Chain reactions of good health: Weight-loss leads
to improved blood pressure and cholesterol
can empathize with people struggling with obesity, since I have
been in their shoes, but I know that obesity is not a disease
but rather a lifestyle that cannot be "cured" with pills or
surgery. I lost over 100 pounds through diet and exercise, and
to keep the weight off, the choices I make each day must support
my McDougall lifestyle.
When I tell people my story of
weight-loss, I see a look of complete amazement on their faces.
I have accomplished something thought by most to be nearly
impossible. When they ask how I did it, I tell them "diet and
exercise." They remain interested until they realize I am
talking about a vegan diet (eating no animal products at all).
This way of eating, they say, is too extreme for them—but a life
of pills and surgery was too extreme for me.
I grew up in a
small farming community and was overweight at a young age. I
started gaining extra weight during kindergarten, and by sixth
grade I weighed 220 pounds. Our family used to joke that "God
doesn't make small Bachmanns." I thought that being big was my
fate since most of the people in my immediate and extended
family were "built like farmers."
Despite my weight, I remained active in school, playing sports,
such as basketball, volleyball, and softball. While in school I
remember having access to pepperoni pizza almost every day. At home
my mom prepared meals consisting of hearty "farm" foods. Our meals
weren't particularly extravagant or rich, but they always included
meat along with potatoes and vegetables.
When I graduated high school in 1991, I was 5'6" and weighed 275
pounds. In college, I managed to lose 80 pounds by decreasing my
intake of calories and fat, limiting my portion sizes, and
increasing my physical activity. I avoided pills, weight-loss
shakes, pre-packaged foods, points, fads, gimmicks, and surgery. But
after college I took a desk job, stopped exercising, and gained back
When I was 23, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and was
put on medication. Borderline high cholesterol was also part of my
medical maladies. Since being overweight and having high blood
pressure were part of my family's medical history (along with heart
disease), I just figured that it was my time, even if I was only 23.
I continued to try and lose weight by reducing my portions and
exercising, but during this time I also became intolerant of
meat. At first it was beef, then pork and finally chicken. They
all made me feel sick to my stomach. I began to eat more fish
instead, but ended up developing a strong dislike for seafood as
well. So I became a lacto-ovo vegetarian, and continued to eat
dairy foods and eggs, but no meat or fish.
My father also has Crohn's disease, a chronic inflammatory
condition of the small intestines. With the digestive issues I was
having, I thought that I may have inherited a digestive system
condition, such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) from him. The
change in my diet (eliminating meat and fish) helped relieve my
digestive system issues. However, even after this shift my blood
pressure and cholesterol remained elevated.
Eliminating all animal foods
Then, about three years
ago, my husband and I were getting ready for our yearly
vacation, which meant it was time to pick up a new book to read
while at the beach. By chance I came across The China Study
by T. Colin Campbell. It discussed the effects of diet on
disease, and it was a page turner! The book also mentioned Dr.
John McDougall's approach to disease and weight-loss. I then
visited the McDougall website and picked up his book Twelve
Days to Dynamic Health. His approach made sense to me, and
since I was almost a vegan already, making further changes to
eliminate all animal products did not seem too difficult.
few weeks later, I went to a new doctor to refill my blood
pressure prescription. I talked to her about what I had read in
The China Study and Twelve Days to Dynamic Health,
but she didn't want to listen to me. She told me that I'd be on
medication for the rest of my life, and that at some point I
would probably be taking a combination of two or three
medications a day. Needless to say, I haven't been back to see
then talked with another doctor about my high blood pressure. He
agreed to let me go off my medication if I monitored my blood
pressure from home; but if it went up, he'd refill my prescription.
However, after changing my diet, my blood pressure dropped to normal
within five days. I no longer had to take hypertension
medication, which I had been taking for nine years.
Nowadays, with regular exercise, I have noticed that the effort
needed to maintain my weight is minimal (I now weigh 170). When I
stopped eating dairy and eggs, my total cholesterol also dropped by
60 points to 170 (over a span of two years).
My husband has not switched to a McDougall diet, but he has moved
away from the Standard American Diet (SAD). His blood pressure is
down, but not his cholesterol. We both understand the affects diet
has on health, but for me a vegan diet was the only way to get my
health issues under control. My husband supports that and is proud
of my accomplishments. If I eat foods that are part of the Standard
American Diet, such as processed sweets and dairy foods, my stomach
problems return and my blood pressure begins to inch up again (and
so does the scale). Why would I want to play with my health?
I love to cook and bake, and I enjoy trying new recipes that are
part of the McDougall lifestyle (it's also fun to take existing
recipes and give them a McDougall twist). If you like to experiment,
start with some of your favorite casserole recipes and replace the
meat with a can of drained and rinsed beans. There are several
recipes you can try on Dr. McDougall's website as well as
I got to be 275 pounds for a reason: I love to eat! And my love
for eating has not changed with my weight-loss. Fortunately, if you
are eating the right foods, weight gain is rarely an issue. I tell
people who are looking for an inexpensive weight-loss program to try
the McDougall program. A plant-based, low-fat diet and a pair of
walking shoes will get you started quickly. In addition, clean out
your refrigerator, freezer, and cupboards. Do not keep the wrong
foods in your home (this is especially important if you're an
Obesity has shaped my life, but it no longer shapes my body. I am
going to keep on doing what I'm doing, and hopefully when people I
know are ready, they will come back to ask me what the McDougall
lifestyle is all about. And maybe we can even exchange some recipes!
Las Vegas, NV
Dr. McDougall's Comments
"I need to eat less," is
the universal solution I hear from everyone I meet who is
overweight and trying to lose. My thought is "I bet you can’t
(eat less)." The hunger drive is one of the three basic drives
that keeps us alive—thirst and breathing are the other two.
Singular choices of water and oxygen satisfy these two survival
drives. Where hunger is concerned there are infinite choices
from anchovies to zucchini. Here lies the opportunity:
The most important nutritional nugget of
knowledge that I can teach people looking to lose weight
permanently and regain lost health is to change the composition
of the food on their plate. This is exactly what Michelle
Bachman did over a period of three years. She went from a
meat-centered diet to a seafood-centered diet to a dairy- and
egg-centered diet to a plant-food centered diet—more
specifically to a diet based on starchy vegetables with the
addition fruits, and green and yellow vegetables. Finally, she
realized the importance of avoiding free-fats derived from
plants; for example, corn and olive oils. Her journey is typical
(and actually one I took 40 years ago).
She never controlled
her appetite. She clearly says, "I love to eat! And my love for
eating has not changed with my weight-loss." Enjoying food is a
requirement for human survival and that can never change.
However, every one of us has the capacity to learn to love foods
that promote health—being trim is one characteristic of a
Food preferences are strong. People reacted to
Michelle by remaining interested in her fabulous recovery until
they realized she was talking about a vegan diet, and then they
told her that this way of eating was too extreme for them. This
is a universal response. Food preferences are individual. If
Michelle’s friends had, instead, been raised in another part of
the world—say in rural Kenya, Japan, or Peru—then they would
express the same intense preference for their native
foods—millet, beans, rice, and potatoes.
Food preferences are
learned. Adaptation to the enjoyment of a meal plan that
guarantees loss of excess body fat and restored health is simply
a matter of exposure. Mary encourages people desiring change to
look over some of her 2500 published recipes and then choose
those with familiar ingredients—if you have always loved pasta
then choose spaghetti, lasagna, and pasta salads, if you like
potatoes then choose hash brown potatoes, potato pancakes, or
potato salads. Add favorite spices. People tell me "I would eat
cardboard with Tabasco sauce."
Once learned, a meal plan
composed of McDougall foods becomes habitual and favored. Thus,
the changes become permanent—I mean all changes, including
preferred foods, physical appearance, function, and feelings of
wellbeing. Like all of the other constructive changes that you
have made before, you will be looking back and thinking, "Why
did I wait so long?"