Stacy Leeds (Cherokee Nation) | Age 52 | Downtown Phoenix + Tahlequah | Part Three ᏦᎢ

Last month marked the third anniversary of this blog AND the one year anniversary of my re-entry into the law dean world. Last year,  I chronicled my health hesitancy with the post: Dean 2.0. Spoiler alert. So far, so good. Most days.

Three years ago, this blog was created after I came off a 6 month recovery cycle after 10+ years of higher ed administration. The first time I served as a law school dean (and then Vice Chancellor), I eventually fell into a rut where I did not prioritize my own health and wellness. I ended up with a total cholesterol score twice the median LSAT score of my institution’s law school. Funny. But also not funny at all. You can read about all that here

During Fall 2020, still partially on COVID lock down, I took the extreme step of going full-on vegan. It radically lowered my cholesterol in record time. Kept me off statins. Was phenomenal for my skin. I didn’t lose as much weight as I thought I might. Why? I was eating well but my exercise was still more inconsistent than I’d like to admit. We watched more TV during the COVID than we had the prior decade. And we had a few too many beers on the deck looking at the Cherokee hills and solving all the world’s problems.  

So three years later, what gives with the vegan thing? The health thing in general? Did the granddaughter of a Cherokee farmer/rancher and sister of a dude who raises “fat cattle and fast horses” stay vegan? Nah. But I’m very thankful for this journey. 

It set me on a much better and (so far) sustainable path. It further fueled my inclination toward food and body experimentation. I have stayed 100% gluten free (which completely eradicated migraines, read about that here). I have also stayed about 98% dairy free. Newsflash: Indian country is a very lactose intolerant space if folks listen to their bodies.

Here’s where I landed: Eating at home is still best. Plant-based is still a frequent choice. I also mix in some fish (strike the shellfish), the occasional ribeye and some chicken. And a micro-dose of bacon or hog meat. But I hate wild onion and eggs. Very un-Cherokee like, I know. That’s a hill I’ll die on.   

Over all, I’m down about 40 pounds from the cholesterol and pre-diabetic danger zone of the past. It’s not just about the weight. It’s more about being stronger, faster, sustainable and above all, healthy. Weight is just a good sign that the other things are going well. 

Bottom line: as we age, food is the most important input for our health, with exercise running a very close second. And yet it’s still a bit of a struggle every single day. Culture and genetics pack a powerful punch. Sometimes for good. Sometimes for bad.

The biggest takeaway from this last year has been about priorities and letting go of the things I cannot control. The best part of this last year has been, putting my health first (on most days). But I do a job that averages 75 hours a week (if I am honest about the time spent on travel and correspondences). 

The worst part of this last year? After all that, I still sometimes feel guilty about prioritizing my health. That’s never going to go away, is it? If you grew up in a household or in a community where you never knew someone who just goes for a run just for the sake of their health, it’s still a foreign concept. And it feels a bit imposter-y. But it also feels really really good. 

Wishing you all good health and joy this year, as we march on to year four of these ramblings.