Up until last year, Don Loprieno of Bristol was what could be called an eyes-wide-open meat eater.

“Like everyone else, I knew where meat comes from,” Loprieno said. “But I was always uncomfortable about eating meat. It was hard for me to reconcile liking animals and eating them.”

Then he heard about a program called 21-Day Vegan Kickstart being offered through the Washington, D.C.-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine that provided three weeks of plant-based recipes, menu plans and advice. Loprieno and his wife, Page Lockhart, signed up.

Both Loprieno, 71, and Lockhart, 59, lost weight during the program. And as a result of their crash course in vegan eating, Loprieno said, “We haven’t eaten meat since we got off the 21-Day diet.”

The 21-Day Vegan Kickstart program has been offered five times since it launched in the fall of 2009. More than 100,000 people have participated in the program, including 15,000 enrolled in the current session.

The latest program started at the beginning of January, and another is scheduled for the spring. Participants are free to join at any time.

The program grew out of Dr. Neal Barnard’s 2004 book “Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons Behind Food Cravings – And 7 Steps to End Them Naturally.”

In the book, Barnard, founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, discusses how the consumption of cheese, meat, sugar and chocolate triggers the release of chemicals in the body that cause people to crave those foods. He then offers an addiction-free diet based on legumes, whole grains, vegetables and fruits that he recommends people follow for three weeks to tame their cravings.

“Most people feel mentally capable of handling three weeks,” said Susan Levin, director of nutrition education for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. “If you do it 100 percent, you’ll see some significant changes in your health.”

Levin said common changes experienced by participants in the program include improved skin tone, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and lower blood sugar.

“In three weeks, your taste buds will change, your health will change, your body will change and you’ll crave different foods,” Levin said.

Margo Donnis of South Portland is another Mainer who’s participated in the program, and credits it with helping steer her diet in a more healthful direction.

As a breast cancer survivor, Donnis has taken vegan cooking classes at the Cancer Community Center, and she learned about the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart at the center. She signed up for the Kickstart last year.

As a result of the program, Donnis, 57, said, “I’ve had more energy, I’ve slept better and I lost 10 or 15 pounds without trying. I’ve definitely seen a benefit.”

Each day of the program comes with a meal plan that maps out recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack.

Recipes offered as part of the program include dishes such as Hoppin’ John salad, speedy black bean burritos, creamy broccoli soup and Ethiopian tomato salad.

“A lot of the recipes are very simple and only use two or three ingredients,” Donnis said.

In addition to recipes and meal plans, the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart website gives participants access to an extensive online forum where they can ask questions, share recipes and post links; a nutrition resource page; a guide to vegan-friendly restaurants across the nation and abroad; and celebrity tips.

Levin said the goal of the program is to guide more Americans away from the animal-product-heavy standard diet that has been linked to obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

“To really be in control of their health, most Americans are going to need to adopt a totally different diet,” Levin said. “The idea of counting calories tells me we’re not eating the right foods. We’re eating unnatural, processed junk.”

And according to Loprieno, the results of following a whole-foods, plant-based diet will include more than just physical improvements.

“I feel like I’ve grown as a result of the diet, in every way but weight,” Loprieno said.

 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: akamila@pressherald.com

Find her on Twitter at: Twitter.com/AveryYaleKamila