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Vegan Athlete Shares How Plant-Based Diet Helped Her Manage IBS

Vegan Athlete Shares How Plant-Based Diet Helped Her Manage IBS


Elite kettlebell sport athlete Jennifer Hintenberger has been vegan for more than a decade. She said a plant-based diet helped her manage severe chronic health issues and fuel her world-record athletic performance.
Courtesy of Jennifer Hintenberger

  • An elite athlete said following a vegan diet helped her reduce symptoms of chronic illnesses. 
  • She said worrying less about protein allowed her to find foods that worked best for her body. 
  • Her typical diet includes lots of fruit, which she said has boosted her energy and recovery.

As a personal trainer in her early 20s, Jennifer Hintenberger seemed healthy on the surface.

But internally, she was suffering. Her symptoms — including hair loss, severe acid reflux, kidney problems, and difficulty breathing — made her feel decades older.

“The doctor said, ‘It looks like I should be talking to a 60-year-old man,'” she told Business Insider.

Now 43, Hintenberger said that transitioning to a vegan diet more than a decade ago helped her manage chronic illnesses like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

The Canadian athlete has since won gold medals and set multiple world records in kettlebell sport and will compete at upcoming events with the Vegan Strong PlantBuilt roster.

Hintenberger said habits like eating lots of fruit for energy, worrying less about protein, and avoiding digestive irritants like gluten help her feel and perform her best.

Cutting out dairy and meat helped her reduce bloating and digestive issues

Hintenberger never expected she’d go vegan, but severe health issues made her desperate for a change.

“I started this journey because I was sick of being sick,” she said. “I had symptoms that lasted weeks that turned into months that turned into years.”

Her symptoms included bloating, constipation, acne and itchiness, light-headedness, lethargy, and sleep paralysis, along with other digestive issues.

At one point, she was traveling with a client and was in so much pain she was unable to eat normal meals and resorted to boiling prunes to try to get some nutrients and calories.

“I just wanted to rip my skin off. I hated being in my own body,” she said.

A doctor said her issues were related to stress but also poor digestion and recommended an elimination diet.

Hintenberger gradually cut out potential trigger foods, realizing that dairy, meat, and gluten had been worsening her symptoms.

At first, she was concerned about getting enough protein, but Hintenberger found that she didn’t need as much as she thought to thrive.

“Plants have all the protein you need to be strong, to be healthy, to be competitive,” she said.

She stopped tracking nutrients and focused on eating what seemed to work best for her body, prompting a big improvement in her kidney issues, which can be exacerbated by eating too much protein.

Quitting fad diets helped her lose weight and boost her performance

Earlier in her life, Hintenberger struggled with food addiction and binge eating. But following a strict high-protein, low-carb diet along with an intense exercise schedule didn’t seem to help.

“No matter how much I trained or how healthy I ate, I was always gaining weight,” she said.

It was only by letting go of her weight loss efforts that Hintenberg saw the changes she was looking for.

Focusing on meeting her nutritional needs and switching to a plant-based diet eventually helped her lose more than 70 pounds.

Jennifer Hintenberger said that as soon as she stopped trying to lose weight and focused on a plant-based diet, she felt healthier and eventually dropped 70 pounds.
Courtesy of Jennifer Hintenberger

“The most powerful thing was changing the way I ate. When I finally stopped eating to lose weight, I lost weight,” Hintenberger said. “Now I don’t care about my size, I care if I have energy.”

She eats lots of fruit for better energy and performance

When she was on fad diets, Hintenberger used to avoid fruit, fearing the sugar and carbs would cause health issues and weight gain.

“I was afraid of fruit, told to eat high-protein and low-carb, that fruit is the devil,” she said.

As a world champion in kettlebell sport, she now eats as many as 20 servings of fruit a day.

Her typical day of eating includes a green smoothie, bananas, mangos, cherries, and often lots of watermelon as a snack. She rounds out her nutritional needs with her staple energy balls made from almond butter and vegan chocolate chips. Later in the day, she has hearty vegan dinners like curry, tacos, or Thai food.

Hintenberger said eating a plant-based diet has helped her recover more quickly from exercise, and continue gaining strength so she can stay at the top of her sport.

“I’m never one to push veganism, but I genuinely want to be an example of health as we age,” she said.



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