4/19/2012 edit: Updated thread title. Title was: "Lost 107 pounds in 9 months."
12/29/2011 edit: Updated thread title. Original title: "Lost 88 pounds in under six months."
Picture this: Fifteen months ago I weighed something in excess of 550 pounds, maybe 600 or even more. I'll never know how much for sure. I don't have pictures, and the scales at my clinic read ERR above 450 pounds. (I last weighed 450 back in 2005.)
So there I was, diabetic, hypertensive, high cholesterol. Taking 2 diabetes meds, three blood pressure meds, and a statin. Family history of heart disease. Varicose veins in my right leg, edema from the meds, constant leg cramps, my shins sprouting patches of tissue that looked black and dead. Sedentary of course -- exercise is close to impossible when you're in that condition. Plus, it hurts. "Try to exercise more..." You might as well say "Try to hold your hand in the fire a little bit longer."
Every so often, the TV news likes to show the paramedics cutting the wall off of some poor dude's trailer so they can haul his 700lb ass out with a forklift and take him to a hospital. I was rapidly turning into that guy. I didn't have a future.
My diet was... well, it doesn't matter. Obviously it wasn't healthy. I could write a book about the changes I made in my eating patterns over the years; some of the choices were foolish, some were desperate, some were resigned. Some of them should have worked, based on the info I had available to me. Doesn't matter; whatever I ate, I kept getting fatter.
I've had a lot of doctors who've told me to lose weight over the years. But in June of 2010, I finally met one who was willing to engage honestly with my bitter "nothing I've ever done has worked, have you got any new advice for me?" response.
No, she didn't recommend a plant-based diet. She did offer me a choice of several powerful prescription brain drugs which she said had some modest off-label reputation as appetite suppressants. I chose one, which I'm not going to name here. Astonishingly, it worked... sort of.
It had side effects, but what it did for me was interrupt a bunch of my food cravings. For the first time in my life, I was prompted to eat by hunger. I used to stand in front of the fridge, holding an internal dialog about whether or not I'd digested enough food from the last meal that I had room to eat again. I'd FIND myself in front of the fridge having that conversation; it wasn't under my control. The new brain drugs got rid of all that, and it was a blessing. But the side effects were ... massive.
I took the drugs for about six months. I also worked to convince this new doctor to prescribe me something other than the Avandia diabetes med I'd been on for five years. My weight had been stable around 450 before Avandia, then I ballooned. In September, I finally got a change of meds.
Now I was losing a lot of weight. (Avandia is a vicious, vicious drug.) But I also had to stop the brain drug. It was messing with my speech centers, I was losing words. That was OK -- the months I was on it were long enough to break a lot of bad eating habits surrounding binge and habitual eating.
Unfortunately, I had to change doctors again. And the new one didn't like the sound of my congenital heart murmur. It sounded like... more... to her. We discussed whether I needed a cardiac referral, but I couldn't afford it (I'm uninsured), and she wasn't certain. I stalled.
Comes to be Christmas time. I'd lost substantial weight -- more than fifty pounds judging from my clothing. But I had no data. The love of my life found me a household scales good to 600 pounds, and that was my Christmas present (it wasn't exactly cheap).
On Christmas Day 2010 I weighed 511 pounds. I was encouraged ... I had thought it more than that. I didn't remove the meat or dairy from my diet, but I started eating a lot more fruits and vegetables. I was losing weight steadily, a pound or two a week.
Around Valentines Day, we took a special holiday excursion. There was a lot of rich food, more exercise than usual, and more caffeine. My heart started pounding and I began to wonder whether various faint sensations (possibly psychosomatic) qualified as "chest pain." Of course I consulted my doctor. We agreed it was time for that cardiac consult. But the appointment, when I got it, was for the end of March.
In early March, I was relating all this to a good friend who'd recently been through a false-alarm cardiac scare. He was working to improve his diet nonetheless, and he lent me a copy of Esselstyn's "Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease".
Now you've got to understand, I've seen diet books. The world is absolutely full of persuasive medical doctors with a theory about what we should eat. Each one is different, and they certainly aren't all right. So my attitude upon being handed yet another medicalized diet book? Concealed derision: "Yah, here's another one." But a friend is a friend, so I looked at it. (It helps that this friend is one of the smartest people I know.)
One thing I'll give Esselstyn. His pictures of clogged coronary arteries, followed by pics of the unclogged ones: they are very persuasive.
But what caught my attention was that his claims were easily testable. Eat the plant based diet, he said, and you'll see prompt, almost immediate, improvements in blood pressure and blood sugar.
Give up all meat, dairy, oils, refined carbs? For life? It was to laugh. Never happen, not from the mental space I was in. But there I was, broke and uninsured and spending $400 bucks a month on blood pressure and diabetes meds, with a cardiologist visit I can't pay for coming up in a couple of weeks. And this book says I'll see improvements in my numbers in just a few days. That's a claim I can test! And when (so went my internal dialog) my blood sugar spikes through the roof after I eat so much fruit and grain, I can pitch this darn book as yet another product of yet another charlatan.
Hopefully by now you are all laughing at me. Because you know what happened. I'd been posting fasting morning blood sugar numbers between 125 and 140. The lowest I'd ever seen was 117. On March 21, it was 111. Then 113, then 112... I never saw 125 again, much less 140. An instant 10-25 improvement in my blood sugar. Now I'm routinely as low as 92 or so.
Blood pressure improvements were more chaotic, but the trend was clear within a week -- it was improving.
And weight loss? That first week I lost 7 pounds. Then it bounced around a bit, but when the dust settled, I was losing an average of 3.5 pounds a week (compared to a very respectable 2.4 pounds a week between Christmas -- when my data begins -- and March 19.)
At the end of March, I finally saw my cardiologist. Basically he took an EKG and and an echocardiogram, tsked and tutted, and told me to keep up the good work on diet and weight loss. I've got mild-to-moderate valve disease, and I'll be seeing him again soon to see if that is getting any worse. As for arterial blockage, he opined that if I have any, it's minor enough that the valve disease would make it hard to confirm without very invasive testing, and his initial treatment advice based on my symptoms would be the same with or without the testing: keep treating the diabetes and hypertension and cholesterol, plus lose weight. We discussed my then-new experiment in plant-based eating, and he basically said "that's exactly what you should be eating, keep it up."
My "three day experiment" never ended. I have been delighted, even astonished, by the continuing rapid weight loss. My staples are cooked whole grains and savory bean/legume mixes, supplemented with a ton of vegetables and fruit. After I discovered Dr. McDougall's slightly different and somewhat starchier take on plant based eating, I added in potatoes and corn tortillas. I continue to eat the same huge portions I've eaten all my life, and I enjoy the food I eat. My blood sugar numbers have continued to improve, my blood pressure is some better, and I've just received good news in the form of fresh blood sugar and cholesterol numbers.
Blood sugar first:
2005: Diagnosed with diabetes. AIC: 7.1
2009, October: A1C down to 5.9; on megadose of Avandia and Metformin. Diabetes considered "controlled".
2011, March 3: A1C at 6; Jenuvia and Metformin. 2 weeks before starting plant based diet.
2011, August 30: A1C at 5.5. Dropped the Jenuvia. Yay! (That stuff is expensive.)
But it's the blood lipids that are fun:
Total: 246 (wow, these meds really work, not)
Total: 142 (yay for plants!)
LDL: 75 (!)
Obviously those triglycerides are still high, but my doctor opines they will come down slowly with further weight loss. (I know I probably need to eat less fruit, too.) I am exhorted to exercise to improve the HDL. But would you look at those total and LDL numbers! It's astonishing.
Now, what about weight loss? Today I weigh 394 pounds. Yes, that's still morbid obesity, even for a 6'4" man. But I'm losing an average of 3.5 pounds a week! Without, most weeks, breaking a sweat. I haven't bought many new clothes yet, and it's almost comical how badly I'm falling out of my old ones.
I was 482 on March 18 when I started eating nothing but plants. That's 88 pounds lost in 25 weeks. And it's not a struggle, it's not a "diet" that I can't wait to be done with, it's just what I'm eating. Realistically, I know things may change in the future -- but even if I mess up and gain some, for the first time in my life I know how to lose it again. For me, that's epic.
Health effects: Obviously I feel better and move better. I never lost my mobility, but at my heaviest, I was limited to no more than half an hour of standing/walking before my feet would hurt too bad, which made a lot of simple things difficult, like grocery shopping. Today, the sore feet while "out and about" is a fading memory. Obviously the diabetes is better. My blood pressure is improved -- I'm now, still with meds, skating just below the basic 120/80 upper limit on healthy BP. Before, on the same meds, I was often seeing 150+/110 type numbers, with some as high as 180/120. I expect further improvement as my weight diminishes. And there's also the question of digestion. I was never plagued by sustained heartburn, but I certainly had it frequently; now, I never get it. I used to get unpleasant digestive symptoms my doctor thought were probably incipient gall bladder disease; those are 100% gone. I even had a few minor hemorrhoids, which have now completely healed due to the lack of need for what the doctors so delicately call "straining at stools." And two summers ago, walking 300 feet in the full heat of the day would destroy my wind and energy, leaving me out of breath and debilitated. This summer, the hottest on record where I am? None of that. I changed a tire at noon -- it was sweaty and unpleasant and I was breathing hard when done, but I didn't feel like I needed to lay down and die.
Oh, yes, and remember those black patches on my shins that looked like the area was dead? (Yeah, scary enough. Twice as scary when you're diabetic and nothing heals well below the knees.) Those patches are healing. They're not gone...yet. But they are much healthier looking, the color is now just a light brown, and they are vanishing from the outside in, in a fractal pattern that almost certainly relates to the restored functionality of various small blood vessels.
I'm still a hugely fat man with diabetes, hypertension, and some damage to my cardiac valves. But for the first time in my life, I feel in control of my diet and my weight. I feel better than I have in years, I'm lighter than I've been in fifteen years at least, and I've got some reasonable hope that I won't be dead by the time I'm fifty (which was my realistic expectation less than two years ago.)
Sorry to have written such a book. Now, if you'll pardon me, there's a bowl of curried peas and rice that's calling my name.
Last edited by MixedGrains on Thu Apr 19, 2012 12:55 pm, edited 3 times in total.