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One month in, the battle to eat healthier is real but the results have been good

Fruits and vegetables such as those pictured at a   market in Washington are part of a plant-based diet.
Fruits and vegetables such as those pictured at a market in Washington are part of a plant-based diet. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Here’s a report on my first 30 days as a vegan, starting with a disclaimer:

I am not a doctor. Eating a whole-food, plant-based diet — no animals or animal products — may not be for everybody. If you want to keep using meds to treat insomnia, hypertension, high cholesterol and ED, fine by me. But you still might want to check this out.

As noted in my get fit manifesto in December, I have vowed to vanquish fast-food villains that would lure me to certain death with tasty sugars, oils, salts and fats. The GreenFare Organic Cafe in Herndon has a 21-day “Kickstart” program that helps those at risk of suicide by food go vegan.

I signed up Jan. 5, incorporating exercise and some meditation along the way.

Week 1: The organic penne al forno with spinach looked good, but my taste buds objected. They are so clogged from years of consuming artificial ingredients that they couldn’t recognize fresh food if my life depended on it, which it does.

“This is too bland,” my taste buds tell me. “We want fried chicken.”

This resistance to good health comes from a part of the tongue where vegan jokes originate, like the Hyundai commercial that aired during the Super Bowl mocking a vegan “beetloaf” party. Burger King’s Super Bowl commercial featured an artsy Andy Warhol eating a burger.

During the kick-start class, we learn that eating red meat has been linked to colorectal cancer. Beets, on the other hand, help prevent cancer.

The vegans protested Hyundai’s “poor taste,” and the car company apologized. But the real joke was not on the vegans; it was on the burger eaters.

Just three days in, my bloat is disappearing and I’m feeling a little more pep in my step.

Week 2: I have given up coffee for tea without the usual withdrawal headache. My blood pressure is back to normal and my weight is coming down, slowly but surely. Back and shoulder pain, gone. I don’t feel as tight around the waist. I might even be able to tuck my shirt into my pants again someday. Hope springs eternal.

Just a few months earlier, my clothes were bursting at the seams. I’d been on a holiday eggnog binge. One night at the supermarket, I found six cartons of the sweet creamy stuff in a dairy cabinet. I had two in hand when I heard someone shout, “There’s my baby!” A man who looked to weigh about 400 pounds was lumbering toward me with open arms. As I stepped to the side, he grabbed the other four cartons, looked at me and said, “We found her, didn’t we?”

Every shopping cart in sight had stopped rolling and all eyes were on these two fat dudes hogging all the eggnog. I wanted to put mine back. But I couldn’t. Like the man said, I found her.

Now I was trying a nutrient-rich dish of organic jackfruit over brown rice with mushrooms, bell peppers and tomatoes. My taste buds didn’t revolt but they did recall how I used to wash food down with sodas and sweet juices and chase it all with a nice long swig of eggnog.

“Could you at least put sugar in the tea?” the taste buds plead.

Week 3: The shelves at GreenFare hold books on nutrition, such as “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease,” by Caldwell Esselstyn, which illustrates how a plant-based, oil-free diet can not only prevent the progression of heart disease but reverse its effects. There’s “The China Study,” by T. Colin Campbell, which shows that high consumption of animal-based foods is associated with more chronic disease, while people who ate primarily a plant-based diet were the healthiest.

Gwyn Whittaker, the cafe owner, reminds me that comedian and political activist Dick Gregory had published a book about plant-based eating back in 1974, called “Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat: Cookin’ With Mother Nature.”

Dick Gregory’s diet helped make Riddick Bowe a boxing champ

And yet, despite the research, half of all deaths in the United States each year are caused by cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease — most of which are preventable with a plant-based diet and exercise.

“A whole plant foods diet is the most powerful medicine there is,” Whittaker told me. “Our bodies respond very quickly to the removal of foods that cause illness; we watch blood pressure and cholesterol normalize within weeks on the Kickstart program. We see autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease disappear with this change in lifestyle.”

I also noticed that professional athletes were going plant-based and getting a competitive edge with more intense workouts and better recovery. I’m not looking to run a marathon. But it would be nice to bound a few flights of stairs without getting winded.

The new way of eating is quite simple: oatmeal and berries for breakfast, no snacking between meals, different mix of beans, legumes, grains, fruits and vegetables for lunch and dinner. What the old folk called “roots food.” And lots of water.

My knee pains are pretty much gone. Without so much belly fat in the way, I can once again lift a foot into a pant leg instead of having to stand up and try to lasso my foot with the pants leg. When I get into a car I don’t have to use my hands to haul that second leg up onto the floor board.

And that was just the first month.

Fast-food villains, beware.

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