Oprah and some members of her staff recently took on a radical challenge: to go vegan for one week. That meant no meat, no fish, no milk, no eggs—nothing that comes from an animal—for seven full days. The charge was led by New York Times best-selling author Kathy Freston, who has sworn by a vegan lifestyle for seven years now.
"Everyone [at Harpo] was so excited and interested in it. I think knowing that it can be such a game-changer—that it can really affect you in your body and your spirit—I think so many people were just excited to give it a whirl," Kathy says.
While many staffers were reluctant to change their food habits, 378 signed up for the one-week challenge. "I usually eat a sausage muffin every day and a huge coffee with five creams and a little ice," says Rich, a video editor. "So today I decided not to do that. I thought, 'Okay, I'm going to start the day right. We're going to try this whole vegan thing.'"
Jill, a senior supervising producer at Harpo, took the challenge along with her husband and their two children. But not everyone in the family was excited. "I like meat. I don't know what my mom's going to feed us...probably apples every day," said Jill's son, Luke.
After she emptied her refrigerator of all items that came from animals, Jill said there was almost nothing left. With help from Kathy, Jill set out to make some vegan-friendly meals for her family. Jill told Kathy that her family's go-to meals are pizza, spaghetti and tacos. So Kathy showed her how to veganize those meals—using things like vegan cheese and meat substitute sauce.
Jill says the challenge has been a life changer because it has made her a more conscious shopper. "I'm going to lean into it," she says. "It will not be full-throttle, but I will lean into it for sure."
Some staffers had a harder time with the challenge than others. Co-Producer Veronica says she used to eat a lot of fast food, and eating vegan left her feeling "angry." Kathy told her it was because she had an addiction.
"It really worried me when [Kathy] told me I was addicted to junk food, to fast food, everything. And I started to feel symptoms of withdrawal a couple days in."
Veronica was able to push through the week-long challenge, and came out of it wanting to go vegan for an even longer stretch! "I'm actually going to stick with it for 21 days," she says.
One of the most impressive success stories came from video editor Rich, who lost 11 pounds during the week-long challenge. He says he stuck to the diet and opted for vegetables and whole grains over simple carbohydrates.
By the third day, Rich says he felt better than he had in 10 years. Before the challenge, Rich says he was taking six to eight antacids a day and suffering from migraine headaches. "And let's qualify it, I ate horribly," he says. "I ate poor foods. Now I don't. And I lost 11 pounds."
According to Kathy, your weight starts to drop within a week of eating vegan.
If you are considering a vegan diet, you might be concerned about where you're going to get your protein. Kathy says there are plenty of options that won't leave you feeling hungry. For her own meals, she says she gets her protein from legumes and whole grains, eating things like black bean burritos, lentil soups and vegan chili.
One thing to be careful of on a vegan diet is that you don't become a "junk food vegan," only eating things like cookies and chips. Kathy says there are plenty of healthy, fulfilling foods available to you, and going vegan doesn't mean that you can only eat salads.
By the end of the week, 300 of the 378 Harpo staffers who signed up successfully completed the challenge. Collectively, they lost 444 pounds and gained 84 pounds...and used a record amount of toilet paper. While most staffers who took on the challenge aren't switching over to vegan diets entirely, it did change the way a lot of them thought about food.
"I don't know that I'm going to run out and eat a pizza or run out and have a big steak or anything like that, but I will, for the rest of my life, think about what I'm eating," says Senior Associate Producer Ray.
On top of raising consciousness about what they're eating, Harpo is also taking action—the company now has "Meatless Mondays" each week in the Harpo café. Although, if people want to eat meat, they are certainly welcome to do so.
"You have to decide what's right for you and for your family," says Oprah. "Half the battle is just being aware of where your food comes from and how it makes you feel. As Kathy says, just leaning into better eating can make a major difference in all areas of your life."
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