going vegan: our first 10 days

Well, hi there. It’s been awhile since I’ve written a blog post that’s not for my Fall Readers-Along. How’s it going? Everybody enjoying October? What a great month (my birthday’s on Halloween).

But enough about me. Let’s talk about what I’m eating these days. What my family is eating these days.

Or maybe what we’re NOT eating: i.e., meat, eggs, or dairy (basically anything that comes from an animal). Anything artificial. And we’re limiting oils/sugars (even the good kinds).

Why, you ask? Or maybe WHY!?!?!?!?!?!? (?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!) you ask?

Well. I’ll tell you. Because I’m getting looooooots of questions that I don’t have time to answer, because, HELLO!, I’m cutting up a zillion vegetables and blending smoothies and cooking beans and running around to a million grocery stores.

Here’s the deal. (my mom loves it when I say that)

Gabe had a heart attack in October 2011. In January 2012, he started dealing with anxiety/panic attacks. In March 2012, he had to quit his job. We wracked up a lot of medical bills (mostly ER visits). In October 2012, we hated each other a lot of the time and went to a lot of counseling. And while we hadn’t been to the ER since June 30, 2012, Gabe was still dealing with anxiety on a regular basis. This mostly starts with unexplained chest pains that lead him to think he’s going to have a heart attack. He’s learned to live with it, but it’s zero, zero fun.

On August 26, 2013, Gabe went back to work (a new job). He was also coaching soccer and doing side jobs and weaning off his anxiety meds (that had never really helped him like we’d hoped).

This was a hard transition. For the first few weeks, he would have bad bouts of anxiety roughly every Monday/Thursday. One Thursday was flat-out awful.

Then came Wednesday (two weeks ago today). Bad, bad day. Long story short, we ended up in the ER at 12:30 that night. He ended up waiting in the waiting room for 2 hours, then coming home.

Then Saturday. I spoke at a marriage event. We met a guy. He told us about a doctor who has helped tons of people reverse their heart damage.

Sunday night, we watched a CNN documentary (on YouTube) with Dr. Sanjay Gupta. We heard more about this doctor who developed this plant-based/whole foods diet to help heal people’s hearts. It’s working.

Gabe turned to me and said, “Let’s do this.”

Alrighty then.

Now. I’ve left out a lot of stuff (and plenty of gory details), but the bottom line is this: our family has been praying our brains out for two years for healing for Gabe, both physical and mental healing. God has been preparing us for something like this (without us even knowing). It’s an answer to prayer. The girls are 100% on board. It’s insane.

And when people say to us, “Oh, I could NEVER do that.” I ask God to help me love them, and I say as kindly as I can, “Well, if you’d been through the hell we’ve been through the past two years, you could. You could do anything, would do anything, ANYTHING, to make it better. ANYTHING.”

If this kind of diet gives Gabe peace of mind that his heart is healthy and he’s in zero danger of another heart attack, then it will all be worth it. A million times over.

So there’s that.

Practically speaking, what does this look like?

I don’t really even know. But I’m giving it my best shot. And praying a lot.

We gave away all the food we aren’t eating any more: sugar & flour (we’re going to do oat/almond/rice flour and organic sugars), anything with high fructose corn syrup, milk, eggs, butter, cheese, milk-based dressings, frozen chicken, boxed mac & cheese, unhealthy snacks, etc.

We buy a lot of fresh vegetables: spinach, dark green lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, onions, mushrooms, potatoes, yams, tomatoes, avocados, peppers, asparagus. We eat them with hummus, we make guac and salsa, we roast them, we put them in pasta.

We buy a lot of fresh fruit: apples, bananas, peaches, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, pineapple, starfruit, clementines.

We eat (drink) smoothies every morning for breakfast: We used our crappy blender for the first week, then bought a NutriBullet. We always put spinach in first, then add mostly frozen fruit, sometimes fresh (mangoes, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, pineapple, cherries, apples, bananas), and some combination of coconut milk, juice, and water. Yum.

I cook large quantities of beans (slow cooker) and rice (rice cooker): We eat beans & rice, we put them in corn tortillas w/guac and salsa, Nina’s favorite food is black beans.

I make brown rice pasta w/spicy pasta sauce from a jar: It’s one of our faves right now and easiest for me. Last time we had it, I added mushrooms, zucchini, and onions to it. Yum.

We’re also limiting our gluten (wheat) just for fun: Gabe had a visit with his cardiologist about a week before this all went down, and he made a flippant suggestion that he try a gluten-free diet. So we did it for four days before this new thing. I know a lot of people who don’t do well with gluten, so I figure it can’t hurt to keep it out of our diets.

We’re treating ourselves once a week to a meal in a favorite restaurant: But we’re still sticking to the script. On our very first day, Gabe already had a meeting scheduled with someone: at BD’s Mongolian BBQ. He got “meatless chicken,” lots of veggies, and a salad. We’ve eaten at Pei Wei and got 2 favorite dishes (that don’t have milk/egg in them) but with tofu, an Asian salad without chicken, and 2 orders of vegetable spring rolls. And we ate at Mezze, our favorite Middle Eastern/Greek place. We got falafel instead of meat and picked a new dressing. Still delicious.

I’m scouring vegan cookbooks: Got tons at the library, found a great one at the thrift store for $1.99, a friend is sending me some, and lots and lots of wonderful friends have shared recipes. So so thankful. The girls love researching them, and we’re gearing up to try some new fun things.

I’m collecting supplies: It’s going to take awhile to store up enough rice, beans, lentils, pasta, vinegar, tahini, spices, chickpeas–and a slew of things I’ve never even heard of–to keep me from having to go to the store every day. I want to buy fresh whenever I can, so I’ll still make frequent trips. So far, I’ve been to Aldi, Trader Joe’s, Raisin Rack, Kroger, Earth Fare (too expensive), and I think that’s it.

I’m so thankful for Gabe’s job which enables us to afford this right now: Two months ago, I don’t know that we could have done this. Healthy stuff comes with a price tag, BUT we’re saving money by not buying meat. AND we’re good at finding/buying what’s on sale. AND it’s just worth it. We really truly don’t buy much of anything else, and all our clothes come from the thrift store, so it’s all good.

The girls spend their babysitting money on healthy snacks and fair trade organic chocolate: They absolutely love going to the store and heading to the organic/healthy section to see what they can find. They’ve gotten black bean tortilla chips, organic fruit leather stuff, Clif bars, gluten-free pretzels, and lots of other tasty stuff.

Speaking of our girls, they are freaking amazing. They help me shop and plan and research recipes and chop vegetables and stir things and make fruit salads and set the table and do the dishes, and they love it. What a priceless gift.

I think that’s all for now. It’s tiring but invigorating, and God has got his hands all over it, and I just can’t thank him enough. We went to counseling this morning for the first time in a year, and it was beautiful and wonderful and gave me warm fuzzies.

God is up to some big things (above and beyond us eating plants), and we’ll tell you about it soon.

Also, while I’ve got you here (if you made it this far in the post), I’m hosting a Freedom Party here on the blog the last week of October (my birthday week), and you’re invited! We’ll be giving away TONS of stuff (something for everyone!) and sharing some cool things God is doing and ways we can get involved. Woot!

If you have any questions about our new “lifestyle,” feel free to ask. I’ll answer as I can.

49 thoughts on “going vegan: our first 10 days

  1. Monica

    I was recently diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and I too am trying to wade through the mountain of information about what one should eat to bring healing to the body. Ugh! It is absolutely overwhelming!! I am right now praying you will have wisdom. AND, I read an interesting article on almond flour. Eegads! I just received a huge bag of almond flour and use almond meal ALL the time. At any rate, if you’re interested, you can find it here. http://empoweredsustenance.com/avoid-almond-flour/ (Oh, and as Andrea mentioned, the blog also talks about good fats, one article specifically about butter! http://empoweredsustenance.com/5-reasons-why-butter-is-a-superfood/)

    I just listened to you on Midday Connection and was so encouraged so I hopped over to your blog. Happy to find it!!

    1. Marla Taviano

      Oh, Monica. I’m so sorry to hear about your breast cancer. Saying a prayer for you right now. Yes, the conflicting info about all these foods is so overwhelming. Praying for wisdom for both of us. Hugs!!

  2. Andrea

    Fats are NOT the enemy and are ESSENTIAL for very body process. Forks Over Knives is based on faulty research! And had not Ben tested “long term”. Please reconsider. Even if you chose to avoid animal products, actively consume adequate healthy fats. Please.

  3. Laura

    Marla, I think of you and your family often (still every time I see giraffe anything!) and am intrigued by this new vegan-ness you and your family are starting. I too have struggled with anxiety (not gabe-level, but still it is not a fun walk in the park) and have a husband with heart issues. I went through a time where I cut all flour and sugar (therefore everything processed as well, by default) and it was amazing. I lost 60lbs (have kept off 40 for 3+ years) and was never tired, clear skin, felt great, etc, etc, etc. I have since gone back to crap eating with bouts here and there of starting up a healthy/fresh food/clean eating lifestyle, but never sticking with it. Reading through the comments here…wow. So much great advice and support. I don’t have any great advice, but I do have a great (and vegan!!) recipe I LOVE LOVE LOVE and will share with you. It’s super easy and requires no chopping or cooking! Everything is from Trader Joe’s.

    Habanero Lime Wrap
    Horseradish Hummus (my favorite – I am allergic to tree nuts so avoid a lot of their other hummus types due to cross contamination)
    Shredded Carrots
    Baby Spinach

    Take a wrap, spread hummus on it, throw on carrots and spinach. Roll up. Eat. YUM.

    Thinking of you guys, and praying for you all. xoxoxoxo

  4. Sharon

    Good for you guys on the solidarity with the dietary changes. We found out our daughter was allergic to wheat just over a year ago, but due to the cost of buying the version of foods we’d normally eat, but without wheat, she is the only one who is on that diet. She’s so young, I don’t feel like it’s been a huge adjustment for her. She does always ask, “Does that have wheat? Can I have it?” And if it does have wheat, I try to have something similar she can have. So the other day I had a pumpkin muffin, she had a gluten-free blueberry muffin. I can’t imagine how hard it would be if she were older and had eaten wheat for years and then had to change over to Gluten-free varieties. Personally, I’ve tasted some of the (rather pricey) Gluten-free items and think they taste terrible. There are some things I’d just rather not eat at all than to eat the GF version.

    I literally just saw this article tonight about wheat before reading this post:


    Now, I have to say. I was initially misinformed by a friend that Gluten-free automatically meant wheat-free. Thankfully, just recently I learned that a product can be Gluten-free if the Gluten is removed from the wheat. But, the product can still contain wheat. I only mention this in case you want to try cutting wheat out of your diets, too.

    Anyways, about Cleveland Clinic. I know a missionary couple who are in Czech Republic, but their son has had health issues for years and years. He finally wound up there, maybe a year or so ago? Anyways, here’s her latest post about him http://www.livingbylysa.com/2013/10/welcome-to-chicago.html She also has a gluten free section on her blog.

    And, her daughter has a blog. She loves to bake and is gluten and lactose free. http://clairescornercz.blogspot.com/p/gluten-lactose-coconut-free.html

  5. arneta

    Good for you Marla!! Having lost my husband suddenly, from a heart attack, when he was 41…I totally get the ” doing anything”, whatever it takes attitude.
    And then the sweet bonus of you’all getting healthy…together! I am cheering, (and praying) you all on!!!!

  6. Jordan

    It’s so great that you are being purposeful about what you are eating. Consuming more of God’s food the way He gives it to us (as opposed to processed beyond recognition) is never a bad thing!

    I am not here to start a debate, but I could not on good conscience keep completely silent because of our own experience with moving from the Standard American Diet to real food. My mom is known as the Whole Food Evangelist because of how her life has changed. She went from not being able to get out of bed due to chronic pain and fatigue to doing foster care and adoption.

    Our certified nutritionist was a vegan for 9 years and says it almost killed her. She is now a proponent of the GAPS diet, especially for those with anxiety/panic (like my parents and I have struggled with). Doing the GAPS diet and taking 5-HTP has enabled us to see life differently and be less anxious.

    Kim Schuette is the nutritionist that has been working with us on and off for 9 years remotely from CA (we’re from AZ). http://www.gapsinfo.com/about-us/ She has lots of great info on her site and there are LOTS of other GAPS related websites that helped us through the diet, including our own which shows how we did it as a whole family.

    Praying God gives you wisdom and guidance for this new journey of yours. He has certainly blessed us beyond our imaginings.

    Jordan (long time friend of the Robisons)

  7. Holly B.

    Love the united fam!! Hope God blesses all of you through this. Quick practical question…do kiddos have freedom to not eat vegan sometimes and not feel gulity (out with family, friends, just feel like it) for doing so?

  8. Anna

    Psalm 103:1-5 speaks to this. Specifically verse 5, about God giving us good things to restore our youth. We’ve been on a healthier eating track for about 2 years now, and it has made a huge difference. We haven’t restricted any of the whole foods (e.g. wheat, milk, animal fats) but have cut out most preservatives, all non-natural dyes, most soy products, and most processed foods. I try to buy as much organic as I can. We also eat a LOT less meat that we did before. We keep chickens, and I feed them an organic soy-free diet, so we get a lot of eggs. When we eat out, we all feel terrible after the fact if we’ve chosen poor foods. My husband used to have many more problems sleeping and with anger/anxiety. Now we can usually trace his bad days back to a food product. Red #40 seems to cause the most problems for him.

    I’d caution you to make sure you’re watching food preservatives, too, even though the food might be vegan. We got into problems last week from the sodium benzoate in some soy sauce. Finally, you might check to see if Azure Standard (azurestandard.com) makes a monthly drop in your area – they sell organic / whole foods of all kinds in bulk and make deliveries once a month to most places. You just go at your appointed time to meet the truck and pick up your goods.

  9. Cheryl Pickett

    You mentioned vinegars and I wondered if you have any of those boutique stores in your area that only sell olive oils and balasmic vinegars. Though we have couple relatively near where we are, we found one during a weekend visit in Indiana last year. I’ve tried regular balsamic before and Dave wasn’t thrilled with it, but in this store they had blackberry and raspberry flavors and oh my goodness are they good. They let you taste! They also last at least a year if not two so if you get a larger bottle, you should be fine.

  10. Andrea

    Is he by chance seeing Dr. Esselstyn or Dr. Barnard?

    I know it’s a lot of change, but it’s going to be so worth it even if it’s for a little while and you do treat yourself to a non plant meal at some point. Just be prepared though. You’ll have a ridiculous amount of energy, start sleeping better, skin will start glowing, and most people report feeling incredibly and genuinely happy and much more able to cope with life. When I was strict for a while, I swore I could literally see better, my gums were less sensitive, and my teeth whiter. Weird but I stand by it. Hope you’re noting all the fun observations; that will just encourage you.

      1. Andrea

        I AM SO JEALOUS!!! He’s like THE rockstar of cardiology and plant-based living. Cleveland Clinic is amazing and has great doctors. I work on cardiovascular research (as an administrator, but get to invite special speakers, hear a lot about research, clinics, faculty) and also have read a lot of articles and books in my personal time for a completely different condition but about plant-based living. Being able to see this guy is basically a big THANK YOU, JESUS! You’re in very good hands. (This is a reply to you but obviously to Gabe too.)

  11. Jen Hanson

    Ooo! I just remembered another beans-and-rice and veggies dish that a sweet lady in Uganda made us and I begged her for the recipe. Here’s the Americanized version, but you can add your organic/fresh stuff as you need to.

    Annet’s Ugandan Beans:
    1 can (or 1 2/3 cup fresh/cooked) of each – Kindey and Black Eye peas
    2 cans of Pinto beans
    2 Tomatoes (diced)
    1 Onion (diced)
    1 Sweet red pepper (diced)
    2 Carrots (diced)
    1-2 tbs Curry powder
    Oil for cooking
    1-2 tbs Oregano
    1/8 cup Sugar
    1 tsp Salt

    Method of Cooking:
    1. Boil the beans until they are ready (set aside)
    2. In a large pot, sautee onion until golden brown
    3. Add tomatoes, sweet peppers, and carrots and cook until done, but still crisp (I usually cook the carrots for a bit first – they take longer than the peppers)
    5. Add in curry powder, oregano, salt, and sugar
    6. Add in the beans
    7. Simmer for ten minutes
    8. Serve over rice or mashed potatoes

  12. Jen Hanson

    Since Nina loves black beans, I’ll pass along my FAVORITE way to prepare them (cause we’ve been on a rice-and-beans budget for a while and I’ve gotten creative). This recipe is actually a hack from an delicious Asian/Cajun/Mexican fusion place in Phoenix that I really miss (Chino Bandidos).

    Cook and mash/blend the black beans until they have a “refried beans” look to them – you might need to add some coconut milk as you go. Season to taste with oregano, crushed red pepper, and a little sugar (organic in your case). They are amazing and taste great over rice or with tortillas. YUM. This is making me want to make them immediately.

  13. Marcy

    Marla, I think you are doing the exact right thing. No matter what others may say you are doing what you need to to make sure your family is healthy again and that you are doing all you can to facilitate that. I went off of a lot of things last Jan. and found out that my body reacts differently to different “toxins” (for me). Gluten/wheat is not immediately noticeable to me but if I have it too often (cheated for a couple of days) then my anxiety rises to freaky proportions. I am now, mostly, able to identify why I’m crazed with heart pounding anxiety, but this week took me by surprise. I am now going back to the restrictions I had before but without my family on board it means making two meals every time. That is a beast in itself and brought me to tears many nights last Jan. I pray that you can keep it up and that it will resolve the issues with Gabe and maybe some unknown ones in you all. Can’t hurt, that’s for sure!

  14. Becca

    I love you guys, and so so admire you for doing this. If only we could follow suit, I think about it alot with Caden’s heart etc, it’s just really hard when we dont have a lot of planning ahead/prep time etc . . . Sigh.

  15. Karen

    AWESOME! How do you always make “hard” look “easy”???? You do “hard” well … I know, not by choice … but it’s encouraging to see God work. Thanks for sharing!!

  16. Lisa Basner

    YOU GO GIRL(s and Gabe) – this is amazing!!! I had to change my eating about a year and a half ago, and like Danielle said – relearning how to eat is very difficult, but SO worth it! I am gluten free and (mostly) dairy free right now, but over the winter I had cut out eggs, ALL sugars and grains, beef, pork, gluten and dairy. It was a challenge, especially when everyone is hungry, and I didn’t have anything prepared. But God is good, and the internet is an amazing resource of recipes. Praying for you guys – God is in this!!!

  17. Joy

    So proud of you guys! My Mom was infected with Lyme’s Disease 2 years ago and had to go really drastic on her diet to recover from it. No processed foods, no grains…. I keep thinking that you are teaching the girls how to cook “real” food and that is just as important as anything else they learn.

  18. Danielle

    I’m behind you all the way! When I had to suddenly and drastically change my diet 3 years ago I learned a few things very quickly: relearning how to eat is hard, people say really rude/hurtful things when they find out you don’t eat the same things they do, and you will be extra sensitive about outside opinions because it’s hard and some people are (usually unintentionally) rude. If you have prayed about it, it feels right for your health and family stability, and you’re being good stewards of your bodies and finances, then keep on trucking girl! We are really close to vegan in our house, have been for years, and I assure you it gets easier.

    And because I can’t help but share recipes, here’s 2 of my go-tos that should be close, if not spot on, for your food needs:
    http://www.skinnytaste.com/2009/03/chipotle-cilantro-lime-rice-4-pts.html (YUUUUUM!)
    http://allrecipes.com/recipe/quinoa-and-black-beans/detail.aspx (I sub a cup of frozen peas for one of the servings of black beans, to make it feel more like a full colorful meal)

  19. Krisha

    If anyone can do this, you can Marla!!! I could give you all kinds of tips, but I’m sure everyone wants to give their two cents. So I am choosing to keep them to myself at this point. It is confusing and overwhelming enough, when you make a change like this. It is definitely something you have to take a day at a time. Believe me, in a year or 2 you will look back and be amazed at how much you have learned and changed. I am so happy for your family and the work God continue to do. Can’t wait to hear where this takes you next!!!
    I just finished a great book about wheat and gluten consumption, “Wheat Belly”. It is very eye opening. I thought of Gabe when I was reading it. He discusses heart patients and anxiety. Give Gabe 4 weeks and I predict he will feel like a new man!!
    OH, and yes, your girls are amazing! So glad I got to spend a week with them and witness how great they are!!! You all ROCK!
    Miss you guys!

  20. jess

    I just wanted to say that I think this is very, very, VERY super. I love that all 5 of you are in 100% support. We aren’t planning to go vegan or vegetarian (though we have talked of doing more meatless meals), BUT I’ve been trying to at least slowly switch to organics and i’m really excited about it.

    I just think it’s fab!

    (We have family that are 7th day Adventist and they have a Health Message. Maybe you can find some SDA resources that are helpful, too, for recipes & such…)

    1. jess

      Oops. I Just saw this reply. b/c I never check my Hotmail (I wonder why I always type it in instead of my google!) but, thank you, that was sweet. 🙂 I think you’re pretty swell, too. I hope you’re having a good day today & that things are lookin’ up. and if not–you know ALL about the mercies of the lord and how they’re new every morning. 🙂 there’s always that to look forward to! 🙂

  21. Jeff

    so glad you are finding wholeness (or at least continuing to fight for it). praying for you all as you transition to a new lifestyle.

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