In 2010, I weighed 340 pounds, had Type 2 diabetes and took 15 medications every day. My doctor told me to get bariatric surgery or purchase a cemetery plot because I would likely need one within the next five years. After spending more than 20 years of my life morbidly obese, that advice finally jolted me into taking control of my health.
Not that I hadn't tried before. I had tried and failed on almost every diet, supplement and program ever marketed for weight loss in the U.S. The medical doctors I consulted with seemed programmed to prescribe new medications and procedures with each visit, telling me I needed "diet and exercise." But exactly how was I supposed to implement that advice?
Soon, my quest to avoid bariatric surgery and achieve a healthy weight led me to a different type of doctor – a licensed naturopathic doctor.
My new doctor spent over an hour talking with me at our first meeting, which was my first conversation with a doctor that lasted more than 10 minutes. She told me that my obesity and related health problems were symptoms of my "standard American lifestyle" – poor nutrition and lack of exercise – which she later coached me to improve. And, rather than prescribe more drugs, she recommended that I adopt a dog from my local shelter, and prescribed two half-hour walks each day. She also prescribed something I had never tried before: a plant-based diet.
I followed her advice. I started by clearing my pantry and refrigerator of all animal products and refilled it with herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables and other foods made from plants. Next, I learned how to cook using only those ingredients and the recipes provided by my new doctor. I adopted a dog from my local shelter, and faithfully walked him for a half hour, twice daily.
Just by doing these things, I was off my insulin and all other medications within six months. For the first time I could remember, my glucose, A1C, cholesterol and blood pressure were all normal. Within 10 months, my weight had dropped from 340 pounds to 185 pounds and my waist shrank from 52 inches to 34 inches. But best of all, I felt better than I remembered ever feeling in my entire life; the only way I can describe it is as a continuous state of joy and happiness.
It took me a few months to adjust to my new lifestyle, but overall, I was surprised by how easy it felt to achieve and sustain my results. I began to wonder if the simple coaching and nutrition education I received from my new doctor would work for all people and, if so, why all doctors weren't shouting this method of treatment from the rooftops.
With a burning desire to answer this question, I enrolled in night classes at my local community college and, over the next few years, took the complete science curriculum required for medical school. I didn't earn any medical degree, but I did learn how to read food labels and medical journals. This is what I learned:
- Healthy weight is primarily based on good nutrition. And, eating mostly plants, while limiting animal products, is a healthy diet for most people.
- Research shows only about one-quarter of all U.S. medical schools offer a class in nutrition, and a majority of medical school graduates report that their nutrition training was inadequate. While every doctor I've known is well-educated to treat traumatic injury and disease, many have no formal training in the dietary causes of obesity and related lifestyle diseases.
- Licensed naturopathic doctors and registered dietitians receive extensive training in nutrition as a core part of their education. Many medical doctors, too, have educated themselves and recommend plant-based nutrition as a primary diet. So, when searching for a health care professional to help you achieve your ideal weight, be sure to ask for a "vegan-friendly" licensed naturopathic doctor, medical doctor or registered dietitian.
- Excess consumption of animal products has been convincingly linked to chronic lifestyle diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, cancer, myocardial infarction and stroke. Large-scale studies suggest that plant-based diets can extend our longevity and significantly reduce our risks from these lifestyle diseases.
- After losing my excess weight and getting off all meds, I began saving at least $10,000 per year in insurance deductibles, copays and other out-of-pocket costs. My employer and insurance company also saved up to $50,000 annually. If you still think a plant-based diet is extreme, isn't it more extreme to waste that much money?
- In addition to healthy nutrition, you need light, regular exercise to achieve and maintain your ideal weight. You don't need extreme exercise to lose weight; in fact, extreme exercise is not recommended because of the increased risk of injury from excess weight. In my opinion, walking is the best exercise for weight loss. To get started, just walk as far as you can until you are able to walk for a half hour, twice daily. Getting a dog helps, too.