Culture Change through Accessible WFPB Program
During my years as a physician, I have observed a society that has become sicker and sicker despite steady improvements to technology and increased medical expenditures. Fairly early on in my career, I decided that there had to be a better way. In 1991, after reading the work of Dr. Dean Ornish, my wife and I decided to make the switch to a vegan diet—and we and our three children have been eating that way ever since.
In order to bring the benefits of a plant-based diet to patients, and inspired by pioneers like Drs. T. Colin Campbell, Caldwell Esselstyn, Neal Barnard and Dean Ornish, I founded Rochester Lifestyle Medicine Institute (RLMI), a nonprofit 501(c)(3). Our mission is to bring the principles of healthy behavior, including the whole food plant-based diet, to as many people as possible—to help them take control of their health and, in many cases, reverse chronic disease.
Since July 2018, we have been offering our 15-Day whole food, plant-based Jumpstart. Initially, this involved patients in our offices, but since the onset of COVID-19 we’ve worked virtually with participants on Zoom. Participants still have the option to receive before-and-after medical consultation from their own provider or from one of our own board-certified Lifestyle Medicine providers, by telehealth or in our office with COVID precautions. All Jumpstart participants, even those who don’t seek out a one-on-one medical visit, benefit from having the generalized guidance of medical professionals who are present at almost every Jumpstart meeting. This is what makes our Jumpstart distinctive.
Almost 1,000 people have participated in our Jumpstart program, and Dr. Susan Friedman, Director of Clinical Studies, has published early results, which have been impressive and sometimes dramatic. Over the 15-day period, participants have experienced, on average:
- Weight loss of 6 pounds
- Systolic blood pressure drop of 7 points
- Blood glucose drop of 26 among participants who started in the diabetic range, and average total cholesterol drop of 44 points for those who started with a cholesterol of at least 200
- Average LDL drop of 33 points in those who started with an LDL of 100 or higher
Results tended to be more impressive among the sickest participants (i.e., those who need dietary lifestyle change the most also benefit the most). One participant who started with a cholesterol of 299 dropped 150 points, to 149.
These results represent broad success, but also individual accomplishment. Each person who improved their numbers also improved their quality of life in various ways. Some have felt an increase in energy, enhanced sleep, and mood.”The most exciting part of Jumpstart is hearing and seeing those stories. Participants often talk about meeting the challenge, not just of Jumpstart, but of finally taking charge of their health. You can read some of the empowering stories and endorsements that participants have shared, going all the way back to the beginning of our Jumpstart program, on our website. Here’s a small sample:
One of our earliest Jumpstart participants had raging, untreated diabetes and had never taken medication for it. By following the Jumpstart very low-fat whole food, plant-based diet, he lowered his blood sugar consistently; his A1c levels went from 12.6 (dangerously high) to 5.4 (normal). Today, he would no longer be diagnosed with diabetes. And achieving that improvement has not required unbearable eating. When I ran into him at the supermarket, he said he still loves his plant-based dietary lifestyle. So much so that he’s setting a positive example. He described how his wife, without his urging, had adopted a plant-based diet and was experiencing the benefits herself (her dress size had gone from 22 to 14!).
One participant at a recent Jumpstart meeting said that nothing tastes as good as healthy feels. (Even if that is a variation on a commercial slogan and not completely original, he really meant it!) Another participant at the same meeting said that his doctor had cut his insulin in half, and had cut out his oral diabetes medication entirely. Another said that he weighed 400 pounds and this was the first of many things that he had tried in order to lose weight that was actually working.
Jumpstart is not just one story but hundreds of stories. We feel that people from every community should have the chance to participate in Jumpstart, which is why we applied for the CNS grant and are so grateful to have received it.
Increasing access remains as important as ever, especially because of COVID-19. Underserved communities—already at a disadvantage because of social determinants of health, and already more likely to be sick and in need of medical care—have been exposed to new levels of health vulnerability as a result of the pandemic. They are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, and of faring poorly—getting very sick or dying—if they do get it.
Increasing access to whole food, plant-based jumpstart programs like ours is a powerful way to increase health outcomes for all. It is medical treatment of the most powerful kind.
Increasing access to whole food, plant-based jumpstart programs like ours is a powerful way to increase health outcomes for all. It is medical treatment of the most powerful kind. In a better world, our healthcare system would reimburse or pay for it. But until that time, and to bring that time closer, we need to bring grassroots pressure to the system by growing the number of people who have taken the Jumpstart program and benefited from it. By allowing us to offer Jumpstart to those who couldn’t otherwise afford it, CNS is helping us move the healthcare system in the right direction!
The T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies (CNS) is committed to increasing awareness of the extraordinary impact that food has on the health of our bodies, our communities, and our planet. In support of this commitment, CNS has created a Community Grant initiative to empower sustainable food-based initiatives around the world by providing grants to enable innovative start-ups and to propel the growth of existing initiatives. Please consider making a donation to this great cause. 100% of your donation will go to support initiatives like the one you just read about in this article.
- Jumpstarting Health with a 15-Day Whole-Food Plant-Based Program.” Friedman, Susan; Barnett, Carol; Franki, Robert; Pollock, Bruce; Garver, Beth; Barnett, Ted. Pending publication in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine
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