Sometimes it takes other people to motivate us to change, and that’s why I went searching for the coolest vegan transformation stories out there. This is only a cross-section of well-known American figures, but I know that there are many more individuals out there who can attest to their own personal journeys. If you’ve got one, please share it in the comments!
As I’m just shy of two years into my fully plant-based diet, I’m continuing to track the instances of my pain (a symptom of hypochlorhydria) and look forward to seeing how my ongoing vegan diet affects it.
Without further adieu, let’s start with one of the most recently documented vegan before & after stories.
1. Kevin Smith
You can see from actor Kevin Smith’s video above that in 2015, he was already looking a lot healthier than he did earlier in his career. On February 25, 2018, Smith suffered from a heart attack. His daughter, a long-time vegan, was his wake-up call–she urged him to go fully plant-based.
“I had one of those heart attacks, and I didn’t feel it coming, I just couldn’t quite catch my breath. So for me, I misconstrued it as ‘I’ve smoked way too much weed today.’ That wasn’t the case at all,” he shared on The Russell Howard Hour in December 2019. His doctor told him that the type of heart attack he had was known as a ‘widowmaker’; 80% of patients with his level of arterial blockage die.
Above is a video of Smith talking to Joe Rogan about his health regimen. He’s just shy of his 50th birthday and I have to say he looks and sounds pretty damn good. One of my uncles had a heart attack about a decade ago, and it was a wake-up call for his entire family to eat healthier and keep fit. They haven’t gone vegan, but I can see how much they’ve changed the preparation of a lot of Filipino dishes they used to make, and it seems to be paying off for all of them.
You should also check out this sweet interview with Smith’s daughter Harley Quinn, and this video from Men’s Health on his fridge and home gym. I want my own vegan fridge!
2. Pat Reeves
In her youth, British athlete Pat Reeves knew that given her familial genetic situation and the experimental medical treatment she’d undergone, she was at considerable risk of developing osteosarcoma, a serious genetic cancer stemming from original meningioma. She had to attain a high level of fitness to postpone eventual carcinomas, and started practicing Nutritional Medicine. In 1977 at the age of 32, powerlifter Reeves was diagnosed with cancer and it was then when she began to adopt a whole food, plant-based diet.
The video above is a short doc on Reeves from 2017, still lifting at whopping the age of 75.
After her diagnosis, she learned to swim and began cycling and running (and winning) marathons. She then turned to bodybuilding, weight lifting and eventually powerlifting, for which she would go onto break world records, right up until five years ago for her age category. She said this about her plant-based diet: “Although initially diagnosed with osteoporosis before the bone cancer, I have reversed this condition, through repeated application of anaerobic training and a non-dairy diet!”
This grandma attributes her control of 14 bone tumours, her level of energy, and recovery from training to her vegan diet.
3. Rich Roll
Ultra-endurance athlete and father Rich Roll wasn’t always in great shape. When he turned 40, he was a mega carnivore, almost 200 pounds, and living a sedentary lifestyle despite previously being a world-ranked competitive swimmer. It started in 2007 with a five-day cleanse in which he fed on organic fruit and vegetable juices and herbal broths using Dr. Shulze’s Superfood and products. He gave up caffeine and started a vegetarian diet, but wasn’t losing much weight.
Then he decided to go vegan. He says on his website: “Almost immediately, I felt a HUGE energy shift. I felt lighter and my energy levels escalated and remained high throughout the day. Absent were those energy lulls I felt after meals, something I thought I just had to live with. In short, I felt amazing. My strength and endurance levels increased quickly and my cravings for dairy slowly dissipated. I began working out more, the weight came off and I just started feeling better and better. I did a few triathlon races, and after only a small amount of training, I did well. Six months into the vegan diet, I was down to a lean and mean 165 lbs (30 lb+ drop), ripped and hooked.
A year later, I am working with a coach, am training 26 hours a week and am as fit as I have been since I was 20 years old. I’m not as fast as I was in the pool in those days, but I am handling similar pool yardage and I have to say that my running and cycling are far better than they have ever been, despite being competitive in the sport in my 20’s. And my endurance is far beyond what I could do at that age.”
Looking great at 53 years old, he is also one of the coolest vegan podcast interviewers.
4. Mac Danzig
Prior to becoming four-time King Of The Cage Lightweight Champion (for Southern California mixed martial-arts athletes) and Ultimate Fighter 6 winner, Mac Danzig was raised on 2% milk more than any other beverage because his family “didn’t know any better and there were so many commercials about milk – like the milk campaigns that they are still doing.” He drank so much milk that he ended up with an allergy to it in 1999, before beginning his career in 2001 at the age of 21.
2004 was the last time Danzig had meat or fish. He said that he had been researching nutrition for a long time, and didn’t go vegan right away, even though “personally, morally and ethically” he wanted to. He saw examples of athletes who were vegan and getting good results, and went for it.
He said in this UFC interview, “Today you have processed meats and a lot of animals suffering unnecessarily…Now, some people just blow that off and don’t have a conscience about it or they just don’t care. They wouldn’t eat their dog but they feel that way about other animals. But for me, I just decided to stop eating meat.”
Although Danzig retired from fighting in 2014 due to injury, you can see his last win against Joe Condon for the 2017 CFL Junior Welterweight Championship by rear-naked choke here:
As for the protein question most athletes get, Danzig says: “You don’t need 1g of protein per pound of body weight…at all. If you are regularly active and at a good weight, if you get more than 80g of protein a day then you are fine. The body can’t even process more than that, your liver can’t process more than that. If you give your body too much protein then it’s either going to turn it into energy or to fat. And your liver has to do all that.“
5. Christine Vardaros
Christine “Peanut” Vardaros is a professional cyclist who began her career in 1996. Like Roll, Vardaros went vegetarian on a whim in 1999, but then became vegan in 2000.
In 2019, Vardos said this in a Switch4Good video: “After my first professional cycling race – which was an absolute disaster – I starting doing research to see what I can do to change things up. And every single sign pointed to a dairy-free diet. So immediately I ditched the dairy, and my results went sky high. My recovery was instantaneous. I was no longer sick every day, and I felt 20 years younger. If I had one piece of advice for every single athlete out there in the whole entire world, I would say ditch the dairy. That will make the biggest difference in your career.”
After starting her professional career in mountain biking, Vardaros switched to road cycling and made the US team in 2001. She’s represented the US in over 30 World Cups and World Championship races combined, and now competes in cyclocross, a rough sport that requires athletes to traverse challenging terrain and even obstacles. Did I mention she’s 50?
6. Meagan Duhamel
Canadian figure pair skating Olympian Meagan Duhamel was already vegan for six years before she competed to win her first team Olympic silver medal in 2014, which is why she comes at #6. In 2008, she read the book Skinny Bitch, which she said highlights the unhealthy diets of our generation. She told LIVEKINDLY: “I tried to go vegan and quit drinking diet coke all in one night, and going vegan was a lot easier than quitting the diet coke!”
What’s crazy is in the year before switching her diet, Duhamel’s partner at the time, Craig Buntin, suffered injuries despite them winning bronze at the Canadian Nationals in January. In November, Duhamel accidentally sliced Buntin’s hand a minute into the program on their side-by-side salchow jumps. The pair stopped to get Buntin’s hand bandaged and then resumed the program to win the bronze.
In 2014, Duhamel and her subsequent partner Eric Radford were the first pair to perform a side-by-side triple lutz at a Winter Olympics. That year, Duhamel told the Huffington Post that she was just going to go vegan until the 2010 Olympics, but she didn’t go and then ended up liking it so much, she decided to do it for the rest of her life.
If that wasn’t evidence enough, Duhamel’s future bronze and gold medals (in pairs – above – and team) in 2018 confirm that her vegan diet was indeed good for her career. She said she started to have better energy, sleep better, and her skin and concentration level on the ice improved. She also noticed some psychological changes: “I was becoming more patient and compassionate and more understanding and calm…I think this happened because I was no longer putting angry, scared, and aggressive animals into my body, and this allowed everything in and around me to calm down.”
Duhamel has retired from skating and now coaches in Oakville. Her website, Lutz of Greens – is a play on the lutz figure skating jump. See what she did there? Wordplay.
It’s so true what they say: you are what you eat. When you don’t consume animal products, you become the ideal you. Take it from these amazing folks!