Can You Eat Pizza While You Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease?
Absolutely! Just Hold the Cheese
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If you talked to Neal six months ago he would have told you that his hypertension, high cholesterol, and extra weight were just part of his genetic inheritance. Everyone in his family has them. You just deal with it--and take medication to keep them under control. But, Neal already had a glimpse into his future--just like all the rest of us who have seen our parents, loved ones, and friends get seriously ill or frail far too soon.
At age 51, Neal had been on 40 mgs of Lipitor for over 15 years, since his mid-thirties. He had been taking two medications to control his blood pressure for at least 10 years. Although he'd been a disciplined and regular exerciser for years, it just wasn't enough to keep his weight down to where he and his doctor would like it to be.
But Neal has plenty of company. Nothing unusual about his healthy history. Estimates are that 11-30 million Americans take statins, and probably 25 million more have cholesterol levels high enough to have them prescribed. As for hypertension--the American Heart Association says 72 million Americans have high blood pressure--that's about 1 in 3 of us (adults, that is).
But, all that changed this summer. In May 2010 he read Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn's, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, and he watched Julia Grayer's documentary, Chow Down--the story of three people who changed the way they ate in order to save their lives. Watch it yourself for free on HULU. You just have to put up with the 1 minute commercial.
Maybe, it was possible to get off of statins & hypertension medications. Maybe there was something he could do to lower his cholesterol and blood pressure, lose weight, and prevent heart disease--besides taking meds.
It was mind-changing to think of heart disease, high blood pressure, and type-2 diabetes as "food-borne illnesses". And as Dr. Esselstyn-and others often say-- "Genes load the gun--but lifestyle pulls the trigger."
In July, 2010 Neal and his wife decided to attend one of the monthly small-group day-long sessions that Dr. Esselstyn & his wife Ann run at the Cleveland Clinic. Before starting out, Neal had his physician check his lipid levels--and then 3 1/2 weeks later, after being on an Esselstyn-prescribed plant-based diet, he followed up with another lipid panel to see if anything had changed.
July 2010--Lipid Levels Before Starting the Diet--while on 40 mg. of Lipitor:
Note: I don't have lipid numbers from 15 years prior to starting on Lipitor & BP meds. I was told they were extremely high.
Total Cholesterol: 185
August 2010--After Three and a Half Weeks Eating Plant-Based/Oil Free:
The results surprised everyone. Neal's long-time physician, who was supportive of the Esselstyn program from the start, had this to say when he saw the follow-up lipid panel, "I've never seen anything like this! Whatever you're doing--just keep it up!"
Total Cholesterol: 122
Weight Loss after 10 weeks: over 35 pounds (and it continues to drop)
Medication changes made 3 1/2 weeks after being on the diet:
Lipitor has been cut in half, to 20 mg. His physician took him off one of his blood pressure medications.
"Come back in November for a blood pressure check. There's a strong likelihood that we will discontinue the other blood pressure med, and eventually the Lipitor," he was told by his physician.
Q & A: One Man's Experience with the Esselstyn Diet
When I heard about how well Neal was doing on a plant-based diet I asked him if I he wouldn't mind sharing his experience through this blog. His story is so motivating to me--and I'm sure it will be others. He couldn't imagine why anyone would be interested, but he generously agreed to let me ask him a few questions. Thanks, Neal!
Bill Clinton's interview about his plant-based diet offered us few details. Thanks to Neal's experience, we can fill in the blanks.
Why did you decide to start working with Dr. Esselstyn, and following this diet?
My wife was a big influence. She was the one who knew it was possible to change my health by changing my diet. She knows my family history--and she wants me around for a long time--healthy, that is! But, bottom line, I was finally ready to make the changes myself--to give it my best shot. You have to be ready to do it for yourself--because day-in-and-day-out, you're the one who is making the food choices, and diet changes.
I know you're a dedicated exerciser. But, what about your diet? How would you describe it?
I always ate healthy meals at home. The problem was what I ate away from home. I've got a busy-on-the-go profession--and honestly, I guess I was a closet-junk-food-junkie. I just didn't eat smart when I was away from home. I never ate breakfast--it was just a cup of coffee and a cookie on the way into work. I travel a lot for work, and it was just easier to stop at a fast-food place for lunch. I'm certain, that if it weren't for my exercise, I would probably have weighed a lot more than I did. And I wonder now, had it not been for the exercise, would I have already experienced some sort of a cardiac event?
What are you eating now? What's you're daily meal routine?
Breakfast: I'm now a dedicated breakfast eater--but I keep it simple. I eat a breakfast that Ann Esselstyn says she likes. It's just a whole grain shredded wheat cereal that I get at Whole Foods, along with some fruit, and regular almond milk--I'm not crazy about the light variety.
Lunch/Work: I always pack a lunch now, along with some snacks. About 90% of the time it's a whole wheat pita with no-tahini humus (Sahara brand), carrot sticks, Whole Foods no-oil Triscuit-like crackers, and an apple. I don't have a problem with needing lots of variety. There's a market-like restaurant downtown that has a good salad bar with lots of veggies, so that's another option for me. An all veggie salad with beans, dressed with red wine vinegar.
Dinner: I never did much of the cooking and shopping before, but now it's part of my regular routine. Both my wife and I have busy hectic jobs, so we try to cook & shop ahead on weekends. It's easy, and now I'm interested in trying new recipes. I'm a big fan of veggies & rice sauteed in a non-stick pan. We've made a delicious lentil loaf that was in Dr. Esselstyn's book, and we had plenty of left-overs to take for sandwiches. Once a week it's pizza--made with the Kabuli whole-wheat crust. We're lucky that we have so many wonderful health food options around here, with Whole Foods, Mustard Seed, and Trader Joe's, plus Dinner's Done Now, that prepares take-out oil-free plant-based meals once a week.
Spicy & Delicious Lentil Loaf
Snacks: My all-time favorite is a milkshake made with frozen banana slices, some almond milk, and unsweetened cocoa. Delicious! I'm also a big fan of Ann Esselstyn's chocolate mousse made with light tofu and microwaved popcorn made without oil.
Neal's Chocolate Banana "Milkshake"
What are your biggest challenges with this diet? Any cravings?
Two weeks after I started the diet I had to go to Chicago for a big meeting, that involved hotel-catered meals. I was new to all of this, and eating-out concerned me. What was I going to eat? But, I called ahead, spoke with the hotel, and made sure that they knew I needed meals made without meat, oil, nuts, or dairy. And I talked to the servers when I got there. All went smoothly. Sure, I ate a lot of salads and fruit--but it all went well.
I'm careful when my wife and I go to restaurants--sometimes I've called ahead to be sure there was something I could eat, but we've found places where we can still enjoy a meal out with friends.
When we're invited to the homes of friends & relatives we call ahead to let them know our restrictions, and we always bring along a dish to share. It works. Of course, everyone wants me to try the burgers off the grill and the desserts. Don't miss them at all. I'm sure the longer I'm eating plant-based, as friends and family get used to my "different diet", they'll know the drill.
Everyone wants to know if I'll "go off my diet" for the big holidays, like Thanksgiving. Will I eat turkey? pumpkin pie? Not a chance. I've already changed my taste preferences, and as far as I'm concerned, moderation doesn't work very well. I know it will be a slippery slope once I start making exceptions.
As for cravings, they're rare. I see the cake at the office birthday parties. The desserts at parties. I just say no thank you, and have some fruit.
You've lost thirty-five pounds in about 10 weeks. Do you feel like you're "on a diet"?
Even though I've lost a lot of weight, and I'm continuing to lose, it just doesn't feel like I'm on a diet. I eat whatever I want, within the guidelines of the diet, and whenever I want. I'm not counting calories, or measuring out portions. It's actually been easier to follow than other diets--I know what I can eat, and what I can't. I'm never hungry-and I don't feel deprived.
For me, the biggest difference with this diet is that after only 3 1/2 weeks I could see incredible changes in my blood pressure, my cholesterol, and my weight. That's the most motivating and convincing part of this way of eating. It didn't take long to see all the benefits.
Are you physically feeling any differently?
I feel well. I feel better, and have more energy than I did before.
Do you have any advice for others who want to go on a plant-based/Esselstyn diet?
It's really not that hard. The food really is good. And bottom-line, the benefits far outweigh the risks associated with eating the traditional American-style diet.
The idea that you can reverse heart disease by changing what you eat is amazing to me. And that it can be done without drugs or medical intervention, well that just astounds me.
I want to be healthy. I don't want to be in and out of hospitals as I get older. I want to be around to enjoy my family. The benefits of good health far outweigh the benefits of any burger that I've ever tasted.
Sage Exercise/Diet/Health Advice from Neal's Wise 6:00 am Spinning (Cycle) Instructor
Yoda: So certain are you. Always with you it cannot be done. Do you hear nothing that I say?
Luke Sky Walker: Master, moving stones around is one thing. This is totally different.
Yoda: No. No different. Only different in your mind. You must UNLEARN what you have learned.
Luke Sky Walker: All right. I'll give it a try.
Yoda: No. Try Not. Do. Or Do Not. There is no Try.