Like a vegan

A few months ago, I watched the documentary Forks over Knives and – persuaded by its arguments for a plant-based, whole food diet – I promptly became a vegan.

In my mind.

In reality, I didn’t immediately change much about my eating habits. Maybe I bought a little freekeh at the store and a handful of wheat berries, but it’s not like I cooked them or anything.

On some level, though, the messages from the film got stuck in my craw, for better or worse,  especially those linking an animal-protein and dairy heavy diet with heart disease. I’m no good with science-y stuff – as evidenced by the fact that I just used the phrase “science-y stuff” – but the fact that heart disease and cancer rates are significantly lower in countries whose diets are nearly devoid of those things is pretty heady stuff.

Especially since, nearly three weeks ago, my father underwent open heart surgery, a quintuple bypass. He is, thankfully, recovering well but the experience has forced me to take a more serious look at my heart health.

My mother died at 60 of a heart attack brought on by an aortic aneurysm. There had been no previous symptoms or indications that she was suffering from heart disease. And this seems to be in keeping with statistics – for many, sudden death is the first and only symptom of heart disease.

My parents’ history combined puts all four of their children in the highest risk group for developing heart disease.  For someone who spent a chunk of her twenties having panic attacks and feeling certain her heart was going to explode, this isn’t calming news.

I mentioned in a previous post about my struggle with some corticosteroids I was on for low blood pressure. When we were trying to figure out the cause of that issue, I did a stress test. If you haven’t had one, it’s a delightful process in which they hook you up to an ECG while you exercise on a treadmill for a few minutes, as hard as you can, to see how your heart fares. It’s intended to uncover any irregularities or blockages. The good news was that my heart, as far as that’s concerned, is in dandy shape.

But taking the steroids left me packing a lot of extra weight, which is piled on top of the extra weight I was already carrying and have carried for most of my life. That’s no good for the ol’ ticker, either. So far, my meager attempts to lose it haven’t amounted much and that’s been nagging at me – not to mention dampening my spirits.

In addition, I have high cholesterol and I’ve been unsuccessful in lowering it significantly, even under the specter of being put on a statin – something I really, really would like to avoid.

A segment of Forks over Knives covered the story of a firehouse in Austin, Texas, where the men had banded together to eat more healthily when it was revealed one of their members had dangerously high cholesterol. The firehouse adopted – and still sticks to – a plant-based, whole-foods diet. I kind of love the idea of all these strong, bulky men sitting around eating quinoa and carrots.

Fear, as you probably know, is a terrific motivator. Sitting in the waiting room for five hours as they cracked open my father’s chest and removed veins from his legs to build five different bypass sites, my thoughts weren’t all about his wellbeing. I wish I could say they were. But a part of me was equally consumed with fear because I couldn’t help thinking: I don’t want that to be me.

Thus, a few weeks of mulling later, I find myself gearing up to make the change. The Change.  I’m about to embark on the 28-day eating plan outlined in the Engine 2 Diet by Rip Esselstyn, the Austin firefighter who designed the eating plan for his station.

The book says you can make a significant change in your cholesterol and triglyceride numbers in just this short period. Now, I’m not a person who is converted instantly and without skepticism by documentaries. Does part of me wonder if this isn’t all selective research citing and hype aimed at moving more books off the shelves? Sure. But I also know, on some gut level, that eating this way is going to be elucidating.

I do, however, like that the book is frank about the fact that, after the 28-day period, people maintain their plant-based, whole-food diets to varying degrees. It helps me that the message isn’t: you have to change your ways forever and ever. It seems to be: try this, it’ll help you, and if you decided to hang on to some or all of the eating habits, that’ll be great for you.

So…here we go. Monday is The Day. And since I have a little history of writing about my struggles with change, I’ll be tracking the experience here in the hopes it’ll keep me a little bit more accountable.

Now, who’s with me?


Where’d everybody go?