Why a Plant-based Diet?

I’ve been vegetarian for twenty years now, and something I noticed quite soon after my “conversion” was that I seemed to avoid many of the garden-variety illnesses that many people around me seemed to be catching. A year or so later, I read Dr. Neal Barnard’s book, Food for Life, and, after hearing Dr. Barnard speak, decided to try veganism for the first time. I felt fantastic and immediately lost the extra weight I’d been carrying around since my child’s birth three years earlier. But I didn’t have the discipline to maintain it, and since I was only in my mid-thirties, the spectre of those diseases of middle age wasn’t yet a motivating factor. After spending my forties running marathons and working out (and eating to maintain energy for these pursuits), I entered my sixth decade with what now seems to have been an appetite for indolence and indulgence. After a couple of years of eating too much cheese and drinking too much wine (and gaining weight!), I realized that if I had any hope of avoiding chronic–and often age-related–diseases (type 2 diabetes, arthritis, T.I.A.s, strokes, cancer, heart attack, etc.) that so many people my age are now enduring and if I wanted to lose weight and feel good, I was going to have to make some major changes in my habits. Another motivating factor is that my mother had a heart attack at the tender age of fifty-eight–an age I am quickly approaching. While I understand that genetics play a huge part in all of these diseases, diet and exercise can also play a part, and that’s the part we can control.

To that end, I started reading and researching. In addition to Neal Barnard’s books, I read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study, and Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s Eat to Live and Eat for Health I & II. I joined Neal Barnard’s PCRM site and Joel Fuhrman’s E2L member centre. In my online research, I read everything I could on plant-based eating and even did some research in peer-reviewed medical journals (a rather tedious task since I find these articles so difficult to understand!). One of the things at the forefront of my research was diseases caused by TNF-alpha overproduction because two of my siblings suffer from Crohn’s disease. While I didn’t find much, I did find a study that indicated a negative correlation between a plant-based diet and TNF-alpha disease.  After all my research, I became convinced that a plant-based diet and a strategic exercise plan (more on that later) would be the best protection against chronic, age-related disease, not to mention pesky age-related aches, pains, and inconveniences.

What’s fascinating is that as the baby boomers age, veganism (now often referred to as “a plant-based diet” likely to avoid associations with political radicalism) seems to be becoming not quite mainstream, but certainly acceptable (as opposed to simply flaky).

While the shift in thinking came in part with the name change, it was also facilitated by the appearance of the plant-based food movement’s central proponents: middle-aged to late middle-aged white guys wearing suits (and these guys are all in great shape): Neal Barnard, Joel Fuhrman, T. Colin Campbell, Conrad Esselstyn (and his hunky firefighter son), MacDougall. These guys are all baby-boomers….but better looking and in better shape. And they’re not flakes–on the contrary, they’re intelligent and professional. And they represent what we (the consistently vain and self-absorbed) baby boomers still have a chance to be! Check out this article in Bloomberg BusinessWeek called “The Rise of the Power Vegans” for more about mainstream veganism.

And then Bill Clinton appeared in the media, twenty-five pounds lighter and crediting a plant-based diet not only for his weight loss, but also for reversing his heart disease. If the easily tempted, appetite-driven Bill Clinton can do it, who can’t:

If I wasn’t hooked before, I was a goner at that point. Hell, if he can do it, so can I.

Now I just have to resist the siren call of the pinot noir, and I’m good to go.