Several years ago my now 59 year old father had a heart attack. It wasn’t a major heart attack, but it has definitely caused him problems. He’s been on medication since it happened, and has regular stress tests to see if the damage to his heart has progressed. Thankfully, up until this last time, his heart showed no additional signs of damage….but his test a few weeks ago had a different result. His cardiologist told him that another part of his heart that previously hadn’t showed any damage now was. The doctor gave him 2 choices: proceed with an angioplasty now, or take 6 months to change his lifestyle and see if his condition improved. After asking what the latter would mean, he decided to take that option.
So, what lifestyle changes did the cardiologist recommend? First, he said my dad needs to lose weight, and that he should do this in two ways: 1) by walking at least 2 miles every day, and 2) by changing his diet dramatically.
Let me explain to you exactly what I mean by “dramatically” in the case of my father: this was a man who ate beef at least once a day, if not more, for the majority of his life. He ate high fat, high cholesterol meats and other animal byproducts. Butter, ice cream, cheese, steak, pork, eggs – you name it, he ate it. He would stop at fast food restaurants and get 2-3 burgers to eat over the course of a few hours. At this last visit, however, his doctor told him that his diet should be primarily plant-based – 80% at a minimum, but the more the better. He said no more red meat, no more high fat dairy products, etc. This prescription would be a hard for a lot of omnivores, but for a farm-raised, country boy like my dad, it was a pretty tall order.
In the past month, however, he and my mother have been eating almost exclusively vegetarian, and have even switched from using butter (a staple for them) to using Earth Balance. My mom asked me for healthy vegan recipes, and has been cooking completely differently than she had been. My dad has taken to walking and is getting in some cardio almost every day. And guess what? In about a month, he’s already lost 16 pounds, and he feels great! And probably most amazing of all is that he says he doesn’t even really miss meat. Usually I say that when people start eating healthy vegetarian food, they WON’T miss meat, but my dad was just such a meat lover that I didn’t know if that would be the case. I am thrilled that it is. I’m thrilled that he’s feeling good and losing weight, I’m thrilled that both my parents are eating fewer animal products, and mostly I am thrilled that he’s making this effort for his health. I want him to be around for a long time, and unless he does this, that just won’t happen.
And maybe, just maybe, if he keeps this up and works hard, these new lifestyle changes can even reverse the damage already done to his heart. I am hopeful that it will!