A year ago I met Richard Gottlieb at the Empathic Therapy Conference. Dick is a Board Certified Diplomate in Clinical Social Work and a really nice guy. In Hindu terms, he has risen to the level of sattva, i.e., calm goodness. Dick is also a serious bad-ass who has never in his life done what he was told to do, which has pretty much saved his life.
After the conference Dick did two things: turned 65, and had a stress test. He’d been feeling really tired and going home from the office early, so he had the stress test and was told he needed a heart catheterization—no, not “schedule it at your convenience,” but “don’t put your pants back on.” Then the doctor told Dick he was about to blow an artery and needed surgery—how about next Tuesday?
Dick said, “No, I want a second opinion,” and went to the Cleveland Clinic, which I had never heard of but apparently is some serious kick-ass major medical facility in—you guessed it—Cleveland, Ohio. So Dick goes there, has another heart cath, and is told by the cardiologist that he needs immediate surgery. Dick says, “What about this heart-healthy diet book?” And the cardiologist tells him that the book was written based on one case, and is bad science, and only surgery will save Dick.
So Dick goes back to his office and a co-worker says, “You gotta read this book.” It is Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn. Esselstyn got a gold medal in the Olympics, a Bronze Star in Vietnam, and was President of the Staff at Cleveland Clinic. His book reports the longest longitudinal study of diet and heart disease: “It is most compelling, as no compliant patients have sustained disease progression. . . Dr. Esselstyn presently directs the cardiovascular prevention and reversal program at The Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute” and one of his own cardiologists is diss-ing him. Ain’t life a bitch?
So Dick does what any working man would do—he takes the book home for his wife to read. Then he calls Dr. Esselstyn, who tells Dick that he’d be a perfect candidate for the diet and he should come back to Cleveland for the regularly scheduled session on What It’s All About. Dick has always been a risk-taker and backed the Weird Guy with a Better Idea (see also Dr. Peter Breggin and empathic therapy), so Dick and his wife go back to Cleveland and then embark on the “whole-food, plant-based” diet. No more corned beef sandwiches. The diet is no meat, fish, fowl, oil or sugar—nothing that had a face or a mother. Instead, you eat whole wheat bread, brown rice, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
In the previous year, Dick had also been diagnosed with diabetes and was taking medications to lower his cholesterol and glucose levels. He had never exercised and continued to not. All he did was change his diet. He ate spinach salad and fresh pineapple, and found a bakery that made four different kinds of bread that were whole wheat without eggs, milk or oil.
At the same time that Dick was embarking on this diet to save his life, I was hospitalized with pneumonia, a urinary infection and uncontrolled diabetes. Consequent to 26 years of taking psychiatric medications—mostly antidepressants—I have a dozen chronic illnesses that either were caused or exacerbated by the psych meds. Additionally, the psych meds had so damaged my immune system that I no longer can take any medications for anything—not even an aspirin.
Ten years ago, when I had to stop taking drugs, I worked with dieticians and developed a really good diet. Hemoglobin A1c is the three-month measure of how well-controlled your diabetes is. It should be below 6; I was able to get mine down to about 6.5. Also, I aggressively pursued exercise. At my best, about five years ago, I could exercise for one hour twice a week. Glucose levels should be around 110; when I was in the hospital this summer, my glucose levels were running around 400. What Dick told me was that the American Diabetes Association diet is to manage diabetes; the whole-food, plant-based diet will cure diabetes, so I, too, went on the diet. I also called Dr. Esselstyn. When he heard that I had been treated for depression, he lost interest in my case. He told me to get the book but didn’t suggest that I come to Cleveland for the training session.
So Dick and I journeyed down the road that is lined with carrots, potatoes and oatmeal. One day we had a lengthy conversation about kinds of oatmeal, cooking it, and serving it with various fruits and spices—then Dick started laughing and said, “Boy, listen to us—oatmeal! We must be old.” Old, definitely, but also more healthy. Two weeks ago, we arrived at the 2012 Empathic Therapy Conference and ate our meals together for three days. For a variety of reasons having to do with damage from psych meds, I have not been able to fully adhere to the diet and it was awesome and invigorating to watch Dick as he made his meal choices. For him, it was neither stressful nor complicated; he was committed and disciplined. Dick would ask the wait-person a couple questions, make his menu choices, and then go back to conversing with his tablemates.
Yesterday Dick called me with the results of the blood work from his annual physical. He’s lost 54 pounds; I’ve lost 18. Hemoglobin A1c should be below 6; his was 16.2 and now is 6; mine is 12.1. Cholesterol should be below 200; his was 326 and now is 129; mine is 231. Triglycerides should be below 200; his were 934 and now are 146; mine are 259. HDL cholesterol should be above 40; his was 27 and now is 34; mine is 37.
The moral of this story is that you can get very, very healthy—even if you are old and don’t exercise—simply by eating a whole-food, plant-based diet. However, if you’ve been damaged by psych meds, the diet is virtually impossible to maintain and won’t do much good.
Choose one: whole wheat or antidepressants.
Referral of the Day: “Dr. Sanjay Gupta Reports: The Last Heart Attack” http://cnnpressroom.blogs.cnn.com/2011/08/02/%E2%80%98dr-sanjay-gupta-reports-the-last-heart-attack%E2%80%99-%E2%80%93-a-mission-possible/