Stacy Leeds (Cherokee Nation) | Age 49 | Tahlequah | Part One ᏌᏊ |

I’m a professor, former law dean, judge, mom. The last 25 years, I’ve been going hard and fast. Most of the time, my energy is spent on the good stuff I wouldn’t take back, but I have a tendency to revert back to a lifestyle that could kill me if I didn’t get it together. I’m still very much in the process of getting “it” together. But I’m on to something.

I’ve had a great life and now I’m incredibly privileged. I am educated, thanks to sports and student loans. I have great jobs, one hilarious son, a rock-solid family and friends, a second chance at love (and marriage) after being a single (really, really) hardworking mom. But then I got the “wakeup call” after a doctor’s visit (or two). My blood pressure, cholesterol (and weight) steadily crept higher and higher. Both of my parents are on statins and high blood pressure meds. Diabetes is all around me. I either break the cycle or I don’t.

I was making unhealthy choices. Not eating well. Not exercising like I should. Not fueling myself adequately to support the demands of my work or home. Did I mention, my cholesterol was just shy of 300?! Three. Hundred! I was totally exhausted. Zero energy. I think they call it on the verge of being “burnt to a crisp” and I’m not talking about bacon.

You know what made it worse? I am a mentor, role model and friend of many Indigenous women, especially young future lawyers. It was clear to me that I was modeling very bad behavior for our community. Not good.

Intellectually, I’m passionate about creating a healthy Cherokee Nation we can all be proud of, but in all honesty, I’ve been a relatively unhealthy Cherokee person. I’ve been totally confident running multi-million dollar institutions and making BIG decisions, but I struggled to be the boss of myself. As one of my all time favorite movie quotes conveys it best: it was time to really “get busy living or get busy dying.”

Fast forward 7 months. My latest health journey has yielded such amazing results, my best friend urged me to start this website to share my successes and my failures, in a very “Stacy” way. I hope she meant with humor + brutal honesty. She knows me well enough to know this will also be good for my OWN accountability.

I’m a researcher and life long student, but I honestly didn’t know how to eat well. How to go about it. What to cook. What to buy. Where to begin. I still don’t know how to consistently exercise for the long haul without an upcoming sporting event on the calendar.

I’m stunned. My cholesterol dropped 60+ points in the first 4 months with no drugs, just food. My blood pressure is now perfect, trending on the low side. No drugs, just food. I feel GREAT again. Energetic. Able to start being an athlete again. And don’t worry, I get PLENTY of protein.

What did I learn? What our ancestors probably knew. It’s (mostly) THE FOOD. Food really is medicine. I did get some MUCH needed rest, but overwhelmingly, it’s the FOOD. Newsflash to me: “I can’t eat processed food, drink coffee all day, use wine to decompress and keep up the pace I want to keep.”

I went vegan. Cut out animal products. That’s what I said. Meat. Cheese. All of it. Gone. About 99% of the time. But I’m not THAT kind of vegan. The kind that hurls insults on Twitter toward Indigenous parents teaching their kids how to harvest wildlife. Or throwing shade on an Indian farmer or rancher working hard to make their living on his/her family’s allotment land. I celebrate that farmer. I’m that farmer’s granddaughter.

I’ve searched high and low, and there’s just no place for people like “us” on the internet. I’m calling myself a mostly “plant-based” and totally “gluten free” person committed to being more active. Go ahead, cue the old joke: “what do you call an Indian vegan? . . . .a bad hunter.” Laugh at me and with me.

To be clear, I LOVE Sonic, ribs, grape dumplins, fried chicken, fry bread, biscuits and gravy and hog fries during tribal election season. And I really really love cheese, especially the HOT MELTY kind. But that food, even in moderation, makes me sick and if I eat it very much at all . . . I’m going to die sooner than I want. I have some big work left to do in our communities and so do you.

I shop at Reasor’s, Walmart, Braum’s and sometimes Sav-A-Lot, Dollar General and Dollar Tree. And our locally owned small rural stores like Oasis Health Food Store in Tahlequah. I’m keenly aware that Indian country is a giant food desert full of people who can’t and don’t want to order expensive food at an online specialty shop. There’s a LOT to unpack here.

My fitness goal? Stronger. More endurance. I want to be a sustainable Indigenous bad ass, not just a cyclical one.