Blame it on logic. When author and wellness guru Kathy Freston first entertained the idea of becoming a vegan, she was playing around with her chihuahua Lhotse. “I was rubbing her belly and I said, ‘Oh, I love this dog so much!'”says Kathy. “I was thinking how happy I felt being around animals and suddenly this little voice inside me said, ‘Well, if you love animals so much, why do you eat them?’ Oh…trapped!”
This was in 2001, when some people would still roll their eyes if you said you didn’t eat meat. (Today, you can join a long list of cool vegans and vegetarians that includes Jennifer Lopez, Brad Pitt, Anne Hathaway, Carrie Underwood, Chris Martin, Alec Baldwin and Pink.) And growing up a traditional Southern girl, Kathy was used to her milkshakes and burgers. “I didn’t even know where to begin,” she says. “It was pretty foreign to me. But I decided to slowly lean into it by giving up one animal at a time, starting with cows and pigs and then going down the list until I had replaced them all with plant-based food. That way it didn’t feel overwhelming.”
The process, which took two years, had surprising benefits. “I was eating a ton of food, but I started to lose weight,” says Kathy, who is the kind of tall, beautiful woman you’d never think had a weight problem — or a bad hair day — in her life. “It was effortless! I’d always struggled with belly fat and had a tire around my belly that I couldn’t get rid of no matter how hard I tried. And suddenly it just disappeared.” Her skin also cleared up and the cellulite on her thighs vanished. “That was so odd and awesome!”
Still, the most profound change was the one she felt in her heart.”I think most of us are kind, compassionate people who don’t want to cause suffering,” she says. “But when we’re eating animal foods, we’re complicit with violence and pain. Moving away from that, there’s an incredible sense of freedom. You suddenly live in sync with your values and your principles and the things you hold most dear. I feel so connected with all of life now. It makes me feel happy and peaceful, but it also makes me feel powerful.”
While Kathy is currently off hiking the Inca Trail in Peru, I’m excited to share the simple — yet important — things in her life that bring her joy. I’m hoping you’ll get inspired, and that some of her kindness and extraordinary energy rubs off on you. It certainly did on me.
Sweet Trixie: “My rescue dog Trixie is my four-legged child. When I lost my chihuahua Lhotse [named after the small peak next to Mount Everest], the grief was so big I didn’t think I could ever have another dog. But after a while I felt my home wasn’t a real home without a little critter running around, so I found this little gal through Petfinder.com. Her sweet face was staring at me and we fell in love, and now she’s my constant companion. You never think you can love another dog like your last one, but then someone new comes into your life and your heart opens up again.”
Her Vegan Shoe Closet: “I’m obsessed with shoes! It was pretty darn easy to give up steaks, but it wasn’t easy to give up the Jimmy Choos. At first it was a big challenge for me, but then I made it into a sport. My motto is crowding out, not cutting out. So instead of saying, ‘I can’t have these gorgeous shoes,’ I challenged myself to finding really beautiful shoes that were not made of leather. I love Charles David and their whole Charles line is vegan. I also treat myself once in a while to Stella McCartney and I balance it out with Payless.”
Dream Office: “I’ve designed my life so I never have to get out of cozy clothes and go to an office. I love being on my veranda writing with my dog nearby. I’m very lucky to be able to work this way. I’ve never been one to be able to navigate corporate culture. I don’t think I’d be very good at it! And as you can see, I haven’t quite moved into the digital age yet: I still use a day planner — a non-leather one — because I like to flip through the pages, make notes to myself and reflect on what happened that day. In some ways, it’s a diary of your life.”
Mindful Meals: “I love the traditions surrounding food. I like eating ice cream when it’s hot outside, or having a hardy meal with friends. Food makes me feel connected to my family and my community, and it’s one of the things that binds us together. I want to live my life to the fullest and enjoy all the things life has to offer, so I’ve just tweaked my diet so it’s healthier and more conscious. And it’s a lot easier being “good” if you’re a vegan, because when you’re at a regular restaurant there are usually not that many vegan desserts. My favorite restaurant is Craig’s and they have amazing vegan food and desserts. I’m going to be in big trouble if more mainstream restaurants offer more vegan desserts, because then I’ll have to start using my discipline!”
View From The Top: “Some people go to the gym every day, but I hit the hiking trails. I’m lucky to live in Southern California where there are so many beautiful hikes. To me, being in the mountains feels like being in church. I get so much clarity when I’m out in the fresh air and pulling my body weight up the hills. I also love traveling, and hiking is a great way to learn about a new place. Whether I’m in Burma or India or Peru, I like to take a hike. It gives me a sense of the geography of a place, both physically and spiritually.”
Animal Refuge: “I wanted to go and meet the animals I was no longer eating, so I went to the Farm Sanctuary outside Los Angeles. Being here, I realized the chickens and the cows and the pigs I was meeting were no different than my little dog, who sparked this whole line of thought. I was so close to my dog, but I had never looked into the eyes of a cow or turkey. When I finally did, I knew they were just as lovely. I plan on visiting once a year, because I want to keep reminding myself that these animals are individuals and they have the same spark of life in them that resides in me.”
Sunset Junkie: “I have a tendency to get caught up in my own thoughts and my own inner dialogue. But if I stop what I’m doing and watch the sunset, or if I get up early in the morning and watch the sunrise, everything seems to shake out. I realize there’s a bigger picture and something more important at work than my own little day-to-day challenges. So for that reason, I guess you can say I’m a bit of a sunset junkie.”
Kathy is the author of several New York Times best-sellers including Veganist and her latest book The Lean: A Revolutionary (and Simple!) 30-Day Plan for Healthy, Lasting Weight Loss. You can visit her website and follow her on Twitter at @kathyfreston.
All photographs courtesy of Kathy Freston ©2013.