Category Archives: Nutrition

How’s that been going for ya?

While I was in the corporate world, I took a lot of Six Sigma courses. One of the mantras that Six Sigmites use is “Show me the data.” When you adopt a new, radical lifestyle change to improve your health, you want to have evidence that it is working. In my last post, I revealed that I had “gone off the deep end”  and adopted a whole foods plant based (WFPB) diet. Today, I’ll discuss the results achieved thus far — I will show you the data.

How we began

Although I don’t recall the exact day we changed our way of eating, it was probably sometime in late April or early May of 2013. I do know that it was before we went to Australia to see our daughter Alexandra Morris. Fortunately, Stephanie was willing to go along with this crazy diet idea, which made it a lot easier than it otherwise would have been. We actually kinda did it gradually, because we were pretty new at this stuff and were starting before we quite knew what it all entailed. It was pretty weird.

Initially, we referred to our diet as a Vegan diet, but that that is not really accurate. The WFPB diet is Vegan++! (Geeks will get the joke). You see, vegans can eat doughnuts and Rice Krispees.  They can have lots of oily salad dressing and fried okra and Cheetos. Not so for the WFPB diet. As we kept learning more, we kept finding more stuff that was not really allowed. For example, there are some yummy Indian dishes that are classified as Vegan, but if they are cooked with lots of oil and served with white rice, they are not allowed. It is frustrating at times, especially when you have to eat out and the selection of foods is limited.

Australia/New Zealand

Just as we were getting into the diet, we traveled to Australia. Of course, I had not thought to tell the airlines about our diet, so on the plane, we had to avoid about half the food on our plate. We probably broke some rules, but we were just learning, so we did the best we could. Upon arriving, we spent time with Alex and Patrick. They were very accommodating. It helped that Alex has been a vegetarian for years, and one of her best friends is a vegan. The only thing I can say for sure is that we did a good job of avoiding meat and dairy on our trip, and when we cooked at home, we did better than when we ate out. We went for a side trip to New Zealand, where we stayed at a condo with a kitchen. There we were able to cook our own food and do pretty well. We also found a few restaurants that we felt were pretty good, although it is hard to know about their ingredients. Back in Australia, we did find a few places where we could get a “make your own salad” and a few asian places where we could get brown rice, but even there, the oil content may have been too high.  I am going to write another blog about what I would like to see in restaurants to help people like me. We spent a few days in Canberra with Patrick’s parents. They were extremely gracious and understanding, going way beyond the call of duty to accommodate our diet. It really helps when people try to understand.

Back Stateside – checking early results

Once we returned to the US (and got over our jetlag), I began thinking about how I could determine if the WFPB diet was having the desired results. The overall goal of the diet is to halt and reverse (if possible) my heart disease (actually arteriosclerosis) and to become healthier overall. Some possible measures that would indicate I was on my way might include:

  1. A better result on calcium scoring
  2. Lower Blood pressure
  3. Weight loss
  4. Cholesterol reduction
  5. No heart attacks or strokes

Calcium Score

The calcium score may or may not show the impact of my dietary change. Calcified plaque may not disappear quickly even though new plaques stop forming. Also, due to the radiation exposure required to do the test, it is probably not wise to have the test frequently. Therefore, I don’t plan to have another scoring soon.  I do not rule out the possibility of having another test in the future. My goal there is to see no increase, indicating that the progression of my disease has been halted.

Blood Pressure

Fortunately, I have been recording my blood pressure at various intervals since 1999. It appears that my blood pressure has been trending lower since adopting the WGPB diet — I’ll continue to monitor this. One positive sign: I have had the lowest readings I have ever recorded at times during the past month. Hopefully, after some time, I can stop taking blood pressure medicine. Time will tell. Click this link for the gory details: Blood Pressure 2013-08-14

Weight Loss

A little background on my weight:   Although I dieted by restricting calories and had  dropped my weight to 150 by 2004, I had subsequently resumed my old eating ways and begun to gain weight. In 2009, we experienced a family tragedy, and with the ensuing stress, I had begun to put on the pounds rapidly. I finally conceded to wearing a larger waist size, and, although I had made a couple of attempts at dieting, but I found it difficult to resist the lure of Barbecue and Mexican food.  By mid 2012, I tipped the scales at an unhealthy 190 pounds.  I hid it well, however, and most people would have never imagined that I had ballooned by 40 pounds in the last 6 years.

Although the goal of the WFPB diet is not to just lose weight, the proponents claim that it will often occur. By mid June, I began to notice that my clothes seemed to be fitting looser. I stepped on the scales … 165 pounds! I was able to get into my “skinny” pants again. In August, my weight was sometimes dipping  to 160. If nothing else, I had found a way to lose weight without counting calories or starving. (As hard as it is to believe, I really eat all I want, so long as I stick to the guidelines.) I was pleased.

 Weight 2013-08-14

 Cholesterol Reduction

One claimed benefit of the WFPB Diet is that total and LDL Cholesterol should drop. The goal should be 150 and 100 or lower, according to Dr Esselstyn, Again, being the data nerd, I have kept my cholesterol numbers since 1998, although not very frequently. My Numbers at last check (2012) were: LDL 104, HDL 51, overall 168. As of this writing, I have not checked my cholesterol again. I expect to see a lower number. I will check in again when I know this data.

Absence of “Attacks”

I am glad to report that I have had no known heart attacks or strokes since embarking on the WFPB diet :). What does this mean? Not much. You see, the absence of such an event is unremarkable. You never hear people say “Did you hear about so-and-so, he avoided a heart attack all year!” However, if by reducing the formation of plaque I can reduce or eliminate the risk of a heart attack or stroke, I will consider this experiment to have been successful. How will I know? Well, if I do experience an “attack”, the experiment will have failed. Otherwise, it will really be impossible to know with certainty. I can, however, have a high degree of confidence that my risk has been reduced if 1) My calcium score remains the same or reduces, 2) my blood pressure drops, 3) my weight remains under control, and 4) my cholesterol drops below 150.

 

Going off the Deep End

When someone does something crazy, something that nobody understands, they sometimes say they “went off the deep end”. Many of you reading this will probably think that this is what has happened to me in regards to diet. That’s OK. I would have been right there with you up until recently.

 

As I mentioned in my last post, I had reached a crisis in regards to my health. I had some new knowledge that I needed to deal with. Knowing for sure that plaque was accumulating in my cardiovascular system (Calcium score of 148) was quite different from knowing intellectually that I was at risk for heart disease. The question I faced was: “What am I going to do with this knowledge?”

Deciding

For the past several years, I have found the words of the serenity prayer to be helpful in guiding my decisions. It goes like this:

“Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

So, unconsciously, I applied these words to my current situation. Was this something I cannot change? I certainly cannot change my genetic makeup, I cannot change my age, or my past. Obviously, I cannot change the fact that I can be seemingly in good physical condition and still have heart disease. So I should stop worrying about those things.

So what can I change? I began to think, and I did recall a video I had watched called “Forks over Knives”. In it, a man who was suffering with advanced heart disease had adopted a plant based diet and seen an amazing  improvement. When I watched the video, I thought that this was remarkable, and afterward, we changed from having one meatless day a week to two. However, I really loved Barbecue and Pizza, and we had a lots of cheese in our diet, and I was really quite happy with the way we ate. At the time, I had concluded that eating a vegan diet was too extreme for me. Besides, I did not have heart disease, I thought.

However, now the situation had changed. No longer can I deny that I have a life threatening condition. I decided to do some more research. I looked into the two doctors featured in the video, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and Dr. Colin Campbell. Both had written books. I ordered the books. The first book I read was “The China Study” by Dr Campbell. In it, he explains how he had analyzed health patterns around the world, especially in China, and found that the instance of Heart disease and cancer in areas of China where they followed a plant based diet was much lower. He also discovered that casein, the animal protein in dairy products, was highly correlated with the instance of certain types of cancer. Since I had grown up on a dairy farm, this did not set well with me. Could it be that our beloved diet was making us sick? Is the government actually recommending a diet that causes heart disease and cancer? Why am I even considering such radical notions? Well, there was evidence to back up his claims, so I decided to read the book by Dr Esselstyn. His book focuses on Heart Disease. In it, he claims that one can prevent and reverse heart disease by adopting a “whole foods, plant based diet”. He did a small study with remarkable results. All of the participants, who had previously had a heart attack, or a stint or bypass, and who stuck with a whole foods,  plant based diet, did not have another cardiac event. Some people dropped out of the study, and reverted to a typical western diet, and they all had further heart issues.

The Diet

Well, I decided, what do I have to lose? There are lots of people who criticize the “Forks over Knives” diet. The criticism, for the most part, does not dispute that it works, but rather,  they say it is too hard to follow, and that we cannot expect large numbers of people to adopt such a radical approach. And radical it is! The approach  condenses down to these rules.

  1. Eat nothing with a mother or a face (no meat, poultry, fish or eggs).
  2. Eat no dairy products.
  3. No oil of any kind. Not even “heart healthy” oils such as canola and olive oil (Later writings relax this a bit to allow cooking spray).
  4. Avoid most nuts and avacados. (Again, later slightly relaxed)
  5. Avoid refined grains and sugars (no white flour, no white rice) .
  6. Eat all the other fruits, vegetables and whole grains you want. The more colorful the better.

Note that these rules are essentially the ones used to reverse heart disease during Dr. Esselstyn’s study. I know that there are questions about whether the diet has to be SO radical. Some say that sugar and carbs are really the problem, and that fats don’t matter. Some say that a little fat free dairy is OK. Some say that you need omega 3 fatty acids and to avoid omega 6 fats. The debate is still raging. New discoveries are being made every day. I don’t know. What does seem clear is that the above diet did work for the participants in the study. Could it work for me too?

The Decision

Maybe there was something I could do. Maybe, even though heart disease runs in my family, and I am approaching 60, maybe I can do something to improve my odds of staying healthy through my 50s, 60’s and 70’s.  I really do have some things I would like to before I check out.

I decided to try it. I was going off the deep end.

In the next entry, I will give an update on how it’s gone so far.