“Eat to live. Don’t live to eat.”
If you’ve struggled with obesity and the the foods that help it along, you’ve heard this trite cliche from a host of “normals” who don’t struggle the way we do. They pass it along anyway…probably mindlessly to a degree. It’s just one of those things you say, I guess.
For me, however, it’s become a life-giving mantra. It’s the morning hymn that informs my breakfast. It’s the paean call of my lunches and dinners. It is my true North, navigating me through the seas of social gatherings and restaurant visits. It is the evening sunset that strengthens my resolve and reminds me to prepare for another day. It moves me forward, always.
Please do not misunderstand, however. I don’t presume to have figured it all out. I don’t struggle with food and the complex emotions that surround it the way some do. I don’t claim to be a psychologist or nutritionist of any stripe. I’m honestly just a normal guy — thin most of my life — whose horrible eating habits and sedentary lifestyle lulled me into a state of morbid obesity which nearly took my life.
And after some 30 hospital visits, four heart catheterizations, six stents and a battery of heavy meds — all before finishing my 40th year on earth, mind you — I realized it all had to change.
“Why not change after visit number TEN, Brainiac?!”
Yeah, I ask myself the same question all the time. The simple answer is…I didn’t want to change. Not enough. I didn’t have my Ebenezer.
Ever hear of an Ebenezer? It’s a line from an old church hymn and older Bible story, which basically points to a symbol of a fresh beginning. It’s an object on which one could look and say, “Remember how things were bad? And remember how we erected this stone when we started working to change? Yeah. That was awesome.”
Like that, but, you know…meaningful.
My Ebenezer came on New Year’s Day, 2013. I was recovering from my stent procedure, and the cardiologist came in and drew me a picture, included in this entry. It showed me where all my stents had been placed and the level of disease in my heart. More than that, he explained what my future might look like if my lifestyle wasn’t drastically altered.
It was grim.
The inside of my coronary arteries, he explained, looked a lot like a dirt bike track. This “lumpy, bumpy stuff” was everywhere, and further blockages were inevitable. Maybe.
By this time, I had seen the documentary, Forks Over Knives and my cardiologist mentioned “a doctor at the Cleveland Clinic” who was doing some research on heart disease and nutrition. He was talking about Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, who has shown in a 25-year-study that nutrition can not only halt heart disease, but actually reverse it in terminally diseased patients. You can hear some of their stories in Forks Over Knives.
When I returned home from the hospital, I read Esselstyn’s book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease from cover to cover. I was sold. Nutrition could keep me off the bypass surgery table? My choice was clear: eat right or have my chest cracked open. Eat to live. Don’t live to eat.
What does “Eating to Live” look like?
Well…basically, I don’t eat anything with a face. I don’t eat anything that had a mother. No meat. No dairy, which cuts out milk, cheese, ice cream, sour cream and the like. No oil of any kind, whether from olives, canola, coconuts, peanuts or any other vegetable. No oil. NO. OIL. It damages the endothelium in my arteries and exacerbates my Coronary Artery Disease. I also stay away from high fat veggies and legumes like nuts and avocados.
It is restrictive? Yes, it really is, but I’ll also tell you that I LOVE what I eat. The food I eat is delicious, filling and ultimately satisfying. Oh, and I eat as much of it as I want (with the exception of fruit…can’t overdo it on the sugars or you’ll start putting the pounds on).
There’s a great list of what I CAN have, made by Dr. Esselstyn’s wife, Jane, at this website: http://www.meetup.com/Dr-Es-Vegan-No-Oil-Diet-Cleveland-Akron-Ohio/pages/SAFE_FOOD_List_by_Ann_Crile_Esselstyn/
Since beginning this journey back in 2011, I’ve lost 85 lbs, 46 of which I’ve lost since adopting Dr. Esselstyn’s lifestyle plan in January 2013. It’s a long journey for sure, but the old saying “one day at a time” is really the way it works. You just go from day to day, doing what you know you have to do.
I’m literally eating to live, and it means everything to me.