The word dialysis changed Amy Stabley’s life. It’s like hearing the word cancer. It’s a showstopper. Weighing in at over 300 pounds with Stage 3 kidney disease, Amy knew that she had to change everything. Her kidneys were failing, her marriage was failing, but more importantly, she was failing herself and her three children.

She knew she had to — in her words— trust herself to take care of herself. It became a new way of thinking. Trust herself to make the changes she needed to save her own life. No one else was going to do it.  She is grateful for the doctors who leveled with her when. The first one was when she was pregnant with her third child, a girl. "You’re never going to get through this pregnancy," her OB said. "You’re going to deliver prematurely." It was true.

Shortly after delivering her baby girl six weeks early, forcing her to spend time in the hospital before coming home, her next doctor took a closer look at her kidney symptoms and said she had Stage 3 kidney disease. "She told me I would need to go on Prednisone and end up on dialysis. "It wasn't if but when," Amy remembers the doctor saying. She was just 32, and until that moment, lacked the motivation to get it together. 

Dialysis scared her. Relatives had been on it and so Amy knew that it meant changing her diet and cutting way down on protein. "The diet is extremely restrictive" she recalls thinking, so she decided to change her diet right then and there. She cut out meat, fish, and dairy. The last thing to go was eggs. She lost 40 pounds and kept going. Altogether, over the next six and a half years, she dropped more than 135 pounds and changed her life!  She did it on a plant-based diet. Here is her story. 

"I was diagnosed with late Stage 3 kidney disease and the doctors were stumped that my condition wasn’t improving. My nephrologist suggested that I should get a biopsy on my kidneys. Along with the biopsy, the doctor wanted me to take Prednisone. I asked for how long. She said it would be for the rest of my life. 

That pregnancy saved my life.

"I was able to make changes -- major changes. I made the decision to avoid sugar at all costs. At 29, I got pregnant with baby number three, and my kidneys were not functioning right. The doctors could not figure out what was going on and didn't think I was going to make it through my pregnancy. After cutting out sugary drinks, I lost about 28 to 30 pounds. I had a baby girl and named her Claire because she stands for clarity and life. I credit my doctor's honesty during that pregnancy for saving my life. When Claire was six months old, my husband left. It was a driving force to do better. I was a single mom and my doctor told me I had to have a biopsy. My immediate thought was: No ….I can't have an operation right now. I can do better. At that moment I decided to change my diet and do what I had to do to get healthy.

"I went vegetarian and gave up everything but eggs. Eventually, I took another step and ditched the eggs. I decided to get myself a personal trainer because I felt I had plateaued. My trainer encouraged me to tell my personal stories but I was so ashamed of it all. But the more I talked about it the more I realized it was actually helping people. Currently, I am off all the medicines and I've lost 135 pounds altogether.  I am now a personal trainer and I received her plant-based certification from Cornell, through the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. I started working at Lifetime Fitness in June. My niche is Moms who are looking to lose weight.

"The way you go about a lifestyle change is important. Why plant-based? It was really because of my kidney disease. When I took animal protein out of my diet, I felt so much better and my kidneys improved. I had more energy because my body didn't have to break down so much waste. As I eliminated foods, I felt better and better. First, I eliminated all meat -- then all dairy except for eggs. Eventually, eggs got the boot. 

"Breakfast includes fruit (pineapple is my favorite), oatmeal or a breakfast muffin. Coffee is still a part of my everyday routine. Usually, I like my coffee black but occasionally I will add oat milk or almond milk.

"I'm the mother of three kids -- a 15-year-old boy, (who happens to love oat milk) 13-year girl and Claire, my 6 1/2 year old girl. My 13-year-old is fully vegan but the other two kids aren't. I believe that it has to be your decision to go vegan. My son asked me when they were going to have burgers in this house and my answer was never. I'm not going to support the industry but if you want to buy it, that is your choice. 

"My reason for going vegan was to improve my health, but it opened my eyes to what goes on with factory farming and the environmental impact the industry has. I do believe in one person, one change at a time. I don't support the meat industry,  but if my son buys it then it is his choice. Beyond Burgers are my choice for burgers. I love cooking plant-based because it allows me to get creative with every meal while trying new delicious meals (when done right). 

What I tell my clients who want to change their lives

"I tell them: Take it one step at a time. You don’t have to clean out your kitchen and go fully plant-based all at once. Just pick one thing. If you want to eliminate meat and have fish, then do it. If you want to give up milk and decide that you want to try almond milk or oat milk, then do it. Every week try one thing. People can get very defeated if they choose to take on too much at one time. This advice can be applied to a diet change and life in general!

I have one client who is an overweight older woman. She drinks a lot of sugary beverages and my first suggestion was to cut out soda, but she didn't think she could. I asked her to read every single label of what she is consuming and text me with any question she has. That became her goal for October, to start reading labels. Shortly after, she went down to one sugary beverage a week. Know what you're putting in your body and don't be blind to it. 

"I tell people: Ask yourself every time you go to eat something: Why am I eating this? Is it that I had a terrible day and I want the chips? The next time, just choose a healthier choice -- so that you feel better. 

Always have a go-to snack handy

"I tell people to keep apples, bananas or oranges at your disposal. Any three of those are good to grab and eat. Bananas are filling and oranges are a stress reliever. The actual sent of oranges relieves stress itself. 

"I like pineapples, bananas and rice cakes with almond butter. Pineapple is high in sugar, but if you eat that in the morning it helps digestive enzymes in your system cuts down on bloating. You need the core and helpful enzymes for recovery.

"I now work out three times a week and max five. I am moving all the time and I love hiking and I will run the occasional 5Ks. My absolute favorite thing is strength-training. I don't do machines or put clients on machines unless they have some limitations. Free weights and body strength are the best exercises in my opinion. 

What's my favorite single strength move? Deadlift all day.

"What's the best single move? A good full-body workout that makes you feel strong is important. Deadlift form has to be perfect to get a full-body workout: It engages your hamstrings, glutes, core, and lats. The deadlift is a hinge movement and that’s where your hips are going back. In a squat, you’re doing the work with quads. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=op9kVnSso6Q

I want my clients to lose weight and get healthy but there is a whole corrective form to this. Most of the day people sit all day long and at the end of the day we are mammals. We have a lot of muscles that are built to do a lot more work than we are asking our muscles to do. Glutes are the strongest muscles in your body and along with core, they all need to work. Women struggle the lat activation and strength.

I tell clients: You need to believe you can make a change:

"When people get defeated it's because of this: You are looking at this whole big picture and you feel defeated. You’re this big, this heavy, how I thought: I am in this size 24 pant. This is just who I am, I can’t change it. But the reality of it is, yeah that is a big pill to swallow and there is a lot to change. But let's just choose one thing. We live in this society where everything has to be now. You think you need to lose weight and be better now. But it does not have to happen now. You have to choose one thing and make that change now. And you are going to change one small thing now. And when you see that progress you start to trust themselves. And then when you trust yourself you can make progress.  

If you are a defeatist, you go through your emotions and take care of your kids and your husband and you put yourself last. They trust themselves to take care of themselves. 

I never thought I could do it, but now I am happy with myself. My kids and I will look at old pictures and the bigger ones remember me at that size but the little one doesn't. Now she will hug me and say "Mommy is full of dough."  I am doughy. I still have a lot of skin. I will not put myself under the knife for some cosmetic reason. I am not shaming anyone else who wants to if that’s what they need to do to feel better. But for me, I won’t do it. I have had three c-sections, my gall bladder removed,   surgery on my nose done -- and that was all in my twenties. I was like a dying 20-year-old. 

Amy Stabley

I am most proud of two things:

I am most proud of myself for making those changes because kids learn by action. My youngest one doesn't really know how far I have come but my older two do. Everyone does. My kids know I made those changes and I'm proud of that. 

I am proud that I can help other people do the same as I did. I never really realized how good I would be at helping other people make those changes too. I have a gift that I know now, and I now can help other people. I have the most amazing clients and they are now living the most amazing lives and they couldn’t have done it unless I had made those changes and I could help them.

I am most proud of making these accomplishments and now I can give it all back.

Yesterday, we had a fundraising event to raise money for CHOP (Children's Hospital of Philadelphia) and I would've never imagined myself in front of a group of people and teaching them fitness. I had about 25 people and I was watching myself in the class, and at the end, during the huddle, it was a powerful moment. I never could have imagined myself doing that when I was 300 pounds. To be a part of raising $8,000 in one day for CHOP showed you can be a part of something bigger than yourself. Then just yesterday a client said she went to Italy and took a hike with her family and she said she could not have done it without all the training with me. 

Here is the most amazing thing. I am off all the meds and have no symptoms.

A plant-based diet allowed her to get off all my prescription medicines. I might take a multi-vitamin like Vitamin C. It is crazy to think I was on my way to dialysis being on blood pressure meds and insulin, inhalers for asthma (and an emergency) and now none of it. I still see my doctor once a year because there is still disease there and I am still watched. Now, I am in a size 4 or 6 -- it depends on what I'm buying.

The Bottom Line:

"I believe food is 90 percent of what keeps us healthy. What you put in your body is extremely important. We don't eat just to eat. We’re eating to fuel our bodies, for energy, we’re eating for healing. What we’re eating on a scientific level is more complicated than what we want to eat.

You can still be vegan and be unhealthy eating chips, Oreos or pasta all day long. You have to be careful and look at the labels. Watch how much yogurt you’re eating. Some are high in calories and sugar and fat. Impossible and Beyond Burgers are a great concept but shouldn't be eaten every day. At the end of the day, you have to read the labels and know what you are eating. Your choices can make a difference, and food can save your life.