The Trick Is To Keep Learning As Health Grows In Stages
Debby, The Healthy Librarian, was only 30 when she watched her parents’ dreams of idyllic retirement years turn into a health nightmare. Her dad suffered a massive stroke. “My parents were going to retire, travel, enjoy grandkids. Instead, the stroke changed everything. My dad could not talk, read, or understand language, and in spite of continual health declines, additional strokes, and seizures, he survived for 16 years after his initial stroke. My mom’s whole life became his care,” Debby told me.
After Debby lost her dad, her mom suffered a series of “mini-strokes.” The damage accumulated. Her final years were marred by vascular dementia, heart disease, and osteoporosis. Debby, as caregiver for both her parents, was both heartbroken and transformed by their tragedies. She delved into medical research to find out how to keep from following in her parents’ health footsteps.
I was delighted to meet Debby, a fellow medical article fan, at a Wellness Forum conference. She has been generous in sharing the highlights of her research analysis (not to mention lots of yummy recipes) at her blog happyhealthylonglife. She is also generous in sharing her story with me of the many steps it took her to get to a whole foods, plant-based diet so others will not be discouraged if it takes a little bit of time, effort, and convincing to get through all the stages.
As a medical librarian, Debby is in a perfect position to get hold of the latest science and critically analyze it. “The research is right in my lap. In fact, I always wanted to read what science had to say, even when I was young. As soon as I got my first library card I was heading to the ‘health shelf’.”
Step one in her health quest for Debby was to start eating “healthy” in the run-of-the-mill sense of the word. No fast food. Eat fish and olive oil instead. Exercise had always been a regular part of her life–since her late 20’s. She started her blog over four years ago, as a way to share her journey and the medical information that shapes the lifestyle changes she adopts.
Step two came only three months into her blog, in March 2008. While attending a Wellness Grand Rounds at the medical center where she works, Debby was fortunate to hear Dr. T Colin Campbell, author of The China Study, talk about the transformative power
of a whole foods, plant-based diet. Whole foods do not include vegetable oil, which is a manufactured food. She was also surprised to learn that Dr. Campbell advised against eating fractionated foods, like soy protein powder–which was a regular part of her diet, at the time.
Debby was already familiar with Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, who had sponsored Dr. Campbell’s talk. However, she had dismissed his whole foods, plant-based, oil, nut and seed-free prescription as “too restrictive” for her–after all, she didn’t have heart disease. She found herself rethinking this conclusion and decided to learn more. While listening to a local NPR-affiliate interview with Dr. Esselstyn, Debby learned that people could have a heart attack with relatively small arterial blockages of 10% to 30%–and inflammation from eating a Western diet was the real “heart and brain attack” driver. “I never realized that cardiovascular disease was a food-borne illness,” Debby observes.
By that time, Debby had left animal foods behind but was still clinging to vegetable oil in her diet. “I loved food made with oil and still did not see why I had to give it up.” The turning point for her was a cholesterol test. She happily expected ideal results, but instead her LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) was higher than she knew was healthy.
While she was pondering what to do next, Debby got a call from Dr. Esselstyn inviting her to sit in on the monthly class on Preventing and Reversing Heart Disease which he conducts at the Cleveland Clinic. After that, she tried a true whole foods, plant-based diet as a four week experiment–oil-free, nut and seed-free, even dark chocolate-free–100% Esselstyn! She liked what happened.
Her LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (fat in the blood) both went down. She was delighted to lose some extra pounds, though she wasn’t overweight by any national health standards–and she was eating as much food as she wanted. She had more energy than ever before.
Debby expands on her experience. “Eating this way is now second nature to me. Cooking without oil turns out to be the easiest diet change of all. It’s a really fun ride–with more recipe options than I could have ever imagined. So many of my family, friends, work colleagues, and community members “get it” and have changed how they eat,” Debby observes. “I also always exercised and still exercise, but the literature shows and I have found out myself, that diet is more important. And, besides–I never lost a single pound through exercise alone!”
The bottom line message is to accept that your dietary journey may be a series of steps instead of an instant leap to perfection. The diet that seemed restrictive and out-of-reach in the early stages can become easy and enjoyable as you learn more. Don’t want to spend hours in the library reading medical journal findings? No problem, check out Debby’s blog for a shortcut to the information you need.
Intrigued? Now you can use our Whole Foods Blog Finder to target informative, fun postings on whole foods, plant-based nutrition. Quick information at no cost!
Blog posting by Janice Stanger, Ph.D. Janice authored The Perfect Formula Diet: How to Lose Weight and Get Healthy Now With Six Kinds of Whole Foods. This easy-to-follow eating plan is built on a whole foods, plant-based diet that can prevent, and even reverse, most chronic disease as well as get you to your perfect weight and keep you thriving well past retirement.