It was a damp, cold day in the west end of Toronto, in the fall of 2012. As I rolled over in my bed, I could feel my swollen knees aching beneath me. My other hip was hurting too, the one that had not been replaced three months before.
My lower back throbbed when I moved. My fingers were swollen like balloons, painful as red hot pokers.
I knew then that I was in big trouble. I had thought that all my health troubles were over, once I'd had my hip joint replaced at age 59, never anticipating that my arthritis was progressive and would start spreading to my other joints.
I waited in the crowded office of a doctor who specializes in arthritis, surrounded by others who were overweight, in pain and struggling with walkers and wheelchairs.
This expert offered no hope of recovery. I was given a prescription for an anti-inflammatory and another for pain management.
The side effects of these medications are severe, including bleeding from the rectum, with the increased risk of heart attack and stroke. He also suggested that I sign up for a government funded program on how to live with arthritis. My future looked dismal and I was scared.
I couldn't help feeling that something must be causing this, something must be aggravating my body's delicate balance of chemistry. If I could just find out what that was. I started searching the web, looking for answers.
I typed in 'cure for arthritis' and stumbled across a doctor in California who is curing not only some forms of arthritis, but heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, digestive issues and many other ailments.
How, you ask? He is administering a simple, whole food, plant-based, no-oil diet. Yup, that is right, a diet that excludes the ingestion of all animal products. You have got to be kidding.
I watched Dr. John McDougall's lectures on YouTube for hours and then decided I was going to give this plant-based diet thing a try.
I had nothing to lose at this point, so I decided to dive right in, to go all the way. I would give it three months. I was going to see if there would be an improvement in my condition. Let's see if this crazy idea of eating only plants actually works!
I was living with my father, nephew and niece at the time and informed them that I was going to stop eating meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products for three months. Instead, I would be eating fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and see if I could stop the progression of my disease.
My nephew was horrified that I was no longer going to eat meat and cheese. What will you eat? How will you get your protein? Will you ever feel satisfied and satiated again?
I believe that if you are in pain as I was at the time, that giving up cheeseburgers, pizzas and racks of ribs would be easy if it meant you could cure your heart disease, diabetes, obesity and arthritis.
I thought, if this will give me my health back, then I have to try it. I would challenge anyone who is desperately sick, that this simple diet change is well worth the effort it takes to get your life back.
I downloaded Dr. McDougall's free 10-day meal plan from his website, drmcdougall.com. The brilliance of his program is its simplicity. You prepare a starch as the centre of your meal, and surround it with fruits
and vegetables. Starches provide your body with all the energy, protein and nutrient requirements that your body needs each day.
Mashed potatoes, steamed veggies and vegetable gravy are a favourite meal of mine. Steel cut oats piled high with fresh berries and served with almond milk, spaghetti in Marinara sauce and a green salad, lentil shepherds pie, and vegetable chili with crusty bread are a few of my favourite dishes.
I’ve discovered there is absolutely no deprivation. The food is 100 percent delicious, satisfying and the best part of all is you can eat as much as you like. This is a highly effective diet for losing weight easily without struggle. When that monster hunger drive of yours rears its ugly head, go ahead, eat all the food you want, just be sure it is the right kind of food. Just be sure it is all plant-based and oil-free food.
When I started this way of eating I had no idea what impact whole plant food would have on my body's ability to heal itself.
Within seven days my arthritis was completely gone. Yes, you read that correctly. Seven days! The inflammation was gone, and the pain was gone. I was thrilled!
That was five years ago. My arthritis is in full remission, as long as I follow a whole food, plant-based diet. I am no longer destined to a life of misery, heading down the road to being confined to a wheelchair.
My life has changed in every way. I have no pain. I don't take any medications or painkillers. I can move freely without joint restrictions. I can walk for miles and miles now. I have stamina and strength. I can do yoga.
The bonus is I have lost 53 pounds as a by-product of eating this way, bringing my weight down to a normal BMI of under 25. I am not fat anymore, so I feel better about myself and of course I am healthier. I know I have stopped damaging my arteries.
I know that all the sludge and plaque that built up in my arteries for 60 years is now clearing. The arteries to my brain are clearing. I know it is highly unlikely I will ever have a heart attack or a stroke. I know I will probably never have to take blood pressure pills, cholesterol pills, diabetes pills, or painkillers for arthritis. I'm pretty sure I won't ever have to take any medical drugs for any condition because I won't be developing any more conditions!
Now that I eat a healthy, wholesome, plant-based diet, I have added thirty years of pain-free, active living onto my life. It was the food that was making me sick. It was the meat, dairy products, and junk food. Who knew?
As Dr. McDougall and a handful of other doctors have discovered, it is the food, the standard Western diet, that is causing most of these chronic diseases like my arthritis.
The big killers are heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and they are most likely to be prevented by eating a whole food plant-based diet.
It is the meat, dairy, and junk food that is making you sick. You are injuring yourself three times a day, at breakfast, at lunch, and at dinner with these typical bad food choices.
You have to change the types of food you are eating to get well again.
Not too far away, in the High Park area of Toronto, Christmas was approaching in the year 2011. Judith had to stop climbing the stairs half way up, to catch her breath. She was only 52 years old, but felt winded and exhausted.
Her doctor had just told her because of her excess weight, that she was pre-diabetic, with high cholesterol levels. This doctor was not only suggesting medications to manage the cholesterol and diabetes, he was also pushing her to have bariatric surgery. Anger flared up as she caught her breath on the stairs, and she contemplated firing her doctor for good.
These high test results were setting off alarm bells in Judith. Although she knew this was a serious health situation, she had bargained with this doctor to give her six months to lose some weight and get her numbers back under control.
She knew once she started taking pharmaceutical drugs, they would be the first nails in her coffin, and a long painful road of physical decline.
Christmas came, and Judith went to town with the food. She ate everything in sight. She knew she would start the diet in January so she decided to have one last 'hurrah' of all the treats she liked to eat. She remembers it was January 2nd when she got on the scale and wasn't surprised at what it said.
She now weighed over 300 pounds. Never did she believe in this life time that her weight would ever have gotten so out of control. Okay, where to begin losing all this weight?
Judith knew that cheese and dairy are full of saturated fat and high in calories. She had done some research and also saw a video showing terrible cruelty in the dairy industry. This would be a good place to start, by cutting out all the dairy products.
Although she was addicted to cheese, she was committed to becoming 100% vegan, and to stop participating in the suffering and killing of farm animals. Her conviction overruled her addiction and she gave up the cheese permanently.
Next she tackled the issue of eliminating meat, fish and eggs. She managed to slash all the animal products from her diet, but was still eating tons of sugar. She was still eating cookies, granola bars and vegan ice cream. She was still eating a lot of pre-packaged junk.
This is typically known as a junk food vegan diet. No wonder she still wasn't feeling that great. Somehow she believed that by eating lots of vegetables it would be alright to indulge in the many vegan treats that are on the market today.
By the end of June, Judith was back to see the doctor and got on the scale. She had lost 33 pounds in six months. Her cholesterol had dropped back to normal and her pre-diabetes was gone.
Her doctor was pleased with her weight loss, but still wanted her to have the bariatric surgery. That was it, she never made another appointment to see this doctor again.
For her next challenge, Judith decided to focus on nutrition and eating healthier plant-based foods. She still had a lot of weight to lose and knew her health wasn't exactly stellar at this point, even though she was having lots of greens and fruits. The oil, salt and sugar in packaged food still figured prominently.
A severe bout of pericarditis nearly took Judith's life in the summer of 2014. She believed that her vegan diet kept her alive during that difficult time.
However, her blood pressure was high and her cardiologist put her on medication to lower it. Judith took the pills, but her health was steadily worsening.
In the spring of 2015, looking for a plant-based way to lower blood pressure, Judith found Dr. John McDougall's website and bought his book 'The Starch Solution'.
She was beside herself with joy because here was a medical doctor who has a comprehensive, healthy, whole food, plant-based program that is backed by nutritional science. No more guess work. And the best part is she didn't have to limit her carbohydrates.
She could eat all the potatoes and rice she wanted to. Dr. McDougall has demonstrated that the science isn't wrong. The research shows that unrefined carbs are good for you, and Dr. McDougall's followers show you can still lose weight by eating lots of potatoes, rice, and oatmeal.
Judith has been following Dr. McDougall’s guidelines for two years now and things in her life has improved. She still has some bad days, but her general trajectory is towards improved health and weight loss.
She has dropped 65 pounds so far and all her health indicators are well within normal ranges. She is off her blood pressure medication, and her last reading was 118/80, down from an average of 166/110.
When Judith was on blood pressure medication she couldn't walk around the block without feeling awful. She couldn't walk up and down the stairs without feeling winded. Now she can walk up and down the stairs without a thought. She walks daily for at least an hour at a good pace and feels great. Every day she is getting stronger and feeling better.
How has this lifestyle changed Judith's outlook? It has given her hope. It has allowed her to think she has a future. Even though she still has weight to lose, without this program Judith would never have had a shot at getting to a normal size again. It's exciting. It's happening.
This food plan is the means to a normal body weight. Before this diet Judith felt hopeless. She would regularly have thoughts of why bother, what's the point. She thought she was never going to get healthy again, that she was just going to continue to decline.
Judith has also noticed a new calmness in her demeanour and her mind is a lot sharper with this change in her eating. She is looking forward to the future, making plans and living a much happier life.
Judith and I have literally saved our own lives by taking responsibility for our health.
We as individuals can control what foods go into our bodies. We can control the exercise we do daily. We can control how interactive we are with our friends and family. We can control how much sleep we get.
All of these things lead to improved health and wellbeing. And when you feel better, you laugh more because you’re just happier.
I decided I wanted to meet other people in Toronto who were eating the same whole food plant-based way that I was. I discovered The Toronto Starch Solution Meetup Group.
This group, with 170 members, follows Dr. John McDougall's simple, whole food, plant-based lifestyle. We meet monthly for a vegan potluck lunch, sharing the delicious foods we've prepared and savouring each other's company. Our group is full of ordinary Torontonians who have recovered from life-threatening illnesses by eating just plants.
This is where Judith and I met and we have become extraordinary friends. As one of the group's founding members, Dr. Judith Fiore, a naturopathic doctor, had the brilliant idea of writing a book of stories about our group's members and what happened to our health and weight when we started following this vegan lifestyle.
As a group, our blood pressure and cholesterol meds have been thrown out the window. We are off 25 medications! Annoying little things like acid reflux, sciatica and back pain, psoriasis, menstrual cramps, and general pain are long gone.
The best part is most of us are now at a normal weight. We have all kinds of energy and a new outlook on how the rest of our lives will play out. We've improved our outlook to the point where a few of us no longer deal with depression. This is nothing short of miraculous!
Well, Judith and I did write the book.
'Fed Up with Being Fat and Sick' contains the stories of 12 middle-aged, ordinary folks from Toronto who cut out the food poison of meat, dairy, eggs, fish and oil, and follow Dr. McDougall's food plan.
As a bonus, we have a full interview with the man himself, Dr. McDougall. Three of the 12 of us lost over 100 pounds each. In total, we have lost over 700 pounds. Three of us cured our arthritis, three of us reversed our diabetes and three more got off the pre-diabetic list. One of us reversed her heart disease and hasn't had another incident in over twelve years.
Our book, 'Fed Up With Being Fat & Sick' and is available on Amazon as a paperback or Kindle publication. If you are suffering from a chronic illness, have small or large amounts of weight to lose, and are not sure of where to turn, let us inspire you with our stories.
This is a book about hope: hope for a better future, hope for getting your health and weight back on track, hope for knowing your disease and weight aren't too far gone and that you can turn this thing around, hope in knowing this is the true answer to improving your health and losing weight that you have been in search of.
When you are living pain-free, disease-free, and you have bountiful amounts of energy along with having lost all that excess weight, you feel wonderful. This is easy. Just eat potatoes, corn, rice, beans, fruits and vegetables, and your future will hopefully be so much better!
You can order 'Fed Up With Being Fat' & Sick here
Diane McConnell studied fine art and photography at Ryerson University and the University of Western Ontario. She was the staff photographer at the Art Gallery of Ontario where she photographed current art shows, galleries, artists, gala events, and handled priceless pieces of art. Diane also ran a successful wedding photography business. As an active artist, she attended art shows around Ontario selling art and jewellery, including prestigious shows like The Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition. Diane studied nutrition at the Holistic School of Nutrition in Toronto. She is now a whole food plant-based advocate, an avid gardener, and she enjoys hiking, painting, kayaking, and yoga in her spare time. She has two grown children and lives with her 94 year old father who is reaping the benefits of Diane's plant-based culinary expertise. Along with Judith Fiore, ND, Diane is the co-author of Fed Up with Being Fat and Sick, published by June Press and available on Amazon.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are prepared in the author's capacity and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Plant Based News itself.
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