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On May 28, Tracy Harp, a caseworker with the Ontario County Department of Social Services, hiked to the top of Cascade Mountain in the Adirondacks with her husband, Greg (from right) and sons Josh and Kaleb.

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Tracy Harp, a caseworker employed by the Ontario County Department of Social Services, has battled weight gain her entire adult life with little success—until now.

The varying levels of success Harp experienced from traditional dieting never lasted. By her mid-40s, Harp had all the symptoms of pre-diabetes and pre-hypertension, and she faced a future filled with medications and deteriorating health.

At one point, Harp’s weight had gone up to 260 pounds, but she has since dropped 80 pounds and is within 30 pounds of her goal weight of 150. What’s her secret? Vegetables.

Documentary Inspiration

In January 2015, Harp and her husband, Greg, watched the documentary Forks Over Knives, which examined the work of nutritional scientist T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr., author of the book Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease and a former U.S. Olympic Rowing Champion.

The documentary reported that most, if not all, degenerative diseases can be controlled or even reversed by following a whole-foods, plant-based diet.

The documentary persuaded the couple to radically change what they ate. “This is not dieting. It’s a lifestyle change. I went in 110% on day one,” Harp says.

Better Food Choices

Since making the switch, Harp says she has discovered entirely new and deliciously satisfying world of food and food preparation. Her whole-foods, plant-based diet is loaded with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and an occasional sweetener, like maple syrup. It excludes meat, oil, dairy, and processed foods including processed flours and sweeteners.

Harp admits the initial change was difficult. She especially craved candy and sugar, but she fought through the cravings.

“I learned that sugar activates the same part of your brain as cocaine,” she says. “It’s addictive. I gave it up.”

Cooking and planning also demanded effort. But she says the rewards are far more delicious than any food on her “not an option” list. Some of her favorite meals are: whole-grain spaghetti with vegetables, and veggie lasagna, and frozen banana blended with unsweetened cocoa powder for dessert.

Within the first two weeks of starting her plant-based diet, Harp’s chronic heartburn disappeared entirely and she saw improvements in her complexion. She lost 10 pounds—a victory for Harp who, at the time, weighed 260 pounds.

At the three-month mark in April 2015, her cholesterol had dropped from 198 to 140, and she had lost even more weight. These days, 18 months later, Harp’s life is transformed. She has lost 80 pounds and is confident about losing her last 30.

Her cholesterol is at 129, and her blood pressure and glucose are normal. Her pre-menstrual symptoms have disappeared and she no longer needs her sleep apnea machine.

Feeling Renewed

Harp has also become much more active. Her family has always loved water sports and water skiing, but Harp was always an observer, fearful of participating due to her weight.

“My boys, for so many years had a mom that couldn’t do things with them,” she says. “That made me sad.”

With her newfound lifestyle Harp has found a new level of resolve to make that difference.

She practiced Pilates to strengthen her muscles. Then in May 2016, she victoriously hiked up two Adirondack peaks. One month later, after four attempts, in front of her proud, cheering family, Harp successfully stood up and waterskied.

For Harp, the best reward has been her improved quality of life and the time she gets to spend with Greg and her two sons, Josh, 20, and Kaleb, 18.

This article originally ran on communityhealthmagazine.com.

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