Leith Walsh on Making A Change to Improve Her Health

For the past few weeks, I have been writing about making changes to improve your health. To further encourage you on your change for health journey, I want to share what one of my readers has done to improve her health. Meet Leith Walsh. Leith called me in January to let me know that she had taken the brave step of becoming a vegetarian. I was super excited for her, and of course, I had numerous questions; therefore, I sat down with Leith for an interview, and she was more than happy to share her story with me.

I asked Leith the burning question that I knew everyone would have…Why did she become a vegetarian? Leith shared with me that she had developed digestive issues that caused frequent constipation and difficulty digesting food. “It was really bad,” she said. As a result, Leith went to Urgent Care; however, they could not help her, so they recommended that she visit her primary care doctor to get a gastrointestinal test. Now, this all happened when COVID-19 was at its peak; therefore, when Leith contacted her primary care doctor, she was told that they were unable to do the test because of the restrictions that were in place; furthermore, her condition was not considered an emergency. With no alternatives, Leith took matters into her own hands. She began experimenting, or as she calls it, “playing around” with foods to see what triggered or alleviated her symptoms. “I tried eating less starch and eliminating different foods,” Leith said. “Sometimes I would get relief for a week or so then my symptoms would return.”

Leith needed a solution, so in August 2020, she and her mom decided to do the lemonade cleanse, which is a mixture of maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and lemon. The cleanse lasted 10 days. Before starting the cleanse, Leith was a little concerned. “I thought I would be hungry,” she said. “But I was pleasantly surprised because I wasn’t hungry. Instead, my body and mind felt cleansed and even more amazing, the cleanse took away my craving for meat.” Leith said this was not what she had set out to do, but it is what happened, and she is not complaining about it. After 10 days, Leith slowly transitioned back to eating regular food but mostly vegetables.

I pointed out to Leith that going meat-free is a huge step and she readily admitted that it is. “I thought when I stopped eating meat and sugar—sugar because prior to my cleanse, I had reduced my sugar intake by about 80 percent—that my energy would drop, but exactly the opposite happened. I am as active as before, and I probably even have more energy now. As a matter of fact, I work on the fourth floor of a high-rise building, and I take the stairs every day, and even after a long day at the office, I still have energy.”

With all that energy, I was tempted to ask Leith how she kept up with herself, but instead I asked her to tell me about her past and current eating habits. Leith said she did not think her past eating habits were bad. After her second bout with cancer, she had gradually made changes to her eating habits, so her diet was pretty balanced, but of course old habits are hard to die so despite her good intentions, Leith reverted to some of her old habits such as consuming sweets. “I would take a piece of sweet here and there, but that one piece was never satisfying, so I would keep going back for more.” 

As for her current eating habits, Leith now cooks mostly vegetarian meals. Her cooking days are Sundays after church. She likes to cook one-pot meals. One of her favorite one-pot meals is okra and rice. She has also increased the varieties of vegetables she eats. Leith no longer eats late at night, and she now eats only two meals per day instead of three meals. She eats breakfast/brunch around 11:30 am and lunch/dinner around 3 to 4 pm. After lunch/dinner, Leith does not eat until the next day. This way of eating can be considered intermittent fasting. For Leith, this helps with weight management and her digestive issues. If Leith feels peckish after eating her two meals for the day, she snacks on nuts and seeds.  

I asked Leith how she felt about the way she eats now and what she wished she knew then that she knows now. “I like the way I eat now because it is healthy,” Leith said. “I concentrate on my health, control what I eat, and I know how what I eat affects my body. I really like the choice I have made because I am in control of what I put into my body. I am cooking more, and I am enjoying it.” One thing Leith wished she knew then that she knows now is how bad sugar and sweets are for people’s health. “I grew up eating lots of sweets—cookies, bulla (a Jamaican sweet cake), bun, and so on. I would eat sweets for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I basically fed off sweets in my twenties. I wish I knew then how addictive sweets are.

Since becoming a vegetarian, Leith has had both positive and negative experiences. On the positive side, her health has improved tremendously. She has lots of energy and the sluggish feelings she once had have all disappeared. The lemonade cleanse was another positive experience. She thought she would be hungry, but she wasn’t. Having her mom along with her was also positive and motivating. She also likes that she spends more time cooking. Leith only cited one negative experience. She finds it difficult to come up with recipes for meals.

Leith’s transition to a vegetarian diet has not been without its challenges. “I still struggle with sweets,” Leith said. “If I dare touch sweets, my whole day is ruined because I keep going back for seconds, thirds, and so on. It is hard to resist sweets.” Leith also has foods that she misses eating. For example, her favorite meat dishes were oxtails and curry goat. Those were the only two meat she would order when she ate out and not being able to eat them has been a struggle.

Notwithstanding, Leith wished she had made the transition to a vegetarian diet much sooner because she believes people’s diet help determine how long they live, and Leith noted that if you live a long time, you have to be concerned about your quality of life. What quality of life will you have as you get older because of the eating choices you made when you were longer? Leith told me about her 87-year-old aunt. Her aunt is very healthy. She takes public transportation to the gym three times a week and she eats dinner at 2:30 every day. Leith believes these habits have contributed to her aunt’s longevity. 

Leith notes that starting is the hardest part of making the change to improve one’s health. She said, “Making the decision to start is hard, but once you make the decision and commit, it gets easier. It is a struggle, and the struggle is real.” Finally, as many people know making changes is not easy, and people sometimes fall back into old habits. I asked Leith about this, and she said, “It is okay to accept setbacks. Just don’t stay there. Keep moving. You are going to have setbacks. I have plenty of setbacks. Don’t give up. Keep pushing forward. Sometimes you take small steps. Sometimes you take giant steps. Sometimes you fall back. Get back up and take a step again. The decision will benefit you in the long term.”

To wrap up the interview, I asked Leith what advice would she give to people who want to make a change to improve their health? “For people who are thinking about making a change to improve their help, I recommend they do their research.” Leith also suggests that people take an assessment of what they currently eat and why they want to make the change. The self-assessment will help them get an idea of where they are and where they want to be. Additionally, Leith advises people to become aware of their body, mind, and soul. Finally, she encourages people to take things one step at a time.