This week I welcome Aaron Stuber, also known as The Plant-based RN, to Cowgirls & Collard Greens!
I have yet to meet Aaron in person, but knew he’d make an interesting feature since he’s a vegan working in the medical field as an Registered Nurse as well as a Plant-based Health Coach. And, he’s also a Ultra Distance Trail Runner to boot! Aaron currently hails from beautiful Boulder, Colorado a place that’s near and dear to my heart, as I once called it home. He was kind enough to feature me on his blog last month; if you’ve ever wanted to know more about my journey with cancer and how I went vegan, you can read my interview here. Meanwhile, stick around to read Aaron’s interesting interview below where he conquers the idea that athletes can’t be vegan and shares how he helps people get healthy. Active folks and athletes this post is for you!
Cowgirls & Collard Greens: Whenever I meet a fellow vegan I’m always interested in learning about their vegan story. Can you please share how and why you went plant based?
Aaron Stuber: I would have to credit my wife for initially peaking my interest in plant-based diets. Many years ago, we were living in Eugene Oregon together and I was fully immersed in the rock climbing scene, training hard every day of the week between work and school. She had been a vegetarian since a very young age and I felt compelled to give it a try, out of solidarity and despite my concerns about protein intake, etc.
So I began reading whatever I could find on the topic and I first landed on The Food Revolution by John Robins and The China Study by T. Colin Campbell. That was all I needed to realize that my previously held believes about nutrition, disease, animal welfare and the environment were woefully inaccurate.
I essentially went vegan over night and noticed an immediate improvement in my anxiety, depression, recovery, energy and seasonal allergies to name just a few. I was in pretty good shape already and was not on any prescription medications so It was certainly not a life changing event, however my concerns about protein, energy, recovery, power and endurance taking a hit without animal products were put to rest.
In the 10 years since that time, I have experimented, for brief periods, with bringing animal products back into my diet like eggs and fish. What I discovered each time was that I did not notice any improvements in my performance and usually felt worse. Those experiments were essential for ultimately making this lifestyle permanent for me. Today, I am so much more acutely aware of the health, ethical and environmental justifications for being plant-based and that is what sustains me as I try to create momentum and excitement in the public around these issues.
C&CG: I understand that you are a RN. What was your initial interest in going into the medical field?
AS: In high school, I was really into weight lifting. That created an interest in understanding the human body and also got me interested in nutrition, albeit in all the wrong ways. In college I initially studied psychology and developed a fascination with the fields of neuro-biology and psychoneuroimmunology—the study of how our emotional states affect immune function.
Eventually I decided that the medical field would be a better fit for me so I did an EMT program and absolutely loved it. That got me really excited about emergency medicine and chronic disease. After that program I went to nursing school at Oregon Health & Science University then moved to Boulder and started my career as a cardiovascular nurse. I am currently applying to graduate schools to become a Nurse Practitioner so that I can spend one on one time with patients in a primary care setting and really do the work that needs to be done to improve people’s health.
C&CG: Do you work solely on your own as an RN or do you work for a hospital or other medical entity?
AS: Right now I work at Boulder Community Hospital on their Progressive Care Unit. A PCU is essentially a cardiac step-down unit where we care for patients with a wide range of cardiovascular problems and all of the metabolic co-morbidities that accompany heart disease like diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity. Of course, I also work as a health coach/nutrition consultant outside of my full time nursing job.
C&CG: Besides health coaching what other services do you offer? Do you work with patients/clients remotely?
AS: I offer health coaching and nutrition consulting to a wide range of clientele. My emphasis is on using plant-based nutrition, exercise and stress reduction to prevent and reverse chronic disease, especially metabolic disorders.
I work mostly with clients in person but am set up to do phone, email or skype coaching for remote clients. I do grocery store tours and kitchen makeovers which are my most popular services. I really enjoy interacting with customers as much as possible and watching them make incredible transformations in both body and mind.
C&CG: How do you incorporate plant based diets and wellness into your practice?
AS: As a nurse I spend a lot of time with patients during their stay, talking about the potential of a plant-based diet and lifestyle to prevent and reverse many of the conditions they are living with. I do breathing exercises with patients and talk about meditation, exercise and behavior change. Usually when I preface our conversation with the fact that I’ve been living a plant-based lifestyle for 10 years and compete as a sponsored ultra runner they pay more attention.
C&CG: Did you have any specific plant-based training or certification before or after becoming an RN?
AS: I do not have any specific nutrition training or certification, just years of experience and a deep knowledge of nutrition science. I am also a graduate of Wellcoaches, one of the premier, evidence-based health coaching programs in the United States. I highly recommend the program for anyone interested in becoming a professional health coach.
C&CG: Do you find that your clients/patients are open to plant-based living or do you find that dietary changes are the hardest challenge to overcome?
AS: My experience has been that behavior change, not necessarily dietary change, is the hardest thing for human beings to overcome. Food is a highly emotional topic for people which certainly makes it a challenging subject to broach. Ultimately people have to be open and ready for change in order to have success, so my job as a health coach is to assess where each client is on that continuum and help them move forward.
C&CG: I understand that you are an athlete and live in Boulder, Colorado which is considered one of the fittest cities in the U.S. What type of sports are you involved in?
AS: Boulder is truly a mecca for endurance sports in the United States, especially outdoor sports. Right now I compete as an ultra distance trail runner which means I race in the mountains at distances greater than a marathon (26.2 miles). I was fortunate to pick up two sponsorships last year with Beyond Meat and Skoop which has made the lifestyle a little more sustainable.
Since I have a weight lifting and climbing background, I really enjoy doing a lot of functional strength training and calisthenics as well. I am considering combining the strength and endurance skills I have honed over the years and trying out some of the longer Spartan races which combine running with obstacle course challenges, heavy lifting, sleep deprivation and tests of mental acuity. Fun!
C&CG: What is your favorite vegan meal?
AS: That’s a hard one! I would say anything Middle Eastern, Mexican, Indian or Ethiopian. Those culinary traditions have the best flavors in my opinion.
C&CG: Do you have any advice for those who are not yet vegan/plant-based and want to be?
AS: KEEP IT SIMPLE. Plant-based lifestyles do not have to be complicated so don’t let anyone try to tell you otherwise. I always recommend that people do an adequate amount of research before making the switch so that you have a good grasp on what you are doing and WHY you are doing it. Read books, watch documentaries, listen to podcasts, try new recipes. Add more plant-based meals into your routine and keep experimenting. Before you know it, you will be most of the way there and really enjoying yourself.
This is why I started a podcast with a great friend of mine and fellow endurance athlete Jackson Long, called Thought For Food. We dive head first into all the important issues surrounding plant-based lifestyles so if you are looking for a great resource to get started on this journey, check out our show on Soundcloud and ITunes or go to thoughtforfoodpodcast.com and submit any questions you might have about vegan living so that we can answer them in Q&A episodes.
Aaron is a Registered Nurse, Health Coach/Nutrition Consultant and owner and founder of The Plant-Based RN. He lives and works in Boulder, Colorado with his wife, daughter, three cats and a dog and currently competes as an ultra endurance athlete, running for both Beyond Meat and Skoop. When he’s not working, training or coaching, he co-hosts the Thought For Food Podcast, writes for Vegan Health and Fitness Magazine and strives to be the best dad and husband he can be.
All photography by lindsayhiattphotography.com