This year’s VegMichigan VegFest is scheduled for April 28 at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi.

This year’s VegMichigan VegFest is scheduled for April 28 at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi.

Photo provided by Tom Progar

Organizations share plant-based lifestyle experiences, benefits

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published January 30, 2019

 Some people are choosing plant-based diets for their health.

Some people are choosing plant-based diets for their health.

Photo provided by Tom Progar

METRO DETROIT — At the age of 55, Paul Chatlin could not walk more than seven steps without having to stop and take several breaths. He also found out he had three blocked coronary arteries and was a candidate for bypass surgery.

“My color was gone,” he said. “I was in serious pain.”

But the West Bloomfield resident was able to change his medical condition and did not have the operation after all. His health greatly improved when a cardiologist suggested he make a lifestyle change from a meat, dairy, sugar and oils diet to a whole plant-based way of eating.

Six years later, Chatlin is 70 pounds lighter; has the energy to exercise two hours a day, six days a week; and is “more limber today at 61 than I have ever been in my life.”

Chatlin credits his plant-based lifestyle for his improved health. A plant-based diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, and limits or avoids animal products.

“Everything I’m eating is anti-inflammatory. I was able to stop and reverse the heart disease,” said Chatlin, who also ditched processed and fast foods. “I hit the life lottery.”

Wanting to share with others the benefits of his lifestyle change, Chatlin founded  the Plant Based Nutrition Support Group, or PBNSG. The organization was initially established to support individuals who had been diagnosed with or were at the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. The group, which has 6,000 members, also encourages people who want to follow a plant-based diet.

The PBNSG holds regular meetings in Macomb, Oakland and Washtenaw counties, and has groups in Saginaw, Bay City, Grand Rapids, Traverse City and Windsor, Ontario. The PBNSG offers education, recipes, exercise, guest speakers, input from doctors and more on its website at

“The organization is a community with an understanding of people working toward better health and without judgment,” Chatlin said. “It’s reclaiming people’s health. We offer support.”

At PBNSG events, there are always doctors, chefs and meals to sample.

“It’s very important we have people try the foods,” Chatlin said. And while there is the assumption that there is not much variety in eating plant-based foods, Chatlin assures that is not the case.

“There are so many options,” he said. The support group also offers tips for getting children to eat healthier.

Chatlin was shocked at how much better he felt once he started eating differently. For people who are tired of feeling miserable all the time, Chatlin encourages them to try a plant-based diet. As someone who had to make big changes after 55 years of eating processed meats, dairy products and sugary foods, Chatlin knows “this new way of eating is not easy.” But “what would life be like if you felt healthy all the time?”

The next PBNSG meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. March 13 at Groves High School, 20500 W. 13 Mile Road in Beverly Hills. Tickets and other information about the organization are available online.

Another group that is helping people get healthy is VegMichigan, a nonprofit organization focused on promoting the health, environmental and ethical benefits of a vegan diet. VegMichigan welcomes both meat-eaters and vegans alike to all events.

Veganism is a type of food lifestyle that excludes meat, eggs, dairy products and all other animal-derived ingredients. Eating vegan has been a way of life for VegMichigan President Tom Progar for 12 years. Progar, an animal lover who had been vegetarian for 20 years, went vegan for health and ethical reasons, he said.

“VegMichigan promotes a vegan diet,” Progar, of Farmington Hills, said. “Our focus and mission is to help people take it to the next step. We are a nonjudgmental group. A lot of times you hear ‘vegan,’ and you’re either in the club or not. We’re open to having people take steps into the right direction for their health.”

A vegan diet includes fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu and tempeh. VegMichigan has about 700 paying members and thousands of supporters. The organization offers cooking classes, educational courses, a dinner club, library displays, vegan tasting options and more.

“I think the food is great, but it’s hard to make a change,” Progar said. “We understand eating habits are from family traditions. We want people to make the right balance for the good of their health. If you can stick to it, give it a chance. Take small steps. You’ll look forward to eating healthy because it makes you feel better.”

By the age of 35, Progar began noticing aches and pains in his body. After adopting a vegan lifestyle, Progar, now 49, feels better and has more energy.

“I am way more active today. It just feels right to me,” said Progar, who plays tennis three or four  times a week. “There are so many recipes that offer vegan plant-based options. You can find vegan options at most restaurants.”

The group’s annual VegFest is scheduled for April 28 at the Suburban Collection Showplace, 46100 Grand River Ave. in Novi. The event will be held from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. A special online ticket price of $12.50 is available. Children 5 and younger may attend free.

VegFest will feature Hollywood celebrity and plant-based advocate Alicia Silverstone; nutrition expert and New York Times best-selling author Dr. Michael Greger; head of the Functional and Lifestyle Medicine Department at Henry Ford Hospital System Dr. Elizabeth Swenor; Dr. Robert Breakey, of the University of Michigan Medical School; and Dan McKernan, founder and executive director of Barn Sanctuary.

For more information on VegMichigan, visit or call (248) 867-2155.