Don’t call it a diet, part 1
Tuesday, 3 May 2016
I decided to compile this information based on questions I’ve been asked in recent months. I’m not an expert, but here is what is working for us. I’m 47 and healthier than I’ve ever been. I don’t say that to sound boastful or braggy. It’s the truth. How I got here is not really very complicated. If you are reading this and you eat food, you can do this. You can improve your health.
There are a million diets and magic pills out there. You don’t need to do a juice cleanse if you have a functioning liver and kidneys. You don’t need to buy a supplement or protein powder or a drink mix. Seriously, you do not need those things. OK, maybe it’s a good idea to take a multivitamin. Ask your doctor.
My husband and I look different than we did a year ago. We feel great. Both of us get asked what we are doing to lose weight. We aren’t on a diet, at least in the traditional meaning of that word, and weight loss has been a happy side effect of getting healthy. It wasn’t the goal for either of us. This information is to answer that question in a way that I hope will inspire you to seek good health.
Whole foods, plant-based nutrition has been the key for us. Don’t call it a “vegan diet.” Technically, it is vegan since we don’t eat animal products, but as someone who was an unhealthy vegetarian, I can say with certainty that it is really, really easy to be a junk food vegan. French fries and Oreos are vegan. Quinoa and avocado sushi? Also vegan, but much better for you.
If I haven’t scared you off, read on.
I became a vegetarian around the time I became pregnant with my first child (1992). I was doing a lot of work with an animal rescue group and I was starting to learn about factory farming. Couple that with the ease with which a newly pregnant person can be grossed out and it was an easy call. I never again ate anything with a face, but I did continue to eat eggs and dairy and I really loved cheese. I loved cheese a lot.
By early 2013, I was enough out of sorts that I made an appointment to see a doctor. I wasn’t sleeping well, had moments of feeling anxious for no reason, had daily digestive issues, etc. The doc checked the obvious possibilities, including hormone levels and thyroid function, which showed no problems. I left without a solution and maybe a little bit of eye rolling on the part of the doctor. Five months later I was in the emergency room with debilitating pain. To make a really long story somewhat shorter, within a couple of weeks my new doctor (ha!) diagnosed me with pancreatitis due to gallstones. My liver enzymes were crazy high and I was put on a clear liquid diet pending surgery. Good times. About 10 days later, I had my gallbladder removed.
Following that surgery, I felt like a new person. My ongoing nagging symptoms went away completely. That’s the good news. The bad news was that every time I ate a high fat (for me) meal, I was sick for about three days. I had seen the movie “Forks Over Knives” and decided to try a whole foods, plant-based (WFPB) diet for a month. I lost weight and felt wonderful, but after that month, I slowly went back to old habits. (I’m talking to you, cheese.) By December 2014, I was at my highest non-pregnant weight ever and was trudging along.
Above: August 2014
“When you know better, you do better.” Maya Angelou
After yet another bout of sickness due solely to high fat holiday food, I spent the week after Christmas 2014 reading everything I could find about plant-based nutrition. I read medical studies, personal stories, criticisms – all of it. I read studies about endothelial cells with a tab open so I could Google the words I didn’t know. (True story.) I watched “Forks Over Knives” again, along with “Engine 2 Kitchen Rescue.” (Both are on Netflix.) I hit the library for “Prevent and Reverse Hearth Disease,” “The China Study” and “The Engine 2 Diet.” And I decided that I knew better so it was time to do better.
After 46 years of settling for less than the best that I could give my body, I had no more excuses. Nothing – NOTHING – tastes good enough to feel less than optimum.
I love data. I am hardcore about separating science from woo woo, feel good hokum. And I believe the science is strong with this one. The books mentioned above give some great information, but here’s what happened at my house:
February 2014 (Vegetarian diet with cheese, oil, eggs, etc.)
Total cholesterol: 202
HDL (good cholesterol): 50
LDL (gunk that clogs up the works): 126
May 2015: (after 4½ months of a whole foods, plant-based diet)
Total cholesterol: 170
HDL (good cholesterol): 46
LDL (gunk that clogs up the works): 99
February 2016: (after 13 months of a whole foods, plant-based diet and 3 months of exercise)
Total cholesterol: 140 (!)
HDL (good cholesterol): 47
LDL (gunk that clogs up the works): 77
My blood pressure has remained excellent throughout, but I have genetic predisposition to hypertension, heart disease and a bunch of other stuff. (Yes, I did a DNA test.)
I am a little hesitant to talk poundage here, not only because no female wants to make her weight public (thanks for that, society), but I don’t want someone at a higher weight to dismiss this as impossible. It’s not. There are many, many stories of success for people who have lost well over the weight equivalent of a grown adult by eating this way. Don’t be deterred. Please.
Having said that, my weight has dropped from 157 to my current 128. (I am a wee short person.) I’ve gone from an optimistic size 12 jeans (stretching the waistband and the bounds of credulity) to a very comfortable size 6 (or an 8 with a belt). Since I started regular exercise in October 2015, my body fat percentage has dropped 4.5 percent and I’ve lost a lot of inches. I still feel like a straight up newbie with exercise, but I am learning. I am doing cardio and strength training about four times per week. I never would have darkened the door of the YMCA before I lost weight. For me – and everyone, I would argue – health starts in the kitchen, not the gym.
Lest you think I had some freak response to my change in nutrition, here’s what happened to my carnivore husband when he saw my first lab results and made the switch to WFPB nutrition in May 2015.
I should interject here that I am far from perfect. If we go out to eat and there is falafel on the menu, I will be eating it. I also love chips, so I try to keep home-baked tortilla chips on hand, but I am not above using fried chips as my salsa delivery device when necessary. I have curves (not a bad thing, I would argue) and I am not at an optimum weight for my elementary school sized height. Since I’ve lost weight everywhere else, I have discovered that my thighs hold every ounce possible. My thighs have been present with me through many, many hours of sci-fi viewing and are now convinced that when the alien/robot overlords come, it will be my sole responsibility to repopulate the species. I’ve seen Battlestar Galactica. I know how this goes down.
Above: April 2016 (also, I stopped coloring my gray hair)
A word of warning
If you have heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc., and especially if you take medication for those conditions, you must be monitored by your doctor before and during your switch to a plant-based diet. This way of eating is so effective at combating lifestyle diseases, it could be dangerous to continue your dosages of medication while switching to good nutrition. If you watch the movies I recommend, you will see that in action. For FAQs: http://www.dresselstyn.com/site/faq/