Since I haven’t posted a blog update in six weeks, you readers are probably thinking, understandably, that I had bold plans for a healthier lifestyle but then chickened out. Actually, this isn’t the case at all. My healthy lifestyle is going strong, and to date, I have lost fourteen pounds! A doctor once told me that my ideal weight would be 140 pounds, and when I started the program which I will explain below, I was 168.6 pounds, so I am halfway to my goal! I wanted to blog about the experience as much to inspire and motivate others struggling with their weight as to remind myself of how far I have come, and keep myself motivated to continue this healthy lifestyle for life. I just didn’t know how to approach this blog. I didn’t want to write daily posts on what I ate and how I felt, because I thought readers would find that to be dull and redundant. I find that I can think and write more clearly on events retrospectively, so I decided to take that approach starting now as I approach the end of the six-week kick-start element of this plan and prepare to embark on the lifelong plan, both of which I will explain now.
I officially identify as a nutritarian now. The term was coined by a renowned cardiologist, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, who my mom and I first became aware of on the Dr. Oz show where he was a guest in October 2012. We were both intrigued by what he had to say. In a nutshell, he says America’s obesity problem is really a problem of inadequate nutrition. We have access to a greater variety of nutritious food than ever before in human history, and yet the modern American diet has us addicted to all the wrong things like sugar, white bread and rice, and even things that I always thought were important for a balanced diet like meat, low-fat dairy and eggs. Fuhrman believes we could end the obesity crisis, render chronic diseases and even some cancers almost obsolete, boost our immunity dramatically so we wouldn’t get sick near as often, reduce healthcare costs and enhance everyone’s quality of life if we ate a plant-based diet. Well-meaning yet misguided cardiologists and dietitians know these things, but think that it would be too difficult and unrealistic for patients to change their diet so dramatically, and so they put patients on plans that still have them eating the modern American diet, just in smaller portions. This leaves patients hungry, which eventually causes them to revert back to their large portions and gain more weight than they may have lost. But what our bodies really want when we overeat is not more food, but more nutrients. Our bodies tell us to eat because we are missing key nutrients. So if we modified our diets by getting at least 90 percent of our calories from high-nutrient foods, primarily fruits and vegetables, and 10 percent or less from low-nutrient foods, our bodies nutritional needs would be satisfied, and we would lose weight naturally and permanently.
At the time, neither Mom nor I were ready to change our diet so dramatically because while meat and eggs did comprise more than 10 percent of our calories, our eggs were always chock full of vegetables, and our meat was usually chicken or salmon and our meals always included a salad and/or vegetable sides. Mom also felt that giving up dairy wouldn’t be a good idea for me because I had an underlying condition that caused my bone density to be lower than it should be at my age, so doctors said I needed all the calcium I could get. At that time, we still believed dairy was the best source of calcium. The only area where Mom thought we could improve was our bread consumption. We love our bread, crackers, chips, cookies and pasta in this family! So Mom started cutting back on her grain consumption, and tried to convince me to do the same, but I wasn’t even ready to take that step. After finally finding some yummy gluten free products, I didn’t want to have to sacrifice again, and part of me wished we had never watched this extremist, health nut doctor seeking to take all the pleasure out of life.
But Dr. Fuhrman wouldn’t go away. As luck would have it, that Christmas, we found out that an uncle and a cousin decided to follow Dr. Fuhrman’s lifestyle, and the uncle, Mom’s brother gave everyone in the family a copy of Dr. Fuhrman’s book “Eat To Live” which basically goes into depth on the science of why a nutrient-rich diet is so important for weight loss and permanent health. Mom read the book, and talked incessantly for awhile about how I should read it too. Some of the things she learned were intriguing, especially the fact that calorie for calorie, broccoli actually contains more protein than steak! This is why some of the largest land animals like the elephant and the giraffe are so big despite eating a plant-based diet. She also tried to paraphrase for me the book’s explanation of how our bodies turn grain straight to sugar causing weight gain. But at the time, I still wanted to live in ignorant bliss because once I read the book and fully understood how unhealthy processed grain was, my conscience would give me no choice but to remove this pleasure from my life.
So I went on with my life and tried to ignore Dr. Fuhrman’s nagging at the back of my mind. I would try reducing my grain intake for a day or two, only to find myself feeling hungry and unsatisfied, so I would revert back again. But when I reached the end of my rope on January 12 as mentioned in my first post, my mom suggested again that I read Fuhrman’s book, and this time, I was ready to face the music.
When we arrived home from the job developer, the first thing I did was download “Eat to Live” from bookshare.org, a website that provides accessible books for the blind and dyslexic, and start reading it. After reading just the first chapter, I could no longer live in denial. When Mom would try to convince me that I was eating too much bread, I had tried to rationalize it by arguing that I ate mostly bread products labeled “whole grain.” This last shred of rationalizing was quashed when I found out through this book that many products that claim to be whole grain are deceptive. They are often just white bread, with just a little whole grain mixed in. The only grains I ate that could safely be called whole grain are unrefined grains like oats or brown rice, and even these grains should be limited to no more than a cup a day because even whole grains do not pack near as much nutrition as fruits and vegetables. At that time, my morning oatmeal serving alone was a full cup of grain. Much as every kid hates to admit it, Mom was right.
But as I continued to read, I learned that excessive grain consumption wasn’t the only problem with my diet. I gained a deeper understanding of how unhealthy animal products and olive oil really are, foods I, and most Americans were taught were essential for a balanced diet. In reality, the guidelines recommending consumption of dairy, eggs and meat were motivated by politics from agriculture industries, and even meats that I thought were healthy, like skinless chicken and fish, are very low in nutrients and have been linked to increased cancer risk. And I loved these foods too!
Dr. Fuhrman advised people to read the full book to have a solid foundation of knowledge to make their commitment to better health more meaningful, but after reading just the first chapter, I was already committed. I did end up reading most of the book by the end of that week, but Monday night, I skipped ahead to read about the six-week plan, and the more I read, the more motivated, excited and empowered I felt. After sleeping on it for the night and still feeling empowered Tuesday morning, I knew it was time to break the news to Mom that I wasn’t interested in small changes like just cutting out some grain. I wanted to go all the way. I told my mom she didn’t have to do it with me, and I understood that Dad and my brother probably wouldn’t even consider doing it with me, and I was right. I even told her I could take some of my savings and buy my own refrigerator so the insane amount of fruits and vegetables I would need wouldn’t interfere with the rest of the family. (Fuhrman’s plan advises shooting for a goal of eating one pound of raw vegetables, one pound of cooked vegetables, and at least four servings of fresh fruit per day.) I didn’t have a lot of cooking skill, but with what I could do, I would prepare my own meals. This diet was just something I felt compelled to do in a way I have never felt compelled before and I didn’t want anything to stand in my way.
It had been awhile since Mom had read the book, so I gave her a review of what the diet would entail. The first six weeks are designed to reset your body, especially your taste buds and break the addiction to the modern American diet, much like a drug addict needs to break the addiction to drugs. This means that for the first six weeks, the diet is to be completely vegan, no animal products whatsoever (although Dr. Fuhrman prefers the term nutritarian because Snickers bars are technically vegan), no oils, and no fruit juices. Grain and starchy vegetables should amount to no more than one cup daily. Although sugar wasn’t specifically listed as an off-limits food for the six-week plan, I decided to give that up as well. Throughout the whole book, he talks about how dangerous refined sugar is, so I figured that went without saying. Dr. Fuhrman approved of any seasoning blend for beans and vegetables except salt. As much as I would have loved to start that day, I knew that for me at least, the odds of success improve when I plan my course with thought and care. So the rest of that week, I spent reading more of the book, reading nutritarian recipes and learning about nutritional yeast, a staple in the vegan circles that I had never heard of, which I would use for the Creamy Roasted Garlic nutritarian salad dressing I picked out that would best suit my taste preferences. But I told my mom that I felt like I would be ready to start Sunday January 18. To my tremendous delight, instead of trying to talk me out of going such an extreme route, Mom said she would not only support me, but help me. There would be plenty of room in the family refrigerator to accommodate me, and she knew of a lot of recipes, especially bean soups that she could make for me that are Fuhrman-approved. When Dad came home from work that day, his reaction was the same. Although Mom said her diet would be mostly Fuhrman-approved as well, neither she or Dad felt ready to commit 100 percent, and my brother wasn’t interested in going nutritarian at all, so Mom would still be cooking meat for him. I was perfectly alright with this and it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to practice living in an environment where others still ate the modern American diet. After all, when I switched to the life plan, which is much like the six-week plan, with just a little more wriggle-room–10 percent of calories can come from oil and lean meat for flavor–I would be bombarded with temptation when people brought treats to the office, or if I went out with friends, so it wouldn’t hurt to start getting used to temptation. But both parents told me that while they would still be cooking meat, they would cook for me and do everything they could to support me too.
I will admit there was a weird sort of grieving process, much the same as I felt the week before the appointment where I knew I would be diagnosed with Celiac Disease and have to give up gluten. Just as I did then, I found myself yearning for “last meals”; one last pizza before pizza would be off-limits, one last sugary cookie, etc. The Saturday night before my self-imposed start date, we did have that pizza, and I savored every bite of it, knowing that in less than 24 hours, my dinner would be nothing but a plate of vegetables, bland by comparison. But there was one key difference between the grief before my Celiac diagnosis and that Saturday night six weeks ago. While giving up gluten was a medical necessity back in 2012 because it had gotten to the point that my liver enzymes were elevated, this diet I was embarking on was entirely my decision. And for that reason alone, while part of me grieved for the delicious food that would soon be off-limits, foods which my family and the rest of society would go on enjoying without me, making me feel isolated in a sense, most of me couldn’t wait to find out how much weight I would lose and how great I would feel, and for that reason, Sunday January 18 couldn’t come quickly enough.