Former Hunter Goes Vegan and Loses 200 Pounds, Becomes an Ultra Athlete
"When I look back at the old me, I feel sorry, I feel bad we didn't get this together sooner. And I love you because that fat guy contributed more to my memory bank than any memory in my life," says Josh LaJauine, who was once 420 pounds, a hunter from Louisiana and at age 32 he decided to change his life, go vegan and he lost over 200 pounds. Now, nine years later, he adds, "I feel brand new every day."
Josh first came to our attention when he was featured on the Rich Roll podcast and we reached out to him for an exclusive interview which he gave to The Beet. "Losing the weight saved my life." During an emotional interview, Josh nearly broke down when he considers how much he put his family through and how grateful he is for a second chance at a healthy life. Now, he is an ultra-athlete and runs four marathons a year and two ultra-marathons a year, and has completed seven 50K races, of 62 miles each, and two 100K races, of 125 miles each, distances that are unfathomable even to the slimmest, fittest endurance athletes on the planet.
From Hunter to Vegan, Losing 200 Pounds and Becoming an Ultra Marathoner
Josh's journey is so powerful and inspiring because of where it all started. He was raised in a family of hunters who were big meat-eaters. Through his evolution from that background to a vegan athlete, Josh has converted his entire family to become vegans as well.
He counts as one of his biggest accomplishments the success of convincing his southern family to become vegan. Josh's mother, grandmother, father, wife, mother-in-law, and brother are all vegan and his brother also lost 200 pounds on a vegan diet. Josh's example helped change their entire family's one-time unhealthy relationship with food and completely transform their health, which has led them all to have happier lives and even run short road races themselves. Josh reveals the "secret sauce" that helped him lose weight in the first part of his journey, and that can help anyone who wants to be healthier, happier, and eat a more plant-based diet.
Before Josh went vegan, he was a hunter and meat-eater
Josh LaJauine grew up in Chackbay, Louisiana, living the dream of hunting, fishing, and drinking beer. His favorite foods were fried crawfish, oysters, po'boys, fried meat, and he emphasizes that he just loved beer–and Jack Daniels. When he described the lifestyle that he grew up with, Josh used the analogy from the movie An Inconvenient Truth of the rog in the pot of boiling water who could either leap or die. He never realized how much he was hurting his body by eating meat until it caught up with his health and he weighted himself at 32 and the scale nearly broke at 420 pounds. He had always identified as being a "big guy" on the football team and a meat-filled diet had been ingrained in his way of life.
Growing up, Josh was part of a big fishing family and loved the Southern celebration of eating a "big catch," frying it up for dinner to enjoy with his family. This was one of the most important traditions he remembered as a boy, and it was a way to show respect for the hard work that went into catching dinner. He also went to hunting camp to learn to bag deer.
Food was symbolic of love and family, not nutrition and health. Josh described the southern food system was based on traditions that were centuries old He explains that you never left a morsel on your plate because the food was once a scarcity and hunting a survival tool so they had to eat every single piece of the pig, according to his mom. But one day he realized as a grown man that this was a "toxic imitation of repeating our ancestors" and he shouldn't have to live by this anymore.
In the picture of his family below, Josh is standing on the right. For a before and after, hit the arrow on the right to see Josh and his brother now. It's a dramatic transformation.
Josh Had a Wake-Up Call in His Early Thirties When "Everything Hurt"
Josh had always felt fine being heavy because he had played football and everyone considered him to be the "big guy," so he identified himself by this weight. When he was 32 and weighed 420 pounds at 6'3". he had pain in every joint: His ankles hurt, his feet swelled, he would get up from a bed or chair and have to sit back down immediately, he couldn't move quickly, he felt tired all the time, and most of all, he was embarrassed when he couldn't fit into an airline seat.
When Josh had a moment to think about where his life was headed, he got emotional in a podcast with Rich Roll, looking back at that time: "I have a grandmother who died at 67 from heart disease, my dad almost died last year of a massive heart attack, and when I was struggling with weight in school, my brother and I were too heavy to play football–we didn't make the weight cut."
Josh's "secret sauce" to Losing Weight and Keeping It Off
Josh shares the secret to his success as a reckoning with yourself. You need to like yourself enough to treat yourself right: "It's how you talk to yourself when no one is looking. That is the secret sauce." His success advice is: "Give yourself a hug, or you will be fighting the battle."
Loving yourself is a major part of it, but he also said he helped him to fall in love with something or someone other than food. "It started when I fell in love, with different things, one of them being my wife, who actually for the first time reciprocated my love," he said in an interview with Chuck Caroll, a member of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, "I've always fallen in love, but as a big guy, it's not always reciprocated.'
Josh explained how, at the encouragement of his wife, he went back to college in 2011 and finished his degree. Josh said he had always felt smart but what he was doing to his body was not smart: "Wearing size 56 waist jeans, I didn't look very smart." His goal was to look better in a year since he wanted to "simply look better in a suit by December." That was the beginning of his journey to change the way he approached food.
"I feel sorry for the old me, instead of feeling disgusted or upset with myself"
"When I look back at the old me, I feel sorry, I feel bad we didn't get this together sooner, and I love you because that fat guy contributed more to my memory bank than any memory in my life," says Josh. He adds, "I feel brand new every day."
When asked how he changed his life, Josh answers: "You have to do it wrong before you do it right." He goes on to explain, "I went back to the gym and played football, I consumed lots of whey protein because I thought I was a beast." Josh followed a low carbohydrate diet and was eating fewer calories, he even admitted he took a dangerous dietary supplement that had been pulled off the market for being unsafe for human consumption. Josh began to eat less throughout the day but ultimately he realized that what he was doing wasn't healthy for his body. Josh said it was a "learning lesson."
While he was in the midst of this intense period of working out and started running, Josh bought into a common misconception that he was "running so much, it didn't matter what I ate. And look at me I have already lost weight." However, he quickly realized that when he decided to eat clean in tandem with working out, it made the biggest impact on weight loss.
One day his wife suggested that they should eat clean for lent, and although Josh didn't necessarily consider himself religious he went along with it and they both switched to a diet that was mostly plant-based. "I asked myself, 'What is there to this nutrition thing?' because it felt so good." After doing research on his own, he read Born to Run and came across Scott Jurek, a vegan ultra runner, who made Josh more curious about a vegan lifestyle.
"I identified as a plant-based runner and that is something I became really proud of, especially as I trained for my first half marathon." He adds, "I learned more about food and the connection to chronic disease. Then I started realizing the number of loved ones I've lost to chronic disease and when I made that connection in my brain I got mad, I told myself I was going to swing a big sledgehammer at all these food norms I thought [worked]."
Josh changed his life when he completely made the switch to veganism back in 2011. Still, a vegan 9 years later, Josh says the switch had saved his life. He now travels around the country to educate others about how to think about diet.
Ever the motivator, he convinced his 63-year-old mother-in-law to run her first half marathon. Josh now runs a handful of marathons a year plus two ultras a year and has even won an Ultramarathon, which landed him on the cover of Runner's World. Josh told the beet that none of this is as meaningful to him as the fact that his family now eats vegan and runs too. Here is the video of Josh when he first found out he made the cover of Runner's World.
Josh Told The Beet That Being Vegan Saved His Life. His Weight Loss Advice:
THE BEET: How do you help someone make the change to a plant-based diet, who grew up with the same southern diet you had before you went vegan?
JL: It’s hard because Louisiana is called “Sportsman Paradise,” so I want to tap into that so-called nature lover, but it's also a hotbed of obesity and diabetes. So we need to talk about the fact that how we hunt and fish is also grossly out of whack with what is our natural norms. Once upon a time that food was scarce so humans didn't eat as much, but now we hunt, and fish and go to the fast-food restaurant in between. We're eating way too much.
"People need to get off all the animal products to lose some weight and get off the caloric dense foods. If they could understand the atrocity to our bodies and meat: Meat is a processed food, they need to understand that it makes us heavier and more inflamed than plant-based foods.
"The other thing that goes hand and hand with that is to talk about what I learned about the cardiovascular system and how and why animal products are rough on our veins, our heart, our brain, and everything else in the body that needs blood. Most of the time in Louisiana, people ask me questions about how to go vegan and then they just giggle, like they don't believe you can live without eating animals, and it gets really old."
THE BEET: Tell me about a vegan health success story, a time where you helped someone changed their diet.
JL: I helped one of my best friends that I've known since I was ten years old lose 100 pounds and lower his insulin levels. I begged him for two years to go vegan on Facebook messenger. He is a type 2 diabetic, so I knew he felt hopeless. He didn’t really understand how a plant-based diet was going to affect his insulin needs. When I pointed him towards the rabbit hole, through the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), my friend said 'Holy Cow!' and had his own epiphany. He lost 100 pounds, and now he's run a marathon, and his insulin needs are so low that his doctor doesn’t even know how to set his insulin level, because his A1C hovers around 5, and he said 'I never felt more normal in life.' This is one of my oldest friends, who was giving up on life. The ambulance came to his house often, and he would get hives from eating chicken wings and drinking alcohol, eating crawfish, and yet he just kept telling himself 'Screw it.' He had given up."
THE BEET: How do you help let people know they are just making excuses for themselves?
JL: Well I hear many excuses when I tell people to eat vegan. They say 'I work at a corporate office and the cafeteria I eat at everyday has no vegan options,' or they say, 'I have a family and it’s too hard to cook vegan for everyone.' They’re all missing the point.
"Personally, I had a "click" that was like a lightswitch go on, in my life that led me to have no excuses. I decided: I will eat vegan, even if I have to skip a meal.
Most people are not ready for this. But when you find yourself in a situation where these people are tugging on your shirt constantly and asking you questions about food and weight loss because they saw you on a magazine cover or on a cool podcast, I feel obligated to be a voice for these people and I want to help.
"However, people want my help, but they are not ready to take their own help. That’s the biggest difference. You need to take the reins for yourself. That means you have to tell yourself that all the mistakes will be mine and that means all the rewards will be, too. Everyone who outsources results, it won’t work. You have to do it for yourself.
THE BEET: I heard you helped your mother-in-law go vegan and at 63 run her first half marathon. Tell me more about your family.
JL: My mom, my dad, brother, sister, their significant others, mother in law, everyone in my family has gone on board to be 100% plant-based for all the right reasons. That’s been beautiful. My mom did a 10k race, which was huge for her.
"She had scoliosis as a child, and since she was 19 my mother has had an 18-inch steel rod in her spine. That was a big excuse for her as to why she put on weight and couldn’t take off the weight. But now she is 100% vegan and she has also lost 100 pounds.
"All I can say is that excuses and mistakes are where all the golden nuggets of opportunity live. That’s where all the growth and learning comes from. My brother lost 200 pounds and now he’s the garden guru. He supplied my whole family with watermelon this summer from his backyard garden."
THE BEET: How have your family traditions changed?
JL: Everything we used to do, like food prep and eating meat, and making gumbo for the week, is now plant-based in nature. Consider the fact that as a kid, I would go to deer camp on the weekends. Everything has completely changed.
Josh's mother's homemade vegan gumbo recipe:
- 1 large Guidry's Seasoning
- AKA-The Trinity
- 1 1/2 cups oat flour
- 1 tsp cayenne (optional)
- 1 tbsp granulated garlic
- 1 tbsp granulated onion
- 1 tbsp liquid smoke
- 1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
- 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
- 1 family-size slice okra (26oz)
- 1 can original Rotel tomatoes (add another can if you want it spicy)
- 2- 32 oz box vegetable broth (I use Kitchen Basic)
- 6 cups of water
- Salt (I use Himalaya salt
- Black pepper
- In a large pot make dry roux 1 1/2 cups oat flour, cook over med-high heat stirring constantly (this can burn quickly--be patient).
- When it is a little darker than the color of peanut butter, add trinity...stir...
- Add 2 boxes of veggie broth...stir...add 6 cups of water* Note: this will thicken quickly*
- Add cayenne pepper, granulater garlic, granulated onion, poultry seasoning, liquid smoke, nutritional yeast, and Rotel.
- Let simmer about 30 to 45 minutes. stir ad needed. season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Serve over rice
"We still have the same energy together, but now we do things like build a garden, we just bought kayaks, and I finally came to the realization that I can go anywhere on the bayou in a kayak.
"We still live fulfilling lives, but spend our energy in different ways We go on family jogs and long runs and we look for ways to help people like, if we know someone who is training for a 100-mile race, or running one, we will all run in a pack together and help the runner pace themselves. We feel the reward differently, and now the reward isn’t a deer’s head or a tuna on a line.
"Our family time is an overlapping ven diagram. We are tighter as a family. We spent the Fourth of July together and made carrot dogs. Before we would have gathered up to get drunk and eat crawfish and broadsword sausages. It's a huge change. There is more love and less consumption in our family gatherings now."
What Josh Eats in a Day and How He Lost 200 Pounds and Kept It Off
Josh documented everything he eats in a day to be healthy and energetic and shared it with The Beet.
He wakes up early between 3:30 am to 4:00 am on days when he plans to run, but has always considered himself an early bird. Josh admits he has no idea how many calories he consumes in a day but all he knows is that the food he eats is "extremely fibrous and extremely filling." Here is a break down of the different meals Josh has throughout the day.
7:00 am: A bowl of raw oats and a smoothie with berries, bananas, and frozen cherries on top.
7:30 am: "On my way out the door, I had a sweet potato on my ride into work."
10:30 am: A large handful of red grapes
11:00 am: A large bowl of beans and rice heated up and poured over the top of halved brussels sprouts.
1:50 pm: Another big bowl of beans and Brussels sprouts.
2:50 pm: Two apples.
7:00 pm: A big pot of butter beans with barley and kale.
9:30 pm: Time for bed.
Josh explained that he gets pleasure from the way his body feels and how he lives on a plant-based diet. Instead of feeling satisfied with eating food that sounds delicious like a steak with garlic bread.
"I won't tell you how to live your life," Josh says. "But I will tell you that the way I used to feel can't even touch how I feel now."
If you have any questions you want to ask Josh, he loves to share his story and give advice to anyone who needs help starting their plant-based diet. Find him on Instagram at @joshlajaunie and send him a DM with your questions.