These were the words from my rheumatologist: “Losing weight will help your feet feel better, but your hands will continue to degrade along with other non-weightbearing joints. Let me know when your ‘diet’ stops working and we can go on medication.” That was two years ago.
Since childhood, I was always healthy, active, athletic, and I loved – you guessed it – meat. In 2008, I was 21 years old, 6’1”, weighed 190 lbs, was running six miles a day and working as a trader at the Chicago Board of Trade. I had lots of free time and the ability to maintain a healthy exercise routine and enjoy my meat-based diet. Sure, I’d burn off 1,500 calories in a workout, but that would be followed up with a nice double stack bacon cheeseburger from the joint next door. I always told myself, “I am working out extra hard today so I can enjoy (insert food).” I looked healthy and certainly felt healthy. Little did I know, my ‘leaky gut’ was slowly letting animal proteins into my bloodstream. My autoimmune system produced antibodies to destroy these foreign proteins and unfortunately there are similar amino acids present on my own tissue, specifically my joints. That is where my cross-reactivity took place; antibodies attacked my joints (McDougall, 2013).
Friends, family and neighbors always enjoyed our home for the holidays. I would like to say it’s because of my excellent ability to cater to everyone; however, it was due to my great skills on the “Weber Smokey Mountain”. Guests would salivate over my incredible dishes and contest winning flavors. Soon, I had weekly dinners, with leftovers frozen and reheated daily. Indeed, a slippery slope.
190 lbs grew to an impressive 293 lbs of pure fat, with just enough muscle to dump more charcoal on the fat sizzling coals. An awful diet, along with “accepting” my weight, resulted in jolting pains throughout my body, random fatigue and no desire to change. I just accepted it. Buying clothes that were XXXL so I would feel comfortable. Paying close to one-thousand dollars for a podiatrist-prescribed orthopedic shoe insert. Accepting weight gain was almost easy, forever and ever until death do us part. But accepting the categorically different, in-a-world-of-its-own pain that soon followed was intolerable.
Stabbing and shooting sensations throughout my body, specifically my joints, caused horrific agony. I had to “scoop” my newborn son, Michael, out of his crib with my forearms, put my toothbrush between my wrists in order to use it and even tie my right wrist around the steering wheel of my car so I would not need to grip the wheel when turning. After creatively “tolerating” this torment for nearly one year, I went to the doctor.
First came the endless questions: Is it burning, stabbing, or tingling? Is it mild, sharp, severe, or dull? Is it constant or intermittent? Is it worse at night or first thing in the morning? Does it wake you up from a sleep? Does it affect your ability to do routine movements or activities? (Answer: “Yes!”) Next, I went in for blood work – lots of blood work. Finally, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I genuinely did not think having rheumatoid arthritis was a big deal; at that time it was just a name to me . I figured I would just take some Aleve and voilà – I would be smiling like the sweet lady who owns a bread bakery in the commercial. That is, until I actually met my rheumatologist – the face behind the bad news.
My rheumatologist loaded me up with pamphlets of drug information, told me I would gain more weight due to steroid usage and explained that methotrexate is always the first step. “Then,” she wrapped up, “we’ll take it from there.” I felt like my life had ended. I left my wife endless voicemails, called my dear mother sobbing, then went home to shove Oreos down my throat while the baby napped. Ah yes, food – the great comforter. Rather – the great “destroyer”. I lost all hope.
I first heard of The Starch Solution from my lovely wife, who was in her family medicine residency. She is passionate about how lifestyle choices (yes, they are choices) impact one’s health. It was she who discovered the writings and passion of Dr. John McDougall. Devouring the information he had and reading testimonies by people who had followed his diet encouraged me. Now, I was not pleased about a plant-based diet. Only eat plants? But my choice was to either “try it” or go on medicine, inevitably falling victim to the surgery table.
So I “tried plants” instead of medicine. Yep, I made friends with starches and evil carbohydrates that people label as “bad”, or even worse, tell me, “You’ll get diabetes.” They’re gravely mistaken (McDougall, 2011). Plants ROCK. It did not require Psycho-Cybernetics for me to overcome the desire for meat or the habit of emotional eating. It took me two-weeks of just trying it.
It became very apparent that “Wow. I can do this. I AM doing this!” I stared down at my 11-pound loss within the first two weeks. My weight tanked 80 lbs in less than a year while I still ate 2,300 calories a day. Did I crave Oreos and beef? Yes. Do I now? Not in the slightest. I love eating starches and fruit. I crave them more than I ever craved a smoked rack of ribs! Seriously! I’m now a full-fledged starchavore.
Hard to believe? Try it. My emotional eating reactions are gone. My misery is gone. My extra weight is gone. My rheumatologist – gone.
Overcoming a debilitating autoimmune disease allows me to fully enjoy my life. I never knew what I was missing. I wear flip flops daily. My feet never hurt. I have the grip of an ape. I said “NO!” to medications and joint surgery and “YES!” to the freedom of having energy and strength. I did the right thing for my family and myself.
Yes, that is me ferociously gripping my son! I’m looking forward to picking up our second son this January – and not with my scooping forearms.
You can do this. And I really hope you will.
“The Impact of Diet” presented by John McDougall, MD at Northwest VEG’s Enhancing Health with Plant-Based Nutrition medical conference on September 20, 2013.
“Diet, Drugs and Diabetes – One Hundred Years of Missed Opportunities” at the Advanced Study Weekend September 2011, in Santa Rosa, California.
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