I have never been a quantity eater, and despite having worked out most of my life, my weight has fluctuated wildly. I could eat half the amount that others ate and I would gain weight while they lost weight.
I was an overweight kid, and ate what was put in front of me. My depression-era parents ate a Southern diet, complete with plenty of fried foods: fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, country fried steak, as well as lots of dairy. They also had the opinion that only poor people ate starches as the center of their plate. It wasn’t until I became a teenager that I started modifying the quantities of food I ate.
I have followed a number of diets over the course of my life, and was eating vegan before I had ever heard the term, although it was a diet heavy in processed foods and oil. I also ate a high-protein, low-fat, low-carb diet before the Paleo fad became popular, since it was known among the gym crowd that by doing this you could gain more muscle and less fat. No one was concerned about how they felt eating this way, the good feeling came from feeding the ego via enhanced muscle gains.
When I was 35 I went to my doctor after putting on 20 pounds to ask him for help. I had been counting my calories and was on a strict workout routine, so I was really surprised by the weight-gain. He questioned my honesty about what I was eating and the extent of my workouts. This was really the beginning of my fight, not only with my weight but my health.
I continued working out and my weight continued to creep up all the way to 235 pounds. I had quite a bit of muscle, but I also had a lot of fat. I was beginning to feel depressed, and the only thing I could think to do was go back on a high-protein, low-fat, low-carb diet. By doing this I managed to get my weight down to 170 pounds. But it was difficult to maintain the diet because I had little energy and didn’t feel well.
The sinus problems and allergies I’d had since childhood were getting worse, gastrointestinal problems were developing (watery eyes, clogged sinuses, constipation, diarrhea), and I began to experience acid reflux. With no idea which way to turn, I cut out the protein shakes and my high-protein diet and went back to the standard American diet (SAD), thinking that it might relieve some of my symptoms. My workouts had also become infrequent. I stayed in this slowly deteriorating state for several years.
When I was 43 years old I began to experience some extreme stress due to my job, and I was getting very little sleep. Due to my ever-increasing weight, I began to snore so loudly that you could hear it from outside the house. My family all had to wear earplugs. I soon developed sleep apnea. It was even hard to breathe during the day due to my clogged sinuses, so half the time I was breathing through my mouth.
At night I would wake up in a panic because I couldn’t breathe through my nose or my mouth (due to the acid reflux). Then I began having trouble swallowing food. It was as if everything was completely inflamed, irritated, and shutting down; and all of my joints constantly hurt.
My blood pressure was running in the 160s over 105 or higher, my resting pulse was 115, and my morning blood glucose was 115. I had never had problems with any of these numbers before. My doctors wanted to put me on medication, but I refused. I visited the Stanford Sleep Center to get evaluated. When I went to check-in, the director of the center spoke with me briefly and looked in my throat. He told me that there was no reason for me to stay for the test since my condition was so extreme, and instead he sent me down the block to a surgeon.
When I arrived at the surgeon’s office, he took a quick look in my throat and told me that he was going to: remove my tonsils, adenoids, and uvula, and cut a piece of the bone from my jaw below my front teeth, and pull my tongue forward and attach it to that bone and reset it. In addition, he was going to saw a portion of my jaw off, move it forward and put titanium bolts in to hold it in place. He told me this was the only way to cure my problem. I asked him about weight loss, but he just laughed. He wanted to schedule the surgery for the following week.
After 15 minutes with the director of the sleep clinic and 15 minutes with the surgeon, it was determined that my face needed to be reconstructed in order to cure my health issues—and there wasn’t even a guarantee that it would work. I refused to have the surgery, and I refused to stay the way I was. I knew that I had to take drastic action to correct my issues, but since my self-esteem was very low, this was difficult for me.
It was also embarrassing for me to look the way I did. People who hadn’t seen me in a long time didn’t even recognize me. I was also embarrassed for my wife and sons. I used to take my sons in a stroller to the running track with me, and we always had a home gym. They grew up watching me workout and they in turn grew up working out. My oldest son wanted me to play outdoor sports with him, however, I was in no condition to do that. I knew I had to do something to change, or I was going to live a miserable life and die an early death.
As I pondered my dilemma I realized that no one could help me but me. At the time, the only thing I could think to do was give up animal foods and eat a vegan diet, or cut carbs out and a eat high-protein diet. Since there had been so much news coverage on the Paleo diet, I began to research this avenue first, plus I had already experienced weight loss this way combined with exercise in the past.
However, much of what I read about the Paleo diet did not pass muster with me. I found the studies presented to be flawed and the promulgated benefits not true, including the argument that our great ancestors were primarily meat-eaters, and that there were long-term health benefits to eating meat.
Despite my unsure feelings about it, I gave the Paleo diet a try anyway, and by the second day was thinking, “Who am I kidding?” I was missing carbs, and I knew what being in a state of ketosis felt like; some might describe it as some sort of high, but it is not a normal feeling of energy. I could not see myself eating this way for a lifetime. There had to be another way that was sustainable.
When I searched the internet for alternatives, I came across Dr. McDougall and some of the other well-known, plant-based doctors. I was wary that McDougall’s teachings may be just another repackaged vegan diet like the one I had tried before with poor results. However, I was in enough pain and misery to look into it further. I read articles by the various doctors as well as a number of scientific studies. I am an analyst by trade and am used to reading studies, and found the science to be credible.
I did not want to count calories or worry about getting the exact amount of anything in my diet, and the pro-starch argument really hit home with me. I knew from the past that beans always energized me, however, I still had it in my head that a high-carb diet was not health-promoting. But I was intrigued so I kept reading through Dr. McDougall’s website. I concluded that he had 40 years of consistency in what he promoted and the science to back it up.
I decided that I would just start eating starchy veggies and fruit instead of meat and eggs while I was still learning about this way of eating. I kept it simple. In the morning I would open a can of beans and spinach and eat until I felt full. I would also eat a banana or apple with it. Throughout the day I ate different vegetables, fruits, and nuts. I also cut out coffee before switching over to decaffeinated green tea, and eventually to herbal tea.
During my first two weeks, I did have some meat and dairy about twice per week. By the third and fourth weeks, I was down to just once a week. By the fifth week something happened to me that had never happened in my entire life: my nose drained. I can’t remember if I had a glass of milk, a cup of coffee, or what, but about a minute after consuming it, my nose ran like crazy and felt sensitive. I had no clue what that was all about.
Over the next week, I ate one of those items again, and the same thing happened. I had to stop and really think about it. Then all of a sudden a light went on, and then a second light. First, my nose was able to run like that because my sinuses were no longer clogged. Second, it only ran and felt irritated when I consumed meat or dairy. This was another turning point for me. I had just made the connection that my lifelong allergies were connected to what I had been eating and drinking!
Since this realization, I have been over 99% compliant with the strictest interpretation of this diet, with many meals consisting of beans, rice, potatoes, multiple greens, and a variety of brightly colored vegetables.
I am motivated to stick with it for many reasons: (1) I feel too good not to comply, (2) the food tastes too good not to eat, (3) I no longer like the taste of meat and dairy foods, (4) all of my joint pain is gone, (5) my lab results have normalized: blood pressure is 110/70, pulse 65-70, morning blood glucose is 75-82, total cholesterol is 138, triglycerides 83, HDL 90, and LDL 34, (6) I no longer snore, or have sleep apnea or acid reflux, (7) I feel good about myself and my family feels good about me, (8) my change has positively impacted others: my wife and oldest son have now moved over to this way of eating, and other friends have embarked on this journey as well, and (9) I am now able to participate in athletic events with my sons.
Regarding exercise during this transition, when I first started, I told myself that I just needed to start moving more: get out of my chair in front of the computer and walk around the house, go for a walk outside, mow the lawn with the push mower instead of the riding mower, take a short bike ride, etc. Then I decided to start tracking my walking distance, and then I decided to walk faster and time myself for the distance. Then I added some dumbbells to my routine. After about eight months into it I purchased a small home gym and also began running outside or on the treadmill.
During my transition, many of my friends rolled their eyes, telling me that I wouldn’t be getting all the vitamins and nutrients I needed, and that I would become diabetic eating this way. My immediate family got nervous because they were concerned with how it would impact them. I didn’t tell my colleagues. Fortitude is central to my belief system, and after reading and accepting the science, I was compelled to do this, for me. There was no reason to tell everyone else.
My advice to others who may be considering adopting a starch-based diet is: This is the solution to your problems, no matter what your problems are. Giving your body the fuel that it craves and was designed for will bring about improved health. Also, keep it simple: Eat whole foods, with starch at the center of your plate.
I lost 100 pounds in the first 12 months, a drop from 265 pounds to just under 165 pounds. For the last few months I have been fluctuating between 160 and 163 pounds; however, I keep losing fat and putting on more muscle. The reason my fat loss has slowed is because I still eat more nuts than I’d like, so to lose the last 15 to 20 pounds and obtain my USMC boot camp weight (140 pounds), I am going to cut my nut consumption. What a minor price to pay to be a winner in body, mind, and spirit at 54 years young! Thank you Dr. McDougall, Jeff, and the rest of the team!
Since the writing of this story, Ron has given up nuts and is down to 157 pounds.
– Ron M.