Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Q&A with a Plant-Based Newbie

In my time being in the health and wellness space, I have found that those most resistant to opening their minds to a whole-food, plant-based diet are the physically fit. This isn’t surprising for a couple reasons:
  1. We are programmed to think of dietary changes as temporary and a trigger strictly for weight loss. If you’re not in the market to lose weight, few dietary changes are appealing.
  2. Those who are physically fit “appear” to be thriving on the Standard American Diet (or a version of it), so why fix what’s not broken.
The truth is while the aesthetic benefits that are gained on a whole-food, plant-based diet are wonderful, the real benefits take place inside our bodies -- reversing and preventing disease, reducing cholesterol (less than 150), optimizing LDL (less than 80), lowering blood pressure, increasing energy, decreasing susceptibility to sickness (e.g., common cold), etc.

For this reason, I’m psyched to bring you an interview with a very close friend of ours. His name is Paul. When Matt took a mid-life check-up in 2011, he was asked to name the relationships in his life he wanted to keep. Paul topped that list. So … we like him … we really like him!

Paul has always been fit (he's a triathlete!) The guy is like all muscle (the picture doesn't lie) so when I learned that he lost 12 pounds by adopting a 90/10 whole-food, plant-based diet just six weeks ago, I was awestruck for the reasons I described above AND that he had 12 pounds to lose!

Let's get to it. Here’s Paul …

Describe your lifestyle changes the past six weeks.
I significantly reduced my intake of processed food, added sugar and meat (eating meat just once per week). I also started to run approximately 25 miles per week.

What was your exercise routine like prior to making these dietary changes?
My exercise routine wasn't what it is now. It is amazing how turning 40 can motivate you. I was working out, a combination of weights and running maybe once or twice a week for 30 minutes at a time.

Have you found it difficult to reduce meat and processed food?
Most challenging for me has been eliminating processed food since everything is processed to some degree, particularly what I call “convenience foods,” such as breads, pasta, frozen foods, etc. These foods are easy to whip up without much thought. Meat was less of an issue. While I enjoy all meats -- beef, pork, chicken -- I don't necessarily crave them.

Besides your 12 pound weight loss, what other improvements, if any, have you noticed?
I seem to have increased energy and maybe increased stamina. I’m probably not the most "in tune" with my body since I’ve always considered myself fit without ever really having to try. However, last year I became sick 3 or 4 times and had been getting sick about twice per year for the past 3 or 4 years. When I was younger, I never got sick so this was a change I definitely noticed. I’m anxious to see if I can fend off illness better with this healthier diet.

Do you find eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits and whole-grains satisfying?
I’m eating mostly raw fruits and a combination of raw and cooked vegetables, beans and legumes. While it doesn't seem like a sacrifice, it does require more planning because the ingredients and dishes I prepare aren't part of my known repertoire. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that you can make tasty, hearty dishes without meat. The one thing I’m struggling with is how to get enough protein in my diet. I like to work out and I like the "glamour" muscles so I need to figure out how to get enough protein to support that. I’m sure that some of my weight loss is muscle loss; however, my fat % would suggest that it has been minimal. However, I fear that as time goes on I could lose more than just the normal loss with age.

Editor’s Note: There have been a number of books written about protein and a whole-food, plant-based diet. Ultra Endurance Athlete Rich Roll shared his perspectives recently on protein and a “healthful” vegan diet.

What pushed you towards this lifestyle?
There were a few things that influenced my decision. The blog posts here piqued my interest, as well as some of the recommended reading I obtained from Matt, like Rich Roll’s Finding Ultra and Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s Eat to Live. Additionally, turning 40 made me start thinking more about my health. Being sick with sinus infections and colds more times than I would have liked over the past couple of years brought my health to the front burner. I always considered myself "healthy" since I was generally active and reasonably fit but when I started getting ill more frequently it made me think about what I could change to avoid these illnesses.

Any advice for those considering (and those who may be resistant to considering) adopting a whole-food, plant-based diet?
Give it a chance. You have nothing to lose except pounds. Read articles and books on the subject. You’ll be surprised what you learn. There are tons of resources out there with tasty recipes made from foods you probably already eat. Lastly, as I was discussing with Matt just a few weeks ago and as anyone who has or has had a family member stricken with disease can relate, if by some misfortune I am diagnosed with a disease, I want to know that it wasn’t a result of something I could have controlled through diet. While there’s mounting evidence that animal-based and processed foods can lead to all sorts of ailments, I have yet to read one study suggesting that a whole-food, plant-based diet leads to disease. Who wouldn’t want to improve their odds of living a long, healthy life free from hospitals and pharmaceuticals?

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