Tevia Celli-Recht

Spin Instructor/Trainer, Up Dog
Los Angeles CA

Tevia was diagnosed with MS 6 years ago.
2 years later she changed her diet and became vegan.
Here is her story.

I wasn’t a big red meat eater anyway, so I decided to take that out of my diet. I then took out diary and that was huge. I had used butter on everything and I was a big cheese lover. I took out red meat, dairy, refined sugar, and gluten. Within 3-4 weeks I noticed a change. I stopped having the symptoms I was having with MS. I was having numbness, stabbing nerve pain in my feet, blurred vision episodes, and it just started to go away. So then I said, ok this is working. It was hard to give up those things, especially sugar. I love sugar, and because I workout so much I could eat 12 donuts and not gain a pound. I was used to having junk food and not having it matter. Nevertheless, I realized the diet was working and I was going to keep at it. I slowly started to introduce gluten back into my diet after 4-6 months, and was fine. A friend of mine said that once you cleanse the gluten out of your system and bring it back, you may no longer have the allergy, unless you have Celiacs which I knew that I didn’t. This was huge for me because I needed the fuel.

One night my partner and I went out for dinner and we had chicken. I was still eating chicken and fish. We both got sick with food poisoning. The difference was for my partner it was for 24 hours. I ended up having an MS attack because it had depleted my immune system. It took me 2 weeks to recover and during that time I said, “That’s it, I’m never going to eat anything that could make me sick. No more meat.” I’ve not had one MS symptom in 4 years. I have not, knock on wood, been in bed home sick in 4 years. I really think it has everything to do with diet. I know that people who have been diagnosed with MS and have chosen to go on a vegan diet, have gone off medication and, for the most part, are living symptom free. I’m a big advocate of it.

How do your doctors respond to your diet and results?
My doctors at UCLA think I’m nuts. I’ve switched neurologists so many times because I refuse to stick to their plan. Everyone thinks I need to be on medication. They think people like me, who are doing this, are the exception. With people who had MS there are different levels; it doesn’t affect everyone the same. They say I have a milder version, but I think that if I was on medication it wouldn’t be mild. G-d knows what would be going on with my body 4 years from now. I’m not saying medication is bad, and if I ever had to go on it I would, if I had no other choice. Thank god my way is working. Everything they told me not to do when I got diagnosed I do. They told me not to workout, not to spin because my body temperature would be too high. I thought, screw you, I own a spin gym, it’s what i enjoy, it’s how I make a living and I’m not giving it up.

How do people in your life react to your choice?
People ask me all the time, like when I’m at a birthday party and not eating cake, if I feel like I’m being cheated or feel badly that I can’t have it. I don’t because I get to be healthy. I feel so fortunate that I know that I can go home and make a better cake.

I have a son who’s going to be 11 months next month and we’re raising him vegan. I think it’s the greatest thing that we’re having a birthday party and I’m making a vegan cake. If one day he goes to a party and wants to have cake with his friends, then he can have cake with his friends. I’m not going to be that mom. I’m hoping that he’s going to grow up and realize how he feels after having that cake and how he feels after having the vegan cake. I’m a really good vegan baker. Most people, when I bring cupcakes, have no idea they’re vegan and are like “what!?”. I’m hoping he’ll learn that difference and not feel like he’s being deprived. If he comes to me one day and says “mom I want a hot dog and I want a real one”, I’m going to let him make his own decisions. I cook all the time and I make really good food. My partner is 90% vegan. She’ll have eggs or fish every once in a while, but when we’re home, she’s vegan. Everything in the house is vegan. She did it because of me and I am the chef of the house. When she was pregnant I said if you want it I’ll make it for you, but it’s rare she really craves something else.

How do people react to having a vegan pregnancy and raising your child vegan?
We’ve gotten a lot of crap. People are like “what, your raising your child vegan? Are you crazy?”. My son is in the 95th percentile of height, he’s the perfect weight, and was crawling at 5 months. He is the epitome of health. Our pediatrician isn’t vegan, but he said that he’s fine and the main thing to watch out for is to supplement fat. Babies need fat, so when he’s no longer getting breast fed as his main source of food, we need to give him avocado and oils. Yesterday I made a vegetable soup that sat on the stove for 7 hours. It was all veggies and he went nuts. We put the veggies out on this little plate and he just ate so much of it. The nutrients he’s getting from that are better than any can or jar of baby food.

Back to vegan pregnancy, it’s not an issue if you’re educated. You can supplement certain foods and make sure your child is getting enough of everything. Alicia Silverstone is pregnant and promoting vegan pregnancy. She was a client of mine and was with me when I became vegan. She saw my transformation. I was such a huge baker because I was a sugar-holic since I could eat whatever I wanted. I started bringing her treats and she was the one who said you’ve got to start a side baking thing. So, I do a little bit of that as well. We became friends and when she wrote her book she asked me if I’d be in it, and it’s been great. I’ve gotten so many emails from people who have read it and have MS. It’s opened a door for me to help these people, to take them towards this concept that diet can heal.

What do you tell people who aren’t vegan?
It’s funny because I don’t think at some point 100 years back, that diet was linked to disease. Farm animals weren’t given antibiotics. They weren’t packed in cages. There wasn’t disease rampant. They were eating grass. Now I think it’s an issue. Everything most people are eating these days is causing illness, no doubt. You’ve got gmo vegetables and corn and soy. I saw something on 60 min. about gmo chickens, and that’s where it becomes incredibly messed up. We’re putting things into our bodies that aren’t real. We’re not eating real food anymore. I say to people who eat meat or dairy: “Make sure you’re eating grass fed meat. Make sure your eating meat that you know is from a farm where they treat animals well, where they are roaming and organic.” Even though chicken could be organic they could still be crapping all over each other.

Are there other advantages or changes you’ve experienced through becoming vegan?
My energy level is different, I’m not really tired. I feel clearer. I feel more grounded. People think that’s such an airy fairy thing to say, but it’s true. You don’t have all this crap in your body. The MS aside, even if someone said to me, “you don’t have MS anymore, we made a mistake”, I still wouldn’t make a change. Hands down, I’d never go back. I know the difference and it’s not worth it. I’m 47 years old and people at work are like, “how can you be 47!?”. I look like I’m in my 30’s and I’ve obviously never had any work or botox or anything like that. I think it’s a huge thing what you put in your body. It’s a better everything, a better life.

Do you still avoid refined sugars?
I try not to eat any refined sugar. When I bake I use coconut palm sugar, it’s the lowest sugar on the glycemic index. It’s lower than agave and it tastes really good. Every once in a while, if something has evaporated cane juice in it, and I want dessert, I’ll have it. It’s not the bleached refined sugar.

What can’t you live without?
I’m so grateful for gardein and the chicken breasts they make. It’s really added to my life and what I can make. I like making beef-less tip stew. I used to love making stew so it’s on of my favorite things. I love making fried chicken. I make a really good pecan crusted fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy. I grew up with comfort food: pork chops, mashed potatoes, gravy, meatloaf. I’ve always tried to recreated those foods in every way I could. I do tofu stew and make pancakes all the time. I make the things I love, I just do it vegan style. I make peanut butter cups and chocolate chip cookies all the time. Even Girl Scout cookies have 5 vegan options this year. Peta really went after them. That’s huge!

How did your family respond to your going vegan?
You know, they’re old school so they kind of thought I was nuts at first. My sister is a little stubborn and now there’s this running joke in my family. She was always like “oh you can do it just this once”. They understand how healthy I am and respect it. They support me and now when we go out for dinner they make sure there is something I can eat. When I go to their house, I just make it easy, I bring food. That’s what I’ve always done. It’s really great advice someone gave me. When you go to a friend’s house, bring your own food. You take the stress or weirdness out of it. Over thanksgiving my mom makes a big turkey and I bring my own vegan food, it’s great.

I think when people are disciplined it bothers the crap out of those who aren’t so disciplined. It’s like the smoker who doesn’t want to quit smoking even though they know it’s bad for them. Especially now with Michael Pollan’s books and Oprah covering factory farming, all the press in the past year, it’s really hard for people to deny that what they are putting into their bodies is not bad for them. They have to be angry or think we’re crazy to justify it somehow. My family has been for the most part really good and they see the results. It’s funny, I find so many people that have contacted me, who have MS or another disease, about going vegan, and get angry. They’re pissed at me and find a reason to oppose. “Oh, I can’t eat like that I have a kid.” Or, “I don’t live in a town where there is vegan food.” There is always vegan food. Ralphs and Vons carry vegan options now. You can always get stuff. Brown rice is everywhere, spinach is everywhere, veggie burgers are everywhere. Soy milk, hemp milk, almond milk, are everywhere. It just takes work. It’s easier to pop a pill or give yourself a shot and not have to do anything. People get mad when I say get off the couch. That you’re putting something in your body that’s allowing you to be sick and sitting on the couch. It’s a vicious cycle where all you do is feel sick. You’re not doing anything to move your body so obviously you’re going to feel worse. I know when I’m on vacation and I’m not working out, at least doing something like walking, my body feels stiff. So many of these people have taken the time to talk to me and they don’t want to own it, they remain a victim of the disease and get mad when I point that out to them. I have people who I’ve talked to who finally emailed me a year or two later, and said they finally went vegan and feel so much better.

What do you think is the worst food out there?
There’s so much out there about certain food, but high fructose corn syrup, to me, is the devil. It’s preserved with mercury, it’s genetically engineered, and it’s in everything. It’s in ketchup! What it’s in is so frightening. Back to the baby thing, we had do ask “Do we vaccinate our child?”. I know vaccinations are good, I don’t want my child getting whooping cough and dying. Of course I’m going to vaccinate him. All the studies lead back to vaccinations aren’t being preserved with mercury anymore. We didn’t do five in one day, we spaced them out. After doing the research, for me, it was more about what you’re feeding them. You’re feeding your child, at age 2 or 3, food with high fructose corn syrup preserved in mercury. So, if you’re giving them cereal with HFCS, and bread with HFCS, and the turkey you buy in the package with HFCS, and the mayonnaise with HFCS, and the mustard with HFCS, the mercury level is now not the safe level. I’m not a doctor but logically in my opinion, when HFCS came into our food is when a lot of these illnesses started coming around. Autoimmune illnesses were not prevalent when I was growing up. I just think there is so much to it. When you put those chemicals into your body, it’s not a natural substance, so how can my immune system work? It’s like drugs. If you take drugs everyday your body can not break them down, they’re not natural, so it’s going to manifest somewhere in your body. So yes, we’re going to vaccinate because I don’t want my kid getting the mumps or measles, I want to protect my child. There is a backlash of people not vaccinating their kids. We have the biggest epidemic of whooping cough in the last two years. It made a comeback and so many infants have died because people won’t vaccinate. Diseases that have been gone for 30 or 40 years are now coming back. Again, I blame HFCS. You’re not going to vaccinate your kid but you’ll give them all the crap that has gmo corn and mercury and antibiotics. Most people who don’t vaccinate will still let their kids go to McDonalds.

Do you feel that being vegan is growing in popularity?
I think that it’s so exciting right now. Last year for vegans has been huge. Oprah has helped a lot, Ellen has helped a lot, and there are so many more options because of all these people who preach it. I think that 10 years from now, this menu will be the standard everywhere. Veggie Grill might be the new fast food. There’s an article about power vegans, all the CEO’s who became vegan, and there’s just something to be said for it. I think everyday it’s going to be more accessible. It’s harder when you go to smaller towns or travel. Next month we’re going to Cabo with our family. I need to call ahead and say “I’m vegan, what can I look forward to eating at your hotel?”. We’re going to bring certain veggies foods we know we can travel with for the baby but I can live on tofu, vegetables and brown rice and be fine. When you’re vegan you have to think about it, the rest don’t. For the most part if you’re knowledgeable about what you can eat, you can tell people. I’m always shocked at how many people this day and age don’t understand what vegan is. You have to tell them no butter, no diary, no eggs, no cheese. They think dairy is just milk.

How do you react to people who don’t want to know about their food?
They don’t want to know because then they’d have to be responsible. I can’t even look at some of the suff anymore, it’s hard to see, but I remember watching some undercover story of a cow before it was being slaughtered. It was so sick. I just kept thinking, how do I put this in my body. No wonder I was sick, look how sick this cow was. If they’re going to take control of their lives, it they’re not going to be victimized, then they have to take responsibility. For everything they do, what they eat, what they participate in, what they fund every day. If they actually visited an animal factory they would think it’s unacceptable, but they allow it to be accepted by funding it. As long as they paying for it, it’s going to keep happening.

I love Michael Pollan’s message that you can eat this stuff, but be responsible. Eat it when you know it’s responsibly made and the animals are humanely treated. Know what you’re eating. We take better care of our cars than we do of our body. People don’t put the cheapest oil in their car, they put the best. I always crack up at people who put the high octane gas in and then drive through McDonalds. It is expensive to be vegan. My mother-in-law is now vegan and calls Whole Foods, ‘whole check’. It’s true, it’s very expensive but she’s not on medication, she’s not paying medical bills.

What advice would you give those who are just starting to become vegan?
I try to tell people to take one or two days of the week. I think taking baby steps is the best because it’s really easy to be defeated and overwhelmed when you don’t know how to cook the food. Now with the internet it’s so accessible to find recipes. I think that there is a wealth of info on the internet but start out slowly. I do these 21-day vegan challenges, it’s 21 days, not a lifetime. I’m not asking you to go vegan forever, but for the most part live a vegan life and see how you feel. I have a 13 year old boy on it now who is a little chunky, and he lost weight. The first week he lost 3 lbs and he’s so excited that he has been able to do that. I have another mom who has kids and I sent out a valentine’s day vegan red velvet cupcake recipe. She said her kids loved the cupcakes more than any other cupcake they’ve ever had. The good food is there, you just have to be willing to put in more time. Eventually the trade-off is that you’re going to be spending less time driving to the doctor, sitting and waiting an hour for the appointment, and avoid all the time you waste putting bad food into your body.

I’ve never once felt deprived being vegan. I feel that people think that all we eat are beans, rice and tofu. Yea, I have beans, rice and tofu as a staple if I’m somewhere and there’s nothing else to eat but it’s not what I eat 90% of the time. There’s so much more, I feel lucky. There’s an awareness of people learning to live healthier, they don’t have to be drastic, it can be part time. You can change your lifestyle to be healthier.