As you well know, good journalists are trained to ask relevant questions, dig deep for facts, and check the reliability of their sources. For Columbia news anchors (and avid health enthusiasts) Dawndy Mercer Plank and Alicia Barnes, these skills come in handy as they explore a plethora of information associated with the benefits of a plant-based diet.
Dawndy, Co-anchor for WIS News 10, and Alicia Barnes, Co-anchor for ABC Columbia, are regular customers at Good Life Café. Their passion for healthy eating has inspired us for a long time, so we asked if we could report on them for a change! Their story is good news, especially for those who want to lose weight and overcome health issues, but don’t know how or where to begin.
Alicia was overweight during her childhood. She ate many “Standard American Diet” (SAD) foods, and often ate what she wanted, and as much as she wanted. Over time her body experienced typical SAD results like weight gain, lack of energy and lowered immune function.
Years later, while living in San Diego, Alicia switched to a plant-based diet. The same year she was named the town’s “Favorite Female Newscaster,” her news show was cancelled. It was an ideal time to prepare her mind, body and spirit for her next assignment. She had heard about the Tree of Life Center, a holistic wellness center in Padagonia, Arizona, and enrolled in their two-month program.
Alicia worked in their organic garden and discovered the healing powers of fruits and vegetables. She immersed herself in all the goodness they had to offer and began to notice changes in her body. Her skin became clearer and more radiant. She didn’t have the usual fatigue, brain fog, blues or cramps that many pre-menopausal women experience. She also experienced a natural total-body cleanse and began to lose weight. At the end of her stay, she left the Center inspired, fully committed to a lifetime pursuit of optimal health.
Alicia was determined to apply as much as she could in the next place she would call home. By the time she arrived in Columbia she was eager to seek out restaurants devoted to clean eating. However, she discovered that while Columbia had many restaurants that served a great Reuben sandwich and other SAD items, the city lacked a variety of choices for those who prefer a plant-based diet. She was thankful for Earth Fare and Rosewood Market, which were among a handful of health-oriented businesses in the Midlands.
At the time, Sharon Wright prepared raw meals in her home and delivered them to health-conscious friends. Sharon is well known for her ability to prepare amazing vegan cuisine! Alicia heard Sharon’s name come up often and occasionally saw her at Earth Fare. In 2001, when Sharon opened Good Life Café in West Columbia, Alicia became a regular customer. It was a bit of a drive, but Alicia felt it was well worth it.
In March of 2014, the café moved to Main Street, down the street from Alicia’s studio. Monday through Friday, Alicia could count on Sharon and Good Life Café to provide nutrient-dense choices, but the weekends were more of a challenge. At home she did not stick to the same healthy regimen. For example, she prepared healthy salads, but drizzled bottled salad dressings over the top, making it counter-productive. She noticed that she felt much better when she stuck to the food at Good Life Café.
In April of 2014 Alicia decided to “ramp up” her commitment to healthy choices seven days a week. Today, she depends on Good Life Café for most of her food and rotates through the menu. Her favorites are the tacos and kale salad (two wildly popular dishes), the Jerk Burger and Acai Bowls. Sometimes she lets Sharon create something tailor-made for her. The portions are always generous, so there is usually enough food for a take-home meal. Her husband Jacob John has been known to sneak her leftovers from the refrigerator!
The café’s Acai Bowls are loaded with nutrients that fuel the body and mind for hours. Alicia has one mid-afternoon so she can remain mentally sharp until her evening program begins at 11 PM.
When Alicia introduces others to healthy eating, she shares information at a measured pace. She lets others guide according to where they’re at. Because some people become overwhelmed with unfamiliar foods and new information, Alicia suggests that people take baby steps, like omitting some harmful foods and ingredients while introducing nutrient-dense foods.
If you are an “all-or-nothing” type, you may enjoy Alicia’s blog where she journals about her 21-day Clean Eating Challenge. You’ll read helpful tips, see photos and follow Alicia’s weight loss progress. You’ll also see what and when she chose to drink and eat each day. You’ll discover that Good Life Café supplied most of what she needed and enjoyed, and the same still holds true today.
Alicia Barnes is a classic example of how utterly different your everyday life is when you adopt a plant-based diet. If you frequent Good Life Café or other places devoted to wellness, you’ll meet countless others who are equally inspired, and who trumpet this life-changing message!
As an avid marathon runner and health enthusiast, Dawndy was intentional about trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. She stayed up on the latest recommendations and tried to avoid foods that were harmful. To cut down on fat, she reached for fat-free items. She shopped the interior grocery store aisles and did her best to make good choices. This was especially important to her after she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer years ago.
In 2010 Dawndy registered for a four-week Alive Again, LLC nutritional boot camp offered by Leré (La-RAY) Robinson, a well-respected nutritional coach and speaker in Columbia. The schedule covered a wide range of wellness topics, including proper food combination, how to read food labels, common food additives and preservatives, the benefits of whole fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds, and nuts, alternatives to dairy, the difference in safe and hazardous food packaging, and much more.
Dawndy wanted to make the most of her time. Going into the boot camp, she felt she had a basic understanding of things. She showed up at every class prepared and eager to learn more and apply what she learned. There were recipes, raw food classes, smoothie demonstrations, instructional times, and wellness-centered field trips.
During the last week Leré took the class to read food labels. This was where Dawndy experienced a major epiphany in what it means to truly seek healthy food products. For the first time, she learned about common food additives and how some additives appear harmless, but are ones to avoid. She learned about BPA chemical liners in cans, and why BPA leaching in canned food or microwave popcorn is harmful to the body. Leré showed examples of healthy packaging alternatives available at health food stores, and in the organic sections of mainline grocery stores.
Using her new knowledge, Dawndy adjusted or replaced much of what she ate and drank. She learned what, how and when to eat for optimal performance and endurance. For example, she found that eating pea protein was better for her than whey protein. She discovered that AIM’s whole food Peak Endurance powder with electrolytes was better for her than a popular energy drink marketed to runners. She also discovered that a mostly raw plant-based diet with some of the superfoods, seeds, nuts and legumes yielded dramatic results.
Like Alicia and others who switch from a SAD diet to a clean, plant-based raw food diet, Dawndy saw changes in her skin, energy, weight, endurance and mental clarity. As the pure foods went in and the residual toxins were swept out, her body systems were nourished and cleansed and she was transformed from the inside out.
The boot camp ignited a desire in Dawndy to delve even deeper into her understanding of the benefits of a raw plant-based diet. She was “all in” after that, ready to reach higher in her pursuit of optimal health. As an avid researcher, she has spent countless hours reading about nutrition, attending more classes or lectures, and speaking with others who are knowledgeable.
In 2013 and 2014, Dawndy and her husband Craig attended an annual multi-day wellness conference in New York led by Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn. Dr. Esselstyn earned his undergraduate degree at Yale, and is a world renowned surgeon who trained at Cleveland Clinic and served there since 1968. His extensive biography may be found at www.dresselstyn.com.
When Dr. Esselstyn discovered the major role plants play in preventing disease and restoring health, he devoted himself to educating others, including doctors and other health professionals around the world. For three days, Dawndy and Craig “drank from a firehose” during the many lectures and workshops devoted to the benefits of plant-based nutrition.
With every new dive into the wondrous, life-changing world of plant-based eating, Dawndy continues to be refreshed. Like Alicia, her enthusiasm is contagious and draws others to her, and her to others who share in a desire to learn more. Dawndy speaks about her journey at events throughout the Midlands. She has developed a list of resources to share with others when they want to know more. It is a working list that grows right along with her continued research. We’ve included it at the end. Perhaps it will serve as a great jumpstart to your own quest to know more and grow in health!
We hope you’ve been inspired by Alicia and Dawndy. We sure have!
We have yet to meet an unchanged, unhappy person who made the switch from SAD to clean eating.
Even those who have tried just one meal during just one visit to Good Life Café have reported a difference after their meal. Reports like “I wasn’t bloated or lethargic” come in all the time. Hard-core carnivores who fear spinach, kale and all things green arrive as skeptics, often coerced by family members who crave a meal with nutrients. We smile when we see their expressions of surprise and total satisfaction. And we love to welcome them back as repeat customers! Some are many pounds lighter, minus a few medications, and minus a few health problems. This opportunity to impact people’s lives in such a beautiful and positive way keeps Sharon Wright and Good Life Café doing what they do.
In the book of Psalms there is a verse that reads, “Even the rocks cry out.” It appears that our cells cry out, too.
Note: We thank Alicia and Dawndy for their amazing and tireless work during and after the tragic and historic SC flood.