It all started in Montana, hanging out at my family’s ranch, pounding Montana-raised steaks and picking on my friend Dan for being Vegan. Barf. Dan was from--you guessed it--California and I'd be lying if I told you I didn't think his diet was just short of crazy. After all, I was a college rower at Harvard, and because of the hard days on the water, we rowers elevated meat eating to an art form. #GrowingBoy.
Fast forward a few years to getting blasted by tons of health knowledge in medical school. It wasn’t even knowledge of health, it was knowledge of diseases! I felt helpless when taught that, even with all the fitness and “healthy” eating I was doing, two things were certain: one, that I would eventually succumb to cancer, heart disease, and countless other things I hadn't known existed prior, and two, only "modern medical advancements" could save me and the rest of the world for a time, from these horrible debilitations.
To that knowledge was added seeing countless patients pounding Big Macs all day ending up swollen and breathless with heart failure, or caring for the end result of not wearing sunscreen: what it does to someone’s body when the cancer metastasizes. Modern medicine or not, these people were suffering and sad, and so were their families!Suddenly, vegetables and sunscreen seemed like excellent ideas, irrespective of what "modern medicine" could do. Such experiences made me think that reacting to disease could not be the only solution; disease can’t be the only end point, even if death is.
Zip through a couple more years, a stint on CBS’s Survivor: Gabon (story for another day), and I’m at the end of my Anesthesiology residency. I was well aware of how the stress of my work--particularly the endless hours of training--was impacting me, my colleagues, and even my bosses. Poor sleep, poor nutrition, and poor preventative care made my colleagues and I into a bunch of ironic--instead of iconic--healthcare workers. We were bitter, exhausted, mistake prone, out of shape, over-weight, and generally miserable. In Gabon, and in some time off after, by not being at work, sleeping well, and eating well (eventually, anyway, ha), all of those negative adjectives disappeared. My Gabon experience had proven that my struggles were not me. I could change the result by changing my circumstances.
I kept pushing the self-care side of healthcare instead of giving into the “norm” of training and medical life. In the process, I found a whole body of literature showing medical costs, physician turnover, and patient care were markedly affected by--wait for it--taking care of ourselves.
I was gobbling up literature on preventative measures, when my best friend mentioned the Forks Over Knives video. I know nothing is perfect, but suddenly all the helplessness and inevitability of disease seemed to disappear. The movie's message was that by fundamentally altering a basic assumption about my life, my Meat Life, I could fundamentally alter my inevitable issues. Now, I didn’t have to go down the road that I'd learned about and witnessed in medical school, the same path my grandfather went down. Before he passed away, there were years of suffering from heart attacks and not being able to make it around his beloved ranch more than 100 feet without stopping because of poor blood flow in his legs.
That was in January of 2012. Soon after, I started absorbing the massive amounts of information available about living a Plant Life, while also learning how to adapt to this new thought process. It wasn't instantaneous. It was a skeptical process, but when you get to the level of expertise in disease that I had reached, sometimes a bit of information can unlock an even deeper level of understanding. Plant Life became the puzzle piece that made the whole picture come together.
I found freedom in self-control, and as my body appreciated its return to the norm of a Plant Life, I found so many other improvements over my former life as a meat eater.
I had previously worked with Michael Roizen (Dr. Oz’s co-author), so I used that connection to reach out to Caldwell Esselstyn at the Cleveland Clinic. The good doctor actually called me (serious Justin Beiber fan moment), and invited me to his plant-based course at the Clinic. I was pumped!
Around that same time, I got a scary call from my dad. His chest “pressure” wasn’t just heart burn, it was heart disease. He called it “minor” heart surgery he was supposed to have, but my former medical school roommate, a cardiothoracic surgeon, and I knew it was anything but minor. Cracking someone’s chest opening and taking vessels from their legs to keep them alive comes with dangerous and very real complications. There was my dad following in my grandfather’s Meat Life footsteps, halting every hundred feet or so.
At a very real crossroads, I told my dad what I had learned, and left the choice up to him. He came with me to Esselstyn’s course, and immediately started on the diet, for even if he ended up having the surgery surely this would help. Three years later, my dad has no scar on his chest, no kidney failure, stroke, or any other potential complication--because he never had to have the surgery. Though it is still a struggle being plant people in a meat world, we are grateful for the amazing impact Plant Life has had on us.
There you have them, my roots. The roots of a meat-loving troll, of a medical doctor and wellness researcher, of one converted by personal discovery, application, and family success, and of a person who embraced a Plant Life that has paid me back in spades. Having my dad say, “thank you for saving my life” is easily one of the greatest moments I’ll ever have. Plant Life is my chance to share that feeling with anyone who wants it, to make it just a bit easier to manage this lifestyle, to make guys like Dan feel more welcome than I made him feel back at the beginning (or at least to make fun of myself as much as I made fun of him!), and ultimately Plant Life is a chance to unify the plant-based community around the joys of freedom in health!
I’ve been a foodie since day one. As an infant I’d just short of harass my family to feed me whatever it was they were eating (to no avail might I add). I grew up in a predominantly healthy household as my father had cholesterol problems, which turned into heart problems since I was relatively young. The question persists though, “What truly is healthy”?
As an active kid, involved in many sports and consistently outside I grew frustrated not knowing why I would have significantly less energy and substantially more weight than my peers.
Even as a child I remember making my concerns known to my doctor, only to be told to eat less and play more. That is when I started looking at food like the enemy, which I want to clarify is completely opposite of what real food is. I developed incredibly bad habits because I was convinced my doctor was right. Unknowingly on the verge of an eating disorder, I didn’t realize something entirely different was the matter.
Fast forward to freshman year at University where enough was enough. I couldn’t keep up with my classmates on multiple levels. I was hardly eating, running too much for the energy I had, gaining weight, and could barely get out of the bed in the morning. It all culminated when I visited a new doctor. She looked at me and instantly sent me to get blood work and an ultrasound done because she could see from across the room that something was wrong. What she saw and what the ultrasound later confirmed was that I had Hashimoto Thyroiditis and my Thyroid gland was multiple times the size of a normal one. If we didn’t treat it quickly it would have to be surgically removed.
Hashimoto Thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease where your immune system attacks your Thyroid gland. Because your Thyroid is in control of hormones, metabolism and other essential things that make your body run, it can seriously slow you down if untreated. Due to past experiences I just want to take a second to urge you to not make fun of anyone with Thyroid issues, even if someone is being diagnosed and treated it is a very long road to feeling better again. Which brings me to FOOD. The real star of the show.
After nearly 6 years of trying different treatments, and thankfully having my thyroid shrink to a stable size. I have found only one thing that has given me any relief at all. Tired of depending on pills that didn’t help my symptoms I decided to be more proactive than ever before. I discovered multiple people with various autoimmune diseases became significantly better and even occasionally reversed their symptoms through diet alone.
I soon realized that the amount I was eating was not as important as the content of what it was I was eating. After a lot of research and becoming more aware of the relation between different foods and diseases I was shocked at how badly the food industry was fooling everyone. I cut out meat, gluten, 98% dairy (working on it) and haven’t looked back since. (SIDE NOTE: I want to stress that it is first more important to put the right food in before you take the wrong food out. If you cut out everything and don't replace it with the calories, nutrients and natural fat your body needs you still wont feel better and may develop even worse habits).
I still need to take medicine daily, but with the addition of my new diet, my foggy brain that I complained about for years was no longer an issue, my ability to get up in the morning ready for the day was restored, and so many little things that had made my life seemingly miserable started to disappear. I am only a year in to this lifestyle and my health still flares up, but I am rocking and rolling more than I ever thought possible. I feel like I have found a secret and there is no way I'm not going to try and share it with the world.
So, that’s me, and that is why I want to pass on the resources, knowledge, and trials and errors I continue to experience. I will be happy if even one person sees this and begins their better health and better life journey! Ultimately it isn't just about us, it is about the health of our loved ones as well and any stranger that wants to feel better but may not know where to begin. Let's keep it up and make a dent in the world of food!