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Plant-based eating reverses health challenges for Cheektowaga retiree

Donna Kondrak was on high blood pressure medication for 25 years before her retirement two years ago. Two years earlier, she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. She also was overweight.

“I was eating the SAD Diet – the Standard American Diet,” said Kondrak, 64, of Cheektowaga, a former pharmacy managerial assistant. “That consists of everything that made me sick. Animal products such as beef, chicken, pork, fish, cheese, yogurt, all dairy, as well as fried foods in all kinds of oils.

“I was a caffeine and sugar junkie, not only drinking mega amounts of diet pop daily, but eating chocolate candy, and popping caffeine tablets during the day to stay awake at my office job.”

Kondrak lost 60 pounds – and kept off the weight – since switching to a whole food plant-based diet in March 2016.

That was just a start. She’s off her diabetes and blood pressure medications, she has more energy, “and I have the benefit of knowing I am benefiting the environment by not consuming SAD foods,” said the married mother of two adult daughters.

Her husband, Steven, a retired University at Buffalo maintenance worker, changed his eating along with Kondrak in March 2016, when they visited Dr. John McDougall, a plant-based eating guru, during a retreat in California.

Q: What were the staples of your diet before you changed your eating?

Breakfast tended to be fast-food sandwiches such as sausage, cheese and egg; bagels with cream cheese; muffins. Lunch was pizza, frozen dinners and desserts. Dinner was pastas with cheese sauces, pizza, subs. I ate ice cream and cookies for snacks and drank Diet Coke, and fruit juices with artificial sweeteners.

Q: What are the staples of your diet now?

There is so much, it amazes me! Starches such as potatoes, brown rice, wheat and whole grain pastas, multigrain breads, soft corn tortilla shells. All vegetables. Legumes such as lentils, quinoa, black, kidney and garbanzo beans. Nondairy milk such as almond and cashew. I eat fruits three to four times a day, and no animal products, no dairy, no oils and no unnatural sugars. I drink spring and sparkling flavored water. I avoid processed foods. There is no calorie counting.

Q: What was your fitness like before you started weight loss?

I was a couch potato after returning home from my desk job. Now I move! I take walks, go to the gym to swim or ride the bicycle. I am much more limber.

Q: What were some of the key changes you made to help you lose weight?  

I stopped eating all meat, including seafood. I stopped eating all dairy products. I stopped cooking with oils. I wasn't part of an exercising regimen such as a gym, but walking and moving my body became a more constant occurrence.

Q: What was the reaction of your doctors to all your improved health numbers?

They told me to keep on doing what I'm doing. They didn't really ask a whole lot about it. Doctors around here do not have the interest and knowledge when it comes to this kind of eating. They go with the flow. They're not even taught this in college. But when I told them I was on this diet, one of the doctors said, "Once you're a diabetic, you're always a diabetic." I said, "No, you're not. Check my levels." I was hovering between a 6 and a 10 A1C. I'm down to 5.3 and have maintained that since I've been eating this way.

Q: You and your husband are members of the WNY Plant-Based Eaters Meet Up group. What’s that like?

We meet from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. the first Saturday of each month at Millgrove Bible Church, [11517 Genesee St.,] Alden. You bring a dish to pass that's compliant and you just have a good time socializing and eating. We've made a lot of new friends. When we first started out, there would be seven, eight people. Last month, there had to be 50 people there.

'The cheese and the meat isn't tempting when you're faced with losing your life'

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