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George Sanders: Freeing Myself of Metabolic Syndrome

The fundamentals of the McDougall Program are simple yet often difficult to implement. Star McDougallers have either adopted the Program themselves by learning from our website and books or joining one of our programs. For personalized help, learn more about the 12-Day McDougall Program. For questions on whether a change in diet can help your ailment, learn more about our consultations.
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I no longer have metabolic syndrome, or pre-diabetes or obesity or hypertension or inflammation.


Freeing Myself of Metabolic Syndrome

I was raised in the typical American family, eating the typical American diet. The four food groups were meat, potatoes, bread, and dessert, all washed down with some sugary sweet drink for every meal. Despite this rich diet, I had no problems staying relatively thin and fit. I was always tall for my age and athletically inclined throughout junior and senior high school, reaching 6′ at the age of 13, after which I stopped growing.

After a brief stint at a local junior college, I entered the US Air Force as my father and brother had. It was at that time that I became interested in fitness, and started weight training. I loved to exercise and continued doing so throughout my four-year enlistment, easily maintaining my weight despite my diet.

After the military I went back to college determined to complete an education before entering the “real” world of work. However, by this time life’s priorities had changed and my exercise pursuits took a backseat to everything. I gained a few pounds during college, eventually reaching 190 pounds.

I ended up dropping out of college in my final year and decided to re-enter the USAF, but I needed to lose a few pounds to qualify. So I went on a calorie-restricted, portion-controlled diet, and I lost about 30 pounds in two months. It wasn’t easy but I was determined.

Once I was back in the Air Force I struggled with my weight as it slowly increased: a pound here, a pound there. Every year, three to five new pounds found their way to my body. And along with it came the usual aches and pains; you know, all the things we “know” are just the facts of aging: expanding waist line, lower back pain, sore knees and ankles, indigestion, heartburn, headaches, frequent colds, tiredness, etc. It was all to be expected—right?

While in the military I found myself constantly bumping up against its weight limits. This started a never-ending cycle of yo-yo dieting to stay a few pounds under my limit. I was able to maintain this until I left the USAF, for the second and final time, in 1991.

My Post-Military Slide

Suddenly, without the need to keep my weight in check, there was no stopping my weight gain. Every year I was gaining more and more, and by 1996 I had reached about 240 pounds.

It was then that I decided to donate a kidney to my sister who was suffering from the ravages of Type 1 diabetes. I was nearly denied the opportunity because of my weight, but I was finally approved and all went well with the transplant; and my sister recovered in a matter of days.

My recovery, however, was slow and painful. The doctor had made a 17-inch incision starting just above my navel and curving around to my back to my kidney. I was still in pain three months after the surgery. Eventually, I healed but not without a nasty scar and some permanent numbness.

I still had not learned to control my weight and just kept gaining a few pounds every year. By 2005 I hit 260 pounds with no end in sight. My “age-related” health issues kept escalating, but I did not consider any of them serious, at least not serious enough to make a wholesale lifestyle change.

Not happy with how I felt or looked I decided to lose weight once again. I had previously read some of Dr. McDougall’s older works: A Challenging Second Opinion and his 12-Day Plan books. So I was familiar with the science and the basic program. But along with many other people, could not see myself becoming a vegan or giving up all of my most treasured foods.

So, I decided to try more conventional dietary advice: I cut out some meats, ate lower-fat food, and increased my intake of fruits and veggies. I also tried calorie restriction and portion control. And it worked! Over a year’s time I had lost over 70 pounds and was looking and feeling a bit healthier, though it was a very difficult year.

I was hungry a lot and fought my old cravings; it was a severe battle of will power. It wasn’t long before life’s little interruptions started disrupting my dietary goals, and within another year I had regained all the weight I had lost and was back to my usual pattern of SAD (Standard American Diet) eating. Typical of so many diet programs, it was ineffective and temporary. It just wasn’t sustainable, and by 2009, at 52 years old, I found myself at 291 pounds.

I was still gaining three to five pounds a year, every year. And all my aches and pains and little “issues of aging” intensified along with the weight gain. It was in 2009 that I decide to have a routine heart and vascular health checkup. I didn’t think I was really sick, but I knew I also wasn’t feeling as good as I could.

Metabolic Syndrome

The results of my checkup surprised me: they were validation that I was in no way healthy and that I was heading down the road to serious health issues. My diagnosis: obesity, mild vascular disease, pre-diabetic, high inflammation levels and hypertensive. This conglomeration of issues, I learned, was called “Metabolic Syndrome.”

Needless to say I was concerned, but my Doctor assured me this was not at all unusual for my age and all I needed to do was just lose a little weight and take a handful of medications and everything would be under control; not cured, mind you, just under control, whatever that means.

The diet my doctor prescribed was nothing more than what I had already tried in the past—low-calorie, low-fat, portion-controlled, and lots of will power—and I knew it wasn’t maintainable for me. Along with this advice, I was also given a whole bunch of medications for every symptom I had. I hate taking pills, so I simply refused them.

Of course this did not please my doctor, but he was willing to give me a few months to see how I did with diet alone. I thanked my doctor and went home feeling dejected. I carried on with life as usual. After all, I didn’t feel that sick or really look sick. Sure, I was a bit overweight but I thought I carried it well, as they say. It’s amazing how easily we can delude ourselves.

For Christmas 2010 I had a picture taken of me and my daughter with Santa. I should have been the one wearing the Santa suit; it would have fit me better! It was then that I realized how badly I really looked. At age 53, I was at my maximum weight of 297 pounds with a BMI of 40.5 and a class 3 obesity level. I had reached the pinnacle of obesity classification and I looked and felt every part of it.

I immediately made a New Year’s resolution for 2011 to lose the weight and, if possible, improve my health. So I tried really hard once again, eating the typical low-calorie, portion-controlled SAD diet. This time I consumed 1,000 calories a day; it didn’t matter what I ate as long as it was less than 1,000 calories. And it worked. At least for as long as I could tolerate the constant hunger and tiredness that are so typical of “diets.”

That started a cycle of yo-yo dieting that usually amounted to about two to three months of starvation, followed by losing a fair amount of weight until I couldn’t tolerate the hunger anymore, before going back to my usual eating and gaining. Then after a few months I would try again with the same results, repeating the cycle several times in the year.

By the end of 2011, I had lost 36 pounds, basically through hunger and deprivation. It took all the willpower I had, and the results were barely noticeable. I feared there was simply no way I could continue with this dieting game—and believe me, it was all just a game. I would simply diet until I lost the weight and then go back to my usual eating patterns, trying my best to control everything with willpower. But now I simply had no willpower left. I couldn’t do it anymore.

In Feb 2012, I decided to have another set of heart health tests done, just to see if there were any positive changes since losing the little bit of weight. Well, the results were eye-opening, and not for the better. My weight was back to where it was in 2005, 261 pounds, but my blood pressure was worse, my sugars were now in the diabetic range, my cholesterol and triglycerides were still very high, and inflammation levels were in the high-risk range. In spite of losing weight, I was getting sicker, not better. The dieting wasn’t helping and I was beginning to panic. There had to be a better way.

Finding a Better Way

I had collected a small library of diet books over the years, so I started looking through them. I found a copy of Dr. McDougall’s Program for Maximum Weight Loss that I had picked up a few years earlier but had never read. So I sat down and read it from cover to cover in one day. This time something in me was touched; it somehow just made sense. There was no pseudo-science about “miracle” foods, no exhortations to buy every supplement known to man, no magic formulas, no calorie, carb, fat or protein counting or ratio balancing, and no exhaustive exercising.

The message was simple: eat real whole food, as much as would satisfy, whenever you were hungry, cut out or limit the fatty foods, and eliminate the meat and dairy. Essentially, do what your mama always told you: eat your fruits and veggies! There was one twist though: focus the majority of your food on satiating starches such as potatoes, grains, and beans.

That just made so much sense to me. After all it’s the food that Mother Nature provides; how could we have survived as a species without it? It appealed to my understanding of science. I decided right then and there that I had nothing to lose and everything to gain, so the next day I started the program. I ate everything recommended: plain, simple foods in their natural state, and it was good! It didn’t just taste good but the food was so quick and easy to make as well. I was in no way a cook, but I could easily throw a potato in the microwave and top it off with some nice spicy salsa, heat up a side of asparagus or Brussels sprouts, and make a big green salad with all sorts of raw veggies. And Dr McDougall said to eat till you were satisfied, so I did.

If after one plateful of food I was still hungry I would go back for seconds, and even thirds. I never left the table hungry. Being a volume eater, this way of eating fit me perfectly. I could easily find foods that satisfied my taste buds and hunger drive. I never worried about staying full. If I got hungry I would just eat; simple as that. I didn’t worry about how many meals or snacks I had as long as the food was compliant with the program.

I also used Dr McDougall’s online forums to start a journal of my experiences. I wanted to record everything I ate and did, giving myself a year to see real results. The journal would serve as my motivation for staying on course and staying honest. I didn’t know if I would succeed at losing the weight, let alone fixing my health issues. But Dr McDougall is a very convincing man. His science was there and everything made logical sense, yet I still had my doubts. Years of yo-yo dieting had taught me what to expect. After all, losing the weight was one thing; getting healthy was another. And then maintaining my weight was the biggest hurdle of all. It was going to be a long year, or at least I thought.

Real Changes

The weight started coming off right from the first week, and not just slowly. I was losing huge amounts of weight: five to six pounds a week the first few weeks. It felt like the fat was literally melting off me, all while eating all the food I wanted. My energy levels soon improved and I found myself easily being able to take walks, the recommended exercise. At first I would walk just 10 to 15 minutes around the neighborhood, but within weeks I could easily walk for an hour at a time and, more importantly, I was enjoying it, and without pain.

The changes were coming so easily and quickly, it was scary. I was improving in all ways and there was no struggle whatsoever. I still had cravings for my old SAD food that the rest of my family ate, but it was easy to just spend 10 minutes and make myself a great-tasting McDougall meal. After the first month I started to lose those SAD cravings; my tastes had begun to change.

While I was enjoying my new way of eating, the rest of my family continued to eat their regular food. I was never bothered by this. Making my McDougall meals was so easy and quick (not to mention tasty) that it was no problem for me to cook my own meals while cooking their food as well. I never had any temptations to stray. While I’ve not been able to get my family to totally switch to this way of eating, they have picked up many of my new habits and now incorporate more starches, fruits, and vegetables in their diets.

As the months went by, I started noticing that a lot of the issues I had started disappearing. The constant heartburn I had was gone, from day one. The horrible sinus issues that kept me awake at night simply disappeared. The chronic knee pain that kept me popping aspirin everyday magically went away. I not only was losing weight and looking better—and getting comments on how good I looked—but I was feeling so much better. Throughout this whole time I never once had the desire to revert back to my old way of eating. It was as if my body was telling me it was receiving exactly what it needed and wanted. And I was more than happy to comply.

Every three months I would go in and get my lab work done just to make sure the results were for real and not just my imagination. The tests showed the results were indeed for real. I was getting better and not just a little better, either. My blood lipids that were once through the roof were now dropping dramatically. My high blood pressure dropped into the normal range, and my blood sugars dramatically dropped to normal. Inflammation markers dropped significantly as well. Everything was improving and in significant ways, not just 5 to 10 percent changes. I was seeing 30 to 50 percent changes in a matter of a few months. And all without any drugs whatsoever.

I was amazed that just eating real foods could bring on such a dramatic shift in my health. As the months went by, I continued to improve and my body slowly but surely healed itself. And every time I went to get labs done, the results were better and better. During this journey I never did go back to see my doctor. I had decided early on that if modern medicine had nothing to offer me other than pills, potions and food deprivation, then I would take control of my health and treat myself in the only way that made sense to me: the McDougall way. I bet my health on Dr McDougall and it paid off!

I’ve lost over 106 pounds this past year. My pants size has gone from a tight 46+ to a loose 32″ waist. I’m a new man: trim, fit, healthy, happy and enjoying life like I never had before. All the chronic diseases I suffered from for years are now gone. I no longer have metabolic syndrome, or pre-diabetes or obesity or hypertension or inflammation. All of those little aches and pains and issues of aging are also gone. I sleep great. I can now walk for hours on end and have seemingly endless energy. I no longer think of myself as being on a diet and exercise program, it’s just simply how I eat; it is my new lifestyle. And the results speak for themselves.

Dr McDougall’s program has given me back my health and my life and at no cost.

Thank you Dr McDougall!

George Sanders
Macomb, Michigan
March, 2013