FORT SILL, Okla. (Nov. 16, 2017) -- With all the talk and events encouraging Healthy Army Communities, factors within my life motivated me to make a significant change in my diet, deciding this was a most appropriate time to adopt vegan eating habits.

In other words, no dairy, no meat, no fish. So what does that leave besides fruits and vegetables? Plenty to keep me healthy and satisfied.

Leading up to this change, I've been a borderline vegetarian for about five years. Initially, I made this change as I found it easier to cook vegetable-based meals rather than trying to bake a chicken or slab of beef without turning it into shoe leather.

Though calling myself a vegetarian, I probably qualified under some hyphen suffix as I still consumed dairy under the auspices of getting my daily required protein. I also included fish as I saw this to be less worrisome than eating beef or commercially produced chicken that's often high in added fat.

Along with those menu asterisks, I made ample allowances for dessert enjoying ice cream, candy and other sweets. I've often rationalized that being tall and somewhat slim allowed me to eat pretty much whatever I wanted without suffering the consequences.

One consequence I have endured since back into my 20s was higher than average cholesterol. My memory reaches that far back as I can remember running seven miles four days a week then visiting the ice cream parlor for a handpacked pint of my favorite frosty dessert. This landed me a cholesterol count of 249, which while embarrassing, did little to curb my sweet tooth.

Even after labeling myself a vegetarian, my commute to work early this year could include two chocolate chip energy bars washed down with a diet soda to get my daily caffeine fix. The drive home often had a bag of almond M&Ms resting comfortably in the passenger's seat, mainly because you generally don't need a reason to eat those tasties. I ate mostly healthy, but not completely. As a result, my cholesterol rose into the mid-200s before dipping back around 200, about four months ago.

Again, recent events have called for taking a road less travelled, and as my knowledge of healthy eating has increased, old habits, and especially snacks, have fallen by the wayside.

This change began the tail end of August with a note to myself on my smart phone to, among other things, ditch my daily diet soda kick and launch this vegan lifestyle.

Along with some online chats with like-minded people, I've found a bible, of sorts, "How not to Die," written by Dr. Michael Greger, a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition. In his book, I've learned to view diet soda as something unsafe, despite that it's not loaded with sugar. Instead, this concoction has more than enough strange chemicals that are better left in some scientist's laboratory.

Along with that realization, it occurred to me that I needed to commit fully to this healthy lifestyle. As I reached for tea or water, it brought to mind what Greger often said in his book when judging if a food or drink was healthy, he would ask, "compared to what?"

So, there is room to fudge the boundaries if you wish, I just chose not to.

Greger opened his book with a personal story. He mentioned how his diet choices as a young man favored salty, greasy foods washed down with soda pop. His transformation, and eventual life's work began with how diet and exercise changes contributed to his grandmother's extended life.

Diagnosed with end stage heart disease, suffering severe chest pain, and confined to a wheelchair, his grandmother's life appeared to be over at age 65. Doctors attempted many bypasses, but scar tissue prevented further surgeries to prolong her life.

Seeing a segment on "60 Minutes," she learned of Nathan Pritkin, who opened a clinic treating people with heart disease. Treatment focused on a plant-based diet and daily exercise.

Despite her condition, she made the journey to Pritkin's clinic in California and became one of the clinic's first miracle turn-arounds -- they rolled her in and weeks later, she walked out.

Greger decided to study medicine in college and chose his school because it offered the most classes on nutrition, though he said it amounted to less than 1 percent of his class load.

While he has ardently promoted nutrition, Greger doesn't do it to make a living. He's a physician, who on the side, encourages people to live a healthful life. A key vehicle in this effort is his website, nutritionfacts.org, which has countless videos on matters of health and nutrition. And, whether accepting a speaking engagement, writing his book or releasing videos, all proceeds of his nutrition efforts go to charity.

I'm two months and change into this journey. A daily vegan based protein shake and a variety of vitamins are the only produced foods I consume. Even these I carefully read labels to ensure they meet my requirements.

With the coming holiday season, any sweets I sample will likely be a berries or other fruit.
I've decided I'm going to eat vegan for the rest of my life. It's less a thing to do, and more an exercise in sustaining health and vitality.