Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Being vegan

I admit it. Not too long ago I thought vegans were weird. Not eating red meat I could understand, but shunning animal products of any kind, including chicken, fish, milk, eggs and cheese? A bit extreme. Then came the day about two years ago, that I received a double dose of bad news about my health. For one, I was well on my way towards developing Type 2 diabetes – a debilitating illness with about the same long-term outlook as certain types of cancer. For another, my blood lipid readings put me at elevated risk for atherosclerosis. How can this be happening to someone who runs or exercises practically every day of the week, I thought. Blood tests don’t lie though: I was flirting with disaster, no matter how healthy I felt. I struggled to decipher the doctor’s red-ink scrawl on the annual check-up report, but the message was crystal clear. Reduce my fasting blood sugar level and total cholesterol as well as LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Or face a cascade of serious and unpleasant health issues sooner or later. Predictably, the doctor’s recommendation (which I reluctantly agreed to) was to start taking simvastatin and metformin.

Looking for alternatives, I soon found and started reading authors such as Colin Campbell (The China Study), Caldwell Esselstyn (Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease) and Neal Barnard (Reversing Diabetes). These three books clearly illustrate the connection between nutrition and heart disease, diabetes and even cancer. It did not take me long to change my mind about being a vegan. I realized right away that adopting a low-fat, plant-based diet is as powerful as any drug, in the battle against disease. Within a matter of weeks, I started seeing the results in sharply lower total cholesterol and triglyceride readings.

It’s been just over a year for me as a vegan now. I have lost about 17 lbs, my cholesterol readings are much improved and I no longer need medication to lower blood sugar. Better yet, just prior to my Achilles tendon injury in March, I was running my best times ever, including a personal best in the half marathon.

For my second year as vegan, I am going to step it up a notch, by cutting out as much processed foods as I can. More beans, vegetables and fruits. Less pasta, bagels and bread. The goal? To lose some more weight. As my son so helpfully pointed out yesterday, I have been doing core & abdominal exercises for more than a year now, and I still don’t have a six-pack… Isn’t it wonderful how a member of one’s immediate family can be so observant? I’ll just have to put my sweet tooth in my left pocket, pay attention to portion sizes and re-start a food diary. Anything to lose an additional 10 to 15 pesky pounds of fat around the middle. I do have a six-pack, it is just not visible!

Meanwhile, I am running again, finally! Still taking it very easy with long slow warm-ups, (walking half a mile and jogging half a mile) regular calf stretching and foam rolling and very slow runs, sometimes mixed with walking. It feels so good to be out there again!


Eric said...

Glad to come across another athlete following the Esselstyn program. I've been on it for a little over a year myself and have lost 50 lbs, and dropped cholesterol about 50%. I find that if you want to lose a little more weight you have to eat more greens and go a little lighter on the grains and oats, but otherwise it's a great way to maintain weight while hopefully holding heart disease at bay. Good luck to you.

Vegan_Noodle said...

Congrats on over a year of being vegan!!!