Updated May 7, 2013
On September 26, I weighed exactly 200 pounds. My age is 42. I’m 5′ 9″, with a small to medium frame. In the past, when I’ve addressed the cholesterol/weight issue with my doctor, he simply recommended eating what I was currently eating, just “smaller portions.” I’ve mentioned several times about a “no-fat-added, plant-based foods” diet (actually lifestyle), and his concern was that people who do this often find that the foods taste like cardboard, and after a couple of weeks, they’re back to their old habits — or worse (his words, not mine!!!). Even before beginning the McDougall Program, I walked or used a treadmill 2-4 miles/day; at times, up to 6-8 miles/day. On the treadmill, I keep my heart rate elevated to at least maximum fat burning level (about 130 beats/minute), at times increasing to 140-145. (My point here is exercise alone — with bad eating habits — didn’t do a thing, as far as I can tell!)
My test results before the McDougall Program on October 8, 2002 were as follows: Cholesterol 224 (HDL 34; LDL 137). At this time, I was taking 10 mg of Lipitor daily; then my doctor switched me to 10 mg of Lovastatin, primarily because of cost. I do not have prescription medication coverage on my health plan (I’m self-employed). The lower cost reason was his idea; if he wanted me to remain with Lipitor, I would certainly have done so. I have been taking “statin” medications since June 2001. My triglycerides were 274, Sugar 95, and I had a thyroid test, with a TSH of 10.96 (normal less than 4). This was my first thyroid test. Synthroid (150 mcg/daily) was prescribed – with a future thyroid test scheduled in about 2 1/2 months. (Ideally cholesterol and triglycerides should be below 150 mg/dl.)
I received my test results on October 8, and promptly ordered the 12-day plan with the instant meal cups through Sharper Image. I confess that I have actually been aware of good, healthy eating habits, with no animal products and added fat, since the late 1980s. I regret that I didn’t start much sooner. I started on October 10 with the meal cups and recommended vegetables and grains, following the first 12 days religiously. Thereafter, we’ve used three McDougall books almost exclusively, and have modified some “old” recipes with not a speck of added fat or any animal products. As for high-fat plant foods, I only recently had some tofu and cashews included in McDougall recipes after I had lost over 30 pounds in 3 months – these were “special” meals on Christmas day and New Year’s Eve. I put the word “special” in quotes, because really, every meal we have is special, even those that may be considered the most “strict.” It sure doesn’t seem like strict or restrictive.
Initially, I was very concerned that I would miss or at least crave my old foods, but this worry was all for nothing. Once in awhile, I’ve had an ever so slight “twinge” of doubt when I get a whiff, of all things, the cooking from a fast food restaurant. That was unexpected, but easy to overcome. This is because, of course, the McDougall Program is not one of scarcity – it’s abundance.
First, the wonderful news – and there’s quite a bit, so this is a condensed account: The McDougall Program is terrific! Lynn and I both enjoy this eating lifestyle (huge understatement!). This is obviously not just about losing weight, exercising, and having good test results — I feel great. Many of the mysterious aches and pains (and cramps) have disappeared. If anything recurs, I’ve noticed that it goes away much more quickly. That’s hard to put into words, I guess, but it just seems like anything that causes me to feel less than terrific comes and goes very rapidly.
I’ve also noticed that I can breathe easier and I have much more energy — in the past, I attributed my energy to exercise, and, er . . . caffeine. Now my energy sources are all eating habits and exercise. I also do not have — nor desire — the occasional glass of wine to “relax.” Wow. I’ve lost, as of today, 38 pounds, which is about 20% of my previous weight of 200 pounds. There’s so much more I can say about this, and I’m amazed that this all has happened in such a short time, but I’d better move on to the “concern.”
Here’s what happened next: On October 17, on my eighth day with the McDougall Program, I had a blood test which was required because of my applying for disability insurance. I weighed 188 pounds, losing 12 pounds in less than 8 days. My cholesterol was 170 (HDL 32; LDL 106) — still taking Lovastatin 10 mg. Triglycerides were 160. Liver ALT was 57. When I received this rapidly changed test result, we immediately called to schedule another cholesterol test. We had to give quite a “sales pitch” to the clinic staff! – Having to be very assertive to get them to agree to the test “so soon” after my September 26 test.
My next results, on November 4, 2002, were as follows: Weight: 180 lb., Cholesterol 157 (HDL 21; LDL 84) — still with Lovastatin. Triglycerides were 208. Liver ALT 63. I’m concerned about the Lovastatin hurting my liver.
My last test, with my real concern, was this past Friday, January 3. I was told to discontinue Lovastatin for one week, to see what happens with my liver ALT. This time, I gently pushed for the results, because I was excited. I weighed 164 lb. on 1/3/03 (I’m currently at 162). When I received the results, especially the cholesterol, I was troubled. My cholesterol had jumped to 190 (HDL 30; LDL 109). Triglycerides jumped to 254. My thyroid TSH dropped to 0.24 and my liver ALT dropped to 50. I understand what I could (and should) do about the triglycerides, because I definitely can reduce my intake of fruits and other simple sugars in sauces, etc. served with meals.
My biggest worry is the jump in cholesterol, especially with my improved lifestyle and weight loss. Would discontinuing the Lovastatin for just one week do this? Are there other concerns here? I realize my cholesterol count isn’t everything, especially given the wealth of other wonderful things that have happened, but again, it’s a concern. I would like to reach that important number of 150 or less, and hopefully stay off of “statins,” forever. I’m also concerned, too, about my low HDL, which seems to hover around 30-35.
I’m a tax professional, so we’re just beginning our busy season, with the 16-hour days and all. Lynn and I are vigilant, but not concerned, about sticking with the McDougall Plan, since there are so many quick and delicious meals. But . . . just in case, I have a supply of McDougall meal cups on hand, and the Kabuli pizza crusts should be here any day (they were shipped Monday), besides all the other good, quick stuff. We’re both so grateful that we “discovered” the McDougall Program — it feels like abundance and goodness.
If a pill were developed that allowed you to eat all you wanted of delicious foods, lose 38 pounds, lower cholesterol 67 mg/dl and triglycerides 66 mg/dl (while on Lovastatin), and remove all your daily aches and pains in less than 3 months, it would be purchased by most adults in Western society and be the most profitable medication ever to come on the market. Joe has discovered such a pill; it is non-prescription, free of side effects, and cuts his food bill by 40%. Unfortunately, he and only a few of you are among the buyers. This pill is one to five pounds of the right food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and daily use of walking shoes. Admittedly, this takes more effort than swallowing a few capsules and has no profit margin to promote mass marketing. But, the results are miraculous (yet not perfect).
I can understand Joe’s confusion about what to do; with everything else falling in line, his cholesterol is still not perfect. Discontinuing the Lovastatin caused his cholesterol to rise to its true value; and the reason it is not ideal, even with a no-cholesterol diet, is because of his individual metabolism and 42 years of packing the cholesterol into his tissues with his fork and spoon.
As a practicing doctor, I face daily this dilemma of when to prescribe medications. I never have any hesitation recommending you follow a low-fat, plant-based diet, daily exercise, and clean habits, but when it comes to medications I feel I am playing Russian roulette. Consider the cholesterol lowering “statins” (Mevacor, Zocor, Lipitor, etc.). Each time I write a prescription, and I write many for this kind of medication, I wonder; am I preventing a heart attack, or causing fatal muscle damage (rhabdomyolysis – an uncommon side-effect)? Fortunately, the odds are very much with the medication being of benefit.
Numbers make and break the day for most of my patients. Why should they? Our real health goals are to live long, feel well, and function fully – regardless of the cholesterol numbers. But, human nature causes us to strive for perfection. That’s OK as long as our worries do not detract from life’s enjoyment; or worse, cause us to take treatments (for example, medications) that make the body fail, in our effort to perfect the numbers (like the lab tests, blood pressure). So take full advantage of the things you can do that really make a difference – diet and lifestyle. Then, after carefully considering the risks and advantages, take additional steps, such as medications, to help improve any remaining concerns.