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Timaree Hagenburger: Think bad health is in your genes? Healthy eating can help prevent illness

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Posted: Monday, November 13, 2017 2:30 pm

Cathy Lemelin is not your typical college student. She is newly retired and on a mission to become a “Do-er” and take control of her health destiny.

As you will learn, she could have easily succumbed to the “It doesn’t matter how I eat, chronic disease is in my genes” excuse, as her family history is riddled with disease. In her own words:


My family history is full of diabetes, heart disease, strokes, cancer and Parkinson’s disease. I watched both of my parents have years of disability in their old age.

My father had a decade of physical and mental decline before dying at age 76 of Parkinson’s disease and heart disease. His mother had a stroke in her 70s and then lived for 10 more years in a nursing home, unable to communicate by speaking or writing.

My mother’s decline began with years of borderline diabetes and then a heart attack. She suffered through a cardiac stent, a quadruple cardiac bypass and a leg amputation. In addition, her vascular dementia worsened as the years went by. Two weeks before she passed away, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I really felt that the genetic deck was stacked against me.

I decided that I had to find out if there was any way that I could avoid the same fate. I didn’t want to be a burden on my family and on society.

I had heard that losing weight could delay the onset of diabetes, so I started by re-establishing my exercise routine and cutting down my portions. That was really all that I thought I could do.

While taking Spanish classes for fun at Cosumnes River College, I noticed posters advertising the Thrive on Plants Club. I was intrigued. I started attending the TOP Club meetings and last spring, I signed up for Timaree Hagenburger’s Nutrition 300 class.

It’s so exciting to learn all about how plant-based nutrition has the power to prevent, treat and, in some cases, even reverse some of the chronic diseases that plagued my family. The class gave me the knowledge I needed to improve my own health and answer questions from my family and friends along the way.

I watched several movies (“Forks over Knives” and “Eating You Alive”), and was amazed by the disease reversal in people who adopted a whole-food, plant-based eating pattern.

In March 2017, as part of our nutrition class, I participated in the 21-day Vegan Challenge Kickstart. After 21 days, I didn’t want to go back. Not only was I feeling great, but I was empowered, knowing that I finally had the tools to make decisions to protect my health in the future.

I could no longer say “It’s in my genes, nothing can be done.” Now, it makes me smile just thinking about how arteries all over my body are unclogging with every bite!

My parents did the best with the information they had at the time, but now I know better, so I can do better. I’ve figured out that to be successful, I need to find plant-based foods that I liked as much, or more, than the foods I use to eat.

I like to keep my breakfasts simple: oatmeal or shredded wheat with almond milk, chia seeds, ground flax seeds, berries and/or raisins. For lunch and dinner, I enjoy chili and soups, baked sweet potatoes, noodle dishes, mushroom tacos and more!

I am trying new recipes at home and at our TOP Club’s “TOPlucks” and recipe demonstrations, and learning how easy it can be to cook without meat, dairy and oil.

I expected this process to be difficult, but surprisingly, I’m eating delicious food and I don’t miss the things I thought I might. It has actually been a lot of fun finding ways to upgrade some of my favorite foods so that they love me back!

I feel so much better all of the time, and especially after I eat! No more “heaviness” or feeling “greasy” after my meals. Eating this way leaves me feeling light and energized, like I am getting younger, not older.

In fact, in September, I celebrated my 6-month anniversary of transitioning my diet with a trip to the lab for a blood draw, and my total cholesterol dropped from 206 mg/dL to 177 mg/dL. My LDL dropped from 119 mg/dL to 95 mg/dL, and my fasting blood sugar, which had been as high as 117 mg/dL, was 93 mg/dL!

One of the foods I thought I might really miss was ice cream. Growing up, we always had ice cream in the house. In fact, it was a nightly indulgence for my parents. Luckily, I have mastered one of Professor Hagenburger’s “Nice Cream” recipes. It has become a favorite of my husband’s and mine.


I am beyond thrilled to have had an opportunity to get to know Cathy and help her utilize whole foods to become a victor of her health destiny, rather than a victim of fate. Not only is she honoring her parents’ memory by being an incredible example of healthful living and adding life to her years, but she is also inspiring others to do the same. She is truly making the world a better place.

Once Cathy learned that our food choices impact how our genes express themselves, and that high cholesterol, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and dementia aren’t part of the “natural” aging process, she hasn’t missed a “beet” — or a TOP Club meeting!

Cathy is also having at blast in our new Plant-Based Food Principles and Preparation class at Cosumnes River College, which includes a weekly hands-on kitchen lab.

Timaree Hagenburger is a registered dietitian, certified exercise physiologist with a master’s degree in public health, and a nutrition professor at Cosumnes River College, where she is launching a new Plant-Based Nutrition and Sustainable Agriculture certificate program. Timaree conducts local events, corporate wellness work, has a regular segment on California Bountiful TV and published her first cookbook, “The Foodie Bar Way: One meal. Lots of options. Everyone’s happy.” available at — where you will also find details about Timaree’s upcoming events (cooking demos, book signings and talks about the incredible power you yield with your fork).

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