On Memorial Day weekend, 2013 the answer to my lifelong quest for good health found me. At that point in time, my weight had ballooned up as it normally did in the Spring. I’d pack the pounds onto my 5’5″ frame, up to between 250 and 265 (my all time high was 278), then I’d “low-carb” it for several months, and exercise, get down to around 220 or 230 in the Fall, and then repeat the whole cycle again. I was very fortunate that I was a relatively ‘healthy’ obese person with no serious health issues other than some minor digestive issues best described as IBS. I don’t drink or smoke, and had been eating only fish and poultry for a couple years, so fortunately, I had no chronic illness besides morbid obesity.
That Memorial day, I was up to 258. I had already decided that it was time to do what one is “supposed to do” when you want to lose weight: just eat less carbs. Focus on meat, vegetables, cut out the pasta, bread, rice and sugar, and the pounds would once again come off. This will be the time that I don’t give up halfway through, I thought. Of course, I’ve said that before…
Fortunately, that Memorial Day we also watched the video Forks Over Knives. I was introduced to a parallel universe that I didn’t even know existed. Not once had I heard that eating all the animal products were harmful. I was only eating chicken and fish anyway—wasn’t that the “healthy meat”? And I had believed dairy was good for me—my favorite food was cheese! We used to buy the giant containers of aged Parmesan from the warehouse store and I would sometimes snack right out of the container – a pinch (or three) of grated Parm!
After watching Fork over Knives, I thought to myself, “how could I possibly scavenge enough food with no animal products at all?” “How could I cook without olive oil?” I had for years wanted to be vegetarian, but I had convinced myself that there simply wasn’t enough food for me to eat. But, what if there was?
This film resonated with me. The whole-foods plant-based lifestyle just made sense. I’m not a scientist, but I’ve always thought analytically, and have gravitated towards common sense and truth. To me, everything that the leaders of the WFPB movement were saying ‘clicked’! Of course it makes no sense to freely eat all the fatty meat and butter and oil you want with no consequence. That’s insane! Of course the idea of making oneself sick and into a state of ketosis to lose weight (classical Atkins’ dieting) can’t be a healthy proposition. It makes sense that our digestive systems resemble other plant-eaters more than meat-eaters. And to look at the evidence of how the health of countries eating the Standard American Diet compares to cultures that are starch-based all made sense. For the first time, I was hearing about the correct way humans should eat.
I then read Dr. McDougall and he summed it all up with three short, simple words: IT’S THE FOOD! I was naturally drawn to Dr. McDougall’s personality—we’re both very direct and don’t mince words, and I loved that he had used the radio medium to promote his message over the years (I’ve been in radio since the age of 13). I bought and devoured nearly every book written on the subject from authors like Esselstyn, Campbell, Lisle, Novick, chef AJ, and Klaper.
The pounds started to come off. At first I was a “regular” Vegan. I wasn’t quite ready to give up the oil. A typical meal might be prepared hot foods from the upscale grocery—vegan but still prepared with oil. I ate lots of new foods like kale, collards, and Brussels sprouts and I was a good 50 pounds down, but still I had a long road ahead of me. I was still eating oily pastas with fried tofu chunks.
Eventually, I realized that I didn’t feel “clean” when eating oily food. I realized vegetables were better if they were steamed or roasted, and flavored with herbs and spices than when they were swimming in a pool of oil from the hot bar. It wasn’t about willpower anymore: the oily food just didn’t make me feel as vibrant.
And speaking of swimming, I started doing that too. I had always loved swimming as a child, but since I had become overweight in elementary school, I was no longer comfortable taking my shirt off at a pool, so I stayed out of pools for a good thirty years or so, until July 2013. I found a great fitness center with an indoor pool that was very rarely crowded, bought a suit and jumped in (literally and figuratively). Turns out those Red Cross swimming lessons from thirty years back stuck with me. I remembered pretty much all the strokes. Today I am swimming 550 meters in 15 minutes 6-7 days a week, and I’m thrilled with the results.
I’m down 110 lbs from when I started last year. From my all-time highest weight of 278, I’m nearly half-gone! My BMI is 24.4, and I weigh 146. My cholesterol is at 167 mg/dL, my HDL is 53 mg/dL , LDL is 99 mg/dL, triglycerides are 71 mg/dL, and glucose is 83. My blood pressure 117/77 mmHg and my resting pulse is 54 bpm.
The reaction from everyone around me has been nothing short of amazing. Best is seeing friends or acquaintances that haven’t seen me in a year. They remember me wearing 2xl shirts and 46 to 50-inch jeans. Now when they see me in a small slim-cut shirt and 31-inch jeans they’re not even sure it’s me! That is fun, and never gets old.
Another validating feeling for me is being able to walk into any clothing store, and being able to pick clothes right off the shelf. No more big and tall stores. No more looking at the bottom of the pile to find that one pair of pants in the largest size available that I might squeeze into. Being able to walk into stores “for skinny people” and pick out clothes from the lower end of their size range is amazing.
People ask me, “how long will you be dieting like this?” I have to tell them that the changes that I’ve made aren’t a diet, and they aren’t temporary. What I did was change my lifestyle to one that is sustainable forever; I did so for my own health, for the welfare of the animals that are subjected to unbelievable trauma, and for the welfare of our planet. Why would I want to trade in my healthy habits for deadly ones? And now, a year later, I know the answer to the question: “what is the correct way for humans to eat?” It is a low-fat, whole-food-plant-based diet, with little to no added sugar, oil or salt.