Lifelong dieting, a brain mass and plans for stomach surgery: mother and daughter unite to change their future


Jacelyn Alvarez is one of my current nutrition students with the courage to change the world, as she leads by example and has already made a profound impact on someone VERY important in her life! In Jacelyn’s words…

“My mother and I are really close. Always have been and always will be. Throughout my entire life, I was always the “bigger” girl of the group and have been dieting since the age of 12 (not kidding). It was different from my mom, as she didn’t struggle with weight until gaining 70 pounds while pregnant with my twin brothers. Raising 4 kids on her own, handling a home, stress, work, and life itself, she slowly kept gaining weight as the years passed.

Both of us have tried every diet in the book. The cayenne pepper and lemon water diet (The “Beyoncé” Diet), carb/sugar free diets, 21Day Fix, Slim Fast, Weight Watchers, diet pills, Results Fitness, the gym, etc. No matter how dedicated we were, we found ourselves starving, unhappy and exhausted. All the weight we lost would come right back within weeks and the cycle would never end.

In 2012, my mom found out that she had a benign brain mass that had been growing for 5-7 years. It was slowly taking over her eye sight, hearing, and she began to go numb on the right side of her body. Though we weren’t sure about the cause, she was convinced it had something to do with GMOs and the chemicals in our food supply. She decided we must only purchase organic food. At the time, I thought it was ridiculous and that she was overreacting.

Thankfully, with time, the mass shrunk to half its size (it was the size of a large egg!), but eating organic didn’t change the fact that we were still overweight and unhealthy. About a month ago, this began to show in my mom’s tests results. She was told she had a fatty liver, was “borderline” diabetic, had “borderline” high cholesterol, and had high blood pressure. Being given this news, she knew something needed to be done. She knew that dieting wasn’t an option since we failed each time we tried. She decided to pursue a surgery that would make her stomach smaller, a sleeve gastrectomy, so that she wouldn’t eat as much.

This is where our lifestyle change began. At the time of my mother’s decision about surgery, I was in the middle of Timaree Hagenburger’s NUTRI 300 class, and learning about how much of an impact our choices can make on our overall health. From the moment my mom told me about the surgery, I made it clear that I didn’t support her decision because I thought there was a better way to lose weight and that we could do it together. In her mind, though, surgery was her only way “out,” as she didn’t think other options were possible.

On September 22, 2016, I made the decision to cut out all animal products from my diet. I had contemplated going fully plant-based for about a year, but I hadn’t yet found the reason to commit. Then, we watched a video about chicken in class, and I was DONE. I could not see myself eating any animal products ever again.

Two weeks in, I had lost 10lbs! No exercise, just simply eating a lot of beans, fruits, veggies, and grains. THAT IS IT! I now had the proof that this lifestyle was easy and that my mom could do it, too! I pushed her so much that she said, “You know what Jacelyn, FINE! I’ll go vegetarian and see how it goes, BUT, I’m STILL going to have the surgery in November.” Two weeks later, she stepped on the scale and found that she lost 12lbs! She was shocked and then learned that her blood pressure dropped significantly and all of her numbers were improving. After taking her to see the movie “Eating You Alive,” she was convinced, and decided to completely transition to a plant-based, oil-free way of eating, and she canceled her surgery!

Though we don’t live together, we share a lot of videos, recipes and ideas. We often grocery shop (we have cut our grocery bill in half), and when possible, cook together. It has been an adventure as we learn about the best foods to eat and how to prepare them. We recently discovered how much we love nutrient-dense soups! A favorite recipe, especially with the weather getting a bit colder, is a tortilla soup that we modified from the Fat Free Vegan Kitchen blog.”


Jacelyn’s Feel Good Tortilla Soup

While we think this soup is “to die for,” the way we make it now, our bodies thank us, instead of suffer! To us, it resembles the taste and flavor of Menudo or Pozole, which are some of our FAVORITE Mexican dishes. – Jacelyn


3 large dried New Mexico chilies

1 ½ cups fresh tomatoes, diced (or 15oz can diced tomatoes)

1 red onion, medium or small dice

3 Tablespoons garlic, minced

1 tsp Mexican oregano, dried

½ tsp chili powder

4 tsp of vegetable broth base/paste/powder

7 cups water

4 ½ cups cooked beans (cooked from dry or 3-15oz cans of kidney, pinto, black beans)

10 oz. bag frozen corn (or 2 cups fresh corn, cut from cob)

3 medium zucchini, medium dice

4 cups kale leaves, chopped


6 corn tortillas and salt-free seasoning (see links below)



Black pepper, to taste

Hot sauce, optional



Toast the chilies in a hot dry saucepan, pressing them down into the pan, being careful not to burn them. Once toasted and cool enough to handle, remove the stems and seeds, (or leave them in for extra heat). Add to a blender jar with the tomatoes and their liquid.

Turn the heat down to medium, and add onion and garlic to the saucepan, stirring frequently, until they begin to brown. Add a little water if it starts to really stick. Once completely brown, stir in the chili powder and heat for a minute before adding this mixture to chilies and tomatoes in the blender. Blend until completely smooth.

Add the puree back to the heated saucepan and stir constantly until thickened. Add vegetable broth paste/powder, water, oregano, and zucchini. Bring to a boil, then add the drained beans and corn, reduce heat and cook for 15 min.

While the soup is simmering, prepare the tortilla strips. Cut each tortilla into 1/4-inch wide strips. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet or pizza screen and sprinkle with salt or your favorite salt-free seasoning (or this one). Bake for about 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees, until lightly golden and crisp (if “chewy” – continue baking until crisp, but check every few minutes so they don’t burn).

Stir the chopped kale into the soup and season with pepper to taste. Once the kale has wilted but is still bright green, ladle the soup into your bowls. Top with avocado, a squeeze of lime, hot sauce (if you’d like) and tortilla strips!

Timaree Hagenburger, a registered dietitian and certified exercise physiologist with a master’s degree in public health, loves working with her students, as a nutrition professor at Cosumnes River College. Timaree also conducts local events, corporate wellness work, has a regular segment on California Bountiful TV and published her first cookbook – The Foodie Bar Way: One meal. Lots of options. Everyone’s happy. available at – where you will also find details about Timaree’s upcoming events (cooking demos, book signings and talks about the incredible power you yield with your fork!).

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