Death. The Other Option.

extremeAt the risk of sounding like a nag, when the hell are people going to wake up and realize the food they eat to sustain their life is the same food that is causing disease, obesity and sickness? Moderation is a myth, oil still isn’t “heart healthy” and the fork could potentially be as lethal as a weapon. The statistics prove Americans moderate the wrong foods. Even the saying from the American Dietetic Association, “All foods fit,” has been taken out of context. The original saying is not “all foods fit,”  but, “All foods can fit into a healthful diet ‘if’ consumed in moderation with appropriate portion size and combined with regular physical activity.”

Change. It doesn’t come easy, if at all. People are resistant to change in favor of the status quo. Reasons vary including:

  • when the status quo is satisfactory
  • when the purpose of change is not clearly understood
  • when those affected lack courage or self confidence
  • personal fear of failure to master new skills
  • fear of personal loss of ego, status, power or resources
  • when implementation appears to be rigid and inflexible

Each of these reasons “excuses” could be applied to why people don’t take their health more serious and make changes that they would benefit from. I admitted to myself for 42 years that “I was fine.” This when dining on fast foods, fried foods, dairy and meat while not enjoy veggies and limiting starchy foods. I knew I had a problem, but I wasn’t strong enough to face the fears associated with making change.

Then something amazing happened, so unexpected it was exhilarating as I looked towards the future, seeing a happy, healthy life ahead. I accepted the change and challenged myself to accept a new, plant based lifestyle leaving behind the foods that were the cause of all my health related problems.

I know this sounds like fiction and many won’t think twice about it or consider change in their life, continuing to follow their “healthy” lifestyle that includes meat and dairy. I don’t care if you are gluten free, buy only organic, believe grass fed beef is somehow healthier or still hold on to the belief that fancy cooking oils are beneficial. The fact of the matter remains, your decisions on foods are the key to your health and many Americans continue to make the wrong decisions.

As the saying goes, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Change doesn’t come without dedication, effort and a bit of struggle. I know this as well as anyone when making the decision to get healthy, which I did in October, 2011. Yet 3 years later people continue to find excuses not to take establishment to keep them healthy.

pd-testimonial

Left: The “SAD” days. Right: Powered by plants!

If literature and words are not enough to convince the majority to reconsider, how about leading by example. That is what I am, living proof you can take control of your health, forget about doctors and medicine and heal yourself. The transformation has been nothing short of amazing! Gone are all the maladies I once struggled with; my weight, aches and pains, including consistent migraines, foot problems (plantar fasciitis), stomach issues and lethargy.

People willing to try could be rewarded in as little as 12 days at no cost to them thanks to Dr. John McDougall and his free McDougall Program. The Internet is chocked full of beneficial information, programs and recipes to assist individuals in their quest for health. Julie Marie Christensen at Protective Diet promotes “a diet rich in whole plant foods, free of all animal products, saturated fats, oils, nuts, sugar, artificial sweeteners and food additives.” It takes 30 days to “eliminate the physical addiction… then our taste bud receptors are not searching for the missing oils and fats any longer.” Why not start now?

Unfortunately many consider a plant based lifestyle “extreme” by making the decision to remove meat, dairy and for some, oil. Open heart surgery is far too common, as the 6th most expensive surgery in the U.S. at $324,000*. “Part of the high cost of open heart surgery is because it’s often an urgent medical procedure that is usually followed by complications. Longer care and follow-up needed after surgery add to the price tag.

Conversely I hear many complain about just how expensive it is to eat a plant based diet. According to the IRS, the average person in America spends $301 on food, and the average family of four spends $765. According to the US department of Labor, a typical family of four eating “moderately” at home in 2011 spent $664. But that’s eating many processed foods (source).

I’m not saying to spend $1.50 a day on food as Darshana Thacker did on Forks Over Knives, but by following some simple rules you can save money following a plant based lifestyle.

  • Buy in bulk: beans, grains, pastas, flours, herbs, spices and nutritional yeast are staples in my pantry.
  • Make a list: write down what you want to buy and go into the store with a purpose, this will help limit food and ingredients you don’t need.
  • Comparison shop and coupons: visit a few different grocers to see which store has weekly deals or sales going on. Watch Sunday papers for coupons, which could allow you to save additional money.
  • Buy frozen and canned food: some veggies and fruits are season, so you might need to find another option. Frozen veggies are inexpensive and can be used in a variety of ways. In a pinch, canned ingredients (BPA free) can be used if something is not in season or unavailable from the bulk bins. In the past I have primarily used beans and tomatoes.
  • Menu planning: create a menu for the week, figuring in the amount of leftovers that could be used for additional meals during the week. Meal planning will allow you to create a more accurate shopping list.

Some of these suggestions are good practice in general regardless of the foods you eat. Initially stocking your pantry could require a bit larger of a cost, but in the long run removing the pricey cuts of meat, dairy such as cheese and processed foods will result in substantial savings over time.

The argument from many usually includes, “I’m going to die anyways, so I am going to eat whatever I want.” By all means do what makes you happy, but expect the possible consequences that come with eating a diet high in red meat, sugary drinks and desserts, high-fat foods, high-fat dairy products, and refined grains. The cost could be your life. You might suffer a heart attack and be diagnosed with coronary heart disease (CHD) requiring open heart surgery. Both of those options sound extreme to me. A plant based lifestyle offers results, but only if you WANT to take control of your health.

Perspective

perspectivePeople are passionate about a variety of things, from sports teams to politics and religion to the food they consume, this should come as no surprise. Social media seems to draw the best and the worst out of people, as I’m sure many have read via the many outlets, from discussion boards and Twitter to Facebook. For as many comments supporting a topic, there will be just as many opposing it and providing alternatives. I guess that’s what makes the Internet a great place, when individuals can share ideas and comment on topics they have in common or debate issues at hand.

Scrolling through new posts on a plant-based Facebook group I ran across a topic that asked, “Where can I find the number of people who have benefited (so far) from McDougalling?” McDougalling, for those readers new to T6F, is the term associated with an individual who follows the teachings of Dr. John McDougall, who promotes a starch (plant) based way of eating while excluding meat, dairy and added oils in your diet. I still consider myself a McDougaller for just over 2 years now, which has seen a dramatic improvement in my health. Over the course of this journey I have learned about nutrition and the role it plays for building a healthy body.

The thread seemed to get derailed rather quickly as a debate flared up about a plant-based way of eating being a “sacrifice” regardless of the positive results many have experienced. The comments and ensuing discussion had nothing to do with the numbers the original poster was looking for. However it started me thinking about the change in my lifestyle; was it a sacrifice or a choice?

Prior to changing my diet in October, 2012 I knew the food I was eating contributed to my increasing weight and myriad of health related issues. While I wasn’t as sickly as some who turned to Dr. McDougall for answers, I struggled with a growing list of pains that I had no relief for; migraine headaches, foot problems, an increasing cholesterol, side pains and joint issues. The documentary Forks Over Knives was the revelation I needed to approach nutrition and take control of what I eat.

While I feel I made a choice to exclude foods that promoted disease and obesity, in the thread, Vikki makes a great point. “In the beginning it does feel like a sacrifice. But once you start seeing results, once the weight starts coming off and the test results improve and you can get off the drugs and you can quit worrying about heart disease and diabetes and, and, and, it no longer feels like a sacrifice. Now it feels like a reward.” That was exactly how I felt.

Sure there were yearnings at times for cheese or the smell of BBQ had me salivating for a nice steak, but the longer I went without being tempted to these foods, the better the results. Weight continued to fall off, the problems I had, started to disappear and I saw an amazing decrease in my total cholesterol (total of 134 points). My doctor couldn’t explain it other than to say my decision was “extreme” and that I could “not have long term success.” Instead of saying a plant-based way of eating is a sacrifice it’s the perspective from which you view it.

For many of my friends I communicate with using social media, friends, those I see regularly and co-workers, many tell me they could not do what I have done. Many could not sacrifice their vices; meat, cheese, cooking with oil, fast food or alcohol in the name of health. From my perspective I have done what I felt was required to in order to take control of my health and improve how I feel. While around me I see many more feeding on a handful of medication, increasing in weight and not doing anything to better themselves. Why not? Why sacrifice your health?

Many of these people must be happy in some aspect of life, maybe being healthy doesn’t mean fueling your body with good food, instead letting the industrial medical complex and big pharma protect you from disease and heal you when sick. All the time continuing to eat a Western pattern diet “characterized by high intakes of red meat, sugary desserts, high-fat foods, and refined grains. It also typically contains high-fat dairy products, high-sugar drinks, and higher intakes of processed meat” (source). This usually leads to pleasure gained from the fats, sugars and salts this diet is guilty of.

The thread continues, “since you’re apparently ignoring the obvious “pluses” to unhealthy food, I’ll point out the obvious: The added effort of shopping and preparation is a sacrifice in and of itself. The act of eating healthy food healthfully (taking time to thoroughly chew food that has substance) is another sacrifice. The lack of fats, sugars, and salts has an an undeniable effect on flavor.” Yet the madness doesn’t stop there. “One does not have to be “intensely” suffering from withdraw to:

  • realize the implications of never being able to eat out
  • never eating food prepared at a friend’s house,
  • awkward dinner parties with friends who eat differently
  • always having to plan meals ahead,

having everyone you know look at you silly when they’re having pizza, and you’re having a baked potato and squash. It’s not ALL about personal satisfaction from eating bad food.”

Shopping, it’s not for everyone and based on my most recent trips to the market many don’t care what they eat as baskets are piled high with CRAP: carbonated junk, refined sugars, artificial sh*t and processed foods. That must be a hell of a decision standing in the frozen section debating which frozen meal to get.

Food preparation can be challenging, especially if you have no talent in the kitchen. I will consider myself fortunate that I had some basic skills that have only improved, spending more time cooking healthy food. The first book I purchased to support my lifestyle change was filled with simple recipes. It’s not as simple as popping in a frozen dinner into the oven or opening a bag from Taco bell. How difficult is it to bake a potato or yam? Heat some frozen veggies? Boil water or vegetable broth for a soup base? Sorry, some effort must be made on your part to cook.

Eating foods free of fats (or low in fat), sugars and salt doesn’t have be like chewing flavorless cardboard. Many seem to have that misconception. I can understand many foods I cook would taste bland, due to the fact your taste buds still have a penchant for fatty, sugary and salty foods. My wife reminds me this time and time again when I share a new dish with her. This fact alone could deter individuals early on and see them regress back to a Western pattern diet, sacrificing their health solely in the name of flavor. Yet from my perspective, I don’t feel I am sacrificing flavor in the name of health.

The implications of not being able to eat out, go to parties or feel awkward at parties should not be a reason to avoid healthy eating. I don’t see this as a sacrifice at all. There are very few restaurants that serve healthy food. Take the time to learn about nutrition and see just how unhealthy many restaurant menus are. In the rare times I have eaten out, I can order a baked potato and steamed vegetables and be satisfied. If this makes you feel awkward, sorry that’s on you. Don’t worry about what I am eating. Usually my way of eating becomes a topic of conversation and I share nutrition information I have learned. I expect no special treatment when we RSVP to a party or visit friends for dinner. Why should I?

Healthy eating is not a sacrifice depending on your perspective. When I made the decision to change my lifestyle and eating a plant-base diet I chose not to fuel my body with meat, dairy and added oil. I did not want to keep these foods that feed illness and disease in my diet. Why sacrifice my health? The decision to change my way of eating was one of the best decisions I have made. I have no regrets, regardless of perspective.

 

Man Doesn’t Need Meat

eatveggiesI have a friend I have known for about 4 years, who’s married with two beautiful daughters. Unfortunately he isn’t the healthy guy I have ever met. He is overweight (probably borderline obese on charts), has diabetes, high blood pressure, most likely high cholesterol (although I have not asked, just know his eating habits) and he is a smoker. As I wrote about him before, he would be a prime candidate for Dr. McDougall’s 12-day program as he reminded me of Sam Waterman, who saw outstanding results in just 12 days eating a plant-based, whole foods diet.

I probably got a bit pushy and preachy at times when it came to the success I was having by following Dr. McDougall and his ideas. Still not sure why it took 41 years to finally figure out where good nutrition begins, but it wasn’t with meat and dairy products as we have been lied to since early childhood. How could I not share the secret to my success when I was in the midst of dropping 44 pounds and improving my total cholesterol to 130? These results equate to nothing short of amazing for me! I am still surprised at how I have gone from poor health with headaches, foot and abdominal pains to where am I now, relying on no medication and the healthiest I have ever been.

It takes that “ah ha moment” when something clicks and you finally comes to that realization. For me, it was a combination of identifying my state of health when I went for a routine check up at the dentist and I could not remember all the medications I was prescribed. Thankfully I have a co-worker who follows a plant-based diet and she recommended the documentary, Forks Over Knives. It was that documentary that got me interested in nutrition and taking control of my health.

Last year my overweight and “sick” friend commented to me during a family barbeque, “man needs meat! as he stood over his grill that was full of chicken and beef. For him, it was seeing the changes I had gone through, losing the weight, improving my blood numbers and cooking foods that are both healthy for you and good to eat. He wasn’t convinced, as he continued his eating habits, which was not governed by portion control. If he continued down this road, early death was a distinct possibility.

About 2 weeks ago he and his wife watched Food Matters and Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead with Joe Cross. Her husband could have easily pass for Phil Staples, the truck drive Joe Cross meets in the documentary. While not as obese as Phil, he needed to make drastic changes in order to take control of his health. These two documentaries have opened his eyes in a way I have never seen. The guy who once subscribed to “man needs meat” has been plant-based for just over 2 weeks and has dropped about 20 pounds! He told me last night over Chef AJ’s Disappearing Lasagna (I also made him a doggy bag for lunch) that he was feeling ribs he had not felt in years! Talk about a positive change, this was such great news!

I see much jubilation and excitement in his step and the way he talks. His wife is quite excited over the changes he has made recently, as she too is now following this way of eating. He currently belongs to the same gym as I and has been going on a regular basis, using some of the machines and walking on the treadmill. This in itself is progress. Who knows, maybe in the coming weeks/months I can get him on my weight lifting routine. It thrills me to see a good friend take control of his health and make such positive changes.

Understanding of Nutrition

I don’t profess to “knowing it all” when it comes to nutrition. In 10 months I have only scratched the surface but would like to dig deeper and gain a better understanding of nutrition and the role food plays in our diet. For my discussion today, diet does not imply restricted eating to lose weight (although that is a result), but rather the food and drink regularly consumed by an individual. When it comes to nutrition, people are not sure what to believe as there is a world of misinformation being disseminated by special interest groups, industry, government, authors, doctors and other sources that it can mind boggling. Just who can you trust to give you a straight answer as it relates to food and you health?

While I don’t have a good answer for you, I do believe in the research conducted by T. Colin Campbell, PhD. Campbell “is an American biochemist who specializes in the effects of nutrition on long-term health. He is the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University, the author of over 300 research papers, and the co-author of The China Study (2004), one of America’s best-selling books about nutrition (source).”

I learned about The China Study when I viewed the documentary Forks Over Knives last September, but it wasn’t until April of this year I purchased the book (read my review) and read it for the first time. It was an eye opening experience. The numbers alone are staggering! The research is presented in an easy to read and understand format. Yet millions are unaware of this book or worse won’t subscribe to the plan outlined in order to improve health.

Individuals are resistant to change. Many believe what they were taught in school about nutrition was correct, eating from the basic food groups or following a food pyramid will keep them healthy. But is that really the case? “Overweight Americans now significantly outnumber those who maintain a healthy diet…almost a third of the adults twenty years and over in this country are obese.” This cited from The China Study and the outlook is even worse as American eat out more and spend more time in a sedentary position, watching TV, playing video games and on computers.

Heart disease will kill one out of every three Americans. According to the American Heart Association, over 60 million Americans currently suffer from some form of cardiovascular disease.” Yet many turn to the medical establishment to “cure” them of this disease. The U.S. spends more money for health care than any other country in the world (over 1 trillion dollars in 1997), yet the U.S. is ranked 37th best in health care system performance. All this money. As I have experienced, my doctor seems to be motivated by money more than the health of his patient.

As of the writing of The China Study, the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer was medical care. This from a nation that spends more money on health care than any other nation in the world. How can that be? It doesn’t need to be this way, but people must “shift thinking toward a broader perspective on health, one that includes a proper understanding and use of good nutrition.”

Many people are under the misconception that foods such as meat and dairy must be included in their “healthy diet” or they will miss out on key nutrients that we need as humans. Principle #3 from The China Study: There are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants. Case in point, the chart to the right comparing foods (500 calories of energy). Which would you rather eat for your health? Food A provides more antioxidants, fiber and minerals, which marginally less in protein. It’s no surprise to reveal Food A (equal parts of tomatoes, spinach, lima beans, peas, potatoes) is plant-based, while Food B (equal parts of beef, pork, chicken, whole milk) is animal based. Why wouldn’t you chose to eat the healthier option?

Moderation is no longer a way of eating I subscribe to because many American’s can’t limit their intake of “bad food.” Dr. Campbell cites, “the lower the percentage of animal-based foods that are consumed, the greater the health benefits.” While eliminating all animal-based products is the goal, Dr. Campbell says not to stress over it. For me and my health, it was all or nothing but I did give myself transition period that helped me cut back and cut out foods that I did not want to eat, namely meat, dairy and oil. Was it easy? No, but “moderation, even with the best intentions sometimes makes it more difficult to succeed.”

Many individuals I talk to regarding food, nutrition, diet and health always include “I can’t” or “I won’t” when I bring up a plant-based diet (lifestyle). Their reasons vary as to why they won’t try something different to improve their health or lose weight. I challenge many to give it 30 days following a plant-based diet, but to date, no takers. I even bring up the 12 day program that Dr. McDougall promotes on his site, but many feel as if they will be hungry.

My goals when I started were to improve my blood numbers by lowering my cholesterol and get healthy. Never did I believe I would have such radical results inside a year that my doctor couldn’t find anything wrong me during my last physical in August. The key, learning nutrition and thinking outside the box when it comes to what I ate.

Unfortunately this is very hard for some individuals. I overheard a gal at work say, “Ask Roberta, she has tried all the diets.” Again, it comes back to nutrition and learning what is should be consumed and what should be avoided and why. No need to count calories or subtract points or even be hungry. In ten months, if I was hungry it was because I was not eating enough good food daily. People will look at what they CAN’T eat as opposed to what they CAN eat.

As I have started to get a better feel for cooking without oil, meat and dairy, you can now toss in sugar and salt. None of these ingredients need to be in food to make it taste good or satiate you. I do continue to provide samples of my cooking to some of the women who are looking for a “healthy alternative.” Unfortunately I don’t think any of them will take me up on diet I follow. No longer is my goal to convince people that what I am doing is right. I am more focused on getting people to realize what is healthy and what isn’t.

I use work as an example again, another co-worker, Michelle says “I work out all the time, but I can’t lose weight.” Then she tells me how she cooks and eats. I give her some options and the first thing I mention, cut out the added oil to your cooking. No sooner do I say that and she seems lost as to how to cook without oil. It’s a teaching moment. She was given some other information this week from a low-carb follower, “don’t eat oatmeal or bananas” for breakfast. Huh? When did these foods suddenly become not good for you? When you need to limit the amount of carbohydrates you consume for fear these will make you fat, that is when. I reiterate, some people need to re-learn nutrition in order to take control of their health.

I know I won’t change the world when it comes to how I eat. I am very thankful to finding a healthy solution that works for me. Sure I give up a few foods, but I do believe I have become a better cook the past 11 months. My wife would probably agree with me, even though she won’t eat everything I prepare. That’s fair enough. More than following a plant-strong lifestyle, if people would pay more attention to what they eat and how some of the bad foods affect your health they would be better off in the end. It is my hope to plant a seed in people to understand nutrition.

Death Isn’t an Option

Death isn’t an option. What does it take for individuals to realize something in their life needs to change when it comes to their health? I am sure many can relate to stories parents or grandparents living out their days, dying in a bed. That is NOT the way I want to live out my life. Unfortunately many won’t resolve to make changes in their lives to bring about a positive change in their lifestyle to improve their health and possibly extend their life.

It’s been about 11 months since I watched Forks Over Knives and made the decision to change my lifestyle. My blogging, in conjunction with posting and reading threads on Dr. McDougall’s Discussion Boards reaffirms the changes I have made to improve my quality of life. The question often arises, “What was that ah-ha moment” that made you realize you needed to change your diet? For me, it was the documentary and I can’t thank my co-work enough for turning me on to it.

Yesterday I received word that my gym partner of 6 months and co-worker for the last 6 years passed away after suffering a heart attack. He was admitted to the hospital on Friday and passed away yesterday. Not exactly sure what transpired over the weekend after he was admitted. He wasn’t exactly a spitting image of health, even though he was muscular and strong. He had been suffering from a heart condition for a few years.

At work, he was like many other co-workers in our office, not accepting my decision to cut out meat, dairy and oil from my diet to improve my health. As a weight lifter he was into his protein, either from meat or through the use of supplement shakes. His protein intake was considerably higher than the levels I chose to follow, opting of a more normal level, approximately 60 grams/daily. Only seeing him at work, I saw just a glimpse of how poorly he ate. Along with lots of red meats, it was a high volume of soda as well, coupled with the aforementioned protein supplements and shakes.

I am sure diet played a role in the final outcome, although I will never truly know. Obviously there were other underlying issues that contributed to the downfall and eventual death of a friend. Not sure any of my comments relating to diet ever got through to him, based on what I saw at work and his eating habits, nothing had changed.

Outside of work, we spent the last 6 months working out 3 to 4 times a week. Joining a sports club (aka gym), I was excited to add the exercise portion of a healthy lifestyle to my schedule, but was hesitant because I did not know how to use a gym effectively. This is where my buddy stepped in.  He helped me with basic moves and exercises designed to work specific body parts each session with lifted together. For those introductory knowledge I am very thankful I knew him and had a chance to work out with him.

As I said it’s an unfortunately situation and I am sadden at the loss of a friend and co-worker who leaves behind a son and daughter. This loss only strengthens my resolve that I have the correct choices in swearing off Big Pharma, eliminating unhealthy foods (meat, dairy and oil) from my diet and spending 3-4 days a week exercising. At no other time in my life have I felt as healthy as I have the last few months. I miss how I feel when I can’t get to the gym. Thankfully I have been very good and haven’t strayed fall on my newly developed eating habits.

Rest in peace Rob, you will be missed.