I have struggled with weight my whole life. As a kid I was not obese, but always overweight.
I was 5 in this shot, but you can barely see my belly. After the photo was taken, I’m sure I quickly dropped the orange to tear into my Easter basket looking for chocolate eggs and jelly beans caught in the green plastic grass. Judi looks chic with that gap in her teeth, but that’s no gap. She had to wear a silver cap on her front tooth, after I accidentally cracked it in half while spinning around like a Tazmanian devil with a paper bag over my head, as she drank from a glass Coke bottle. She has never let me live that one down. I was a crazy kid, despite this photo making her look like she’s the one in a blue straight jacket.
We come from a big Italian family of cooks and eaters.
Sunday dinner was always some type of pasta, bread, meatballs, sausage, breaded steak, eggplant parmesan, mashed potatoes, roasts, butter, gravy, pizza, and cheeses. Oh those cheeses! We did love our cheese. We would put cheese in and on everything. I was the biggest culprit of “over-cheesing” everything I ate. When the waiter at a restaurant started to grate cheese and asked me to say “when”, I would wait until he got down to his fingers….then I’d ask if they had any more.
Cheese in the Sunday gravy, on the pasta, in our eggs, on a sandwich, on pizza, folded into food, layered in dishes, and all on it’s own. Mmmm. My love of cheese has been with me throughout my entire life. I still love cheese! (That’s the addiction talking, I swear! AHHHHHHH!!!!!) Or at least I think I still do. It’s been a few years since I have heard the sweet, seductive call of that beautiful siren.
As I got older, I was definitely bigger than the other kids my age. I was on the wrestling team in 2nd grade and I was wrestling 3rd and 4th graders at the time. I would shop in the “husky” section of our 1970’s clothing stores. Zayers, Goldblatts, Venture…..
My mom tried to help by limiting my desserts, or “treats” as she called them, to 3 cookies after dinner. How does having only 3 cookies help, when I've already eaten two helpings of pasta, two meatballs, two sausages and three pieces of garlic bread for dinner? My problem was not only what I was eating, but the sheer volume of it, as well. I was a “seconds” and sometimes “thirds” kind of guy. This is how I ate all throughout my childhood and early teens.
Between 18 and 22 years old, I lost a bunch of weight, due to being single and dating. I was also away from the house a lot, didn’t have a lot of money and was chain smoking cigarettes like Joe Camel owed me money. I was at a pretty good weight when I met my wife at 21. She was extremely thin and wouldn’t really eat much of anything at all. So, I found myself taking her out to dinner, or ordering in, and trying to get her to eat. Unfortunately that typically resulted in me eating my order and most of whatever she ordered. She had a trick where she would move things around on her plate and cover them up with a napkin to appear as though she had eaten. My trick was mopping up the remains on my plate with a piece of bread. Clean plate club!
Damn, I forgot how thin I was! Throughout my early to mid twenties, I ate whatever I wanted to eat. I was back to being overweight, but within fifteen to twenty pounds of where I should have been for my height— maybe twenty five pounds.
When I quit smoking at the age of twenty eight, I gained 25-30 pounds during that first year. Then, as I grew older, I packed on more weight as the years went on. I tried various diets, cleanses, detoxes, eating programs and plans. I lost some weight on most of them, but it was always short lived. As I ended the diet, or program, the pounds would slowly creep back on and I’d usually end up heavier than when I started.
At 30 I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and was put on medication to control it. From age 30 - 40 I was getting colonoscopies every three to four years to catch any signs of cancer. After 40 it was every two years. The results would always show ulcers, inflammation, polyps, or other related issues. No cancer thank goodness, but always some issue or another.
My sister had been plant-based for 5 years or so by now, touting how good the food was and how healthy it was. I always poo-pooed it, knowing the food would never be as good as what I was eating. Of course she was in great shape and I was getting bigger and taking on new health problems as I aged. At 48, I had high blood pressure, I was overweight and I had gout in my feet. Ugh. I was living in ignorant bliss.
In June of 2018, our whole family went down to Florida for a vacation to visit our mom for a week. At this point I was at my heaviest—268 lbs.
After about 3 days of eating and drinking, hanging out and having fun, I noticed that both my feet swelled up—so much that it was difficult to get them into my flip flops. This had never happened to me before and I had no idea why it was happening. We took my blood pressure and it was through the roof. I was concerned, as was my sister and mom, so they convinced me to call a doctor immediately to get some feedback. I certainly didn’t want to have a heart attack on vacation at my mom’s house—or any time for that matter, remembering that my dad had a heart attack at 62.
The doctor told me not to panic and that I should drink lots of water, keep my feet up, watch what I was eating and then go see my regular doctor when I got home— unless things went from bad to worse, in which case I should get to the emergencey room ASAP. So that is what I did for the rest of the vacation and made it home without anything going wrong, but I was spooked.
My sister had already been working on the idea of a plant-based website and had started creating a 28-Day Kickstart with a meal plan for it. She asked me if I would give plant-based eating a try for a month. She said she would put together a month long meal plan for me, if I was serious about making some healthy changes. I was. I was 268 pounds and gaining. I decided to quit everything cold turkey and stick to the meal plan that my sister provided, 100%.
On July 4th, I said goodbye to meat, dairy and oil and started my journey.
At the time, I thought I’d just give this a try to see what happened. I knew I could stick anything out for 28 days. I certainly wasn’t ready or committed to giving up meat and dairy forever. So I tossed out my favorite foods.....like beef…...for the time being.
And the challenges started the very next morning— on Day 1.
I adjusted my meal portion sizes down to “normal”. I also started drinking a lot of water each day. I typically drink water about 90% of the time anyway. The other 10% is tea, coffee, juice or carbonated or flavored water with no sugar. Bubbly! I gave up drinking soda when I was 13 and didn’t drink any at all till I was in my late 20’s. After that I would have a can or 2 each year if I was somewhere when it was my only option. Soda, especially diet soda, is one of the worst things you can be putting into your body and I knew that for a long time. Who knows how heavy I would be or what my health would be like if I was a big soda drinker all of these years as well.
Making breakfast for my kids was a bit of a challenge….
But on Day 4 I woke up to some great news!
Down 6 pounds!!!!!!
With a bunch of printed pages of Judi’s grocery list in my hands, I headed off to the grocery store to find all of these strange new products she told me to buy. I had no idea what nutritional yeast was or what tamari was. I didn’t have a clue what I would ever do with chia seeds—and do I really have to eat tofu? Yeesh.
But I knew I had no choice but to head back into that fire, so I brought some back-up.
When I began the meal plan I also incorporated some walking throughout the week. I started off small, on my break or lunch at work. Or after work when I got home. Just about 30 minutes a day.
I always liked having a garden and built one every spring, but now it was really coming in handy.
Good news at the doctor's office!
I felt better and the food was awesome. All of those years of my sister telling me about how good it was and me laughing and now I found myself trying to convince others of the same thing. I started coming up with my own creations.
I upped my game on the walking and would stretch it out to 45 minutes a day. Right after that 1st week, we were invited to a big BBQ. I knew we would have to bring our own food, so I talked to my sister who was going and she helped guide me through.
I survived the BBQ!
Two weeks in.......
Wow!!!!! Positive results and motivation to keep going!
Prepping is sometimes the key to success. I had another BBQ to go to, and this time I was feeling more prepared—even with my sister.
I was struggling a little bit..
But, moving forward!
After 3 weeks I was down 17 lbs and feeling much better!
At this point I wanted to see how long I would be able to do it and see how much more I could lose. I was feeling great and really loving the food.
I was also talking to Judi about starting a business around a whole food, plan-based lifestyle. The more I became involved, the more I could see how things were changing. Big food chains (Burger King, McDonalds, Taco Bell, Dunkin Doughnuts, etc.) started offering plant-based options. The dairy section in our local supermarket, expanding with other non-dairy options. A plant based “meat section” in the other market where we shop. News articles. Celebrities coming out vegan or plant based. The wave had started.
I was able to maintain it for about a year. Without a set plan or additional support I would find myself slipping and eating things I shouldn’t have. No meat or diary, but things like potato chips, processed foods, vegan ice cream, eating out, etc… It's a slippery slope.
When COVID hit 6 months later, and we were all locked inside, some of my usual stores were closed, or items were unavailable. I slipped a little more and started eating more and more processed foods and oils here and there. I gained back some of the weight I lost and started to back slide. In June I decided to get back on track. I was up to 255 but determined to get back to it. I started walking for an hour or 2 every day and got back on the plan 100%—no oil or vegan junk food.
Within 3 months, I was down to 225, which was the lowest I had been in probably 10 years. All my clothes fit and things I had not worn in years fit again. Some clothes were too loose to wear now. What a great feeling!
It’s been 2 1/2 years for me now eating plant-based. In July 2020 I went to get a physical—with a full blood panel—as well as my 1st colonoscopy since I started the plant based diet. Not only was my blood wook in the normal/healthy range, across the board, but the results of the colposcopy came back as normal. No issues. This was the 1st time in 20 years, it had said that! I had actually reversed the ulcerative colitis I was living with for almost 20 years—with a plant based diet.
I have been sold on this since the 1st month, but that really convinced me that a lot of the health issues are reversible.
I am still on the journey and still have a ways to go to get to my goals, but I have acclimated to this way of life and find it to be much easier and rewarding than I had previously thought it could be. I also am a huge animal lover and I now have more information about how what I eat impacts the earth as well. So eating a plant-based diet, makes me feel like I am doing my part for the greater good while I am here.