If you met De’Anna Baldwin a few years ago, the 34-year-old Los Angeles native and former basketball player was a serious meat eater. She could wake up in the morning and consume a whole steak for breakfast like it was nothing, and would scarf down hot links before a big game, assuming all the physical activity would keep her from putting on too much weight. But if you get to know her now, she wouldn’t touch any of that.
“I don’t think that I would ever eat another piece of meat,” she told me over the phone.
Baldwin is now vegan, and she’s never felt better. The headaches that used to plague her before have virtually disappeared since she went plant-based, and in the last 18 months, she’s managed to shed about 100 pounds of weight that caught up with her in her late twenties. She made the change all because she wanted to fuel her body better, and at the same time, respect the animals she at one time loved to eat.
“I am very conscious about the types of foods I put in my body, making sure it’s organic, making sure it doesn’t contain any animal products and really focusing on mental clarity as well,” she said. “I think the first step for me was being mentally ready to change my life and lifestyle.”
We talked to Baldwin about how she was able to make the jump from loving a good hunk of meat to passing it up for a fully plant-based diet, how her body has transformed both inside and out, and how truly, if she could go vegan, anybody can.
MadameNoire: In the time that you were playing ball, how were you treating your body when it came to food, and how would you describe your build?
De’Anna Baldwin: During college I really wasn’t the best eater, but you know your metabolism is a lot higher so I did more workouts to compensate for that. We worked out seven days a week, lots of cardio so it really didn’t catch up to me until I hit about late twenties. During that time, I started powerlifting and I was getting really bulky, but it wasn’t the healthiest. I was also in grad school so I had a lot of stress, so that was my way of releasing it.
So how did you end up going vegan?
What I did was, I started valuing the things that I was eating. I had a friend, and we were talking about changing over to a plant-based diet or vegan diet, so I started by cutting out all meats and only ate dairy, as far as cheese and egg whites, in a month. I just went completely vegan.
What ushered in that desire to make this change to the way you eat? Was it just the way your body was feeling before you went plant-based or maybe some new knowledge you obtained about the benefits of a vegan diet?
It was a combination of the two. I started reading up on a lot of different foods and how it affects your body, all the chemicals that they’re putting in foods. And also, I didn’t like the way my body felt. I was in shape as far as strength, but I wasn’t in shape as far as my cardiovascular. I could barely run a mile straight or I’d be winded when going up stairs. I would be tired all of the time. I really wanted to physically feel my best and prolong my life.
How has your body changed since you started eating vegan? Obviously you said that you’ve lost 100 pounds in a short amount of time, 18 months, but what are the other ways you have transformed and how has that inspired the way you train?
First off, I used to get really bad migraines. I haven’t had a headache or migraine since I’ve been plant-based and vegan. Also, I’ve lost a lot of body fat, which is great, compared to me eating meat. I was a carnivore. I would eat a piece of steak for breakfast. Getting my protein from plants compared to meat, it is actually taking my workout regimen up a notch. I have a lot more energy to really push past my limits in the gym. My body fat has gone down. I’ve got more muscle mass and have been able to modify my speed to back when I was like in high school.
How do you specifically get your protein now, especially as someone who still weightlifts but doesn’t eat meat?
I eat lots of legumes, lots of nuts, lots of beans, kale, spinach, broccoli. A lot of vegetables contain a lot of protein. Let’s say I would have four grams of chicken — but I would still be hungry. I can get twice as much protein if I eat two heavy bowls of salad. I love to eat so I get to eat a lot more all day [laughs]. I also eat protein shakes that are based off of hemp powder or pea powder.
What is your advice to someone looking into veganism, since it is more popular these days, but they’re feeling somewhat doubtful that they can do it? You at one point were eating steak for breakfast, so as a reformed carnivore, what would you share with others?
The first step is knowing that you’re not going to be perfect. I know people believe, oh they went vegan overnight. It takes some time to really learn about your body and about what food you put in and what actually doesn’t have any animal byproducts. There’s so many things that say they’re vegan and they’re not. They have a lot of milk solids in them. So I would say, really focus on watching a documentary that can tell you about veganism from an animal activism perspective. You’re more respecting animals and living things that have mothers. When you look at it that way, you’re kind of able to separate eating vegetables compared to eating a piece of steak. And also for me, meat and things started tasting funny. That’s when I started doing research on what was really being put into the meat. Doing the research, finding out what works for you, your body type, what types of food combinations you would put together where you would be fulfilled is important.
If you wanted to, start out with different types of meat substitutes to go with your vegetables so you’re not missing it as much. And also, you get full more off of lettuce and vegetables over a meat and rice meal. So eating a lot of vegetables, you think you wouldn’t get full, but you’re going to get full and you’re just going to be eating a lot more. Anyone can do it. If I can do it, and I literally could eat meat all day, like three hotlinks before a game, anyone can do it. The key is to take it one day at a time and know that you’re not going to be perfect. If you do fall off or mess up, you can always get back on the train and keep going.