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I suppose my real journey toward a plant-based life began when my father passed away of cancer at the young age of 53. It happened 10 days after I graduated from college and my entire world was turned upside down. It was my first face-to-face experience with serious disease and death. I relived the experience a year ago last July when my wife’s father became suddenly ill and passed away very quickly of a similar type of non-smoking related lung cancer at the age of 66. My world, once again, was thrown topsy-turvy due to serious illness. We moved our family of four from Hangzhou, China where we were teaching, into my in-laws home in Iowa to become full time caretakers for her mother who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. My own mother has been battling rheumatoid arthritis for many years and is paying the price with the side effects of heavy medications. My wife, Beth, and I decided to do some serious soul searching and in the process learned as much as possible about health and prevention.
Many would consider these diseases inevitable. However, It turns out preventing these diseases has more to do with what we are putting in our mouths than anything else. The link between diet and wellness is undeniable. At the time, I fell into that middle-range group of men who knew they were a bit overweight but could easily justify it because, well, “at least I’m not as big as THAT guy!” It was time for an honest “coming to Jesus moment” for me and my relationship with my own eating. I had to ask myself just one simple question: “How healthy do I want to be?” It’s a hard question to answer honestly, knowing that the logical follow up question is: “Am I willing to do what it takes?” I decided to find out what a 10 out of 10 in terms of my own health would feel like and so I began my journey into the world of whole food, plant-based eating.
My wife, Beth and I soon began absorbing all the documentaries on food, nutrition, and wellness we could find. Simultaneously, it became clear we needed to broaden our research, so we scoured every book on the topic of nutrition and wellness. The landmark documentary for me was Forks Over Knives, which hit me in the head like a hammer. Something shifted inside me, and I knew this was the answer I had unknowingly been seeking. In the process I gained two new favorite superheroes: Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, shortly followed up by Rip Esselstyn. These experts gave me a clear focus and a direction I could now point my compass.
As a family, we made the “dramatic” shift to a whole food, plant-based journey and have never looked back. Beth’s aunt and uncle loaned us The Engine 2 Diet book and began the kitchen overhaul. Soon we were exploring this brand new world of food I never knew existed. At first I wondered, “How in the world can you call a meal ‘dinner’ without any meat on the plate?” I was finding out the easy way…by just having an open mind and doing it. I am grateful to the entire Engine 2 team for doing great work and changing the world one bite at a time! Luckily, my wife had been moving in this direction for some time, so the change was slightly less abrupt than it could have been. However, it was a very real fundamental shift in my relationship with food. I now have a new way of eating without “dieting” that I can count on for the rest of my life. No more wondering about what the next new “wonder-diet” is going to be. It’s fruits, veggies, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds from here on out. What an amazing feeling knowing I’m doing something wonderful for my body, mind, and the planet. This change did not happen without its fair share of side effects. The first surprise was that I actually felt full after eating. What was going on? I was not tired nor did I have that nightly cramping feeling in my belly. The next side effect was this new and unfamiliar feeling of sleeping well through the night. This was not to be trumped by a new sense of energy I had not felt in years.
At 44 years old, I assumed feeling tired was just going to be par for the course forever, since it’s been an old friend for so many years. Feeling like a sloth was quickly replaced with a new buzzing sensation in my body, which I can only describe as energy surging through me, like an electric current! This new sense of energy provided a small dose of motivation to begin moving my body more. I began biking for fun and started a “Couch to 5K” running program, which was a big deal since I’m not a runner. I’ve hated running my whole life and sincerely wondered why the hell anybody did it at all. My feet are as flat as an iron and to me, running = pain. Slowly I began to embrace the idea that I could become a runner if I just kept it up a little longer. Within the first five months of full immersion into whole food, plant-based eating and beginning my “light” exercise regime, I lost 50 pounds. Over the course of the next 3-4 months, 15 more pounds fell off. What was going on? In a nutshell I had found “A new relationship with food.”
While my family and I had been living and teaching in Southern China for the last two years, we witnessed firsthand how the “Great American Lifestyle” is changing the human landscape in that part of the world. The health gap is clear between older Chinese people who are lean and healthy, versus the growing obesity rates among younger people. As they are adopting our Western lifestyle prepackaged with all the dangerous consumer goods we call “food”, they are now experiencing all the side effects as well. These include, but are not limited to increasing cancer rates, obesity, diabetes, and most of the other chronic degenerative diseases created by our own hand as a direct byproduct of what we eat.
The answer to this apocalyptic health epidemic is so clear and so simple. In fact, it’s right under our noses. Although changing eating habits is difficult, I believe the much harder task is changing mindsets and habits. This has become my new passion and my mission in life. I would like to be an advocate and walking proof that with a little education, a pinch of ambition, and a dash of determination, anything is possible. As a new member of the whole food, plant-based community, I am strongly committed to spreading the word about its benefits – far and wide.
Our family is now totally plant-based and we have decided to take it to the next level and create a real business. Beth and I now have our Certificates in Plant-Based Nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies through eCornell. This is a nice complement to a wellness coaching certification I am currently pursuing. Words cannot express my gratitude for Rip Esselstyn’s work on The Engine 2 Diet book, and what it has done for my family.
Since beginning this new way of eating and becoming a plant-strong family, I have run a 5k, half-marathon, and now I am training for a full marathon. In addition, my wife and kids also ran a 5k and they absolutely loved it. We are committed to spreading the word about all the benefits of making the change and going against the heavy current of the standard American diet. We are continually making impacts in our local community by speaking to as many people as possible about the benefits of real dietary and lifestyle changes. Friends and family seem to be naturally drawn to our new energy and enthusiasm. Many have jumped onboard, or at least leaned in that direction. It’s exhilarating to support them and see their exciting transformation. I am using the nutrition knowledge and expertise that I’ve gained to continue a strong grassroots effort to help heal a sick community that “eats the way everyone else does.” Collectively, we can make a large impact by sharing the benefits of building a new and healthy relationship with food. Sharing knowledge and inspiration empowers people to take charge of their own lives and health, literally one bite at a time.