My Healthy 2020

I’m a Widow in My 60s and the Best Thing I’ve Done for My Health Is to Eat More Vegetables

updated Apr 14, 2020
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Design: Kitchn; Photo: Courtesy of Valarie Taylor

10 years ago Valarie Taylor was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, a condition she believes was brought on by the stress of becoming a widow. She also believes that adding more vegetables to her diet is what finally pulled her away from death’s door. “As I incorporated more and more vegetables, my energy started increasing and I started listening to what my gut wanted. I think your gut does whisper to you if you’re willing to listen.”

I talked to Valarie about the major lifestyle change she made and why she believes eating her largest meal of the day first (she skips breakfast!) has also improved her health.

20 people, 20 stories of what healthy means for them in 2020.

My Healthy: Eat More Vegetables

  • Name: Valarie Taylor
  • Location & Occupation: Retiree in Texas
  • How Long : 10 years

What does “healthy” mean to you?
Feeling your internal organs speak to you daily by saying, “Yes, give me more if that” or “No, I don’t want that.” I believe the gut is always speaking to you.

So health for you is defined in relation to how your body communicates with you? I can so relate to being in a place where you can hear your gut talk to you. For others who don’t get that, can you explain it?
It’s an almost indescribable feeling; it’s a feeling of feeling good. If I ate a great big meal, and my body didn’t agree with it, I would immediately want to go to sleep or I would feel heavy in the stomach. On the flip side, if I eat a big plant-based meal, I could go out and run or move. I would feel so much energy. That’s my body saying, “Yes, I like what you’re giving me.” It translates into an almost perfect quality of life. I’m in my sixties and I know how to turn this feeling off and on.

What does this back-and-forth conversation mean to you and your overall well-being? 
We all know there are moments (like Christmas) when we’re going to overeat but my body will tell me, “It’s okay that you did this but you need to check yourself because I’m not feeling well.” It’s important because it feels like I can control however many years I have left on this earth simply with food. I can control my quality of life simply with food. I’ve been around plenty of people who can’t do this or they’re gone. They didn’t get the right information. I feel like I can live a good quality of life. I won’t be a burden to my children. They know that mom is going to take care of herself. It’s about the quality of life.

What eating style helps you feel your healthiest?
I have a thyroid disease called Graves’ Disease. It causes brain fog, drains my energy, the whole bit. I had to figure out what I was going to do so I started eating just a little bit better initially. I experimented a lot until I figured out that my gut likes leafy greens and it likes when I eat my largest meal first after skipping breakfast. I’m just not hungry in the morning. At around noon, I prepare my big meal. Today, it was a big salad with dandelion greens, spinach, chickpeas, and a grilled cheese sandwich. (I post it on my Instagram each day.) That meal will carry me until 7 p.m. when I’ll eat something like fruit, nuts, or a cookie — something light and easy. It could be citrus or even some of my leftover salad. When I wake the next morning, I still feel full so I fast until lunch. I also exercise with a trainer twice per week. After 10 years of trying different thyroid treatments, this way of eating and moving got my levels back to normal.

What were your goals when you made that change?
I wanted to improve my health as a result of Graves’ Disease which I believe was caused by stress from becoming a widow. I had low energy, brain fog, and major weight loss. I looked like I was on death’s door. I attribute it all to my stress from watching my husband get sicker and sicker from pancreatic cancer. 

How did you start eating more vegetables? What motivation pushed you on?
I started eating more vegetables after I lost my husband. I looked at my face and saw the shadow of death on my own face. I went for a walk and I couldn’t walk to the first set of benches and that’s just one eighth of a mile from my home. I was exhausted getting there. I decided to do something about it. I didn’t change my diet immediately; I just started eating more vegetables then. I made a complete shift after I met my trainer. It took me a year of working with a trainer to really commit. In that second or third year, I shifted to believing vegetables were the name of the game. Eating one big meal versus many meals started much, much later. I believe eating my largest meal first has improved my health. You might call it intermittent fasting. I just call it skipping breakfast.

What are you most proud of?
I’m so proud that I was able to use my body as an experiment to feel better. It took a long time but my gut kept speaking to me by saying, “Stop this” or “Try that” until I got my health back. When I say “got my health back,” I mean being able to get up and not be so exhausted. I felt like I was getting up with a purpose. When I started feeling that way, I knew I got my health back. It literally took me 10 years to get my thyroid back in check. I never accepted the answer that thyroid pills were the only way. I’m still on medication but now I’m on the right levels of medicine and I take magnesium, too.

So what does keep you going? Lifestyle and habit changes are famously hard to make and keep. Do you have a secret?
Lifestyle changes are so hard and you still get peer pressure to stop, even as a baby boomer, because you are not seeing results. But I knew I had to stay consistent, even when I didn’t eat right or cancelled a workout. I acknowledged it and kept moving forward. I also made changes slowly. No cold-turkey quit this or that crap. My motto was to go slow and stay consistent. 

What’s the one food you love the most?
Leafy, green vegetables.

If you were to recommend eating more vegetables to someone else, what is the most important piece of advice you would give them?
I would repeat, go slow and stay consistent. It feels good to feel good. I have felt bad internally, I have felt awful in my own skin. Once I started feeling so good, I didn’t want to go back. Once you feel that feeling, you just don’t want to go back.

Also, if you eat meat five times per week right now, pull it back slowly. I eat meat two times per week and add in more vegetables. I am always going to be a meat eater; I love meat. I just pull it back a little. Don’t try a drastic change. Do something that you can change for life. 

Thank you, Valarie! Follow her at @food.that.taste.good on Instagram.

Some Resources to Help You Eat More Vegetables This Year

My Healthy 2020: 20 People, 20 Healthy Choices

Every January people make changes to improve their health. But which ones actually make a difference? We’re sharing the stories of 20 people who changed their lives for the better and stuck — thanks to choices that are individual, diverse, and sometimes wildly different from each other. Read their stories here throughout January. We hope they inspire your own journey to finding your own, unique, individual healthiest 2020.