Cut the Cheese: Why this Dairy Glutton Suddenly Went Hard-Core Vegan

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

April 17th, 2011 • Nutrition for Natural Pain ReliefPrint Print

Throughout my life, I was a dairy glutton. My idea of heaven was eating a fresh loaf of bread with a big hunk of cheese, then washing it down with a hot mocha latte. I voraciously consumed New York pizza, Greek salad, Italian gelato, and some of the more esoteric fare — like dates stuffed with goat cheese and tortilla chips smothered in plain yogurt. But this past November, when an ultrasound revealed a potentially cancerous nodule on my thyroid gland, I went hard-core organic vegan – cold tofu turkey style.

My endocrinologist had recommended the conventional medical route – a biopsy, to determine whether the cells were in fact cancerous, followed by possible surgery if they were. A firm believer in the body’s power to self-heal, and therefore knowing that even in the worst-case scenario, I would not opt for thyroid removal, I immediately and radically altered my diet – getting rid of every possible toxin I had learned about over the years. Overnight, I started eating a diet that was all-organic, vegan, and unprocessed, with no fried food, soy, gluten, or sweeteners of any kind.

The first month was brutal. I had gut-wrenching cravings for steak, cheese, and chocolate, sometimes all at once. I regularly felt weak and faint, to the point that I nearly collapsed on a one-mile walk, despite being fairly athletic. And all those beans left me desperately chasing after myself with an air freshener! But then, suddenly, my body plummeted into a sense of calm and stability that I had never known before. After a lifetime of eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, and compulsive overeating, my food addictions vanished, and without trying, I lost nearly 15 pounds in three months. Added bonus: My skin started to glow and look about a decade younger.

Many of my dietary changes were inspired by stories I heard when I began attending vegan gatherings. I had just moved to Sacramento in the fall, and I was looking for hipster, progressive types (and of course, cute guys!) I figured vegan groups were a good place to start, especially considering that I kept kosher – meaning, unlike elsewhere, I could eat all the food at vegan meals. Through the gatherings, I met people whose bodies had self-healed and completely transformed through a vegan diet – including one man, now a “raw foodie” vegan, who had altogether eliminated a tumor by radically altering his eating habits. I met this man, in fact, just one week before receiving the ultrasound news. Had I gotten that news without these prior encounters, I would have been hysterical. Instead, I was scared, but also empowered with information and knowing where to turn for guidance and support.

Against the backdrop of our healthcare model, it is considered radical, even outright stupid, to reject surgery or chemotherapy in the face of cancer, never mind to reject a diagnostic biopsy. But my experience has been that even standard procedures can cause more harm than good. In addition, I have discovered that, at the end of the day, the power to heal comes from within my own body. That’s because back in 1997, I was catapulted into the healthcare system, following a hit-and-run, head-on car collision. I went from bad to worse over the years, injured by a melee of doctors, bodyworkers, and medical procedures – until, in 2005, I could barely walk or even pull a sheet up to my chin, because of excruciating pain.

That year, I discovered that I could use dance to heal myself. Sounds totally “woo-woo,” right? But it worked. And as I learned through interviewing leading integrative medicine doctors and scientists, the discovery placed me at the frontiers of medical research on the power of the brain to heal the body. It also brought me to where I am today – leading an overall pain-free and athletic life. Meaning, while the conventional approach to healthcare failed me miserably over the course of a decade, my own intuitive approach dramatically saved the quality of my life in less than half the time.

Which brings me to my current decision to go organic vegan instead of get a biopsy and, worst case scenario, surgery: If this growth is cancerous, it means that something in my body is out of whack. I need to figure out what it is and what I need to do, so as to bring my body back into harmonious alignment. As noted by David Simon, MD – medical director of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing – in one of our interviews, “The most powerful pharmacy is not CVS, Walgreens, or Rite-Aid. It is the human body.” I seek to activate my inner pharmacy.

True, a biopsy is a routine and relatively safe procedure. But so are taking antibiotics, getting a crown, having a wart removed, and receiving an MRI. While the bulk of my experiences with these procedures were incident-free, some of them involved complications that left me worse off than before – with weeks of cognitive dysfunction, a month of horrific headaches, half a year of my back going out completely, and years of shooting eye pain, respectively. Bad luck? Not so much. Our healthcare system routinely injures and kills scores of people, ranking medical mishaps as the third leading cause of death in America today.

Meanwhile, the incidents of cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and other chronic illnesses are skyrocketing in our country. I don’t know about your response to this data, but mine is to figure out the source of the problem and eliminate it from my life. As I have embraced the organic vegan lifestyle, I have learned that our food – my beloved dairy in particular – may be the culprit. While dairy is touted as the holy grail of calcium and therefore bone fortification, international studies have revealed that the incidents of osteoporosis are directly proportional to dairy intake in a given country – ie, the more dairy consumed on national average, the higher the incidents of the disease. The latest research is also now linking dairy to cancer.

How is it possible that I have been so duped about dairy all these years? Not only did I love the taste and texture of anything from a cow’s utter, but I also consumed inordinate quantities of milk, in the health-driven interest of strengthening my bones. “The hype about milk is basically an effective marketing campaign by the American Dairy industry,” says Walter Willet, MD, MPH, DrPH nutrition chairman at Harvard School of Public Health.

That’s scary stuff.

Fortunately, my endocrinologist is the coolest doc ever. Not only does she spend copious amounts of time patiently responding to my million plus questions about thyroid and cancer in general and my situation in particular, but she also supports my organic vegan path. Together, we are closely monitoring my progress, with the understanding that I will continue with an exclusively holistic response unless, Gd forbid, I end up in a life-and-death emergency situation. Conventional medicine, with its slice & dice approach, is awesome in those kinds of scenarios. I am deeply grateful that a hi-tech option exists. But especially considering that thyroid surgery runs the risk of cutting a vocal chord nerve, and that I am a singer (albeit a lapsed one), that option is my Plan Z.

My doc agrees that if I’m not doing surgery anyhow, there is no reason to subject myself to the invasive procedure of sticking a needle into my throat, right next to my trachea, four or five times over. Instead, I’ll be getting an ultrasound every three months — like the follow-up imaging I got last week, which showed that the size, shape, and blood flow in the nodule have remained the same since the first ultrasound in November. In other words, so far so good. Over the next three months, I plan to keep my current diet and step up my game, adding a few tricks: I’m going to start singing daily, figuring that if I can dance away pain, so can I sing away cancer – in both instances, channeling the healing power of vibrations. In addition, I’m going to blast my system with alkaline – taking “green” supplements from the land and sea and eating massive amounts of cilantro, which healed the tumor of my friend’s rabbit in three months flat.

Meanwhile, I’ve taken to sticking my nose into friends’ entrees and deeply inhaling the scent of all things meat and cheese. Once I sit up and compose my obscene expression of ecstasy, I munch on my salad and inform said friends that it’s time for them to go vegan.

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