An omnivore remade into an herbivore

It’s been about five months since I changed my diet to one that is “plant-strong”, and I feel like a kid again.

I was probably last person who would’ve done this willingly. I openly mocked the vegetarians I knew, and I had no love for vegans with all their food rules. As a foodie and an amateur cook, I believed that people were intended to be creative and indulgent with food. I was even mocked by my wife because I would eat “anything”.  But eating “anything” wasn’t doing me any good.

Thanks to our new life without cable, I have been watching more documentaries. I’ve always been a fan of anything relating to obesity. I don’t know why, but it all started with shows of people who would undergo some fashion of stomach reduction surgery. I loved the stories of people who got their lives back from crippling morbid obesity. Netflix made it easy to locate different series and documentaries on the topic. Eventually, I moved on to documentaries about the mass-production food system with features like “Food Inc.” and “King Corn”. These were all good to give me some information about the choices I was making about the food I purchased, but I wasn’t ready – or even considering giving up – animal products at all. I started buying food from better sources. I purchased locally raised produce and farm-raised meats and eggs to the best of my ability. I became a regular at the local farmers market, and I stopped buying (to the best of my ability) factory-farmed products.

But when I came across the documentary by Joe Cross titled “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead“, I started to think differently about the food I ate. Cross is an Australian native who tells his story of lifelong food excess in a first-person documentary about the healing effects of juicing fruits and vegetables. He chronicled his 60-day juice fast as he traveled across America to share his message along the way. Cross isn’t some Jack Lalanne wannabe. He’s a middle-aged bloke who had reached a breaking point in his life. He suffered from an autoimmune disease known as urticaria, which was very painful, and the medicines caused him awful side effects. The juice fast served as his “reboot”, and in 60 days he lost a ton of weight and was on his way to a much more fulfilling healthy life. I don’t usually act on such things, but this video caused me to buy a juicer. Admittedly, I don’t use it as much as I first did, but I’m glad I bought it.

After seeing Cross’s story, I searched for more food-wellness documentaries and found “Forks Over Knives“, which – based on the title – I thought was going to be more about sustainable agriculture than food-wellness. I was wrong. Way wrong. This documentary details the research and findings of two doctors: Caldwell Esselstyn, an MD working as a clinician at the Cleveland Clinic, and T. Colin Campbell, a PhD who studied diet-based diseases for decades. Both came to the same conclusion separately: The Western diet (high-calorie, low-nutrient) was causing chronic illness and premature death. Both men grew up on dairy farms and were raised to believe that cow’s milk was the “perfect” food, as we all have been taught to believe.

The movie’s focus on the Western diet does make it the villain, but it’s not an anti-agribusiness propaganda diatribe. It well-researched arguments for how over-indulgence in high-calorie, low-nutrient foods are causing obesity, Type 2 diabetes, inflammatory diseases, several cancers, and the nation’s number-one killer: heart disease. I am a candidate for heart disease. I have a strong family history. I was overweight by 60 pounds. I had high blood pressure. I had super-high cholesterol when it wasn’t managed by a drug cocktail that included statins.

I was gobsmacked at the end of the movie, but I didn’t jump right away. I did more research. I vetted the credentials of both doctors. I read some of their scholarly articles and checked their citations of other scholarly work. This is how I recognized that these two men weren’t just in it for the fad of plant-based eating. Sure, they both pitch their books, and Esselstyn’s son, Rip, even pitches his own book and website, Engine 2 Diet. Rip is a retired firefighter from Austin, TX, not a doctor or scientist, but his wisdom is guided by his father’s clinical experience.

I decided to give it a try. I enjoyed the juices I had, so I thought it would worth going “all-in” to give up eating anything with a mother or face, all oils, and all dairy. I noticed a difference after just a few days, and within a month I had lost weight. Losing weight was a nice side-effect, but my goal was to lower my cholesterol. And I did in a very short time.

At five months in, I’ve lost more weight than I thought I would, which I will take up in another post. I’ve lowered my cholesterol to the lowest it has ever been in my life, also for another post. I feel better than ever, and without any special fads or super-restrictive diet plans. It works for me. Will you try it?