Updated April 25, 2013
I am a 51 year old science experiment. That’s the best way I can think of to describe what I have been through when it comes to eating. I grew up in the 50s and 60s when meat was cheap. In the late 1960s, steak was so cheap that my mom would serve the “easy” meal 2 or 3 times a week. I was able to maintain some semblance of slimness until I was about 19 years old. Never one to be really athletic, after age 19 I began to put on the pounds. My trim 190 on a 6 foot 4 inch frame became 220, then in college 240. I panicked and turned to Dr. Atkins. Within a few months of eating a pound of bacon for breakfast and “bunless” hamburgers for lunch and dinner I was able to drop about 35 lbs. It was a miracle. Only the miracle came at a price. My skin was greasy all the time. I had trouble sleeping. I felt nervous all day long. And at about the 3 month mark I started to get pains in my lower back. It was a while before I realized that the pain was probably my overworked kidneys. What a miracle.
So I abandoned Atkins and within about 6 months gained back the weight I had lost and about ten more pounds to boot. After several more failed attempts at dieting, my mother sent me some information about the McDougall Plan. My wife and I tried it out and had success almost immediately. We felt better; each dropped a bunch of weight and generally liked the recipes. Now I don’t know if this has happened to anyone else, but we soon drifted away from the McDougall Plan and began eating out, fast, quick and processed food with loads of meat. Not surprisingly, the weight went right back on again. And even though we would occasionally cook a “McD meal,” it was not the mainstay of our diet.
Fast forward a few years. At age 46 I weighed in at 305 lb. I had sleep apnea, arthritic pain, constant stomach problems, I didn’t exercise. Going up stairs was a bit of a chore. I had had episodes of atrial fibrillation since I was about age 25 and those episodes were getting more frequent and more severe. So I went to my doctor. He did a battery of tests on my heart including a treadmill test that nearly killed me. My cholesterol was 271 mg/dl (7.13 IU). He told me my heart was not pumping enough volume for my size and weight. He said this would become an increasingly serious problem as I got older. My joints ached. My stomach ached. Needless to say I was in bad shape. The doctor had the solution for me. He got out his prescription pad and started writing – four medications to start, and more to follow, as needed. It was the beginning of old age. I got this news the day before my 47th birthday and I decided it was finally time to take the plunge. I knew exactly what I had to do.
For my birthday that year I gave myself the McDougall lifestyle. I got the McDougall Program for Maximum Weight Loss book and read it cover to cover – and then I began. I ate only the recommended foods. I started walking, short distances at first and then gradually upgrading. Within 6 months I had lost about 60 lbs. I felt great all the time. The aches in the joints subsided, my cholesterol plummeted to 167 mg/dl (4.39 IU). My sleep apnea disappeared. My episodes of atrial fibrillation did not stop entirely, but were less frequent and milder in intensity. I took no medications, not even vitamins.
That was a little over 4 years ago. On the McDougall Weekend this past January 2005, (yes, I finally got to attend one) my cholesterol tested out at 144 mg/dl (3.79 IU). By that time I had lost a total of 85 lb. I go to the gym 4 to 5 times a week to run, yes run (I’m up to 3 miles on the treadmill), and lift weights. In addition, I walk one of my two dogs 2 to 4 miles each day. All of my joint pain has been replaced by gratifying and satisfying workout muscle ache. I have not had an episode of atrial fibrillation in over two years. My one tweaking of the program this year was to take out wheat. That has had the positive effect of helping me drop 10 more pounds and not feeling as sleepy in the afternoons. I still have some wheat occasionally, but I really do watch it.
I have seen my doctor only twice in the past four years for minor things. He is always amazed that I have lost the weight and succeeded in keeping it off. He has told me that out of all of his patients, he has only had 3 or 4 that have been able to do what I have accomplished. Sad isn’t it? My friends and colleagues are certain that I am living like a monk and depriving myself on what they refer to as that “rigid diet”. The truth is that I love the way that I eat, feeling good and fitting into my old jeans. I tell them I’m not trying to live forever, I just want to enjoy the years that I have left – healthy, happy and pain free.
PS. One of the toughest parts of changing eating habits is to do it amongst people who are still eating the “normal” American fare – especially those who live with you. I did it that way for about three and half years before my wife, Allison, finally called it quits and joined me. She wanted to lose weight and feel better and exercise. Basically, she needed a change. So in June of 2004 she spent 10 days in Santa Rosa with John and Mary at their live-in program. She came home and cleaned out the refrigerator and cabinets, and started cooking. I am so proud of her! In eleven months, she has lost about 40 lb. and feels much better. Her cholesterol is down about 80 points and she is a 5 day a week regular at the local health club. As I am writing this she is in Santa Rosa again, almost a year later, for a tune up weekend with the McDougalls. We both agree that you hear and read so much nutritional misinformation that it is hard to keep the truth in your head. So each of us has vowed to try to do at least one McDougall Weekend a year just to keep current and charge our batteries.
February 16, 2009
Hey Doc, It is that time of year again. My birthday. 55 tomorrow. It was 8 years ago on Feb 16 when I took the plunge and started my journey McDougalling. You say you never getting tired of hearing thanks, well, thanks again. To date I have now dumped 120lbs. My total cholesterol was 127mg/dl when last tested. My clothes fit better than ever. I’m at home in my body now. This is the way I was meant to feel in here. My arthritis is gone. My sleep apnea is a thing of the past. My lactose intolerance is gone. My hiatal hernia is cleared up. Even my ornery toenail fungus cleared up (have you heard that one before?). My friends and colleagues are still certain that I’m depriving myself, but I’m perfectly happy and satisfied with what I eat. It has become a very simple regime of mostly rice, beans, corn, greens, potatoes and various other veggies, but mostly the same combos over and over. I walk my dogs 4 or 5 miles every day and go to the health club for a moderate workout 3 to 4 times a week. I look forward to exercise. Could it be that all this is just TOO simple for most people? Anyhow, keep up the good work. You change lives.
Modern Medicine: Fat, Sick Patients on a Bag Full of Drugs
I have told you many times that I am the luckiest doctor in the world because my patients regain their lost health and appearance. Real enjoyment in life comes from helping others. Growing up, I was often reminded by my father that, more than any other profession, being a physician afforded the greatest opportunity to help other people – this encouraged me to enter medicine. I believe that almost every young medical student began his or her career with this same “need to help” as the primary reason to become a physician. Unfortunately, the tools we are given to improve patient’s lives are largely ineffective – specifically, I am talking about the medications used to treat the vast majority of people with chronic diseases. These diseases, in almost all cases, are due to an unhealthy diet and lifestyle.
Look around at your friends and relatives. These people faithfully visit their doctors for problems, like obesity, hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes. What do you notice different after all the time and money they have spent? Nothing! They are still fat, sick people, but now they have a medicine cabinet full of drugs they take daily. How sad! Not just for the patients, but sad also for their doctors. After dedicating six to ten years to intensive training at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, none of their patients with dietary diseases ever get well – and this means general doctors, especially those in family practice and internal medicine, and specialists, like cardiologists, endocrinologists, and gerontologists are failing, and must be terribly unhappy in their career as a result.
You may have heard about the discontent among medical professionals. Many doctors are retiring early, and some are looking for other jobs, even becoming Amway distributors, rather than practice medicine any longer. They blame the paper work, low-pay (not true), and bureaucratic control over their practices for their misery. No doubt these are annoyances, but if they had job satisfaction, these dedicated doctors would not be quitting. If their patients stopped medications, lost weight, lowered their blood pressures, reduced their sugars, cholesterol, and triglycerides, and felt better with each monthly return visit, then every doctor would treasure every day at the office. But, as Jeff Armstrong told us about his doctor, “…out of all of his patients he has only had 3 or 4 that have been able to do what I have accomplished.” Can you imagine succeeding only three or fours times in an entire career spanning decades of hard work?
Now, besides regaining your lost health and appearance, you have a responsibility to show your doctors the true meaning of proper patient care. Help them understand that sick people take drugs and that their duty is to encourage people to become healthy and “drug-free.” If these potions made patients well, then there would be good reason to promote them. Anti-diabetic medications never cured anyone of diabetes and antihypertensive medications never restored to health a single person with high blood pressure – so why continue to place them at the forefront of medical care? Help your doctors, like Jeff and Allison (and many others of you) have, learn that a simple change to a low-fat, plant-based diet, some exercise, and clean habits cures the majority of problems he or she sees everyday in the hospital and in the office. With your assistance, honor, fulfillment, and success can be returned to the profession of medicine.