Make Revolutionary Changes

The truth is that, to break free of the insidious hold that unhealthful foods have on us, we need to make revolutionary changes if we want revolutionary results.

Alan Goldhamer, Director TrueNorth Health Center

Just over 9 months ago I made a decision that would change my life. After viewing the documentary, Forks Over Knives I resolved to change how I viewed and ate food. No longer did I eat to live, but live to eat. “Drastic” and “extreme” are just a few words that people use to describe changes by removing dairy, meat and oil from my diet. Yesterday I received my results from my most current blood test and the results were nothing less than amazing!

While many people have criticized MY decision for changing MY diet (including my doctor), it’s hard not to see the the difference the past 9 months have made. It’s really just more of the same from people saying, “I can’t…” or “I won’t…” when it comes to trying to live healthy or make minor changes in their diet. While it took 41 years to make these changes, it has been an extraordinary 9 months of eating and exercise to get me to this point.

As I waited in anticipation for my blood results, I was hoping to see another drop in my total cholesterol (TC), from 175 mg/dL to 150 or 149 mg/dL. It was with amazement when I scanned the report to see my TC at 130 mg/dL! A drop of 45 points from March, 2012. This was made possible by eating a plant based, whole food diet while avoid foods (Western diet) that were making me unhealthy.

No longer is my focus on what I can’t or won’t eat, but what is available to me to eat, usually in abundance. Along with meat, dairy and oil, I am making a conscience effort not to cook with add sugar and salt as well. I can already hear people commenting saying my diet is going to be bland and boring, but that is not the case. Many Americans have lost the taste for food, as we are comfortable with tastes of processed foods or fast foods that are loaded with refined carbohydrates, salt and sugar.

Another number that stood out in the report was the 46 point drop in my Triglycerides (Trigs). Triglycerides “are fat in the blood and are used to provide energy to the body. If one has extra triglycerides, they are stored in different places in case they are needed later. A high triglycerides level can increase the risk of heart disease…Alcohol consumption has strong effects on triglyceride levels. Drinking more than one drink a day for women or two for men can raise triglyceride levels considerably” (WebMD).”

On July 6 I set a goal to drink no alcohol leading up to my August 7 physical and the blood test I had on July 31. While I had one 16 ounce beer, I attribute the drop in Trigs to the fact I stopped drinking beer weekly, which resulted in the decrease. Moderation is not a word Americans love to throw around when it comes to foods like olive oil, meat,cheese and even alcohol. Now that I have seen and experienced the difference opting for LaCroix Sparkling Water over a Corona, it was the beer that has been holding my triglycerides prison. Drinking will now be done in moderation. No longer will it be 6 or more beers during my days off, but I don’t plan on giving up beer or Scotch. I can live a heart healthy life with alcohol on occasion.

Here are some blood test snapshots since July, 2011 of how my health has improved by changing my diet. Until January, the weight loss was strictly diet based, with no exercise included.

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

When I started in October I was on 5 medications with ongoing migraine headaches, a stabbing pain in my right side, foot problems, knee problems and high cholesterol.

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 just 2 months, I stopped taking my cholesterol medication, the migraines subsided, the pains in my side were decreasing and my cholesterol was down 64 points. With the weight loss, some of the pain in the foot went away.

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

By March I was fully committed to this way of eating as a lifestyle. I had made the necessary changes to my diet with the exception of cutting down beer, even though I had resolved to. All numbers continued to show improvement.

July 31, 2012
Weight: 172 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

Now, just days ago I confirmed the presence of alcohol was the last fact that was keeping my triglycerides elevated. All numbers indicate I am healthy, now at my goal weight (actually below by 3 pounds), I have achieved a TC of lower than 150 (another goal) and my triglycerides are trending down.

Even with all the negative comments and banter about MY decision when I started this journey I have made great progress over 9 months. I cannot remember a time I have ever been healthier in my life. Even when I was playing collegiate sports I wasn’t eating and exercising like I am now at 42. It has taken time and from reading other comments I know there are others who were sicker than I, on more medication and heavier than when I started. I am here to say YOU CAN DO IT!

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.

Cholesterol Down!

Approximately 3 months have passed since I saw my family physician and he provided me with HIS opinion regarding the steps I had taken to become healthier. Needless to say, he wasn’t all that supportive, in fact did not like that I was eliminating animal products and decreasing the amount of fat. He saw this as a short term solution to a long term problem (high cholesterol). Thankfully it was diet and no his prescription that got me on the road to health.

Today was just another milestone in that road to health. While I didn’t agree with my physician’s assessment that I was “deficient” in Vitamin D. Based on the paperwork I received a level from 10-29 ng/mL was a “insufficiency” while my doctor chose to call it something else. At any rate he prescribed 50,000 IU per week in order to raise my level. While I stand by my opinion that his prescription wasn’t needed the end result was positive as my recent blood test showed. My 25(OH)D level increased 11 points from 23 to 34, which now falls in the “optimum” range.

More importantly my cholesterol (TC) level continues is downward spiral. Starting from my July, 2011 total of 264 I improved my TC, decreasing it 64 points to 199 by December, 2011. Now, 3 months later I have lost another 24 points down to 175! This on diet alone, no big pharma intervention here and his prescription of a statin was NOT the answer. I am not just 25 points away from my TC goal of 150 mg/dL, with any luck this “short term solution” *sarcasm* will continue to see my health improve.

All indicators are positive when it comes to my health. In all honesty, I have probably never been healthier. My weight is down 33 pounds, currently at 183 with a goal of 175 in sight. I am lifting weights 4 times a week and trying to get 20-30 minutes of walking in a day while at work. Many of the ailments I had are all but forgotten, now if I could only get a straight answer for my knee ailment I would be in better shape. For me this lifestyle change has been the answer, but as I have said before, not everyone is open for this drastic of a change when it comes to food they love.

64 Point Drop!

The first sign of progress I had came 31 days after I resolved to change my diet from the “standard American diet” (or SAD, how fitting), which typically contains meats, dairy and oils. After watching a few documentaries and finding out about Dr. John McDougall I set out “get healthy!” Like many before me I am sure I was a bit skeptical that so many of the Star McDougallers had experienced so many positives changes as it related to their health. Even those who’s story wasn’t highlighted had positive stories to tell about how bad their health was and what Dr. McDougall’s program did for them.

On December 1 my weight went to 199 pounds, that was 17 pounds lighter than I weighed on October 29 when I resolved to change my eating habits, doing away with meat, dairy and oils and basing my diet on whole plants, including grains. The weight loss was just part of the total picture for me. What I had been looking to do was improve myself on the inside.

I was worried last year when my father had a stint put into his chest. Heart disease is not prominent in my family, but I had a few of the potential symptoms as my blood work revealed a very striking number. Add to it I had gained some 15 pounds since taking my job in Oakland, some 5 years earlier. Located very close to Chinatown it was all to easy to go grab something for lunch and most of the time is was NOT healthy and usually friend.

So my weight of 216 pounds at the time of my physical coupled with a total cholesterol of 263 mg/dL was an ugly sign that left unchecked would only get worse and lead to more plaque possible clogging my arteries leading to heart disease. A year earlier my doctor had told me to change my diet and outlined a simple way to figure out if the food was good or not. Needless to say it didn’t last long and I was back to eating the same crap. None of my n numbers were better than the previous year and that had my doctor concerned.

After the physical he prescribed a Statin to help control my cholesterol level. He told me diet alone would not cut my cholesterol number enough and that medication would be required. Great, here I was at 41 years old and already on my first medication I would be taking for the rest of my life. Although it would be another 3 months before I was introduced to Forks Over Knives, it would be better late, than never.

The idea of move to a whole-plant diet as suggest by Dr. McDougall could be considered “extreme” by many Americans. I have gotten very comfortable since the end of October, as I am in my “transition phase” (as I call it) learning more about the lifestyle, Dr. McDougall and the positive effects this lifestyle can have, especially when it comes to longevity and health.

Of course it’s not for everyone, making the decision to give up how I thought about food and cooking wasn’t easy. I cut out meats, which included chicken and pork (which my doctor said were better for me). I cut way back on dairy, namely cheese since I loved to cook with it. I also had to find a new way to cook without using oil or butter, such as sauteing vegetables or frying whatever we were having for dinner. In sort I was a “SAD” abuser when it came to how I ate, so it’s no wonder my blood numbers went from bad to worse in the matter of 1 year.

I had the requisition to get a second blood test in the months follow my doctor putting me on the Statin. Aside from some nasty side effects he wanted to make sure the medication was not going to destroy my liver. Lovely thought, huh? A medication to improve one area of my health while destroying my liver. This blood test was supposed to be taken at the end of October (3 months after my physical). I procrastinated a bit and it wasn’t until last Tuesday I got the blood taken.

Today I picked up my results and while I had anticipated some of the improvements I was blown away by just how good they were. The main number I was interested in was my total cholestrol (Chol). In July it was at 263 mg/dL or very unhealthy considering a normal range is between 140-199. The results were shocking as my cholesterol came in at 199 mg/dL. That my friends is a 64 point drop! Sudden I go from an unhealthy concern to just on the upper scale of normal. What would my doctor say?

I won’t lay claim to it being the medication since I made the decision to stop taking the Statin about 30 days into being prescribed it due to my legs hurting, which is one of the problems. I should have contacted his office and told him of the problems, but I didn’t. That is on me and I don’t claim to know more than my doctor, but I could not fathom taking medication the rest of my life. There had to be a better way.

While my body is on the “road to recovery” I still have much more work to do. Now that my weight and cholesterol is heading the right direction I need to incorporate more exercise into the plan. Currently my exercise is about 20 minutes of walking a day while at work. Come next month it will include 30 minutes (to start) on our Bowflex Revolution, as I work to increase the amount or exercise to 1 hour a day, 3 times a week.

January 9th is the target date I have set to start Dr. McDougall’s 12-day program. My transition period has allowed me to learn more about the lifestyle, how to cook, what not to eat and acceptable substitutes when it comes to flavors or foods I desire. Along with cutting out the last bit of cheese I still eat is giving up the alcohol for 12 days. I usually favor beer on my days off from work. This might be more challenging than giving up meat, dairy or oils. Only time will tell. After my 12 days I will see just how far I have progressed and evaluate my health and where I want to take this lifestyle change.

Surprisingly enough my aunt told me last night she wants to get the whole-plant diet another attempt. She had been vegetarian for about 15 years until recently. So I will have at least one companion on this journey with me. My wife’s best friend and her husband have claimed to be interested in it as well. Both are overweight, her from her recent bout, beating cancer and he is a walking where health is concerned. In my opinion he would be a prime candidate for Dr. McDougall’s clinic in Santa Rosa, where he could learn about nutrition, cooking and improving his health. Currently along with the weight condition, he smokes, drinks (probably as much as I do), is diabetic, eats terrible favoring very fatty foods and living off energy drink. I would guess his blood numbers worse than I. He is a prime candidate for a heart attack unfortunately. So it would do him good to give it 12 days and see what this diet could do for him.

Unfortunately the determination and willpower comes from an individual, not a book or doctor of a 10 day program. You must WANT to make the change in your health. I have already had that “Aha!” moment today seeing my cholesterol down 64 points to know I have made the right decision for myself and my family. Hopefully other people interested in my changes will take note and make that determination for themselves.

190! Feeling Good!

Some would consider my actions, “extreme.” Others would not think of changing their habits in order to improve their way of life. Some guys have verbally revoked my “man card.” The way people in the U.S. eat we continue to get more obese and rely on “big pharma” to rescue us. I had enough and have made a decision to improve myself on diet and exercise.

This is nothing new as I have written about this this before on my web site. One recommended movie, Forks Over Knives got me to “think different” as it relates to diet and how it’s linked to personal health instead of relying on doctors and medication to heal all.

As of yesterday I have lost 26 pounds since October 30, dropping another 9 pounds since December 1. I made it though Thanksgiving unscathed and not hungry. I don’t feel I missed out on tradition, was still able to eat mashed potatoes, bread stuffing and vegetables. Even gave up the pumpkin pie this season. My current weight stands at 190 pounds and the size 36 jeans I have been wearing for a few years are now about 3-4 inches too big!

While I still haven’t “officially” kicked off the 12-day program developed by Dr. John McDougall, I have already started reaping the benefits, as seen in the decrease of my weight. The true test will come Tuesday when I get my blood test and hopefully get a copy of the results a few days later. I am hoping for a 40 point drop in my cholesterol, which would put me at 196 mg/dL, just a few points above what is considered “healthy.”

While I haven’t set a weight goal my body, but having read recent articles in medical journals, Americans are only getting fatter. In a recent survey, “The average man now weighs 196 pounds; the average woman weighs 160 pounds. Both figures are 20 pounds greater than self-reported weights in 1990 (source).” I was reading a piece on the 1939 Rice Diet study and the “healthy” weight for a male was 160 pounds! Wow! That would be my weight when I left for college in 1987!

Still I am very impressed with what I have accomplished in nearly 2 months. Looking very forward towards the blood results and how I look, which should be an example of health come the end of January. I know this lifestyle change isn’t for everyone and it takes quite a bit of determination to stick with changes and not fall back to your “SAD” lifestyle.