My health problems started even before I was born. My paternal grandparents were grossly overweight. My grandfather, a butcher, always thought that animal protein was the way to good health. As a child, each meal was laden with heavy servings of meat. After my grandfather retired, my father continued this tradition by purchasing meat at very low prices from grandpa’s friends; for example, breakfast was at least two or three pounds of bacon, or a thick ham steak for each of us. (Those choices always seemed strange to me, because I came from a Jewish family.) For dinner, each one of us got a 2-inch thick steak or lamb chop. To keep the family healthy, my dad would make us a large Caesar salad served up in a giant roasting pan and drowned in his homemade dressing. He boasted that he acquired this recipe from the man who originally created it in Tijuana, Mexico. This dressing contained eggs, anchovies, and lots and lots of oil.
The salad being the only vegetable portion of our meal, it is no wonder my father was grossly obese. He died at the age of 67 from complications of diabetes. When we cleaned out his apartment and looked in his refrigerator I discovered it crammed full of salami logs, packages of bologna, many types of cheeses, not to mention all the butter and milk. In the pockets of several pairs of pants were the receipts from Kentucky Fried Chicken. Now you understand how I was brought up to eat.
I had grown up thinking that animal protein was the healthiest thing for me—this is even what my doctor encouraged me to eat. I was a fat kid! As a young adult, living on my own, I started reading about good nutrition and health. What I learned caused me to reduce my intake of red meat, eat more fish, and fry in “good” oils. Unfortunately, this did not lead to good health.
At the age of 28, I found a lump the size of a golf ball on the left side of my groin area. The biopsy showed I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma—a cancer of the lymphatic system. I went to four specialists, including the leading radiation oncologist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California and the leading oncologist at Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. They all delivered the same messages: “We don’t have any idea how you got this, but we sure know how to treat it. First we remove your spleen, then you will undergo heavy doses of radiation, and some even heavier doses of chemotherapy.” After my surgery, during 3 months of radiation therapy, I became sicker and sicker—spending my days and nights vomiting. Although I eventually recovered from my cancer, my general health was never restored—I still was way too heavy and now I had additional problems of colitis and hypertension.
In 1993, while dating Mary, who soon became my wife, my weight ballooned to 290 pounds, and I came down with what I thought was the worst flu ever. This “flu” had additional features—I had an unquenchable thirst and could not stop urinating. No matter how much I drank the thirst got worse! Mary kept telling me that I should go to the doctor, but I kept resisting. I became so sick that she literally had to drag me to the car and take me in for help.
As I was wheeled into the doctor’s office I kept drifting in and out of consciousness. I remember two doctors and a couple of nurses rushing me into the exam room trying to get a blood glucose level. My sugar was so high that their conventional glucometer would not register. The paramedics were called to transport me to the hospital—the last thing I remember before blacking out was one of the four paramedics trying to lift me saying, “Hey, buddy you’re a big guy, you are going to have to help us move you.”
I woke up in the ICU unit of the hospital recovering from diabetic ketoacidosis—a commonly fatal complication of untreated diabetes. The hospital lab had registered my glucose level at 1130 mg/dL—ten times the normal level. After two days in ICU, I was transported to the “diabetic ward” where I was shown how to inject myself two to four times a day with insulin in my belly and my thighs. I was sent from there to diabetic classes where I was told that I was eating correctly but needed to cut my portions in half.
When my brother found out how sick I was, he sent me a book called “The McDougall Plan.” I read a few chapters, and continued following the meal program the diabetic center dietitians had taught me. No matter how hard I tried my glucose levels would not stabilize. The dietitians’ recommendation: just increase my dosage of insulin and maybe try oral diabetic medication. Unfortunately, the new pills, Glucophage, created unbelievable bowel distress. I started to think, that maybe eating beans, fruits and vegetables wouldn’t be so hard to do—I got down “The McDougall Plan” again and read it cover to cover—all I wanted to do was to be well. However, putting into practice what I read was not all that easy.
Finally, in January of 2006, my wife and I took what we like to call “our most important vacation ever”—we joined John and Mary for their 10 day program in Santa Rosa, California. I learned more in those 10 days than I had learned in all my previous years of natural health education. We started the program with an exam from Dr. McDougall, where he addressed my health issues. Every morning, Mary McDougall was there to take my blood pressure, weigh me, and check how I was doing. The lectures were insightful and very pertinent to my getting well. Subjects included protein, calcium, diabetes, high blood pressure, how to use the Internet, reading labels and finding hidden fat. I thought that it would be hard to cook delicious meals, but we were given excellent recipes in our cooking class. The delicious food at the program was served buffet style and I had no limitation on how much I could eat—what a change! Exercise became a joy, not drudgery. What I learned most from the program was that all the misinformation given to us by our trusted doctors and dietitians was really making us very sick. I should have figured this out on my own by the way I had continued to look and feel while following their advice.
Before adopting The McDougall Program, my weight averaged 290 to 295 pounds, my blood pressure was in the area of 195/110 mmHg and my glucose levels were in the range of 300 to 400 mg/dL.
Now my blood pressure is down to 110/80 mmHg and my glucose levels average about 120 to 130 Mg/dL, and I am off insulin and pills. I am down to 190 pounds, a total weight loss of about 100 pounds in 9 months, and I have lost 13 inches off my waist. I am a new person—my level of confidence and self esteem are at a heightened level that I had not felt in decades. I have changed so much that people who have not seen me in a while have to look twice to make sure it’s me.
Finally, I want to add that the McDougall Program (even though I did not follow it for many years) was the major force that caused me to return to school and to get my degree in natural health. After seven years of study I am now a Doctor of Naturopathy and practice in and around the Orange County/ Los Angeles area. I give lectures on the benefits of a low fat vegan lifestyle—and now, because of all the weight I have lost and my radiant energy, I am viewed by the audiences I speak to and my patients with far more credibility.