Sarah Goodenough used to love cheeseburgers, often chowing down on three a day. But after ditching them for a plant-based, vegan diet, the mom of two has lost 141 lbs.
As a nursing student in 2009, Goodenough weighed 299 lbs., and struggled to keep up with her job in the critical care unit.
“Any physical activity for me was difficult, and as a nurse you’re never sitting down,” Goodenough, 30, tells PEOPLE. “You’re constantly on your feet for 12-plus hours a shift. I would have knee problems, ankle pain, back pain. I developed severe asthma later in life, to the point where I was taking steroids everyday, I was getting pneumonia all the time so I was sick a lot, and I had to use an inhaler several times a day. I kind of just thought that that was the norm for me for the rest of my life.”
And then a trip to the doctor showed that her body was in even worse shape than she realized.
“I was having some weird symptoms, with a lot of nausea and vomiting. They did an ultrasound and told me I had fatty liver disease,” Goodenough says. “My doctor said that’s something that only happens at least in middle age. My health was completely gone and I was only 22 years old.”
The diagnosis pushed Goodenough to make a change, and she started by reading The China Study, about a plant-based diet.
“The evidence in it was so profound that I decided to change my diet and my lifestyle,” she says. “I started by first cutting out dairy and processed meat, like sausage, red meats and burgers. From there I started incorporating more beans, legumes, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and I would experiment with cooking. It was a challenge at first, but then it became fun because we were just trying new different recipes and everything tasted different so it was cool and fun.”
Within a year, just from a vegan diet, Goodenough lost around 100 lbs., and decided to change her career to focus on healthy eating.
“I decided at that point that I wanted to do something more hands-on, something that would be more direct to consumer. I started a whole food, plant-based meal delivery company in Rochester, New York named Kitchen Verde,” she says, adding that she was even able to work with the author of The China Study to promote the program. “We’ve had amazing results!”
Now Goodenough — who still picks up nursing shifts — creates vegan meals for her customers just like the ones that helped her lose and maintain her 141 lb. weight loss — like breakfast parfaits with oats, chia seeds and homemade jams; whole wheat pizzas; kale quinoa bowls and bean burgers to replace those cheeseburgers of the past.
And she’s upped her fitness, running five to seven miles almost every day, with her first half-marathon coming up in the spring.
“I have more confidence than ever,” she says. “It has everything to do with how much strength and determination it took to get to where I am.”