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This Diet Tweak Has the Potential to Heal Your Gut and Help You Lose Weight Healthfully


“The procedure was a success, but when your husband fell, it caused fairly extensive nerve damage,” the surgeon told Stefanie Ignoffo. “It’ll be six months before he can use his arm again.”

The Illinois mom of three was panicked. Her husband John, a self-employed mechanical engineer, needed his arm to work. Stefanie worried about losing her family’s home — they lacked insurance — but at nearly 100 pounds overweight, she wasn’t in sufficiently good health to manage a part-time job.

Stefanie says that day in the hospital with her husband went by in a blur. She knew that if she lost weight, things would likely improve — her knees, her GI trouble, migraines, high blood pressure, fatigue — and she would be able to find a job. Unfortunately, she’d tried several diets, and none had worked.

Her daughter Hailie, 15, was an animal-lover who urged her to start a plant-based diet. Stefanie researched the diet to ensure it was safe. Highly regarded medical websites reported that it was, so long as the diet was executed in the right way.

When her husband was discharged, the family went straight to the drive-thru for burgers and fries. Once home, Stefanie insisted her family watch a documentary on plant-based eating. By the end of the film, her entire family — even her 18-year-old son Zakary — was on board.

How do plant-based meals with fiber help?

Stefanie scoured the internet and found great resources, including Dr. Neal Barnard’s 21-Day Kickstart plan with family-friendly meal ideas like veggie-and-hummus wraps and chili. She cleaned her fridge and gave its contents — primarily processed food, cheese, and meat — to friends.

The Ignoffos’ first plant-based meal was pasta marinara and salad. “I read we should really fill up so we won’t be hungry later and start thinking about our old foods,” she said. She made oatmeal, stir-fries, and rice and beans. Not everything was a hit. But the family hung in and found recipe swaps that they liked, including pancakes. Within days of starting their nutrition journey, both Stefanie and her husband reported sleeping better and feeling less pain.

The family settled into their new habits. Zakary told his mom that his pizza cravings had subsided. Stefanie considered her reflux and bloat issues and realized their frequency had reduced significantly.

Why is fiber important?

Research conducted by Dr. Barnard showed that a whole-foods, plant-based diet was even more effective than the Mediterranean diet for weight loss and overall health. The key reason: Plant-based eaters get far more fiber and a greater variety of fiber, which boosts the “good bacteria” in the GI tract.

“These bacteria act as a powerful bonus organ that helps every part of you function optimally,” he says. Digestion, blood sugar, inflammation, and brain function improve. He notes that most Americans don’t get enough fiber. Going plant-based, he says, fills this gap.

Further evidence suggests that plant-based eating improves gut bacteria in a way that targets the midsection.

What were the results?

“After a while, I was bouncing off the walls with energy,” Stefanie recalls. She went for a mile-long walk without experiencing knee pain. Soon, she says, the whole family was hiking together. After 10 months, the family had lost a combined total of 225 pounds.

“I really feel in my heart I’ve set my kids up for the best life they can live,” she says. Her advice is: “Eat your plants off!”

This article originally appeared in our print magazine.

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