McDougall Teaching Moment

Aunt Pam, Steph and myself heading to Walnut CreekIt has been months in the planning stages and previous attempts to make plans seemed to always fall through. Yesterday, my sister, who is a flight attendant and lives on the East Coast had a layover in San Francisco. She hopped BART and made her way to my office, where I met her. About 30 minutes later my aunt joined us. This was the first time my sister and aunt have met after about a year of talking together. What started as a reunion turned into a McDougall teaching moment.

After I got off work we made our way to Walnut Creek and ended up at Pyramid Alehouse. It was a beautiful day outside and we got a table outside and were welcomed by our server. After ordering a round of drinks, yeah I gave in and order a tall Pyramid Hefeweizen, my first alcoholic drink in nearly 3 weeks. I figured it was a treat since my sister, who I rarely get to see was in town. The girls order Grilled Avocado and Watermelon served with a salsa fresca and a Hefeweizen fire sauce. I opted for nothing to eat, but after seeing these plates when they arrived, I would have been compliant if I ordered this.

We got to talking and it turned to exercise and food and opened the door to a teaching moment. My sister has taken to doing mud runs and will participate in her first half marathon later this year in Las Vegas. Her training consists of kickboxing 3-5 times a week as well as running, continually increasing her distance. Unfortunately her eating habits were questionable, not unhealthy but in my opinion she was starving herself of food and much needed nutrients.

I give her kudos for tracking her food using My Fitness Pal on her iPhone, but the talked turned to how much she wasn’t eating. Many look at calories in versus calories out. Unfortunately the day she cited, she only ate 871 calories, but burned close to 1100. Then she explained what she ate during the day and while the food wasn’t unhealthy (by SAD standards) it was not enough and sounded to me like she was starving her body, but not seeing the results she had expected.

While I wasn’t pushing my extreme bias, I was trying to educate her on nutrition, as was my aunt, a former vegan. She, along with her husband have a few of carbohydrates, like many in the United States they believe carbohydrates makes people fat. I used myself as an example citing a 44 pound weight loss, much without any exercise, but basing my eating habits around starch, something as simple as the potato (sweet potato) or brown rice. Based on how she was eating, I would believe she is quite deficient in her RDA of nutrients, it’s difficult to see otherwise. The suggestion I made was to base her daily meals around the potato (she never has been a big rice fan) in order to fuel her body and give her that much needed energy for her workouts.

I dropped Dr. John McDougall’s name and offered her my copy of The McDougall Program. While she was open and receptive to it, she forgot to take the copy with her. Thankfully she will be back my way this week and hopefully I can get the book in her hand. Hopefully reading the first 3 chapters, especially Chapter 3: Food Facts: Common Dietary Myths Dispelled will get her thinking differently about how she fuels her body. I also recommended trying to cut out adding oil to her cooking. There was no mention made of giving up meat or seafood, but I did say limit consumption to 6 ounces.

Hopefully she (and her husband) can make some minor changes to their diet and see starch in a new light and not as something that needs to be avoided. It’s nearly August and making changes now will still give her 4 months to improve her times for her half marathon in December. She could easily drop 5-10 pounds and possible shave off time on her running and be in better health when she hits the starting line.

Starch is the Solution

As many readers to my site know, I now eat a plant-based diet and have been meat, dairy and oil free for just over 6 months now. I feel great and with the addition of exercise I am starting to see a physical change in my appearance. My blood numbers have dramatically improved as well because of this way of eating. All this in only 6 months, but saw initial weight loss in less than a few days. Is this lifestyle change for everyone? Yes it is, but it’s up to each individual to make the necessary changes that lead to a different mindset in order to be successful.

Before fully committing to Dr. McDougall’s, The McDougall Program: 12 Days to Dynamic Health I read the entire book and did quite a bit of additional research and discussion online that resolved many commonly asked questions. What was even better, I didn’t have to buy his book, as Dr. McDougall offers his 12-day program mentioned in his book for FREE! It even provides a condensed background into the research and details surrounding a starch based diet.

Just last week Dr. McDougall released a new book, The Starch Solution. I am only a chapter in, but I am enjoying his words of wisdom as it relates to a plant-based diet that centers around a staple in world civilization for thousands of years. Starch. This has been his platform for 44 years and how he promotes his healthy diet, which as I experience, is a change in lifestyle. Nonetheless the results have been amazing.

I believe in Dr. McDougall and his starch solution I am willing to make an offer to those who read this post. If you are interested, I will buy and ship you a copy of Dr. McDougall’s book, The Starch Solution. I have no pecuniary interests, just trying to assist others by spread the doctor’s good word on this road to health.

Many won’t take me up on the offer though. Having the determination and willpower to cut out meat, dairy and oil in your diet is seen as “extreme” by many people I talk to. Still, the results I have experienced in 6 months have been like nothing I have seen previously. So, if you are serious in changing your lifestyle and getting healthy I will back my offer to you.

Plant-Strong: 6 Months!

As of today it has been 6 months since I have taken control of my health, no longer trusting in “Big Pharma” or the medical establishment. Along the way to changing my lifestyle I have taken a strong interest in nutrition and have been reading a number of books and many online resources in order to learn about eating, the right way, on the road to health.

When people talk about success as it relates to their diet, weight lost is usually their priority. In my case, weight loss was only one indicator, I wanted to improve my health. I have undergone two blood tests since July, 2011 that further supports going to a plant-based, whole food lifestyle has been beneficial. But following a plant-based diet is more than “just a diet” it’s a complete lifestyle change.

Before making this change, I spent time learning about Dr. John McDougall. You can read about my reasons for make this lifestyle change. The driving force behind it was finally realizing I did not want to live my life downing a handful of medication just to make it through the day. That coupled with my total cholesterol (TC) level, which had increased to 263 since my 2011 physical, change was needed.

While I did give myself a 3 month “transition period” before going on the 12-day program that Dr. McDougall cites in his book, The McDougall Program, it made the move to a plant-based lifestyle easier to accomplish. I don’t believe I could have made an overnight change, especially with so much unhealthy food in the house pantry. Since I enjoy cooking, I’ve had to relearn how to cook some meals, introducing substitutes for commonly used ingredients I no longer favored. For example, I no longer use any oil when I cook (yes, even “heart healthy” olive oil). When I saute vegetables it’s done with water. If I need to use eggs (or a binding agent) in a recipe, I will use flax meal mixed with warm water. Cheese has been replaced with nutritional yeast mixed with other healthy ingredients.

Cooking has been fun the past 6 months, finding new meals to prepare and challenging myself to put together meals that my wife and son will enjoy. That has been very tough, more so with my son than my wife. She has her favorite meal, potato enchiladas, thanks to a recipe originally written by Mary McDougall. While my menu isn’t extensive, much of what I have made is listed under ‘Recipes‘. Many of these recipes are simple and I have ended up modifying most of them. I am always on the lookout for new dishes that have a big taste.

I have yet to “cheat” or “treat” myself during this 6 month period, going meat, dairy and oil free. I am probably 90-95% compliant with the plant-based lifestyle, one vice that still remains, alcohol. It has been very difficult for me to give up beer, while I have been able to cut back to a lower intake, it might not be enough as I will explain later. Even this level of commitment has seen great strides in my overall health, solely by changing my diet.

In addition to the change in eating habits I have started on an exercise regime. Prior to injuring my left knee (March 4), I was walking 4-5 days a week for about 20-30 minutes. Initially I had restarted Tony Horton’s P90 series, but tired with that quickly and decided to work out using our Bowflex Revolution, which up until now had been unused.

While the physical results from lifting weights has been a bit slow to be seen, there are changes happening. I feel much better after lifting weights and seem to carry myself a bit taller. My wife can see and feel some of the results in my upper back and shoulder area. Still the weight lifting is only half of the battle. Once I resolve the knee problem, I will get back into the cardio, which I think is part of the reason I did not make my initial weight goal of 175 pounds by April 21.

The blood tests have been inspiring! I look forward going to have blood drawn and wait anxiously for the results to see just how my numbers are fairing. The initial baseline I started with came from the results of my blood work in conjunction with my physical in July, 2011.

July 26, 2011
Weight: 216 pounds
Chol: 263 mg/dL
Trig: 269 mg/dL
HDLC: 37 mg/dL
Chol/HDLC Ratio: 7.1 H
LDL: 172 mg/dL
Non-HDLC: 225 mg/dL

The most telling number, was the elevated TC of 263 mg/dL, which had only increased over the past 2 years, my doctor said “diet won’t reduce this number to a normal level, we must use medication.” After I started reading about Lovastatin, the side effects began to scare me, but I started taking it regularly. Triglycerides and LDL numbers were also unhealthy and elevated. Overall this blood test provided me a good starting point when I made the dietary changes.

I didn’t “officially” start the program until January 1, 2012, when I took on the 12-day program from Dr. McDougall’s, The McDougall Program. From July until October 29, 2011 I continued to eat a standard American diet (SAD). Sometime in August or September I took myself off the statin due to pains in my legs from the medication, which was a known side effect. I never consulted my doctor for his approval or for an alternate medication. It was the documentary, Forks Over Knives that indoctrinated me to a plant-based lifestyle, thanks in part to a co-worker.

On October 29 I made the decision to not include meat, dairy and oil in my diet. I gave myself a 3 month transition period in order to read Dr. McDougall’s book and learn more about the benefits of this way of eating. Meat was easy to give up, since I did most all of the cooking I just found other dishes (starch based) to create without the meat. If meat was used, it was for my wife and placed on the side.

Dairy, with the exception of cheese was more difficult. I loved cheese! The smell, the flavor, the texture and would use it in many dishes. In my quest to keep cheese in my diet I slowly started using less of it in my recipes. One day I decided to substitute a non-dairy cheese, but it really didn’t add much to the dish and was still high in fat. Since that day I have started making a cheese sauce using nutritional yeast. While it isn’t a slam dunk replacement, it does taste good (and healthy) on many dishes I create.

Oil…yes, even olive oil is not “heart healthy” as so many different sources cite. Read what Dr. McDougall has to say about oil. I was like many people, using oil to saute vegetables, adding to sauces and dividing it for MANY recipes. The oil wasn’t needed, but it took a few months to realize this once I lost my desire to cook with this fat. I found that using water or applesauce to saute, preserved the taste. No longer did I taste the oil I was using. I started leaving oil out of all my recipes and sauces. Honestly, I don’t miss anything about not having this fat in my pantry or my food.

After the July physical my doctor had provided me with a referral for another blood test in 3 months. Instead of going in for the test at the end of October, I decided to hold off through Thanksgiving and went for a blood test on December 20. Knowing my blood results wouldn’t be any better since taking myself off the statin, I figured a few months of “McDougalling” would provide me with a sense of accomplishment for changing my diet.

After further reading and research I had a sense my blood results would be improved. After only 31 days I received a copy of my results, as seen below (here was my post on those results):

December 20, 2011
Weight 193 pounds
Chol: 199 mg/dL
Trig: 210 mg/dL
HDLC: 37 mg/dL
Chol/HDLC Ratio: 5.4 H
LDL: 120 mg/dL
Non-HDLC: 162 mg/dL

In addition to being 17 pounds lighter, weighing in at 199 pounds, I had dropped 64 points on my total cholesterol! I was amazed and pleased with what I had accomplished in such a short time. All this and I was not 100% compliant yet! All my blood numbers were improving, this proved to me that I was on the road to a healthy lifestyle. Why would I want to give up all the progress I had made, after years of damaging my healthy?

I made it through Thanksgiving and Christmas without any problems. Pounds of turkey and slabs of hams later I found myself content to pass on all the holiday favorites and stand pat, feeling good about my decision, in changing the way I eat. Many people still didn’t comprehend my reasoning, but when citing numbers, like cholesterol level and weight loss, they were impressed with what I had accomplished. Yet, many would respond the same way, “There is no way I could give up all that food.” It’s called determination and will power. The longer I went without eating SAD food, the less I yearned for meat and dairy.

In January I had a nice group of recipes and actually started the 12-day program with my wife, her best friend and my aunt. Figuring there were strength in numbers, we could support each other. I had already committed to doing all the cooking for 12 days. It didn’t take but one day and we lost my wife’s best friend. She made it through a few meals, but ended up resorting to cooking with oil and using meat an dairy for her husband.

My wife and aunt were better, both cheated during the 12 days, but both saw improvements and felt better. I told my in-laws we would take them to dinner one evening and boy, was that a mistake! They chose Applebee’s, let me just say, what a terrible restaurant! Thankfully I skipped eating any dinner, but my wife chowed down on a steak. Still outside of that slip up, she was still seeing progress. While her weight didn’t come off as quickly as mine did, she saw a decrease and was feeling better.

As for my progress towards my weight goal, it slowed but I was still seeing about a 1  pound weight loss a week. I stuck to a very simple menu of foods my wife enjoyed to eat.

Another outcome of the January appointment with my doctor was the indication my Vitamin D level was “deficient” (his opinion). Without coming into his office prepared, I failed to read up on Vitamin D and could only take his word as being right, which in my opinion was wrong. He prescribed 50,000 IU/weekly to bring my deficient level of 23 up to a “normal” level. Further reading (here and here) and discussion led me to conclude I would be better off NOT taking this supplement, rather getting my Vitamin D from the sun. The doctor wanted another blood test in 3 months to see if the supplement would be beneficial. This would also allow me to check my other levels I had been monitoring since changing my diet.

Much like my prior blood test, I waited anxiously for the results, knowing my TC level would be improved. Thankfully the Vitamin D supplement increased my 25(OH)D level to 34 (11 point increased). More notably, as you can see below my TC dropped another 24 points! Blood work numbers continued to show improvement with one exception.

March 26, 2012
Weight 183 pounds
Chol: 175 mg/dL
Trig: 208 mg/dL
HDLC: 34 mg/dL
Chol/HDLC Ratio: 5.1 H
LDL: 99 mg/dL
Non-HDLC: 141 mg/dL

The only number that continues to frustrate me, Triglycerides, a type of fat found in your blood, which the body uses as energy. Unfortunately there was only a 2 point drop between January and March and well off the “normal” level cited by the medical establishment. Depending on where I get information from diets high in carbohydrates can increase triglyceride levels, as well as alcohol. Currently my diet has me eating about 67% carbohydrates, mainly starches such as potatoes and sweet potatoes.

A stronger case can be made for the alcohol. While I cut back my beer drinking to my days off from work (2 days a week), I still consume a 6-pack over 3 days, which equates to less than a beer day. In my opinion that is “limiting” my alcohol intake, but is it enough? Time and another blood test will tell…hopefully While I don’t have another blood test scheduled, I am considering a physical exam in July.

Goals for the next 6 months are wide ranging. I still plan on achieving my weight goal of 175 pounds, as well as dropping my TC to 150 mg/dL or less. I am hoping to take T. Colin Campbell’s online nutrition course through eCornell in order to learn more about nutrition for my personal use.

Recently I just talked about an event called Tough Mudder. If my knee isn’t serious damaged or injured, I have 5 months (starting May 1) to get into better shape to compete in this 11 mile obstacle course. That would be a big accomplishment and something that would provide me the spark I need to take my health to the next level and give me a real sense of accomplishment.

While McDougalling does not require calorie counting, I have been tracking my diet and fitness using a program called FitDay. This allows me some idea as to how I am eating, including RDA of vitamins and nutrients. Since I started tracking my food, it’s interesting to see I am close to what Dr. McDougall calls for. The most telling numbers, my daily diet includes 9% fat, while carbs make up 63% and protein comes in at 14%. On the average I consume 1619 calories a day. This number is probably on the low side for someone my height (72″) and weight (181 pounds). The great thing is, I am rarely hungry and if I am it’s because I missed a meal.

90 Day Goal: Failed

On January 9 I started Dr. McDougall’s 12-day program with my wife and aunt. After completion of the program on January 21 I had made further improvements on my blood numbers, as well as my weight loss. At the conclusion, I set another 3 month goal, to get my body weight down to 175 pounds. As of today, now April 22 I am still 8 pounds shy of my goal. All things considered, I am not upset with this. But as many had written about previous on the McDougall Discussion Boards, the last 10 pounds are the hardest. I am now experiencing that.

I have identified those areas causing the 8 pound discrepancy. Topping the list, my dedication to a cardio workout. An area that will probably provide more benefits and resolve some of my other issues. Next would be the intake of those “empty carbs” from beer. I have cut my alcohol consumption back, but is it enough? That has yet to be seen. Finally my eating habits need to stabilize. Right now, I struggle with getting a balance of good meals though out the day.

When I added cardio to my health plan, I had the intention of walking 20-30 minutes 4-5 days a week while on lunch break at work. Unfortunately I am not always able to get that walk in due to job priorities. When I get home from work, cardio is nearly non-existent. Although, my wife wants to start walking in the afternoon, so hopefully together we can start a walking regime before dinner. I would like to add spinning or an elliptical to the cardio, but right now that might not be a possibility.

The beer. Oh the beer, how do I love thee? This continues to be my vice that I am trying to remedy, but with summer on the horizon and temperatures warming up I am struggle to grab anything other than a cold one from the refrigerator when working around the yard. I have been able to cut back the amount I drink on a weekly basis, but I am not sure if that reduction is enough. The problem with the beer is I believe it’s keeping my triglycerides (208) high. Beer “reduces the amount of the enzyme that breaks down triglycerides and spurs the liver to make more triglycerides” (source). Currently my alcohol habit equates to just under 1 beer a day per week, which is usually a 6-pack on my days off from work.

Outside of breakfast, I really haven’t establish good eating habits. I do eat when I am hungry, but usually the amount of food I eat isn’t enough to satiate me, so I find myself hungry a bit later with nothing to eat. Rarely do I eat out any more when I am at work, which isn’t a problem. The problem starts when I get home from work and start eating that afternoon snack, followed by dinner usually less than 2 hours later. So it seems I am probably eating too much in a short window followed by going to bed not more than 90 minutes after dinner is over.

With those issue, the rate of weight loss has slowed. Over the past 2 months, I doubt my weight of 183 has varied by more than +/- 2 pounds, which is a positive sign. Again, I don’t have to count calories or track my food with this way of eating. I have been doing for other reasons, so I can refer back to see what I have eaten and what possibly culprits I could have in my diet, if the triglycerides do not end up dropping to a healthy level.

So why I didn’t meet my weight goal I am still carrying a very positive attitude and outlook forward. This 90 day goal was nothing more than a checkpoint to gauge how I was doing. While the weight is still 8 pounds shy of where I want to be, I can look back and see that I am 33 pounds lighter than I was this time last year. Pending the outcome of my MRI, my next goal will be set for late September, as I wrote about yesterday.

Just Small Potatoes

I am still about 2 weeks short of going 4 months since changing my diet and eating habits. It’s been a wonderful change that has benefited myself, wife and to a lesser degree my son. Along with the blood work results trending down, my weight it down nearly 30 pounds and I have been walking and lifting weights more than I have done in the past. As of yesterday my wife was down 11 pounds, but hasn’t adhered as strictly as I have. I am fine with that, for the most part she eats what I cook but has come to find a favorite in these last few months.

Never before did I think we would be buying 20 pound bags of potato or 10 pounds of sweet potatoes. I didn’t think I would be search for the best deals on bulk foods, such as nutritional yeast, beans and rice. Yet as soon as I find the best way to store these items I will make the plunge and buy in bulk. I was surprised to see Costco carrying a 25 pound bag of brown rice and a 20 pound bag of pinto beans.

Potatoes have become our “new meat” at the dinner table. I know that sounds a bit strange, but this ingredient can used in many dishes in a variety of ways. My wife used to enjoy eating my turkey & spinach enchiladas. When I change my way of eating, giving up meat I was able to find a enchilada recipe that used potatoes as the meat filling. Much like the turkey recipe, I would saute garlic and onion with some vegetable stock or broth and then add the chopped, boiled potatoes. Add in some spinach and cover with sauce. It’s a quick and simple recipe.

This has been the staple of our diet for the past few weeks, my wife cannot get enough of the potato enchiladas I have been making. I could use a change, unfortunately I don’t have the time to cook 3 different meals a night to feed the family. I have been scouring many vegetarian and vegan web sites and started to collect a fair numbers of sites that I will hope to use in the future. Unfortunately cooking on the McDougall program is a different than a cook claiming to be vegetarian or vegan. Many of these recipes still use a fair amount of fats, including olive oil. I have found that the case with a few vegan cookbooks I have recently purchased.

As I have mentioned before, this is a challenge but a welcome one. I have been fairly successful making meals that are relatively quick and easy and taste good. I know many I talk to about the way I eat have a misconception I am stuffing my face full of salad. That could not be further from the truth. I have yet to be hungry since I changed my eating habits and if I do get hungry, then chances are I have missed a meal. This has been too frequent at work, as I do not take lunch and hesitate to spend any money to eat out.

Tonight was a bit of an experiment. I found a recipe online for sweet potato burritos. The wife’s comment was “interesting taste.” I guess these won’t be able to replace the potato enchiladas. Still these burritos had a nice flavor that could easily be modified or spiced up to your liking. It also included onions, kidney beans along with cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper, mustard and soy sauce. I know, it doesn’t sound good, but it was. Recipe soon.