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I used to be annoyed at my sister-in-law because she was vegan. We would have a BBQ at my mom’s and she would bring her vegan patties, and I would be thinking she should just eat our delicious cooking and not be so picky. (Sorry, sis!)

But the thing is, she always looked great.

Meanwhile, my mom and my sister were overweight, and both have high blood pressure. I, on the other hand (up until a few weeks ago), considered myself a healthy, 51-year-old woman. I swim every day, eat mostly vegetarian, and confidently treat myself to the occasional hamburger, sausage pizza, or salami sandwich with butter like my Noni used to make. I called myself an "Italian vegetarian."

We were not the typical mid-western family when I was growing up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. My mom was born and raised in San Francisco with a grandfather who grew all his own vegetables. As a kid, my family’s big Friday night out was going to Lund’s, an upscale grocery store. I loved purchasing pomegranates and whole coconuts that I would hammer open in the kitchen. It was a thrill to finally get them open. We always had fresh food around, but we had junk food too. My favorite cereal was Lucky Charms; we ate McDonald’s during the week because my mom was a single parent working full-time and raising three kids without family nearby.

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Fast-forward to my adult life as a wife, mother, full-time employee, and artist; I cook a lot for my family. I love, love, love to cook, and I think I make pretty healthy food. My husband has a big belly; his brothers are big men. He grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where they eat a lot of cheese and meat.

This summer, my 11-year-old son spent two weeks in Berkeley with my mother and then was off to sleep away camp for a month. My husband and I practically ate out and drank wine every night. It was like we were 24 again! After two weeks of this, I felt like I had gout. My sleep was horrible, and I had gained five pounds—and when you’re 5'2", five pounds is two pant sizes.

Coincidentally, while working on my website, which shows 30 years of my photography, I came across these naked pictures I used to take of myself as a 19-year-old. I had a body! I always thought I looked like a boy, but no way! I was a girl for sure!

So there I was, 51, bloated, feeling old, kind of ugly, not fitting into my clothes. It was summer in New York City, and although I was swimming every morning, the vigorous exercise was not working the way it had previously. I regularly work out with these amazing older women that put my body to shame. Their tits, their asses—they are firm, not saggy. They are my true inspiration.

Which leads me to today. The breakthrough. The "aha moment" that leads me to share my story:

I went away for a weekend with one of my swimmer friends who has three kids and looks like she never gave birth. I ate so clean: no wine, no meat, save some tuna fish. I came back, and my husband said he could see a difference in my face. I said to myself, 'Well, self, let’s do this. I’m not going to drink anymore. I feel like sh-t when I do, and life is too short. I have too much I want to get done.' And just like that, I stopped drinking. It’s been nearly two months and I don’t miss it at all.

Next, I decided I should try being vegan, as my swimmer friend was gluten free and a vegan and she looked young, healthy, and sexy. Not the I’m-going-to-be-vegan-and-everyone-who-isn’t-a-vegan-is-an-idiot vegan. It was an experiment. But so far, the now two-and-half-week experiment worked and has made me feel amazing.

My skin is tighter. My pores seem smaller. I have more moisture in my skin. I have always had dry eyes, but now they are less dry. I feel younger, and my body is starting to get more slender. I fit into my clothing better, my tits are perkier, my ass is looking better in the locker room mirror—and I feel sexier. I want a young lover to whisk me away for the weekend and then drop me off Monday morning. All this because I am not eating dairy, meat, fish, or sugar? Worth it.

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What do I eat?

For breakfast, I eat gluten free muesli with a banana and almond milk. I drink a cappuccino with soy milk, and I try to drink more water with lemon than I did before. For lunch, I bring leftover dinner to work. Today I ate an avocado, tomatoes, black beans I soaked yesterday before I went to work, and some brown rice with a little hot sauce. Tonight, I’m going to try and make vegan burgers from scratch with a salad.

My friend Loraine Stupakoff, whom I used to work with years ago, has this amazing Instagram account where she talks about health, nutrition, and her struggle with cancer. She is vegan and has such a wonderful outlook on life. She inspires me. My friends inspire me, and, well, I feel better. Will I be vegan forever? Nothing lasts forever, but I want to do it because I feel better.

And by the way, I am sorry Nicole! Now, we are vegan sisters.