A type 2 diabetic has revealed how he reversed his condition and lost 100lb following a whole food plant-based diet.
Raj Bhatt, who lives New York, was a lifelong vegetarian who never ate animal meat or flesh, but ate lots of dairy - describing himself as a 'cheese fanatic'.
By his early 30s, he put huge amounts of focus on his professional life, and started gaining weight - around 10lb a year. But he didn't really notice the pounds creeping on.
'Things started clicking'
In the US, it's not very common for someone to really come out and say, 'wow, you look big or you gained a lot of weight'," he told Plant Based News. "That's just not common. You don't talk about someone's weight."
It was only during trips to India that people would comment on the significant changes to his physique.
"So that's when things started clicking," he says. "But I was already in my mid-thirties. That's when chronic disease started to kick in. I was first diagnosed with fatty liver disease and was trying to fix that and clean up my diet a little bit, and then within a year, prediabetes to full-blown diabetes."
At this point, Bhatt hit his heaviest weight - around 260lb (117kg). Alongside his type 2 diabetes and rising cholesterol, he was suffering from a range of other ailments, including cluster headaches, bad skin, lethargy, and neuropathy, as well as an autoimmune disease called cold urticaria.
He said: "It was really starting to add up and it just didn't really register. But the diabetes registered."
His endocrinologist recommended a low carbohydrate diet, and he tried to follow a ketogenic plan - which was highly restrictive as he did not eat meat.
Cheese - a lot of cheese
"So, what was I going to eat?" he said. "A lot of cheese, a lot of olive oil, a lot of avocado. This is when actually I was around 240 pounds, but that last 20 pounds really came in the last year where I cranked up on high fat, high protein thinking that's going to help me. But, that wasn't helping me.
"And I'm not just saying that that style of lifestyle doesn't work in losing weight, but I wasn't pairing that with proper eating. So, basically I got to a point where I was eating just very poorly, I was feeling crazy heavy, and lethargic, and there was a point where I felt like I was going to die. I had just come back from Belgium.
"I think I ate about 10 pounds of cheese in about a week. I was a cheese fanatic. On my flight back, my heart was feeling heavy. I was like, you know what? I'm getting close to the end. But, that still didn't wake me up."
The one thing that finally woke Bhatt up was his two sons Aarav and Aroosh. Bhatt was on the sofa, and his eldest son wanted to play basketball with him.
Bhatt heard his youngest son whisper: "Hey, dad's lazy and hasn't played with us. Don't expect much. He's not going to play basketball with us."
This moment changed everything. Bhatt says: "That broke my heart. That's when I realized everything I had done over the last close to 10 years in my professional career was really to build security, wealth, family stability.
"But at that moment I felt like I'd lost everything that I had in my life, the most important thing in the world, which is your family's respect. So, that was the day I made the decision to do some research."
Some years ago, he had watched the plant-based documentary Forks over Knives, and he was spurred into watching it again. What the Health followed.
"I heard Dr. Neal Barnard talk about the diabetes reversal, and I was like 'this is perfect. I don't have to be keto, I don't have to be those type of things'."
Bhatt gave himself a month of eating a high carb, low fat, whole-food, plant-based diet. "And the beauty of it was within two weeks, my blood sugars normalized. That's how rapidly my life had changed," he said.
His daily diet would include around 'four pounds of potatoes and fruits and lots of grains and leafy greens, not raw'. Bhatt was eating around 60 percent raw foods, and keeping his fat intake to 20 to 25 grams per day.
He reveals that within just three weeks, he started seeing major improvements to his other health conditions.
Bhatt describes exercise as a 'second thought' when it came to his transformation. "My primary concern was not necessarily to get super fit. I wanted to rid myself of all my chronic issues and I was able to largely do that pretty much only through diet," he says.
He started exercising simply by walking on the treadmill while watching Netflix. The fitter he got, the more he wanted to move, so he ended up setting himself a goal.
"I said to myself 'by next year, I want to be the best I can because I think I can get there'."
After experiencing this health transformation, Bhatt wanted to offer support to others. He said: "There wasn't much support on the South Asian community. So that's Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan or worldwide.
"So I created a group called LiveMast!, (mast meaning awesome). I've done a lot of corporate talks and we've done actually some corporate challenges that are doing well within India and in the US and Canada. And so I've got a whole bunch of tips for the South Asian community."
'Crowd out your plate'
Bhatt has words of advice for those who are just starting out on a plant-based journey.
He said: "If you're not used to eating a vegetarian diet, it can seem kind of scary, because if you're really focused on meats and heavy proteins as the base for your meal with vegetables as your accompaniments, to get rid of that centerpiece is tough.
"So I like to transition people into, not a plant-based approach, but more of a 'crowd the plate with plants' type of approach. So eat what you're eating and really, really focus on the four food groups within plant-based. They are vegetables, grains, beans and legumes and fruits, and crowd out your plate."
You can follow Raj Bhatt on Instagram @livingrajstyle