“I was a Pre-Diabetic, Went Raw Vegan, Lost 127 LBs, and Never Looked Back”
Ashley Chong received news from her doctor that no one wants to hear: She was "pre-diabetic and extremely overweight." Her MD prescribed both phentermine, an appetite suppressant, and recommended B12 shots. since her bloodwork showed an extreme deficiency of B12 in her body. Scared by the notion that she was on her way to becoming diabetic, Ashley decided to not take the medication, and instead change her diet.
"A pill can't help me get rid of my diabetes," she remembers thinking. Instead, she began to research heart-healthy diets and came across veganism, which sounded promising. She dove into every article she could find about going raw vegan and decided to try the diet for thirty days. Within a month, she lost 31 pounds, or about a pound a day, and had more energy, and the motivation to keep going. Her new lifestyle ended up changing–and she believes saving–her life. Next, she insisted that her husband join her in eating raw vegan, and he lost 75 pounds. Together they decided to raise their baby plant-based as well.
By choosing to only eat uncooked, unprocessed, and animal-free foods, Ashley completely reversed her symptoms of pre-diabetes, obesity, and lethargy. Five years later, when Ashley went for a pregnancy check-up, she had a completely different reaction from her MD: "My doctor was truly amazed. She couldn’t believe my numbers and blood work. She told me my blood work and blood pressure were both perfect. She checked all of my vitamin and cholesterol levels, and blood sugar levels and told me to keep doing whatever I was doing."
After such life-changing results, Ashley feels like a new person. In the 8 years since she started her raw vegan journey, she has lost a total of 127 pounds, and "gained so much physically and mentally." Now she works to inspire others to eat more vegetables, raw or cooked, and take control of their health outcome. Ashley encourages people to follow a specific method of pairing foods together for even more nutritional value, a practice known as food combing. Here she shares her secrets to success and a healthier, happier lifestyle.
The Beet: When and why did you decide to go vegan?
AC: "I went vegan on April 1st, 2012, primarily because I wanted to lose weight. That was my number one reason. I started to research ways not to go vegan was motivated by weight loss.
I had gone to a doctor because I was extremely overweight, and he put me on phentermine and tried to get me to take B-12 shots. I remember the doctor telling me that I was pre-diabetic. I just started to think about it and came to the conclusion that a pill would never be able to help me get rid of that, so I started researching on my own. I found an article about a plant-based diet and how going vegan can help you get healthier. I had a high school teacher that was vegan. I remember her telling the students about it, and I remember thinking to myself, “I’ll never go vegan, that’s so crazy. I will never do that.” After I read the article, I decided I wanted to try it. I started doing some more research, and I came across raw veganism. I thought I would try it for 30 days. I thought, “I’m just going to give it 30 days.” I started seeing other people’s transformations, and I was like, “Ok, I’m going to do this.” I did it for 30 days, and I couldn't go back. I felt so amazing."
The Beet: Did you go straight into a vegan diet, or did you follow a meal plan?
AC: "I pretty much went straight into it. I researched how to do it a week in advance. I didn’t follow a meal plan; I just went raw vegan on my own. I wasn’t doing any food combining or anything like that at the time. I just thought: If it’s raw and if it’s plant-based, I’ll eat it. I didn’t count any calories."
The Beet: What kind of results did you see in those initial thirty days?
AC: "I lost 31 pounds in those first 30 days. A lot of that was water weight and a lot of inflammation that had built up in my body. I had been eating a really poor standard American diet before, so I knew a lot of that was water weight. But I did lose a good amount those first 30 days. I remember by the end of that I was 31 pounds down. It was just the motivation I needed to keep going."
The Beet: What was your weight at the time?
AC: "When I started I weighed 253 pounds, and now I weigh about 126 pounds."
The Beet: So you Lost Half Your Weight! Amazing. How do you feel now?
AC: "I feel amazing. I feel like I’ve gained so much, both mentally and psychically. Everything feels better. In the beginning, my body was taking in so many of the nutrients from the fruit and vegetables, I felt amazing. I was vibing with nature, it was crazy. As the years went on and my body continues to feel clean, on a raw vegan diet,I feel even better now. My doctor was truly amazed. She couldn’t believe my numbers and my blood work when I went back to her. She told me my blood work and blood pressure were both perfect. She checked all of my levels and told me to keep doing whatever I was doing."
"My skin cleared up. The first 30 days, all the toxins were being washed out of my body so I saw major changes in my skin. And by day 60 my skin was totally clear and it’s stayed that way. I had one or two little pimples while I was pregnant, from the hormone, but other than that it’s been pretty clear."
What kind of difference did you see in your energy and mood eating raw foods?
AC: "My mood changed completely. Before, I wouldn’t say that I was depressed, but I would get sad sometimes, and get angry a lot easier. I remember how that completely switched for me. I was so happy just picking flowers, I just felt so connected to the earth. Just so happy. My mood and vibrations, positivity, whatever you want to call it, went through the roof. I’m definitely very grateful for that."
The Beet: Talk to me about raw veganism and what it means to you?
AC: "A raw vegan diet is different from a typical diet because you are removing cooked foods. The basis of raw foodism is that life promotes life, so if you eating a lot of living foods, you’re going to be getting a lot of living nutrients -- as opposed to when you cook something, you’re eating food that’s dead. As a human, you wouldn’t survive in an oven at 350 or 450 degrees, and the same thing goes with your food. It is a living thing, a plant is a living organism that’s getting its nutrition from the sun, water, and soil. So if you take that leaf and then cook it, some of the nutrition dies. That’s the basis of raw foodism: Life will promote life. You want living nutrients flooding your body."
The Beet: What does your meal look like on a normal day?
AC: "For breakfast, I’ll have a ton of whatever fruit is in season. It’s lots of fruit: If it’s pomegranate season, I’ll have a bunch of pomegranates. If it’s mango season, I’ll have mangos. I’ll have those along with a nutrient-dense green smoothie. Lunch will be anything from raw crackers to raw onion bread with lots of vegetables in between. Or a raw flax wrap with a lot of tahini and vegetables, along with a large salad with sprouted nuts and seeds. I’ll add sprouts or microgreens, lots of types of greens in there. All the colors. Dinner could be anything from a raw vegan pizza to a raw vegan alfredo. For a dessert, I’ll do something I call “banana pastry” that’s bananas rolled up into a cinnamon roll. I’ll dehydrate those so it’s kind of like a cinnamon bun type thing."
The Beet: How do you make a raw vegan pizza?
AC: "You’ll have a flax and nut crust with raw marinara on top. Then I’ll top it with some marinated mushrooms and bell peppers. Any type of vegetable I have on hand. Then I’ll put the whole thing into a dehydrator and it’ll dehydrate together, and I’ll cut it into slices."
The Beet: Was it hard to make such a big transition at first?
AC: "No, actually, it wasn’t hard for me because I was so inspired about what I had researched. I was really gung-ho about gaining the same kind of health that other people were gaining (that I had read about). I saw that a plant-based diet was so superior to the way I was eating. I was only 21 at the time, so I guess I never really understood the connection between food and health, and how your diet affects you mentally and spiritually as well as physically. So it wasn’t hard at all. I wanted to do it and I fell in love with it, and still am."
The Beet: What was the biggest challenge you faced?
AC: "I think the biggest challenge was telling my family and friends about my new way of eating. My boyfriend at the time, who is now my husband, saw what I was doing. He would ask if I was eating healthy or if I was getting enough protein, all those kinds of things. That was my biggest hurdle: convincing loved ones that this is a healthy way to eat. But food-wise, I was so drawn to the lifestyle that it wasn’t hard for me."
The Beet: You mentioned your husband, is he vegan?
AC: "Yes, actually. I went raw vegan first, in April, and he decided to do it six months later, in October. The difference is he went vegan but doesn't eat raw–so now he’s been vegan ever since. He also lost a ton of weight as well, about 75 to 80 pounds."
The Beet: That's amazing! Did you inspire him to make the switch?
AC: "I definitely inspired him. At first, he’d say, “So if my mom makes you dinner are you not going to eat it?” Or, “if we have kids and my mom makes her chicken are you not going to let her eat it?” I told him probably not. Then a couple of months later, he decided my diet made sense. He saw how much energy I had and wanted to try. So that October he went vegan and has been vegan ever since."
The Beet: What does your daughter eat?
AC: "She eats a typical plant-based diet. She eats about 50 to 60% raw food, but she has quinoa, beans, sprouted Ezekiel bread, lots of sweet potatoes, and squash along with her raw meals like fruits and veggies. She eats a whole-food, plant-based diet. I was completely raw throughout the entire pregnancy. My midwife kind of questioned it at first, but once she saw my bloodwork and all of the numbers, she was on board."
The Beet: How did you deal with food cravings while pregnant?
AC: "I didn’t really crave much. I did have morning sickness, I get that question a lot. I would throw up whatever fruit I had the first thing. The only thing I stopped eating while I was pregnant was orange juice. I didn’t juice my oranges, I would just eat them because the acidity in my stomach just wasn’t working. Even now, and while I was pregnant, if I have a craving for something, I’ll just have a raw alternative.
For sweets, I’ll do raw brownies or raw apple or sweet potato pies. There’s always an alternative. Just grab a few dates if you don’t have a ton of time."
The Beet: Sounds delicious! How do you make your raw brownies?
AC: "I put walnuts in the food processor, with a little bit of salt, vanilla, and cacao. After that’s processed I’ll add dates and then it turns into a chunky consistency. After that, I put it in a pan and just freeze it and cut it into squares. Dates and nuts are an amazing combination. When my husband is craving something sweet he’ll just take a date and dip it in almond butter, and it’s so good."
The Beet: What is your main source of raw vegan protein?
AC: "Probably hemp and pumpkin seeds. I eat them every day. I’ll eat them plain, or in a salad. I’ll blend them up into a dip where I take pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, garlic, and blend them in my Vitamix with a little bit of water and coconut amino acids. I’ll dip raw crackers into it."
The Beet: What’s going out to restaurants like? What do you usually order?
AC: "I’ll talk to the chef if we’re going out to eat as a family. We rarely go out. I’ll tell them I only eat raw fruits and vegetables and they’ll make a salad with whatever raw vegetables they have and put it all together. If I know I’m going out to eat with the family, I’ll bring dressing with me or have a balsamic vinaigrette. There’s a restaurant here in Charleston called Verde that’s a build your own salad bar, so I usually go there. Or I’ll eat at Whole Foods Salad Bar, but we usually eat at home."
The Beet: What kind of grains do you eat? No rice, no quinoa!
AC: "No, so no rice, no quinoa. I’ll do cauliflower rice. I make a Spanish style cauliflower rice and add a raw tomato paste and bell peppers, and put it in the dehydrator with some spices. But no actual grains."
The Beet: Why do you dehydrate your food? Is it more of a taste thing?
AC: "It’s more for beginners that might want that warm taste of cooked texture. You can still get that by dehydrating, but keep the nutrients because a dehydrator runs at 115 degrees or less. It’s how you can make raw crackers or flax wraps, kale chips, things like that. You can keep them raw by putting them into a dehydrator."
The Beet: How time-consuming is your meal prep?
AC: "There’s one of two things. If you want to do dehydrated foods, you can plan in advance. You can be as simple or as gourmet with this way of living as you want. For example, if you want dehydrated crackers on a Thursday, you could make a big bunch earlier in the week. The other thing is you don’t have to eat in a gourmet raw way. You don’t need to eat raw crackers or anything like that. You can always just take a bunch of mangos on the go, or put your salad in a pyrex container and have that. It can be that simple. Or you can make the flax wraps and the crackers where it’s a little bit more difficult but I enjoy the lifestyle so I do that. For people on the go, you can make the lifestyle simple and eat the food as nature made it. You’ll still benefit from eating it that way."
The Beet: You're inspiring me to eat raw! What's your best piece of advice?
AC: "I tell people that you don’t have to be 100 percent raw. That’s just where my journey has led me at this point. Even if you just incorporate a lot more raw foods in your diet, you’ll feel all of that living nutrition and energy and see how it makes your body feel. You’ll feel so different. I tell people that even the raw till four diets is a good one because you’re flooding yourself with living nutrients. It’s about incorporating it into your own lifestyle really."
The Beet: What advice do you have for someone who is starting a raw vegan diet?
AC: "I would say just incorporate as much as you can. Don’t get upset if you slip and eat cooked food. As long as it's a whole plant-based food don’t get upset because that’s still a very healthy way to eat. If you’re going raw, research and educate yourself on food combining because that makes or breaks a lot of people. If you’re not combining your foods properly, you’re going to get a lot of gas. You’re just not going to feel as comfortable in your digestive system. Definitely look into food combining. It’s a major topic and I think people definitely don’t talk about it enough honestly."
The Beet: Can you tell us more about food combining and what it does for your body?
AC: "In very basic, general terms, eat your raw food alone on an empty stomach. Don’t combine it with any fats, like avocado or nuts and seeds. Don’t eat watermelon with a walnut. Don’t eat an avocado with your mango. Things like that. For me, to be clear, in the beginning just focus on eating raw and then look into food combining. First, get that down and then continue on your journey. It allows your body to actually absorb the nutrients in the food. Imagine your eating fruit and a nut at the same time, the fruit is going to want to digest faster because it’s mostly made from water. Your body is going to want to digest and take in those nutrients first, but if you’re eating that along with walnut or avocado because it’s fatty, it takes a lot longer for that to digest. They’re competing in the digestive system to digest. So the fruit will ferment and you won’t get the nutrients from the fruit of the avocado really. It’s just going to just sludge through and you’re not going to get as much as you could absorb."
The Beet: What are you working on now? Are you diving more into plant-based living?
AC: "Yes. I help people wanting to transition into a mostly raw diet. Not all of them are 100 percent raw, but if they just want to start incorporating more, I share cooking videos, recipes, a weekly meal plan, and inspirational quotes. I just talk to them about raw food education. I have 114 members right now."
The Beet: Do you have a mantra? If so, what’s your mantra?
AC: "Keep going and keep trying. If you fail, just keep going. If you’re doing this for your health, just keep going. You will reap the benefits of it."