The story of the month for September 2011 comes from Trace Robertson.

Trace is only 16 years old, yet his dedication to optimal health and nutrition surpasses that of most adults today. In fact, in hearing Trace’s story one quickly gets a sense of the immense wisdom and maturity that this young man possesses.

It has often been said in our society that with age comes better decision making, however as so many young people are showing us today, this is not always the case. While much of today’s youth is still addicted to processed and junk food, a new group of youth is growing in numbers by the day who are taking what they put into their bodies more seriously than their adult counterparts.

Trace is one such example. Trace not only excels academically and athletically, but also is a highly conscious being when it comes to the decisions he makes in all other areas of his life. Trace can be seen as a valuable role model for the young and old alike, as he inspires us to follow our heart, have the courage to stand up for what we believe in and be open to new ways of living. I find his message most powerful in encouraging us all to take more accountability for our food choices and the state of our health and well-being.

It is thus my great pleasure to present you with Trace, as he shares with us his story of change for optimal nutrition and wellness.

Area(s) of My Health and Wellness that Needed Change

For as long as I can remember, it has been my primary goal to live the healthiest life possible and to help others live the best life that they could possibly have. I’ve always focused on making improvements to my life and to the lives of others to the best of my abilities. Whatever new information I learned, I would implement it into my life and then recommend it to others in an attempt to help them improve theirs. It was left entirely up to those individuals to use the information I gave them as they saw fit. I would not, and will not force my will upon anybody; the ultimate decision is left up to the individual.

This mentality has governed my actions from the beginning, and has influenced every major decision I have made in my life. The biggest decision I have ever made up to this point happened only 4 months ago. A short time span, now that I come to think of it. Looking back and contemplating all that I have accomplished and learned since then, simply baffles me. I’m no stranger when it comes to tackling large and challenging tasks, but this one in particular, definitely takes the cake.

Four short months ago I made the decision to become a full on vegan, shortly after turning 16 years old. A major event had taken place in my life and signaled to me that a radical change absolutely had to be made, there would be no waiting and no other options. I was shocked and thoroughly appalled by what I had witnessed and learned about our current food supply, and what we were putting into our bodies.

To tell you the truth, I had never given the idea much thought. I ate only to provide myself with energy which I would then use to perform my daily tasks. I ate the food that everyone else around me ate, the foods found in a typical western diet and an affluent community. The diet, as I’m sure everyone knows, is heavily meat and dairy oriented (as well as processed), and contained minimal amounts of plant-based foods, if any.

Granted, I was still making relatively healthy choices, because I had always been at least somewhat health conscious about my food. Nonetheless, the typical western diet was exactly what I was eating, and I thought nothing of it. I was eating and using large amounts of “animal products”. I did this without a second thought, because it was what I had been brought up with and I considered it to be completely normal. I didn’t question my food; after all, no one else was doing it.

I never once stopped to think what the other side of the story may be, what went into the food I ate, what was really healthy, and what was going on behind the scenes that I didn’t know about? As fate would have it, events in my life caused me to ponder these questions, and I didn’t like the answers.

I learned about the horrible treatment of animals in the meat and dairy industry. How, many of the animals were raised for the sole purpose of slaughtering. They are bred in inhumane conditions, treated cruelly, and in the end are slaughtered in a grotesque manner. There is virtually no consideration for the well-being or happiness of the animals throughout the entire process. It was as if my world had been turned upside down, I couldn’t believe all that was going on without my knowledge of it happening.

The more I learned, the more that I knew that something had to be done in my life and in the lives of all other living things. I could no longer live with a clear conscience knowing that I was contributing to the horrible atrocities being inflicted on other living beings. I felt sick by simply being in the presence of meat and dairy, and I couldn’t stomach eating any of it. My thoughts would always stray back to what I had learned and witnessed.

Literally overnight I made the decision to become a full fledged vegan, with absolutely no knowledge of how to do it properly. My decision was absolute and I would not be swayed by what anyone else would say. I knew that I wouldn’t go back on my decision, but I didn’t have any knowledge that would help me move forward. I had no idea what I would eat, let alone what I would need to eat in order to be optimally healthy. I knew how to cook fairly well as it had been a hobby of mine for well over a year. But, I only knew how to cook using primarily meat and dairy ingredients which are definitely not vegan friendly. I was at a complete loss.

When I broke the news to my family, they thought I had gone completely nuts. They debated whether or not it was even possible to survive on a vegan diet and they became immediately concerned with my health. They were convinced that my physical condition would do nothing but decline. They badgered me and told me that, without meat and dairy, I would wither to nothing. My bones would become brittle and my muscles would deteriorate, they said I would be nothing more than a shadow of my former self. They toted the idea that my athletic career would go down the drain (which was, and still is a major part of my life). My father told me that I would turn into something resembling a concentration camp victim, and would step in to stop me if things got out of hand. They all agreed however that, It was probably “just a phase”, and everything would go back to normal in a couple of weeks, once I was too weak to do anything and realized that I had made the wrong decision.

Overall, support from my family was obviously severely lacking. Not the most motivational thing one could hope for. I also received the same degree of support from my peers, but with a little more colorful vocabulary included, and end scenarios that were often a “tad bit” excessive. So, without any support or any knowledge of how to be vegan, I undoubtedly had a lot of ground work to do.

The first few days were likely the roughest. With my knowledge of cooking I was able to provide myself with at least some, if not ideal, nourishment. Initially, I’ll admit that the food itself was very bland and uninteresting. I simply didn’t have the knowledge base to be making anything extravagant, and I was sure that I wasn’t getting a well balanced diet. But, that would soon come to pass.

What I was really after the first few days was knowledge. Knowledge which would enable me to live as a happy, and healthy vegan, with a plethora of delicious and nutritious foods to choose from. Knowledge that would let me keep (and eventually improve) my overall physical health, while allowing me to hold true to my beliefs.

I went to the library and checked out numerous books on vegan health and balanced dieting. I read studies that covered the potential health benefits of a vegan diet, and vegan cookbooks that had delicious and healthy well-balanced meals. In addition to the books I was reading I avidly researched all sorts of topics on the internet.

The first few days I spent sleepless nights doing nothing but my research. After all, I was still attending school and, between the homework load, attending classes and cooking meals for myself I had little spare time left for research during the day. But, as time passed and I accumulated the proper knowledge, things became much easier and I wasn’t as rushed to do my research.

Within a couple of weeks after my decision to become vegan I was providing myself with delicious meals that I knew were healthy and balanced. I was not missing out on any of the essential nutrients, vitamins, and/or minerals, of that I am positive. On top of everything, I was feeling the best that I had ever felt, and I had delicious food to boot! People at the lunchroom and at home (although initially skeptical of practically every dish I made) were actually jealous of what I had on my plate! I’ll have to admit that I was feeling pretty ecstatic about how things were going.

So, after receiving little to no support from family, friends, or peers I had successfully made the leap to becoming a fully fledged vegan in a (relatively) short time span. From that point on, things have only gotten easier. And since, some people have even become supportive in my community. My entire family has completely re-evaluated their lifestyle, and they are now eating healthy, well-balanced meals, exercising, and making positive lifestyle choices. While they may not ever become vegan, this is a huge step in the right direction!

Strategies I Implemented & Their Results

The strategies that I find to be the most beneficial are:

  1. Attaching my goals to something that is emotionally important to me.

  2. Implementing changes to my life as I learn new things, either through research or personal experiences.

  3. And, making being healthy, enjoyable and exciting!

By attaching my goals to something I am emotionally connected with gives me a strong sense of purpose. The goal then, while perhaps challenging, seems like less of a chore and more of a necessity. And when that goal is eventually met, the sense of accomplishment is much greater. The passion is often reflected in your work and you gain a sense of pride when you put all of your heart into what you do, whether the project turns out well or not.

Secondly, I always remind myself that there is room for improvement. While the most drastic change I have made is over, there are still plenty of things in my life that could stand to be improved upon. As I grow and learn, I implement changes that improve the health and wellbeing of myself and the others around me. But, I always take into account whether such a change is practical at a certain point and time, or if it would be better to wait for the proper moment to arise.

Lastly, being healthy should be fun and exciting! I don’t choose to exercise just because of the health benefits; I do it because I find it enjoyable. Find a task that is enjoyable to you in particular, like biking or running, or a sport like soccer or football. Mix things up and be willing to try new things. I’m always in the kitchen experimenting with foreign ingredients and trying new recipes. Don’t get stuck in a rut, because monotony is dull and boring!

How My Changes Benefitted Me

At this point in my life I can honestly say, without a shadow of a doubt, that I have never felt better—mentally, physically, and emotionally. It would be a gruelling task to list all of the benefits, from major to minor.

Mentally, I can focus for longer periods of time. My attentiveness is adamant and my thoughts flow with absolute clarity. Memorization and problem solving are second nature and come with ease and fluidity. My reaction time and hand-eye coordination have drastically improved and it is a rare moment when I find that I am mentally tired or exhausted.

Physically, I am in the best shape that I have ever been. After switching to a well-balanced vegan diet I noticed significant changes within a few weeks, but even more so now, after 4 months. I can run longer and faster without tiring. I am at my strongest. I am at my lightest weight in over a year after losing 15 pounds, and I no longer carry any “excess” weight. All of my senses seem heightened, especially taste, sound, and smell. My skin is clear and does not get irritated. I have no allergies. And, I have a constant (almost excess) flow of energy. The list goes on and on.

Last of all, and the most notable changes I have observed, are emotionally related. I find it hard to become discouraged, or experience any type of negative emotion for that matter. I’ve developed an appreciation for life as it is, and I find it wasteful to spend time dwelling on any of the negatives. I now focus on all of the positive aspects that life gives us, and I’ve learned to appreciate what I have. But, the greatest change I have encountered thus far is the ability to wake up every morning, day after day, with a clear conscience.

Next Steps on My Health and Wellness Journey

Other than trying my best in school and studying for classes that interest me, I want to continue making improvements to my life and in the lives of others. As I educate myself and learn new details about health and wellness I will implement changes into my life as I deem necessary. I will then pass on any knowledge and skills I can to my peers, friends, neighbors, and family in an attempt to help them improve their current lifestyle.

I will constantly be on the lookout for new and helpful information. I read and research in order to understand the different perspectives of various cultures and social groups. And in general, seek further knowledge so that I can better understand the world around me.

I am more aware of my physical health than I have ever been, and I am therefore very conscious of what I put into my body. I eat a balanced and varied diet and am constantly found cooking in the kitchen and experimenting with new recipes, which is one of my favorite hobbies.

I truly want to try and make being healthy a highlight in people’s lives, not a point of dread. I want to educate people so that they can make informed decisions, in order to optimize their health and wellbeing and that of others. And, I want it to be an enjoyable experience that everyone can appreciate. The environment and all of the living organisms on the planet can benefit from such a change, and the best way to tackle it is to start with yourself!

Wisdom & Inspiration for Others

When you want to make a change, and you know it’s the right thing to do, go forward with it. If you know in your heart that it’s the right decision – even if it’s going against the grain – then don’t hesitate, and make the leap yourself if you have to. Don’t be discouraged by what others might say or do, and don’t let them force you into shying away from what you love or believe.

When a decision comes down to something that you truly care about go all out and don’t hold back. No matter how daunting or impossible the task may seem take it on anyways, and don’t beat yourself up if you fail. There will always be more opportunities, and if you fail the first time learn from your mistakes and try again later.

Have fun. Your health shouldn’t be a chore and it definitely shouldn’t be boring. Surround yourself with people and friends who share your passion for health and engage in activities that promote a healthy lifestyle, and overall well-being. Choose things that interest you or find things that keep you interested and involved in your health. Cooking and experimenting with new dishes and ingredients is a fun way to eat a variety of healthy and nutritious foods. Playing sports with friends or running with a partner is a more stimulating means of exercise and takes the monotony out of an otherwise boring routine.

But most importantly, learn to appreciate yourself for who you are, and learn to love the world around you for what it is. Life is too short to dwell on the negatives of life, both nature and the creatures that inhabit it are far too beautiful to miss out on. Compliment yourself, focus on your strong points, and refuse to think negative thoughts. Love deeply, enjoy life, work toward your goals with passion, and do what you love.

Above all else, live with your life with the utmost compassion toward all living things, and everything else will fall into its proper place.