for the benefit of an improved life without disease by the approach of weight loss surgery, while also knowing their efforts are at risk for being in vain. Without an individual willing to change everything, they would not be successful in the long term. I would tell people this over and over during our sessions, but still felt as though I had red tape to tell them what exactly would improve their rate of success and decrease risk of weight regain, improve their success in their efforts to improve their quality of life for many disease states, and how to empower them to potentially avoid surgery (if medically appropriate). I was told the purpose of my position was, “to get them to surgery.” So that’s all I did. Backed into a corner, I need this job…my student debt is over 50k!

Within our healthcare system there is almost a laughable push to “preventative medicine.” Preventative in the sense of colonoscopies, mastectomies, and Lipitor for those with only a “family history” of heart disease and an LDL of 103. Revisions after revisions. Weight regain after weight regain. Reflux. Traumatic band revisions. I shudder with the knowledge of what could have been prevented. I started to run out of words to say, staring blankly at patients as they expressed their frustrations to me- “I know what to do, but I just don’t do it!” This was driving me crazy. As a dietitian, all I wanted to do was provide people resources, research, and information to better their lives & improve their health, but instead I was backed into a corner of being their psychotherapist. I felt useless, since I am indeed, not a therapist. Why is it that insurance will pay for the surgery but not for the psychotherapy?! Without the ability or the clarity to say what I truly understood to be true at the time about a plant based diet to be able to be a tool to help them, I felt even worse.

I remember asking my father, “If you really loved me and my sister, could you please stop drinking?” I was 11 when he died. I was informed well on alcoholism my whole life. I was strong in knowing that there was nothing I could do - he had a disease. This disease was addiction. Addiction is something we have been taught is something that can be battled and won, like cancer. So, I was under this impression that my dad fought the good fight, and eventually it took control, and even though he loved me and my family that the disease was too strong. I felt as though this was rational.

Flash forward to age 25, I was treated for PTSD & Substance abuse. Determined to do whatever I could do not feel like a piece of trash, I participated as much as possible. One session was titled a “mock 12-step.” I thought it would be interesting to see what my dad had gone through. Within the first few moments I was in tears. How could a program like this exist- so supportive- so caring, and so real- that if someone wanted to get better, that they couldn’t latch onto this life-line? I got home and immediately talked to my mother. “If all this was available, why didn’t he get better?” I was devastated that he was unable to use the tools discussed to still be alive to be here today. My mother’s response was something that shook me. “He never stayed.”

A plant based diet is a tool to help prevent disease.
- Alyssa Luning RD    

A plant based diet is a tool to help prevent disease. People can take it or leave it, but it is not fair that it is not known as a tool that is available (like 12 step). Dietitians and health professionals need to be liberated and empowered with the strength in the research. We need to stand strong and remain consistent and clear. It should be absolutely known, if indeed you want to recover, if indeed you want to avoid progression of disease- if you want to say, “hey you know what, I will do ANYTHING to NOT go down this path,” Then GRAB THIS TOOL, because IT WORKS. If you cannot grab it, check yourself for self-love and evaluate depression with a therapist. This EXTREME measure, relative to bariatric surgery, is a kick in the rear end. It is hard. It is weird. And yes, it can be socially awkward. But you know what it won’t be? As expensive as your think. It won’t taste like sticks. It won’t be lack luster, boring, or bland. The more people, family, friends, and community support you have, the more strength you will have in the change to become permanent method of REVERSING HEART DISEASE, type 2 diabetes, and depending on the individual, remaining in remission of cancer, dementia, and other autoimmune diseases. Oh yes, yes and we cannot forget - obesity.