Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Body by Plants Founder, Elena Wilkins, Tells All in Exclusive Interview with the Plant-Based Pharmacist

Elena Wilkins
Founder of Vega-licious and Body By Plants
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the founder and creator of Vegalicious and Body By PlantsElena Wilkins—about her story and life's work, and she did not disappoint!

Elena has spent years researching and developing her lifestyle program Body By Plants, which includes a whole foods, plant-based diet at its core. She's helped numerous people regain their health and get their life back after doing the same for herself prior to starting her business.

She even surprised her doctors by conceiving a beautiful little girl after being told she was infertile, and she's never looked back.

Please read on as her engaging interview provides hope, inspiration, and a passion for life filled with vibrancy and health that anyone would be jealous of.

The Inside Scoop With Elena Wilkins

Dustin: What sparked your interest in trying a plant-based diet?

Elena: It all started with my husband’s health. When we got married I noticed an ongoing daily struggle he had each time he ate or got stressed. He would have crushing chest pains, and I never knew if I was going to lose him or he might become an invalid. We were just in our 20s and I was not ready for either.   

Elena and her husband
Seeking medical help proved to be useless. He was put on statins and was told that he had to be on medication for the rest of his life. All medications come with side effects; the list of possible side effects from statins is too long to list. Suffice to say, it was nothing we wanted to spend our lives dealing with, so we decided that there had to be a better way to improve his health.

I spent a year in research, looking for alternative options. When I had enough data to convince me that a dietary change would save my husband’s life, we made the transition. We went plant based cold turkey. I cleaned out my kitchen, took everything we could not eat to the dumpster, and we never looked back. His cholesterol dropped from 220 to 149 in under 9 months. He stopped having chest pains, and I could live in peace knowing that we have a long, healthy life together.  

Dustin: Did you ever feel like giving up on treating your medical conditions with a plant-based diet?

Elena: Never. I am an all or nothing person. It is either do or die with me. Once I was convinced that a plant-based diet was a way to go to get my husband well, I was going to move heaven and Earth to make it happen, regardless of how long it took. While I did not know everything I should do back then (over eight years ago), we still achieved measurable results with him remarkably quickly.

When we achieved great outcomes working on his health, it was time to concentrate on me. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, infertility and had been given a diagnosis of a pituitary adenoma. While reversing hypothyroidism proved to be a fairly easy task, once I quit using prescription contraceptives, dealing with the other two issues took a couple of additional years. Seeing that we were already able to achieve so much gave me enough determination to see things through.

Dustin: You talked about having difficulties for years conceiving after wanting a little baby in the worst way. What was the final tipping point that made natural conception possible?

Elena: Since I had pituitary adenoma diagnosis, the path to conception proved to be extremely difficult and wrought with a lot of emotional pain. I did everything that I humanly knew how to do—I exercised, I ate healthy (plant-based, whole foods, low-fat diet), yet I hit a wall. I sought help of numerous specialists, but none could do anything for me. At one point I was so tired of struggle that I gave in and went to visit my MD to seek medical (read prescription) help. He told me that I would have to be on prolactin suppressing medication in order to ovulate, so I could conceive. 

It was one of the most difficult decisions in my life, because it contradicted everything I stood for, but I took medication for 5 months. I wanted a child, and I did not know what else to do.

I was miserable on medication, from the first day. I experienced every possible side effect it came with—I could not sleep, I felt like my entire body was swollen, and I had to labor to breathe—something had for anyone, but especially for a fitness trainer. The medication even induced hypothyroidism. Eventually it got so bad that I decided that I would rather be childless for the rest of my life than endure this kind of misery. 

I quit taking medication and decided that it was time to do more research. Long story short, I cross referenced all of the remaining symptoms I had that my optimal diet could not heal, with any possible nutrient deficiency known to man. I came up with one possibility—vitamin B12 deficiency. 

I found a practitioner who agreed to work with me the way I desired, and got tested for vitamin B12 deficiency. While my results came in the “normal range” (mid 200s), from my research and from the symptoms I still had, I knew that I had to give B12 treatment a try. 

I went on B12 injection therapy, and 4 wonderful weeks later we were able to conceive!

Nine months later I delivered a beautiful baby girl—the love of my life. She was worth every battle I ever fought to have her. We are raising her fully plant-based, whole foods, and I make sure she takes her B12 daily.  She is the healthiest, smartest, most energetic child I know, and I have met a lot of children in my life—I come from a large family.

Dustin: What is Body by Plants?

Elena: Body by Plants is my heart child. It came out of my own experience and my struggle for better health. 

When I first began to research how to address our health issues naturally, I found very little help online or in print. I only wish I had met someone like me back then. It would have saved me heartache and tens of thousands of dollars I spent on unnecessary treatments.

When I finally knew that I got the art of plant-based living down and having helped numerous others to do the same through one-on-one coaching, and by regularly publishing online articles, I put all of my knowledge into a concise 30-day online program, that can be done by anyone, anywhere in the world.

In the program, I provide nearly 100 delicious plant based recipes, menu planners, live weekly calls, and even email access to me to serious health seekers. I teach people how to do plant-based diet right, avoiding major pitfalls, and how to do it effectively, so they can achieve quick, measurable results by eating their way to health. 

Just in the last year I had students who achieved pregnancy after years of infertility, reversed hypothyroidism, treated IBDs, allergies, high blood pressure, lowered cholesterol, went into remission from PSOC and successfully addressed multiple other health issues that even medication could not help them resolve. All of them did it conveniently online, without ever having to travel to Washington to see me.  

Dustin: What is the most rewarding part of being a lifestyle coach and certified personal trainer?

Elena: Seeing people’s lives changed and watching how they blossom when they become empowered to create their own health. I love empowering people. My goal is always to train my clients to become independent of me as soon as possible. When that happens, I know I’ve done my job. I always encourage them to pay it forward and to help someone in their life too. Through this practice, I have seen a few of my students become lifestyle coaches as well, which means that we will be able to reach that many more people and help them eat their way to health too.

Dustin: If you had to give someone one piece of advice that would help them most in making the change to a whole foods, plant-based diet what would that be?

Elena: I will give you four instead.

First, find your WHY. Why do you want to be healthy? What would cause you to consider to significantly alter your diet and go against the grain? Whether it is to avoid having a heart attack, recover after a stroke to never have it again, achieving permanent weight loss, reversing hypothyroidism or any other disease, achieving a pregnancy naturally, living to be a hundred or not spending money on medicine and doctor visits for the rest of your life—whatever your reason is, make your foundation. 

Secondly, get educated! The reason I developed my program and made it 30 days long is to teach people not only what to eat but also understand why we eat a plant-based diet. Knowledge empowers. It is very easy to do any diet short-term. People do crazy things to lose weight. However, because they do not possess foundational knowledge of why they do those things, they often quit, and their problems come back. Once you become educated, however, it is very hard to go back to your old lifestyle against that knowledge.

Next, get accountability and find a mentor. You do not have to spend a year in research, like I did, in order to make the transition. Find someone you can trust, like Dustin or myself, pay them, if you have to, follow their advice. Most of us, who are in the business of changing lives through nutrition, have done it long enough to help almost anyone. But beware of quacks. Make sure that your mentor uses real science and can answer your questions with substantial evidence. Do not go for over-the-moon promises in spite of science. 

Lastly, JUST DO IT! You can plan, read and research for years, but unless you implement what you know, it will be of no use to you. This is another reason to find a mentor or at least an accountability partner—being accountable to someone makes you more committed to the process. You will always keep learning.  Doing it, however, makes all the difference.

Dustin: Do you have any favorite recipes?

Elena: Too many to list. I personally create something new every time I am in the kitchen, but here five of my family’s and my readers’ favorites:

1.    Low Fat, Vegan Garden Veggie Cream Cheese Spread Recipe

2.    Fat Free Vegan Bean Enchilada Recipe

3.    Easy 10 Minute Probiotic Rich Miso Soup Recipe

4.    Vegan Gluten Free Brownies Recipe

5.    Fat Free Vegan Black Bean Soup Recipe

Dustin: Being a mom, how do you get your child to eat a purely plant-based diet with no animal foods? Any tips for other parents out there struggling to get their kids to eat healthy?

Elena: I have a few thoughts to share on this topic, which is close to my heart.

Lead by example. If you want your child to eat healthy, model healthy behavior for her. If you put pureed peas in front of your child and eat a double cheeseburger yourself, she is more likely to reach for what you have than for what she has. Kids innately desire everything their parents have, including food, so make sure to maximize on this desire. Don’t just tell them—show them what to eat. And show them that it is not only good for them, but that it is also enjoyable.

Remove temptations. Do not have anything in your house your child should not be eating. If you want him to drink smoothies, instead of soda, do not buy soda. If you want him to have brown rice, do not buy Twinkies. Kids are just as human as adults—they will stick to the program (the way you would like for them to eat), if you remove temptations from their surroundings. You should not have any food in the house that you would have to hide from your child—that simple!  

If you want to offer your children choices, when your house is temptation free, they will end up choosing between things that are great for their health. There will be no more bad choices.

Make it fun. Make healthy food fun. Eating plant based and healthy should not mean that your child gets to chew on carrot sticks every day, although carrot sticks are delicious. Make a sugar-free plant-based treat, such as banana ice cream or sugar free oatmeal cookies. Bake delicious whole wheat pizza. Throw your kid a baking party, so that your child can share exciting, delicious, healthy treats with his friends.

Elena and her daughter
Involve your child in cooking. Just like us, kids take pride in what they create and put less value on things which come easy. If you are the only cook in the family and your children never take part in preparing meals, they are more likely to be picky and demand too much from you. If you make them a part of the cooking process, they will be proud of their work, even if it is not perfect—they will eat it and will make others taste their creations too. However, if you can, make sure to start involving your children in cooking as early as you can, so it becomes a part of their DNA. I used to hold my daughter when she was a baby, while whipping up meals in the kitchen, so she could learn to be a part of the process. When she was able to stand, I bought her a special activity tower, which allows her to be at the right height to reach countertops. She gets to push buttons on blenders and food processors, she gets to roll the dough, and mix salads, even if that means that I have to clean up after her. The lessons that she is learning in the process are priceless and will last her a lifetime.   

Educate. Whether you have a toddler or a teenager, everything should be rooted in education. Things should be age appropriate, of course, but everyone needs to know the WHY as well as the HOW of healthy eating. While I can tell my three year old that carrots make her eyes see better and beans make her muscles stronger, a teenager could benefit from watching a documentary, such as Forks over Knives, or reading a book, such as The Empty Medicine Cabinet, or having a robust conversation with her parent on the topic of health. Humans love to learn and discover, so educate your family about the importance of healthy eating and living—prepare them to stay healthy for the rest of their lives.  

You are in charge! At the end of the day remember that as a parent, you are in charge. As long as you are paying for the food your kids are eating, and as long as they are living under your roof, you get to call the shots and decide what they will have for dinner. If they are hungry, no matter how picky they are, eventually they will eat what you place in front of them. 

As a mother who had a fully plant based pregnancy and is now raising a fully plant based child, I use all of these techniques to make sure that my daughter grows up to make healthy decisions for herself, even when she is ready to move out of our house. She loves when we cook and eat together, and even though she is barely three, she also already knows the importance of taking her daily dose of B12—something that you can learn more about by reading The Empty Medicine Cabinet.

Dustin: Any final words of inspiration for others out there in search of regaining their health?

Elena: I think that Nike summed it all up beautifully for us a long time ago—JUST DO IT!  We can read and research relentlessly, but unless we implement what we know, all of that is done in vain. So, JUST DO IT! Decide that your health is of primary importance and simply start making healthy choices to live a happy, healthy life.

Dustin: Thank you Elena for your time and sharing all the wonderful experience and knowledge you’ve gained over the years. You are a true crusader of healthy living and making a difference in other’s lives. I hope my readers can take advantage of all you have to offer on your website. You are one of the few individuals in this world that I’ve gained confidence and trust in in what you do and the information you provide for others. Thank you again for being an inspiration to all of us!

**Dustin's Note on Hypothyroidism**
Hypothyroidism can be caused by a number of different reasons. Most commonly, hypothyroidism is the result of an autoimmune disease that destroys the body's own thyroid tissue/gland rendering it unable to produce enough or any thyroid hormone. To my knowledge, there are no interventional trials showing the reversal of this form of hypothyroidism with a whole foods, plant-based diet, or any other type of dietary therapy for that matter. However, maybe the future will hold the answer if these types of studies are done. The only current treatment for an autoimmune type of hypothyroidism is medication (Synthroid, levothyroxine, etc.). Another type of hypothyroidism can be caused by a benign tumor growing on the pituitary gland, known as a pituitary adenoma. This tumor presses up against the pituitary gland and inhibits the pituitary's ability to release thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH would normally travel to the thyroid gland after being released by the pituitary gland and tell the thyroid gland to release thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone is needed to properly maintain many different processes in the body including several metabolic processes. By treating or removing the pituitary adenoma in these cases of hypothyroidism, whether by surgery or other means, the pituitary gland can regain all or some of its function to release proper amounts of TSH. Proper TSH secretion can restore the functionality of the thyroid to release proper amounts of thyroid hormone to maintain homeostasis in the body.

Elena Wilkins is a health coach and a fitness trainer. After years of suffering and being misdiagnosed, she was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and a pituitary adenoma in 2008. Rather than feeling hopeless and spending the rest of her life on medication, she decided to become her own health advocate. She changed her diet, reversed hypothyroidism naturally and, despite adenoma diagnosis, was able to conceive without medication. She writes her blog Vegalicious to give others hope and to teach them how they can eat their way to healthy too.

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by Dustin Rudolph, PharmD
Clinical Pharmacist

Check out Dustin Rudolph's book The Empty Medicine Cabinet to start your journey towards better health. This step-by-step guide leads you through many of today's common chronic diseases (heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, and more), giving you the facts on foods versus medications in treating these medical conditions. The book also contains an easy-to-follow guide on how to adopt a whole foods, plant-based diet as a part of an overall lifestyle change, producing the best possible health outcomes for you and your family. Hurry and get your copy today!

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