Updated May 6, 2013
It never occurred to me to that I might someday become a Star McDougaller. I’m still not positive that I am. But my wonderful wife, who led me kicking and screaming into the McDougall lifestyle, believes that my story may give reluctant spouses a little more incentive to get with the program.
In 2003, I thought I was in pretty good shape for a man 46 years old, weighing 175 pounds, and fairly active. I rode my bike 16 miles a day commuting to the shop and took one or two long walks a day with my family. Sure, I had a fair amount of joint pain, and a prominent belly, but that’s “normal” for a middle-aged guy. I didn’t feel any pressure or need to alter the way I ate. I rarely ate meat, but I used a lot of cheese, oil, and margarine in my food. All my life I had a very oily complexion that I simply attributed to “bad genes.”
My beautiful wife, Wendy, however, did have a weight problem. For years she had struggled with trying to lose weight without doing crazy diets and had even tried to stay on the McDougall plan. But, with a spouse who wasn’t willing to give up the “good” foods, she simply could never stay on track. We finally agreed that she needed the boost of attending the 10-day program in Santa Rosa, California – and that I would follow whatever diet plan she needed. I hadn’t read any of Dr. McDougall’s books, and had only a vague idea of what the diet was about, but it was important to Wendy, and I was willing to go along with it for her sake.
She came back from the program a little over a year ago with an enthusiasm and energy that was very contagious. She brought back the DVD set, “Dr. McDougall’s Total Health Solution for the 21st Century,” and I watched it with her. Of course, it took a while, since she would pause it and interject personal observations and insights she had learned at the program. It also took a while for me to get used to eating pasta that wasn’t glistening in a sea of olive oil, and potatoes that weren’t drowning under a very large scoop of margarine. We ate very little meat anyway, so giving that up wasn’t a problem. I wasn’t very happy to learn that peanut butter and avocados were off the approved list for weight loss. It didn’t take long to get used to a healthy way of eating, and since I was fairly ignorant about nutritional needs, I didn’t have too many ingrained beliefs to get in the way.
I grew up accepting the fact that a “normal constitution” meant cycling between diarrhea and constipation. I knew there was a link between what I ate and my elimination needs; getting over a bout of constipation was as simple as eating a greasy hamburger. Of course, that led to the opposite problem… It was a vicious circle, but one that I never thought to seek a cure for, since it was apparently “normal.” Even if nothing else about the McDougall plan did me any good, getting off of that “not so merry-go-round” was a huge improvement in my life. In addition there have been many more good things.
One of the first things we noticed was that my pillowcase didn’t look dirty the day after washing it. My “genetic” oily skin and scalp were drying to a healthy and natural state. My joints started to hurt less as well, although that change was a much more subtle process. I didn’t see a rapid weight loss, even though the pounds started to come off slowly. We were living in Eugene, Oregon at the time and the winter darkness was not good for our exercise program – while I continued to commute by bicycle, the walks got shorter and it was very hard to find much enthusiasm for doing anything outdoors. My activity level dropped a great deal until April 1st (2004) when we moved back to sunny, warm (but it’s a dry heat!) Arizona. I immediately started riding my bike a great deal more. In May, I got a used road racing bike and the wild idea that I would ride a 157 mile race in October, even though I hadn’t ridden seriously since the mid 80’s. I started to lose weight again, partly from the biking and partly from getting a job as a bicycle mechanic. I ramped up to riding four or more hours at a time in only a few months. Even with this aggressive training program, I experienced none of the joint pain I had since the age of 20 years. I got sore, of course, but it was a healthy response to exercise and not a plea from inflamed knees and ankles, like before.
A week before the race in October of 2004 I was feeling stronger than I had ever felt in my life. I was down to 145 pounds and 10% body fat. The night before the race, we went to the pre-ride party. The main dish was pizza. There was also pasta with a little olive oil on it. I just stared at the pizza and shook my head. It absolutely boggles my mind how anyone can eat that, much less a room full of endurance athletes. Granted, a little over a year ago, I would have loaded up my plate too, and then raced to a bathroom. I suppose it was just as strange to them that I would pass up a chance to down all that delicious, and “body-building,” protein and calcium.
Race day found me ready and eager. I took off with the main pack, but quickly dropped back to my pre-planned pace as dictated by my heart rate monitor. The first half of the race was much easier than I had anticipated, but the second half turned out to be much harder. Five and a half hours of riding into a headwind, but I never seriously considered quitting. Turns out I couldn’t have; Wendy had planned on refusing to give me a ride in the car. So, nine and a half hours and over 6000 calories after the starting bell, I crossed the finish line. Here I was, 47 years old, with less than six months of training, finishing in the top half of the field in an event that very few cyclists even attempt. My food intake on the ride was water, Gatorade, and brown rice syrup. No protein bars or high-fat sandwiches, the traditional foods of endurance cyclists. I had kept my heart rate at an average of 147 BPM for almost ten hours. Post ride, I ate lots of oatmeal, some bagels, bananas, and a couple of Clif Bars. That evening I ate lots of Indian food with rice. I went to work the next morning, sore and tired to be sure, but not done in. I have my wife, Wendy, to thank for my renewed youthful and healthy life – I am an innocent, but very grateful bystander.
You might think after more than 25 years of “practice” I would now be pretty accurate at predicting who will follow our program. Not so. And this is why I give everyone my best efforts when teaching the benefits of a healthy diet and exercise. However, I have learned to appreciate the importance of family support – like with Dan and Wendy. People who love each other make these kinds of sacrifices for the benefits of their close companions. More often than not, the reluctant participant ends up gaining as much, or more, from the experience – as we saw with Dan. Therefore, I encourage you to expend all efforts to enroll the ones you love into healthy living for your benefit and theirs.
Begin with a serious conversation about how important changing to the McDougall program is to you. This may be a tough sell for some people, because they have made similar requests of their partners in the past that have not resulted in life-long improvements. You may get the response, “We have done this many times before, so please don’t drag me into another one of your fad diets.” If that is the case, then you may have to begin the program on your own with a commitment to revisit your request for them to join in, when you prove this time it is for real.
Some of your arguments for mutual commitment to this program should include:
1) Cooking two different kinds of meals is too much work.
2) We share the same values for other issues in life; our way of eating should be no different.
3) I do not want to grow old alone – so you need to regain your health, too.
4) We can save all that money we would have spent on “rich” food and medical care for our retirement.
Education is essential for success. Our DVDs are the least expensive and most entertaining way to share this information. These were a milestone in Dan’s conversion. For readers, our books have converted hundreds of thousands of people. Involve your loved ones in planning and cooking meals. Many people have sent their needy spouses for a 10-day “lock-up” at the McDougall Program in Santa Rosa, California and they say that this was the best time and money they have ever spent.
Hopefully, immediate cooperation and mutual support will be there for you from the beginning; if not, don’t give up. When your companion sees your health improving, he or she will want the same benefits. Cook familiar and delicious meals. Offerings of plain baked potatoes and steamed vegetables are not the way to successful recruiting. Take out your favorite recipes and “McDougallize” them by removing the oil and animal products. Consider what kinds of meals would be most acceptable. For example, soups and breads, bean burritos, spaghetti, and Chinese “stir-fry” should be easy adaptions for most people. Use favorite spices. Put the salt shaker on the table and encourage its use (unless there is a medical contraindication). People love salt. Seek out local restaurants that can make healthy meals.
If you still do not have their cooperation, then start with compromises, such as, McDougall food will be served in the house, but when you go out to eat, feel free to eat whatever you like. But, do not compromise your own principles and health. You need to remain the shining light of truth and knowledge – not just for your own sake, but for the welfare of family and friends. My two and half decades of experiences cause me to conclude that “people who stay together, eat together” – and vice versa.