Ok, so it’s time to jump on a proverbial soapbox and talk about plant-based eating and diet. Since August, I began a campaign to transform my body through an eating plan that made sense for me. If you are anything like me, mindful eating was about as far away from what I did as possible. Sure I ate foods which were considered “healthy” or “good” food and avoided food that was “unhealthy” or “bad” food. The problem, I discovered, was that “good” and “bad” food are terms determined not based on scientific principles but on a whole series of essays and articles written by folks who are either not trained or have a personal story to tell about their transformation. In fact, you are going to read one of those stories right now.
The truth is I ate in a variety of ways. I ate for comfort, sustenance, exercise, hunger, or as a part of a group. Sometimes I chose foods deliberately and sometimes not. I generally ate veggies and fruit more than meat and bread. In August, I decided enough of this crazy eating! This change coincided with my renewed effort on Vajrasattva practice. I was (and am) determined to make a difference in my life and in the lives of those around me.
So, I changed my eating plan. Included much more plant food and even less non-plant food. I avoided certain foods I knew were harmful. In particular, I read a huge amount of scientific evidence that showed internal physical changes as a result of changes to diet (and exercise). I followed the Dr. Gundry diet and stuck to it for months. I lost weight and began to transform my body. My blood work changed. All of the markers of so-called “good” health came back positive. Triglycerides 95; Cholesterol 154. The changes to eating were showing up on internal diagnostic tests. The transformation was working!
Ah but was it? I’ve said before that I experienced a heart episode and the placement of a stent in a coronary artery. Fun. Here I was transforming myself and them BOOM! What had I done wrong? Where did I go off the track?
Simply put, I went off the track 20 years ago…never changing my diet in ways that supported a healthy heart. Even though I had made significant changes, those changes were recent and not effective at dealing with the real problem. And that’s the thing, isn’t it? We are often addressing one problem, when a completely different problem arises. We are using a screwdriver when we need a wrench; a spoon when we need a fork.
My heart event cast doubt on my eating plan. Was I eating the right foods? Was food even something I could use as a tool for good health? So many questions I asked. I dove into the research. I searched for answers to these and many other questions.
The main question for me was: can someone arrest and/or reverse heart disease? The funny thing is, this so-called “disease” isn’t a disease at all, I uncovered. The spread of plaque in my veins and arteries is directly related to choices I made. Hardly a disease at all. In fact, stopping the spread of these pieces of fatty substances and cells in my body is directly related to food we eat.
Think about that: through a specific kind of eating, we can stop fatty cells from building up along the lining of our arteries and veins. This atherosclerosis happens as a result of what we eat.
The skeptic in me asked, repeatedly, is it possible to deny my genetics and, in effect, reprogram my body to do what I tell it to do….to fight DNA? I jumped, head first, into a very specific diet and eating plan led by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn. His approach connects to a larger study done by other scientists and doctors called The China Study. In effect, Dr. Esselstyn promotes a plant-based diet without dairy, meat, nuts or oils. Almost all vegetables, grains, fruits are part of the eating plan.
The test, for me, was this: would such an eating plan have any affect on my blood work? Was it possible to make such a change in such a way that I would be able to see any improvement in my internal, physical health?
So, as a personal, human experiment, I began my campaign: plant-based eating. I ate salads that included lots of veggies, also wild rice and brown rice, quinoa, all kinds of veggies including onions, kale, squash, whatever. I didn’t follow recipes and instead first stir-fried (without oil) everything. I used water, vinegar, garlic, and a variety of seasonings to make what I was eating taste better. I added cumin, turmeric, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper, bay leaves, all kinds of spices in a variety of combinations.
Further, I grabbed The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook. I made chili and a variety of others meals and got into being as creative as I could with what I had available.
After two weeks of eating (and exercise), my blood work was transformed. Actually transformed: Triglycerides from 95 to 74; Cholesterol from 154 to 98; LDL from 90 to 40; HDL 47 to 43. In his book, Dr. Esselstyn stated that dramatic changes could happen; honestly, I didn’t believe that it was possible to see such a radical change in such a short period of time.
As I switched to the diet, the change also hit my body as I dropped, in two weeks, 7.8 pounds. I had already lost about 20 pounds since August on the Dr. Gundry diet. Now, I was seeing even bigger changes AND was eating and feeling satisfied with food. I wasn’t hungry!
Psychologically, I feel better as well; my mental health has improved, markedly, over these weeks. I can sense that I am making some kind of difference in my life. Honestly, it’s been a long time since I felt like I could make any kind of difference in my own life (more on THAT idea later).
If you have read this far, good on ya. My story of transformation is my own and who knows if anyone will face a similar experience. I am here to say, however, that change can happen and you (we) have the ability to do it.