wendy swiger before and after adopting a plant-based diet for weight loss and heart disease

I Beat Heart Disease and Lost 44 Pounds in 9 Months Without Portion Control

By Wendy Swiger,

  • 46

For much of my adult life, I carried 50 to 60 pounds excess weight. I’m 5-foot-3, and at my heaviest, I weighed 198 pounds. I used various fad diets to shed some of it every decade or so, but it always came back. Keto worked the best in terms of weight-loss, but only temporarily, and it made my lab numbers much worse. I have a family history of heart disease and had struggled with high blood pressure and high cholesterol for the previous three decades. Eating all that saturated fat and cholesterol, I was playing with fire. Plus, I missed eating fruits, grains, and vegetables.

Exercise didn’t work, either. I always maintained gym memberships. I had a walking buddy, with whom I walked religiously during warmer months. At one time, I could bench-press more than my 15-year-old son and do 25 consecutive flat-backed pushups, but I still weighed 175 pounds.

At 52, I decided to go vegan, but I ate a lot of highly processed vegan junk foods. Around that time, I gave up on losing weight. It was simply too much work to try to keep the weight off.

Stumbling Across a Surprising Solution

A few years ago, my doctor began pushing me toward statins to lower my cholesterol, as well as medications to address my prediabetes. I was already on medication to lower my blood pressure. I desperately wanted to avoid more meds. Then I met someone who told me that he lost 70 pounds by eating only potatoes. Potatoes?! I was shocked: Didn’t potatoes make you fat? He told me about The Starch Solution by John McDougall, MD. This sounded like the type of thing I could do. I went home and read everything I could about Dr. McDougall and learned about the benefits of a whole-food, plant-based (WFPB) diet. I wanted so badly not just to lose weight but to lower my cholesterol, lower my blood pressure, and prevent Type 2 diabetes.

I decided to jump into a WFPB diet. I stuck to it strictly from the outset, because I wanted the weight loss and the health gains, and I didn’t want anything to pollute the results.

I knew that the results would take some time, and that was OK. It was more about learning how to do this every day and maintain the lifestyle for the long run. So I focused on learning to be happy with what I ate. Weaning off of highly processed foods wasn’t easy, and the first week was really hard, but the second week got a little easier, and from there my palate adjusted pretty quickly. I found that following a WFPB diet strictly, rather than “dabbling” in oil and ultraprocessed foods, was helpful, as it helped my taste buds adjust rather than stay hooked on unhealthy stuff.

A month after starting this way of eating, I had my annual checkup. My doctor was shocked, saying I’d had the largest drop in LDL cholesterol she had ever seen in her career that wasn’t due to medication. My blood pressure was normal, and my A1C was fine, too: I was no longer prediabetic.

The diet resolved some other issues I’d struggled with, like sleep apnea and headaches, and I even noticed a difference in my skin. In the past, the heels of my feet were thick and cracked. Sometimes, if the cracks opened too much, it would get very painful to walk. After going WFPB, they became more supple and soft, with no more fissures! That was a big relief.

Staying Committed to the WFPB Lifestyle

Today I’m 65 years old and don’t need any medications. I lost 44 pounds in the first year of eating WFPB and 10 more pounds the second year, and I’ve maintained most of that weight loss in the year since. I feel that I still have about 15 pounds to lose. As an older postmenopausal woman, it’s coming off extremely slowly. Because I’m trying to lose weight, I limit heavier WFPB-compliant foods such as whole grain bread and tofu.

I've had some age-related arthritis flare-ups, but they went away almost as quickly as they came. Added sugar and salt both seem to aggravate my arthritis, so I've also done the hard work of eliminating those from my diet. Going salt-free has been a struggle. However, I’m in support groups with many people who assure me that it gets easier as your palate adjusts.

Getting Better Together

My husband adopted a WFPB lifestyle about a year after I did, after suffering a heart attack. He’s lost 70 pounds. He also ditched migraines, heartburn, gastric reflux, and arthritis pain, and his chronic eczema is almost gone. Since he’s a heart attack survivor, he still has to take statins, but he’s hoping he might eventually be able to get off of those. Because of the cardiovascular disease, my husband and I have been strictly following the dietary recommendations of Caldwell Esselstyn, MD. That means eating six servings of greens every day, 365 days a year.

My daughter was so impressed with our health transformations that she decided to give WFPB a try, too, and she’s lost 40 pounds. All three of us have much more energy. My husband and I now look forward to walking our dog 2 to 4 miles a day (or more, if we have time). We take lots of rigorous hikes.

I'm so excited by all this renewal, I started a group online to share recipes, tips, and progress. My WFPB friends and family members love the way we eat, because we just feel so much better.

Ready to get started? Check out Forks Meal Planner, FOK’s easy weekly meal-planning tool to keep you on a healthy plant-based path. To learn more about a whole-food, plant-based diet, visit our Plant-Based Primer.

Has a whole-food, plant-based diet impacted your life?

We would love to hear about it!


Join our mailing list

Get free recipes and the latest info on living a happy, healthy plant-based lifestyle.

By providing your email address, you consent to receive newsletter emails from Forks Over Knives. We value your privacy and will keep your email address safe. You may unsubscribe from our emails at any time.