It’s been 2 years since I saw Forks Over Knives and realized there is a better, more healthy way to live. Now 43, I have received my best results from my doctor since I started going to him 9 years ago. The second year of living plant strong was marred by injury and circumstances that saw me struggle with some of my goals, but was able to maintain a healthy lifestyle purely on what I was eating.
I still remember the day after I made my decision, 2 years ago. We were invited to a Halloween party and I was put through my first test. All the unhealthy foods cooked in oil and other fats, the absurd amount of meat and processed food, as well as mounds of sugary candy and drinks. It’s was no wonder our generation continues to down the widening road to obesity. For me, as well as many others this way of eating gets easier the longer you commit yourself to change. Never before did I think this is how I would chose to eat, but I love feeling healthy and avoiding sickness.
Overall I lost 44 pounds inside of 10 months when going plant based. I saw my total cholesterol (TC) plummet from 264 mg/dL to a low of 130 mg/dL! Since that time, it has increased a few points, but I have been able to maintain a TC near 150 mg/dL, which has been called “heart attack proof.” Many if the ailments I had; constant migraines, side pains, joint pains, plantar fasciitis and nerve issues seemed to improve or completely disappear when I cleaned up my diet.
While my original goal was to improve my TC, weight loss was quite substantial, while being able to eat until full and never experience calorie counting or hunger pangs. I was amazed at clothes I thought were too small were sudden fitting better and hanging looser, it was like having a new wardrobe.
Last year I introduced weight training and running to my regime. Unfortunately I ran (no pun intended) into some training issues along the way that probably impeded some of my gains. In October I started Stronglifts, a great beginning weight training program that saw me make consistent gains through the end of December. As 2013 dawned, I gave up weight training for the entire month of January in order to assist my wife who was recovering from major lower back surgery. Many of my positive gains were wiped out.
Even with an entire month off I was able to recover and make up for lost time. I increased all my lifts and felt stronger, which was the goal of this program. I still didn’t build the physique I wanted but I didn’t feel weak any longer. I made a financial commitment to weight training when I gave up my gym membership and purchased a Rogue Fitness R3 power rack, a Olympic barbell and 300 pounds of weight. While the investment was substantial, by stopping the gum for just 10 months I paid for my home gym. I set the power rack up in the garage and now had my own home gym.
I noticed I made better gains while lifting weights at home, there was also the convenience factor, being able to lifts when I wanted to lift and having the ability to be close if my wife or son needed me. It seemed to be win win situation all around. Unfortunately I ran in to some physical issues and my gains started to slow, then suddenly I found myself deloading the barbell. It was May when I started to have shoulder pain, but wouldn’t be surprised if some tendonitis started to creep into my left shoulder when I joined the gym.
This shoulder pain continued to cause problems that saw me with doctor visit’s the next 5 months that would eventually lead to surgery. One aspect I missed when going to the gym was using some of the cardio equipment, my favored machine was the Precor Elliptical. Yet if I looked down to the floor I had the best cardio equipment without a membership, my feet. The same co-worker who introduced me to FOK, handed me the book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, which chronicled the story of Louis Zamperini. It was an amazing story that inspired me to start running in March.
With no real goal I started running 2-3 miles, 3 times a week. It felt like work, but the more I ran, the better I felt. I started look at running sites and reading up on how to improve my running form and times. I even made the trip to a running store and got fitted for a pair of Brooks. Never thought I would ever be buying running shoes. It wasn’t long before I saw my stamina increasing and my times decreasing. I began to add distance to my runs and then found a goal to aim for.
While surfing the Internet I found a 14 week plan to help me train for a half marathon. In June I set 3 goals. First I wanted to run in a half marathon, second to participate in Tough Mudder and finally to finish the year, run my first marathon. I wanted to run with no excuses! The training plan was simple as I started building up the miles and improving my form and times. More importantly I actually wanted to run, not just a little, but all the time. While I might not have been the fastest or technically correct, I loved being outdoors running, just me versus myself listening to the wind whistle by.
Fourteen weeks later I was recovering from my first 13.1 training run, one that ended very badly for me, but also gave me some insight into myself and training. I suffered through the final 3 miles, combining walking and running, worse yet I was out of water. It was all I could do to finish that run with a time of 2 hours, 30 minutes. Needless to say I was not looking all that forward to race day. A few weeks later I would poised in the starting pen waiting for the gun to go offer. The race went off without any problems and with a time to shoot for I ran my race. In fact I ran it so well I knocked off over 30 minutes on my time! I finished my first half marathon in 1 hour, 58 minutes. It was a huge accomplishment!
A month later I found myself in another pen at the base of Mount Pluto, Northstar in Lake Tahoe. I was getting ready to start my first Tough Mudder and event I had planned on since 2012, but wasn’t able to participate due to a knee injury. Tough Mudder was truly an awesome experience! It was one of the most thrilling challenges I have ever been involved with. We ran 10+ miles, challenged by 19 obstacles and 2000′ above up as we looked up from the starting pen. This event taught me how to dig deep, relying on my training and teammates in order to successfully beat all the obstacles. It was awesome! I felt great and even felt as if I recovered quicker.
While training for my half marathon, I decided to commit to running a marathon in Sacramento, the California International Marathon. Training for this race was in conjunction with the half marathon. After that race I took a week off and got back into the running, but it was different from before. I realized I would need to make a decision to concentrate on weight training or running. Trying to both wasn’t possible. I knew this long before my half marathon and training for the full marathon would be more challenging. I decided to dial back the weight lifting and go with the running.
The entire time I was training, the shoulder pain never went away. After numerous visits to the doctor’s I was finally able to get an x-ray, followed by a referral to an orthopedic surgeon. He ran a few tests, looked at the x-rays and sent me on my way telling me I might have arthritis in my shoulder. Hmm, just like they said for both knees, without referring me for an MRI. I was sent to physical therapy and while the therapist was able to resolve a few shoulder blade issues, she said there were other complications I was suffering from. Thankfully I was referred to another orthopedic after the MRI was ordered and it was revealed I had a torn labrum, torn bicep tendon and bone spurs. At that moment, I had to put the remainder of my plans on hold.
This required surgery and would take about 3 months before I could start weight training again. The surgery went without complication and I was laid up for about a day. Thankfully I didn’t need to rely on the medication, I think I took 2 pills, as my wife (and doctor) told me to “stay ahead of the pain.” Even as the nerve block wore off, the shoulder was not painful to the point I felt I needed to medicate. I was also in a sling until my follow up visit a week later. As of now, I am still going through physical therapy, but should be a full and strong recovery.
On the cooking front I have learned more about living plant strong. As I said earlier, it gets easier and the cooking more enjoyable. I have found many different people I follow on Facebook, who have some wonderful recipes and ideas when it comes to good food. I still have my list of favorite foods I always fall back to, but have tried some new and interesting creations, most of which have been successful.
In March I decided to do a Potato Hack, which saw me live predominately off potatoes for 20 days. Why? I saw my weight starting to increase, up to 182 pounds at my heaviest. This was because of natural fats from nuts, tofu, olives and avocados. I also thought I was eating too many grains in the form of bread (Dave’s Killer Bread, oil free, but heavy nuts). I saw this as an opportunity to “reset” myself, my goal to eat potatoes for every meal, while avoiding grains and high fat plant foods.” It felt good to reset, saw a drop of 2 pounds, but it was more than just trying to achieve another weight loss goal. I saw this 20 days period as a success and slowly started adding foods back in.
One area I did experiment with was IF or intermittent fasting. It took a few weeks to get a schedule nailed down, but I finally settled on a 16 hour fasting period, followed by an 8 hour feeding window. I would eat 20% of my total calories between noon and 1pm. When I would get home from work I would lift weight or run, for up to 2 hours. Following my workout I would eat until I went to bed with my last meal being a snack prior to my window closing at 8pm.
It worked well and I felt better while lifting weights, but struggled with longer distances on the days I ran. I stuck with it for about 3 months before changing my eating habits with an increase in running. Numbers, based on body fast testing didn’t improve over a 4 month period, as I lost nearly 5 pounds of body fat, but almost 4 pounds of muscle. Not how I had envisioned my IF would work out. Still this is something I would look at attempting again in order to gain muscle.
One area I failed in, promoting this lifestyle to others. Like a man who had found God, I thought going plant based was the best solution for long term health. Unfortunately each individual must find that for themselves, not because someone told them. I had been trying to push my wife to go plant based, as she had suffered from 4 surgeries in the 6 months, struggled with depression as well as anxiety. I can’t recount all the medication she was on and how she was feeling. Unfortunately, I finally came to the realization that she would need to make the discovery for herself. There were still a few dishes she enjoyed that I cooked, but I finally decided I would cook whatever she wanted. Many of her goals were similar to mine, reduce weight (back to pre-pregnancy weight), gain some muscle and stop the dependency on medication.
July 31, 2012
Weight 173 pounds
Chol: 130 mg/dL
Trig: 162 mg/dL
HDLC: 35 mg/dL
Chol/HDLC Ratio: 3.7 H
LDL: 63 mg/dL
Non-HDLC: 95 mg/dL
I am very pleased with the success I have had living plant strong. I continue to feel great daily, pains and sickness seem to be a thing of the past. I only had one blood test in 2013, coming near the end of the year, prior to my 2 year anniversary since living a plant based lifestyle. The numbers from July, 2012 were the best I have recorded since I started getting regular physicals.
October 10, 2013
Weight 175 pounds
Chol: 152 mg/dL
Trig: 147 mg/dL
HDLC: 38 mg/dL
Chol/HDLC Ratio: 4.0 H
LDL: 85 mg/dL
Non-HDLC: 114 mg/dL
I had hoped for comparable numbers and was probably a bit discouraged when I looked at the results on October 14. The weight had remained constant, which is a plus. Maybe I was more conscious about my TC, HDL and LDL during the first year or so, but the TC number increased from 130 to 152. Still 152 is well within the normal range and still seen as excellent. HDL (38) and LDL (85) both increased, which is good for the HDL even though it came in under the “normal” range. This is typical when the TC increases you see an increase in both associated numbers.
As I look toward the future, it looks bright! I have much I want to accomplish when it comes to health and physical activities that will challenge my body. Two years in and I have made a complete turn around in my health. While not perfect I am in a much better position than I was in 2011. I look forward to maintaining my health and avoiding doctor visits.
Way to go!! Congrats 😉
Great story of transformation, Stephen! Thanks for all the detail, and for sharing the downs as well as the ups. 🙂 Congratulations!!
Thanks much Cathy. Your site gets a share of the credit for all you do and the recipes you develop. Never did I think I would make it through 2 years. But I am feeling the best I ever have!