When Andrew Scott lost a bunch of weight off his 5-foot-8, 230-pound body in two months in late 2012, the rumors and speculation swirled.
Was he sick? Was he taking drugs? What's wrong with him?
But it was none of the above.
Earlier in the year, his girlfriend, Ashley Renee Chong, had researched ways to lose weight before her sister got married and pinpointed her approach: a raw vegan cleanse diet, which then led to a plant-based vegan diet.
"In all my research on health and nutrition, I kept hearing the same things over and over and it clicked. I knew I needed to try eating vegan," says Chong, the American-born daughter of Jamaicans, her father being half Chinese and half African-American.
"At the time, the change was about losing weight, not being healthy."
And it worked. The West Ashley High School graduate, who is now 23, has shed 130 pounds off her 5-foot-2 frame, going from 252 pounds to 119.
More than weight loss
But she noticed even more significant benefits. She felt energized. Her skin cleared up and was more radiant. Her thinking seemed sharper and more focused.
Now a convert, she began "preaching" to the man she loved and with whom she is now engaged to be married.
At first, Andrew would have nothing of it.
The couple had enjoyed eating "the standard American diet" and their favorite place to go on a date was Wild Wings Cafe, where Andrew usually ordered "Drew's Devilishly Delicious Fried Chicken Sandwich" that comes with a side of "big, fat fries."
Andrew recalls his resistance. "When she first started doing her little things, nobody was listening to her, particularly me. I said to her, 'You do your thing. I'm going to eat my meat. I wanted my Southern fried cooking," recalls Andrew.
But Ashley kept at it, fixing rice and beans, and his resistance wore down.
"One day, something happened and it just clicked on. Once I made up my mind that going vegan was what I was going to do, I just dove in," says Andrew, who started in October 2012, six months after Ashley did.
They both note their weight loss came without exercising, but that both have signed up to work out at a CrossFit box.
In December 2012, they took the diet up another notch, going to a raw vegan diet and have been on it ever since.
They have been undaunted even as their families and friends cracked jokes, some even giving Andrew the nickname of "Nature Boy." But as Renee and Andrew endured, they started noticing that fresh vegetables and other healthy habits started creeping into family gatherings.
None of their families have joined them as vegans, but they are eating healthier.
They hope to continue influencing both friends and even strangers.
Earlier this month, the staff with the "Forks Over Knives" website saw their before-and-after photographs on Instagram and asked permission to use them.
On April 15, Forks Over Knives posted "Together, we lost 200 pounds in 2 years!" to 21,000 followers on Facebook with a link to its website www.forksoverknives.com/together-lost-200-pounds-2-years/.
As of last weekend, the Facebook post gained more than 11,000 likes and 1,700 shares and the website link had 75 comments, some questioning whether it had more to do with eating fresh food than eliminating meat.
Ashley hopes to launch a business, Raw and Radiant, to teach people about adopting a raw vegan diet.
And while African-Americans have higher rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes, the couple hope their message is universal.
"It's not a focus on any particular group. I just want to inspire all individuals to take care of their bodies," says Ashley. "I'm trying to reach everyone."
Reach David Quick at 937-5516.
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