Today is world vegetarian day. Changing to a plant based diet changed my health, the health of my family, and the…
I am not one for selfies. They are a bit much. However, I do want to share my journey. On the right, me about 8 yrs ago. All I ate was meat. Every meal was some kind of animal protein. I felt like hell and I was only 37. Left is me now, eating nothing but plants. Lots of carbs, lots of fruits. The difference you can see but the most dramatic changes don’t show up on a selfie. My cholesterol has plummeted. My energy level is through the roof. Changing my diet truly changed my life. I have included a blog I wrote a few years ago talking about how I changed:
People tend to think that I am an athlete. They think I have some kind of über willpower and drive. This is the ultimate flattery for me, but in fact, really could not be further from the truth. Almost all of my life, I have been a lazy bum. Sure, I did well in school but that was not because I studied extra hard. I guess I can thank my father’s genes that gave me the ability to memorize. One thing he didn’t give me was any athletic talent. I played sports growing up but I mainly sat on the bench, which was comfortable and safe.
As I grew older I grew lazier. I would go to the gym from time to time and lift a few weights, mainly just arms to impress the girls. Yes, I got through medical school and residency which were demanding and required hard work, but that was more of a required work. I did not use willpower to get through residency. I was driven more by fear of failure. I did what I had to do.
So about 5 years ago, I found myself lying on my couch watching TV with my McDonalds sitting on the table next to me. My cholesterol was high, but hell we have a med for that. I was tired, very tired, but I was a surgeon. We work hard. I was supposed to be tired. My belly was growing . . . big. So I went up in pant size. That is supposed to happen with age, right?
Now if you had said to me at that time that I would be a vegan Ironman, I would have laughed. No way I could do that. I had never swam or biked, and running was just too painful. And, I hated veggies. Despised veggies. I went weeks without a single fruit or vegetable consumed.
If you think about it, we are all driven by two things: pleasure and pain. I was doing what most everybody in our society does. I was avoiding the pain of exercise and enjoying the pleasure of laying on my couch and eating high fat and sugar food that I picked up easily on the way home. If you asked me about myself, I guess I thought I was healthy enough. I certainly did not think of myself as an athlete. I hated vegetables, but would agree to some lettuce if it was placed on my cheeseburger.
Around this time, I was starting to see my gastric bypass patients back who had been out a few years. They were looking incredible. What really struck me was the fact that many of them had completely turned themselves around. Many were running marathons and eating better. I was struck by the fact that many had become a completely different person during this journey. Of course this made me wonder whether I too was capable of much more.
I began to really study diet and its effect on the human body. The more I learned, the more shocked I became. You would think a doctor would understand the relationship between diet and disease but I only received about 1 hour of nutrition in medical school. I was taught that the human body was broken and that western medicine was the only chance we had to survive. If you have a heart attack you need a bypass; diabetes you need insulin; and cancer needs chemo. Preventive medicine meant getting a mammogram. So you can imagine my shock when it started to dawn on me that I was killing myself. Yes, I had momentary pleasure lying on the couch eating burgers, but I really felt horrible. I really was not avoiding pain, I was creating pain. I was also kind of upset with western medicine. The fact that we are supposed to have the most advanced medical system in the world and yet we have the lowest longevity rates and highest levels of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity was a shocking discovery.
Then I did something I had never done before. I set goals. My whole education had been handed to me. I did what I was told. Now I was going to do something completely against the norm. Nobody was telling me to do this. I was going to do it myself.
I started eating vegetables and fruit. At first, it was tough but as I tried new foods I actually began to enjoy the variety. Most importantly, I felt better. I cut out fast food and weaned myself off processed food and meat. Soon I was feeling completely different. I dropped sugar and cut back caffeine. Before I knew it, I felt unbelievably better. My GI system felt great, which it certainly did not before. I had more energy than I had ever had before. In fact, I began to notice that I had been feeling worse than I even realized.
As I felt better with my diet, I was becoming driven to eat healthier not just by my goals but also by my body. I no longer avoided cheeseburgers because I had set goals. Now I skipped the cheeseburger because it repulsed me. It reminded me of who I used to be and how I used to feel. Meanwhile, my body seemed to start asking me to exercise. I wanted to test my new resolve and set goals again. I had never really run, swam, or biked before, so why not try a triathlon. This took me way out of my comfort zone. In the beginning, it was torture, but it got easier. What started as a regimen executed out of a desire to reach a goal became almost habit. If I skipped a day, my body would start begging me for activity. I just had to keep moving. I finished a sprint triathlon (500 yard swim, 12 mile bike, 3 mile run) and I was thrilled. Really I was shocked. I couldn’t believe I was able to achieve my goal. But this got me thinking. If I can do a sprint triathlon what else could I do? What were my limits? All of the sudden, the world seemed full of possibility.
This picture is me crossing the finishing line at Ironman Texas. I had just completed a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run. This picture does not just represent the finish of a grueling race. To me, crossing that finish line was so much more. It showed me that anything was possible, that I could do what I never dreamed plausible. I had a new outlook on health and wellness. My life has completely changed. I exercise not out of duty but out of desire. I crave salads and veggies. My tastes have changed completely.
The moral is that I have no special talent. I do not have super willpower. I just got sick of feeling sick and discovered that our bodies need to be fueled naturally. Anybody can change their diet and exercise habits, and it really does not have to be difficult. In fact, it is extremely exciting to discover you are more than you ever thought possible.