For anyone considering a plant-based diet as part of a healthier lifestyle, you might want to hear what Sarah Goodenough has to say.
Goodenough lived her late teen and early adult years with a self-described addiction to junk food, during which she gained more than 100 pounds and developed fatty-liver disease.
In December 2018, the owner of Kitchen Verde and Verde Mind Body Health in Rochester catered a holiday luncheon. There, she shared with attendees the story of her struggles with food and depression, and how a plant-based diet and focus on mindfulness helped her transform her physical and mental health.
Goodenough's story might sound familiar to anyone who has had a dysfunctional relationship with food. After eating lightly for most of her high school years, she began to look to food as a source of comfort during her senior year.
“I turned to junk food as a coping mechanism,” she says. “My addiction was junk food.”
McDonald’s, grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza — they were all part of the unhealthy choices she made, and she began to gain weight. At college, the love affair worsened.
“It just carried over into my freshman year in college,” Goodenough says. “I got really depressed when I moved away. I got emotionally depressed and I turned to food. I just went into this deep, downward spiral.”
At Boston College, where she studied biochemistry, Goodenough gained about 100 pounds, and packed on even more after she entered the University of Rochester School of Nursing.
It was at UR that her life would take another turn — this time for the better.
“I met a girl who was vegan,” she recalls. “I didn’t really know what it was, so I did some research.”
Goodenough began reading books on the topic of healthy eating, among them “The China Study,” which looks into the benefits of whole-food, plant-based eating. She had tried a handful of diets over the years with disappointing results, and realized none of them were sustainable over the long-term. Meanwhile, her obesity was starting to affect her health.
“I had a pretty advanced case of fatty liver disease,” she says, and notes the condition can lead to cirrhosis.
Additionally, as is usually the case when one is significantly overweight, her blood pressure was heading in the wrong direction. So she gave plant-based eating a shot.
Goodenough says she at first approached plant-based eating like a diet, but realized that would not be sustainable.
Plant-based eating must be just part of a lifestyle change that also includes mindfulness and exercise.She also came to understand that she had to face the reasons she used food to cope, and resolve those issues at the root.
“I decided to treat this as a foundational paradigm shift of my life,” she says. “It was more than a way to lose weight.” But lose weight she did, dropping more than 150 pounds.“A whole person fell off,” she says with a laugh.
The weight went away, as did her health problems.
Goodenough had always loved cooking, and she started finding healthy alternatives to the unhealthy foods she craved. Her chemistry background came in handy, as she used her understanding of the field to develop her own recipes.
“I found I could replace food textures and flavors and ingredients,” she says, noting dairy products are not part of the plant-based diet, but are ingredients in many foods we enjoy eating.
Goodenough became so adept at creating plant-based meals she began catering on the weekends, on top of her full-time nursing job. She eventually left her nursing career and now owns a catering and prepared-meal business.
She loves spreading the word about how good food and a mindful lifestyle transformed her, and how it can do the same for others. She’s happy to participate in such engagements at any opportunity.
“I see it as a way to share my journey,” she said.
And she does journey, having taken up long-distance running as another aspect of her new life. She has run in what many runners consider to be the nation’s most grueling half-marathon — the Leadville Heavy Half in Colorado. There, runners start at the base of a mountain at 10,000 feet and race to the top at 13,200 feet, then run back down.
“Insanity,” she says of the Heavy Half. “Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I’d one day be able to run, let alone run that kind of race. It was a life-changing experience, that’s for sure.”
Just like her move to a whole-foods, plant-based diet.