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Interview with Kathryn Lorusso: Vegan Exercise Enthusiast

Kathryn Lorusso is a certified PCRM (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) Food for Life teacher and has a personal passion for plant-based cooking that comes partly from her love of organic gardening and partly from being a breast cancer survivor. Kathryn sailed through 25 rounds of radiation and two surgeries (eating plants), which thrilled her radiologist, surgeon and oncologist. She gives cooking classes to her fellow teachers, students and yogis she practices Bikram yoga within the Dallas/Fort Worth area with her specialty being newbie vegans.
 
Kathryn has been an educator for 24 years and has combined her love of teaching with her diet and owns VegOut Catering, a small plant-based company. At 51, she was selected as a fitness icon for O’Neill 365 and has modeled their activewear line for 3 years. Kathryn loves doing “kitchen makeovers” and is fired up about the healing power of plants, having personally kicked cancer’s butt. She has been known to leave “secret care packages” of The China Study and brown rice on stranger’s doorsteps.

Kathryn_Lorusso

Why Vegan?
How and why did you decide to become a vegan?
I became a vegan 3 years ago when I was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. I was diagnosed on a Wednesday and Thursday I changed my diet. I also threw out five lawn and leaf sized bags of processed food and spent $1000 at Whole Foods and Costco (including a water purifier). My sisters were visiting to help me through my surgery and they thought I lost my mind when I started throwing food out the front door!
 
How long have you been vegan?
I have been a vegan for over 3 years.
 
What has benefited you the most from being a vegan?
The biggest benefit from being a vegan has been the self-empowerment I feel from knowing I can help heal myself. I open my refrigerator (which is now my medicine cabinet) and know the food in there is helping my body heal with every bite I take.

What does veganism mean to you?
Veganism, for me, is a way to be the strongest, healthiest version of myself I’ve ever known and save animal lives in the process. It is the kindest, most compassionate way to exist. Every living thing benefits - including the planet.

Training
What sort of training do you do?
I weight train 3 to 4 times a week, practice Bikram yoga (yoga in a 110 degree room) 4 or 5 times a week and round it off with cardio (Insanity classes/cardio circuit/kick boxing) about 5 times a week. I’m healing from a bone spur issue currently but also run in the early mornings (before dawn...Texas is HOT) and have raced successfully and won within my age group. Most days, I will have two workouts.

How often do you (need to) train?
I train every day and usually take 1 day off per week. It is a priority so everything else gets scheduled around it. That pesky day job is the real problem.

Do you offer your fitness or training services to others?
I invite people to Bikram yoga all the time and have probably brought dozens over the 8 years I’ve practiced. I weight train in a group setting or with my boyfriend but DO offer cooking/catering services to others all the time. My vegan catering business, VegOut Catering is where I offer training to others. I give PCRM cooking classes as well as VegOut cooking classes, too. That is my true area of expertise and what I am known for (teaching-wise).

What sports do you play?
I’m not on a team but do play tennis and love it. I am also a fitness icon for O’Neill 365 (clothing line for women 25 to 35) and wear the clothing when I work out.

Strengths, Weaknesses and & Outside Influences
What do you think is the biggest misconception about vegans and how do you address this?
The misconception I run into constantly is that vegans are weak, puny and don’t get enough protein. Women particularly think I can’t get enough calcium without dairy, too. I offer literature, websites and try to answer questions in the most succinct, least threatening ways that I can so that I don’t turn people off. I realize that since I live a very different lifestyle (from mainstream humans), I need to take the metaphorical highroad. That means modeling a good, positive outlook and vibrant health every day is key. I am the best example of a vegan diet at 53 when I walk in the room and you can tell I’m in shape and glowing with good health. How can you argue with that?
 
I work in a traditional high school setting during the day as a guidance counselor and I bring veggie burgers to the barbecues and my stir-fried veggies and veggie lasagna to the lunches. Breakfasts will find me eating a tofu burrito while the others around me are eating eggs, bacon and biscuits with gravy. Not many people challenge my diet anymore because I’m one of the few people on staff that doesn’t show up after summer break with an extra 5 to 10 pounds on me. Again, I walk my talk and find that’s the best way to show people being vegan works.

What are you strengths as a vegan athlete?
My strengths as a vegan athlete are many! I recover quicker, run and move faster, sleep better, have a clear head (no headaches or “fogginess” when I’m working out) and have MUCH more energy than I did before. I can also work harder without challenging my immune system so quickly. I don’t have all of that blood inflammation that I had as a meat/dairy eater so my “machine runs clean” all the time.

What is your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge is packing everything into my week. I have really worked on my time management skills so now, I shop and cook on Sunday for the week ahead. I am also cooking for my VegOut clients (my vegan catering business) so it’s a very busy day for me. I have a list of the things I’ll make for the week scheduled ahead so that I know what to shop for when I’m at the store. As long as I have prepared food in the refrigerator and freezer, I can earn a paycheck at school, work out in the evenings, deliver food to my clients and still have a life. There really is time to do everything if you’re organized.
 
Are the non-vegans in your industry supportive or not?
The non-vegans at school are now supportive but it took 3 years to get there. It’s a process of getting comfortable with my differences and knowing that I won’t preach to them about what they are eating. If I respect their food choices, they tend to respect mine. I’ll still get the “don’t you miss bacon?” comments but I laugh them off. It’s important not to take offense at those. It’s usually just someone else feeling insecure about their own food choices, not about me.

Are your family and friends supportive of your vegan lifestyle?
My parents passed away years ago and my two sisters are both vegan so that makes things easy. When I was diagnosed, in time, they changed their diets too, so we can exchange recipes and cook for each other when we all visit. The friends I am closest to are vegan or at least vegan-friendly so that works out well. I have a large network of very supportive, wonderful human beings in my life but the ones I socialize most with are definitely vegan.
 
What is the most common question/comment that people ask/say when they find out that you are a vegan and how do you respond?
The most common question/comment I hear is: “I just don’t have time to cook!” My answer varies (depending on who it is and how well I know them) but it’s usually something like, “Sure, you do. It’s all about getting organized. I’ll show you!” to “Do you have time for chemo and radiation instead?” You definitely have to know your audience before you bust out with that last comment!

Who or what motivates you?
Clearly, I am motivated by my health history and the cancer diagnosis I was given. I am living proof that this diet can get you through treatment and improve your chances of NOT having a recurrence. I barely have a scar from two lumpectomies and never suffered a second of side effects from 25 rounds of radiation. No scars, hardening, redness, peeling or fatigue. I was eating miso soup, sheets of nori seaweed, veggies, fruits, grains and beans and feeling fantastic the whole time. My radiologist called me her “miracle girl” and used to say, “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it!”
I am also motivated by the ethical side of veganism and the horrible factory farms and treatment of animals. I live with 3 retired racing greyhounds and just can’t imagine the cruelty and injustice animals suffer because this planet insists on eating meat. Veganism is better for everyone and everything, including the planet we live on. Rich Roll is a celebrity I think is amazing. He’s in my age group and represents strength, agility, graciousness and just what we can do with our bodies as we age. He doesn’t let his age hold him back at all. I love that!

Food & Supplements
What do you eat for:
Breakfast - Cooked grains with ground flax, steamed greens (collards, kale, spinach, whatever I have in the fridge) and a sheet of nori seaweed (every other day).
Lunch - What I call a “goddess bowl” layered with cooked grains on the bottom, some kind of beans/legumes in the middle and steamed/stir-fried veggies on top with a sauce of some kind. I make a lemon tahini sauce as well as a walnut fruity dressing to dribble on top. I might also have a huge salad with a grain and beans thrown in.
Dinner - More grains, beans and veggies. I also like to make lentil loaf and veggie lasagna ahead in the freezer to defrost. My refrigerator has cooked grains and beans, chopped greens in mason jars and sauces in it at all times so I can just throw things together quickly.
Snacks (healthy & not-so healthy) - I’ll eat leftovers at school mid-morning and mid-afternoon so that means hummus, a veggie burger, some brown rice and beans with sauce on top - even a raw buckwheat cereal I make at home and store at school. Desserts are always things I make myself such as gluten free peanut butter cookies sweetened with banana and no added oil. I’ll also make a raw brownie made with dates that I keep in the freezer. I want to enjoy my desserts without guilt. That is key to me. I know if I make them, they’re good for me so I can truly enjoy them.

What is your favourite source of:
Protein - tempeh. I love stir-frying it, putting it in loaves and casseroles and making mock tuna. The texture is interesting and it’s so wonderfully versatile plus it’s a fermented soy product, which is even better.
Calcium - GREENS, GREENS and more GREENS! I love collards, kale, spinach, radish tops, mustard greens - you name it and I’m steaming, stir-frying, marinating in salads and throwing it in smoothies. Every bone scan I’ve had in the past 3 years shows me to be normal or above normal and that is true success at 53 when many girlfriends are fighting osteoporosis and falling down and breaking bones. Gotta have my greens.
Iron - usually the Plant Fusion powder in my smoothies, quinoa, pumpkin seeds (I use them toasted with a little Bragg’s amino acids) as a condiment; lentils and tomato paste (veggie pizzas on spelt tortillas are quick and easy). I also like dried fruits such as peaches and apricots.

What foods give you the most energy?
The most energy and “clear headedness” for me comes from cruciferous veggies that I steam and have as part of my breakfast. I just feel clean inside and really “zippy” after I eat a bowl of them. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, they rock my world.

Do you take any supplements?
I do take a few supplements: a probiotic, vitamin E, an iodine supplement (very breast protective), B-12, a liquid vitamin D and a food-based vegan iron supplement.

Advice
What is your top tip for:
Gaining muscle - I gain and maintain muscle by using plant proteins in the food I eat, powdered vegan protein (PlantFusion powder) and by stimulating muscle fiber through weight training.
Losing weight - My diet keeps me naturally lean because it is low in fat (no animal products or excessive veggie oils). As far as losing weight, when my students and clients transition over from an animal food diet to a plant based one, they naturally lose weight. I have a client whose wife took a series of my classes and he ended up losing 100 plus pounds by eating her cooking! I lost 20 pounds, myself, when I transitioned but gained 10 back in muscle.
Maintaining weight & Improving metabolism - My body stays at its natural weight (between 132 and 136 pounds) without any problem. I’m 5’10” and wear a size 2 to 4 depending on the clothing brand (a small in the O’Neill 365 line) and never worry about portion control. When you’re eating plants, little oil, no processed sugar and practically zero alcohol, plus working out consistently with a good amount of weight training, your weight stays low and even and your metabolism is cookin’! It takes more energy (calories) to maintain muscle and also to repair muscle fibers so you naturally burn more calories even at rest. It’s a great pay off for working out.
Toning up - comes from a combination of aerobic and anaerobic exercise meaning to get muscle toned, you need an aerobic challenge so that you can reduce body fat. You also need to anaerobically challenge your muscles so that you split muscle fibers and then can rebuild and grow new muscle. It’s work but what a sweet reward. I feel great, have energy, look good and have strong bones.
My latest challenge is menopause but I’ve found I can control 98% of the symptoms (night sweats, hot flashes, mood swings, fatigue, sleeplessness) through my vegan diet and exercise. As long as I’m laying off the caffeine, alcohol, sugar and processed flour products (crackers, tortillas, etc.), and working hard at the gym and yoga, I feel tremendous.

How do you promote veganism in your daily life?
I promote veganism through my catering company, VegOut Catering, and also through the cooking classes I teach. I also run a student vegetarian group at my high school and have an informal “lunch bunch” of gym girlfriends who are transitioning to veganism. We get together and cook and laugh once or twice a month after the gym on Saturdays. They don’t feel as alone when they can vent to me about their challenges and I love their courage and excitement about the food and introducing it to their families.
 
How would you suggest people get involved with what you do?
It’s easy for people to find me on my website and to order food and sign up for classes. Anyone can send me an email through the site or even call my cell phone, which is listed on my Contact page. I also have a VegOut Catering Facebook page, a professional Facebook page and a profile on About Me.
 
 
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