Today she’s one of the best-known advocates of a vegan diet, but when Kathy Freston was growing up near Atlanta, she ate the same meat-centered food that everyone else was eating.

“I was born in the South, and I grew up eating every kind of meat you can possibly imagine three times a day,” Freston said when reached by phone at her home in Los Angeles. “I didn’t think twice about it.”

Back in those days, she downed steak and chicken without worrying about the physical, spiritual or environmental consequences of such a diet. But a little more than a decade ago, she began writing books such as “Expect a Miracle,” “The One” and “Quantum Wellness,” that explore the concept of growing one’s consciousness and spirituality.

As her own consciousness grew, she knew she could no longer ignore the large body of literature and documentary footage depicting in gruesome detail the conditions in which factory-farmed animals are raised.

“I decided I really need to move in the direction of someone who doesn’t eat animals,” said Freston, who is also the author of the New York Times best-selling book “Veganist.”

But she struggled with the decision. “I was overwhelmed by the thought of it, so I said I’d point myself in this direction and lean into it.”

Freston gradually removed one animal product after another from her dinner plate until her leaning process led her to a completely plant-based diet. When she arrives in Portland on June 25 to deliver two talks at Whole Foods Market (one of which is already sold out), the subject of leaning into dietary changes will be the main topic of discussion. That’s because her latest book is called “The Lean: A Revolutionary 30-Day Plan for Healthy, Lasting Weight Loss.”

The premise of the book is that if you make one simple, healthy change each day for 30 days, you will have transformed how you eat after a month. For example, on day one of “The Lean” plan, you’ll drink more water. On day two, you’ll add a breakfast of complex carbohydrates to your routine. And on day three, you’ll start eating a daily apple.

Freston writes in the introduction: “This book is about getting lean in the bod, but it’s also about leaning into weight loss so that it’s not too difficult or overwhelming.”

She also makes it clear in the introduction that this book will steer readers toward a plant-based rather than a meat-based way of eating. At the same time, the book helps readers get away from refined sugar and flour.

However, the real focus of “The Lean” is not eliminating foods, but adding so many healthful foods to your diet that you push the junk out of the way.

As Freston writes: “Here’s the secret to this book: it’s all about crowding out, not cutting out.”

Turns out Freston has some street cred on the subject of dieting, because she began her career in her teens as a model and was quickly exposed to the unhealthy world of short-term weight-loss diets.

“I definitely saw the wrong way to approach weight loss – smoking, drinking coffee and avoiding food was very common,” Freston said. “I saw how girls tortured themselves with self-hatred and judgment. They would forgo their health to have a very skinny body.”

Before she made a long-term change to her own diet, Freston was not immune to the siren song of dieting.

“I have tried every diet in the world – Atkins, Mediterranean,” Freston said. “I would lose weight temporarily, but it always came back. It was only when I switched to this way of eating that I became very healthy and got to my perfect weight and have stayed there.”

Numerous studies show that people who eat a vegetarian diet tend to be slimmer on average than their meat-eating counterparts.

“When you take the pressure off yourself and simply lean into these little changes and you introduce all these fiber-rich foods, then it’s not that hard,” Freston said. “You don’t feel lacking, you don’t feel deprived. With ‘The Lean,’ you can continue to enjoy all your favorites in healthier versions. It’s a transition.”

In recent years, Freston has made a name for herself as a sort of girl-next-door vegan who stands in stark contrast to the preachy militant vegan. Not only did Freston convince Oprah Winfrey and 378 of her staffers to go vegan for a week, she has promoted the vegan way of eating on dozens of major television programs including “The Martha Stewart Show,” “The Dr. Oz Show,” “Ellen,” “Good Morning America,” “The View” and “Charlie Rose.”

At the same time – every day, it seems – the list of high-profile celebrities adopting a vegan diet grows. Currently, the list includes former President Bill Clinton, actor Brad Pitt, country music legend Garth Brooks, Ford Motor Co. head William Clay Ford Jr., author Alice Walker, actor Woody Harrelson, civil rights leader Coretta Scott King, music industry executive Russell Simmons, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, casino mogul Steve Wynn, actress Michelle Pfeiffer, retired NBA champion John Salley, boxer Mike Tyson and many, many more.

“This movement away from eating animals and toward plant-based foods is on fire,” Freston said. “It’s building momentum by the day. This is a profound shift, and I believe that the culture is embracing the ‘V’ word. Whereas before, it used to refer to hippies and a radical grass-roots movement. Now it’s hip.

“There’s a smartness to it that I think is new. The culture is shifting, and it’s shifting rapidly and profoundly.”

 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila