First and foremost: I’m not a medical doctor. My experience should be held purely anecdotal. Please seek the professional advice of an accredited doctor with a specialty in nutrition.
Furthermore, Vegan-based diets are not inheritedly healthier than any other lifestyle. It’s perfectly possible to be a “fat, unhealthy vegan” living off “junk food.” Conversely, living on an omnivorous diet with a LOT of exercise could enable one to enjoy a decent healthspan.
Living a Vegan lifestyle and being particularly mindful of your nutrition, you can enjoy an especially long healthspan as strongly suggested by Dr. Dean Ornish’s book on The Blue Zones. Where we find the most centenarians grouped together on the planet. And, as a bonus, you are helping the planet by not only causing less harm to fellow Earthlings, but contributing to the reduction in Greenhouse gas emissions.
The story of FAT Richie
My story starts well before I really got fat. Like most Americans, I grew-up with the propaganda on TV and the lobbied state-funded meal-plans sponsored by companies that put profits before health. Despite the school offering a health education class, they didn’t truly teach nutrition. Either you got that education at home… or, you developed poor health and bad habits.
I grew up as the “fat kid” in school that others would verbally abuse. Eventually, I developed “thick-skin” towards such banter, but it did nothing to help my self-image and self-esteem. I vividly recall my third-grade teacher, Ms. Pouncy, having each student in the class stand on the weight-scale. I was the heaviest person in the class — including the teacher — at 59kg (130 lbs)!
Over the years, I continued to weigh more than the average kid for my age-group. However, I found some relief in no longer being the only “fat kid” in high school. I wasn’t the fattest, but I wasn’t on the light end of the scale either… By the time I graduated high school, I weighed over 113kg (250+ lbs).
In college, I stopped playing hockey and didn’t skate as much. This combined with the stress of late study nights and lack of exercise lead me to balloon towards 135kg (300 lbs) by the time I graduated! While I did complete two degrees within 3 years, it came at a cost to my health — both physical and mental. Of my class, I had the highest pay offers from companies that I interviewed. But that didn’t help me become successful with finding a girlfriend…
Obesity and Depression
While I had little trouble finding technical jobs that paid well, I struggled with the dating game. Much of this was due to the fact I didn’t have much practice dating throughout school. Partially due to my mother’s religiously-skewed view of the world and the fact I had been particularly overweight while growing up. Something I believed did not help me with attracting any girl’s attention.
Reckless and Depressed
While living in Phoenix, Arizona, I started racing motorcycles and hanging out with a racing gang. We did all kinds of dare-devil and crazy things on public roads. But that reckless “fun” was really just an outlet to avoid dealing with my depression. The recklessness grew to the point where I crashed at high speed and landed in the hospital. The doctors told me that I needed to lose weight. If I continued to grow any fatter, they wouldn’t be able to operate on me.
This made me more depressed. Except now I was forced to stay home and give my body time to heal all the broken bones. During this time, I abused the pain medication with alcohol and over ate pizza. I tried drowning my pain with ample alcohol. Falling asleep in the living room recliner next to an empty pizza box. By the time my bones healed enough, I ballooned past 151kg (333 lbs). I hated looking at myself in the mirror. Rolling out of bed was a pain.
A friend of mine suggested I visit a female friend of his in Japan. I thought it was a great ideal to get out of the States for a short time. Fast forward six months, that friend became my girlfriend. Sadly, she decided the relationship would not work. I attributed this to my obesity. (While that probably played a large role, there were undoubtedly other factors too.)
Journey to a Healthier Me
What was my motivation to drop the excess weight? I forced myself to consider the dichotomy: “lose weight or never get a girlfriend.” I boiled it down to the binary choice of “do or die.” The only reason I didn’t balloon more throughout high school was the fact I enjoyed skating and hockey. Those sports alone was what kept me “in shape.” Or rather prevented me from going further out-of-shape. It was lucky that my Mom won a raffle contest at a grocery store that granted me inline skates when I was 13 years old. I doubt I would have gotten into skating otherwise.
Weight loss the “hard way”
You can find all my posts about the exercises I did to drop over 50kg (110 lbs)! Needless to say, I did a lot of exercise while trying out different diets to see what worked. Eventually, I was able to run 6km (3.7 miles) in under 35 minutes. It didn’t take long for me to see that my appetite could easily outrun any diet and exercise routine I attempted. I created some “weight loss rules” based on my observations, but I realized I didn’t really understand nutrition.
Learning the nutrition lessons not taught in school
My annual health checkups indicated that I was at risk of developing metabolic syndrome. Additionally, my endocrine levels were out-of-balance too. I started studying what all that meant and how I could change course. Also, despite eating plenty of animal products, my total protein levels were considered too low. This not only affected my physical performance, but deteriorated my sperm production to virtually zero! Yikes!
Focus on Diet
Most of us have heard the old concept of “calories in and calories out…” However, it seems that most fail to realize that is not the complete equation on how to approach your nutrition. I read how some doctors put their patients on a very low calorie diet for a 18 month study. They compared the daily intake of 400, 800, 1200, 1600 with the typical 2000 calorie diet combined with zero exercise. The 400 calorie diet study was cut short due to health risk factors. 800 was considered borderline too low as that group saw their metabolism all but shutdown after 20 days. Any beneficial weight loss was short lived. As for the 1200 and 1600 calorie groups, the 1200 calorie group managed to keep their weight off the longest with better compliance to the program. The 1600 calorie group saw marginal weight loss, but ended up gaining it all back with more weight than what they had at the beginning of the study.
Based on that data, I decided to limit my daily intake to about 1000 calories per day and add exercise. I needed to burn more than 2500 calories a day. While this did help me drop a good amount of weight, I still didn’t feel all that great. I felt better about my self-esteem, but needed to build a better balance for my body.
As I began reading medical journals about diet and filtering through all the conflicting data, I realized many “studies” were funded by corporations (and their shell companies) with a vested interest in confounding the public to further their profits. The best way, in my mind, was to approach diet methodically and document as much as possible.
I read numerous studies that suggested reduction or elimination of “red meat” such as beef and pork would significantly reduce cholesterol and mitigate high blood pressure. So, I decided to remove those from my diet completely. And see how it affected my blood tests. When I removed beef and pork, I replaced it with chicken. I saw marginal improvements. Then I read how chickens were processed and the industry’s notorious habit of injecting all their dead birds with salt-water to not only increase the weight, but lengthen the shelf life. Not only did studies point out how high blood pressure was more highly associated with chicken consumption, but many Americans also experienced higher rates of CVD (cardiovascular disease). Furthermore, I read a number of studies that strongly associated meat consumption with inflammation. I wanted to do something about my rising high blood pressure. This prompted me to remove chicken from my diet.
My diet at this point consisted of cow’s milk/cheese, veggie pizzas, cabbage, some mixed vegetables (peas, carrots, corn), rice, and tortillas. Let’s not forget the sushi and fish that my lovely wife would make. I also supplemented with a daily multivitamin. I continued running, but I wasn’t seeing any big weight losses. Mostly deviations due to water consumption and exercise outdoors. In fact, I replaced all “meat” with fish.
What kick started me from a pescatarian diet to full vegan (WFPB with low oil, low salt, no sugar) was the symptoms of diabetes. I became hypoglycemic and landed in the hospital. Started using a CGM (constant-glucose monitor). It probably didn’t help that I had a rather limited selection of foods that I would eat. Despite taking daily supplements, I was probably out-of-balanced on my nutrients. So, I started rapidly diversifying my food intake using Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen as a guide. I needed to remove all highly pre-processed foods. And, I decided to avoid eating out as I can’t trust what ingredients are used in the production of my food.
One of the first things I did was bought the expensive A3500 Vitamix blender with all the accessories. Then turned around and started ordering a ton of nuts, legumes, grains, and various spices from Rakuten. I figured if I really want to control what I consume, then I must make it all myself. That includes breads and some spices. If I can buy it wholesale at a good volume, then I stocked my kitchen with a vegan chef’s dream supply of food-stuffs and equipment. I closely monitor my blood pressure (Omnicron BP cuff) and oxygen rates (oximeter and Watch). Now, I have the Abbot FreeStyle Libre CGM to add. I made more frequent trips to CostCo for fruits and veggies. I have an engineer’s mind and approach everything with the scientific method.
One of the things I did after that medical event in 2020 was to start monthly blood testing to see if I’m making the right choices for my nutrition. Additionally, I consulted with a few nutritionist to confirm what I should be looking for on my blood tests. My goal was to improve my total protein levels and fix my endocrine imbalance. I would methodically change one thing each month to see if that produced any improvements. I ended up adding zinc, iodine, B12, D3, and a simple multivitamin. After 13 months, I not only got my TP (total protein) levels up, but they were above average! Additionally, I resolved my endocrine imbalance!
🎥 What Supplements Do Vegans Need? | Dr. Neal Barnard Live Q&A on The Exam Room | Video (38 minutes)
What supplements do vegans need to take? Is a daily multi-vitamin necessary? Find out as Dr. Neal Barnard joins “The Weight Loss Champion” Chuck Carroll on the Exam Room for a live Q&A!
My joy of skating evolved into a love for skiing. I was already comfortable with balancing on two “blades” from my days of playing hockey. I simply needed to apply it to skis. Skiing became another outlet for my stress and another motivator to exercise year-round. As I grew more comfortable and skilled at skiing, I realized that the “off season” is truly the time strengthen the body for the stresses imposed by the g-forces I enjoyed skiing. My best season, winter 2019-2020, I achieved speeds over 100kph and G-forces over 6. None of that would have been possible if my heart was too weak or my legs not strong and elastic enough. Sadly, over the past two years, I’ve atrophied a bit. Last season I had a hard time getting over 85kph and 5 Gs. The missing ingredient in my diet so far is consistent and daily exercise.
Looking back at the past 17 years, I can see that I have accomplished much. I did achieve a significant weight loss. And while I have gained a small amount of it back, I have a far better idea of how to manage it going forward. I only wished I understood this before leaving high school.
As everyone has mostly acclimated to the new reality with the latest corona virus (plus vaccines) and a larger shift to technical jobs working remotely, I feel more comfortable to exercise more regularly. Once I get settled into my new house in Gunma, I intend to explore the town and find some good exercise routes. I need to make it a habit to exercise everyday. While I’m stable around 108kg (238 lbs), I really need to get my weight close to 80kg (177 lbs). That’s almost another 30kg (66 lbs) drop! 頑張れ〜！
Aside from exercise, I’ve been reading about Dr. Valter Longo’s (PhD in biogerontology) research in Fast Mimicking diet. Much of what I read seems to make sense. However, I need to put it to the test and see if it truly measures up to his claims. I don’t support his belief in eating fish, but can certainly modify it for my vegan lifestyle.
Below is an overview of the timeline covering my fattest period to the present. This journey is not a short one, but full of challenges…
Weighed over 161kg (358 lbs)!
Started walking to work and skating on the weekends.
Avoided running to protect my knees.
- Got weight down to 122kg (270 lbs)!
- Moved from the States to Japan.
Adopted more mobile life-habits. (Walking up stairs and avoiding the escalator/elevators.)
- Started running during my lunch breaks instead of eating a full meal.
- I would still bicycle in the mornings and evenings.
- Got weight down to 108kg (239 lbs).
- Bicycling about 10km and running about 7km a day.
- Best weight, so far, at 94.5Kg (209 lbs) after a LOT of running.
- Got married! (Life-goal / mission accomplished?)
- Hovered around 100kg (221 lbs).
- Increased daily intake to 1600 calories.
- Continued running up to 7km (4.34 miles) a day.
- Despite moderate exercising, weight gain pushed me back towards 110kg (243 lbs). 😞
- Stopped eating beef and pork.
- Started eating lots of chicken as I thought of it as cheap and tasty.
- Diagnosed with minor peripheral edema.
- Blood workups show I’m developing imbalances in my endocrine system.
- Ballooned back to 118kg (261 lbs).
- Stopped eating chicken.
Stopped eating all land animals.
Stopped eating all animals (including fish and insects).
COVID-19 became a pandemic forcing many IT workers indoors (WFH).
Started using a constant-glucose monitor from Abbot Labs - Free Libre. Much more convenient that the finger pricks.
Weight had rocketed back to 120Kg (265 lbs) over the last 6 months despite calorie counting and not eating all that much (averaging 1500Kcal/day over a month). However, I was also not exercising either… Blood pressure was starting to average above 140/86 on a weekly basis.
- Medical event (hypoglycemic) forced me to visit hospital. Stopped eating animal derived products like milk and cheese.
- Decided to eat a whole-food, plant-based diet (based on Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen) with low oil, low salt, and no sugar.
- Was a bit gassier the first week.
Legs stopped swelling overnight.
- Blood Pressure dropped from ≈139/86 down to 105/70!
- No longer feel hungry for snacks throughout the day.
- Oximeter shows improvements of oxygen saturation: up from average of 95% to average of 99%
- Lower back pain subsided and was able to sleep almost the entire night without tossing around the bed.
- No longer had arthritic-stiff hands when waking up in the morning.
- Dropped 5Kg (11 lbs) weight! However, my body fat percentage was a bit high — 29%… So, I must have lost some muscle mass over the last seven months of non-exercising…
- My sleep habits are dramatically improving. My body gets sleepy around 23:00 JST.
- I’m no longer spitting up so much mucus in the morning. (Even though I DON’T smoke.)
- Have avoided all alcohol consumption for the last six weeks and started feeling great about it. I don’t really crave it and unless I have a social event, don’t desire it either. It stays on the top shelf in my kitchen where I don’t really see it much.
- The “flagpole” is starting to stand more often. Perhaps the blood-flow is improving?
- Birth of my twin boys!
- Started paternity leave from work to support newborn twins.
- “Flagpole” definitely a lot thicker now and stays thicker longer.
- Muscle density has increased while body-fat percentage has decreased from 28% to 24%. Weight hasn’t dropped below 112Kg (247.5 lbs) yet. But then I haven’t been exercising and I feel bad about it.
- Skin on my feet have significantly cleared up.
- Toenails are now clear & clean having a more pink color instead of yellow & purple.
- Fingernails & toenails grow faster & less brittle.
- As I haven’t been exercising, weight fluctuates between 111kg (245 lbs) and 114kg (252 lbs).
- Really need to stop drinking alcohol!!!
- Started increasing my fiber content.
- Started researching veganism and the whole-foods plant-based diet.
- Blood work ups show remarkable improvements in my protein levels and cholesterol when compared to October.
- Increased fiber intake to 40g
- Regular defecation — almost daily
- Reduced alcohol consumption to less than 1L of beer per week. Really need to stop drinking it!
- Started back to work via telecommute.
- Increased fiber intake to 70g
- Defecating at least once every day.
- No longer enjoy the taste of beer and whiskey.
- Started removing oil and fat sources from diet including vegan cheese.
- Weight still over 111kg (245 lbs). 🙁
- All pimples from skin have completely disappeared.
- Weight stabilized at 110Kg (243 lbs).
- Daily intake of fiber (from whole fruits and veggies) is about 95g
- Added 100μg iodine to my morning vitamins [must be careful to never exceed 150μg per day!]
- TP (total protein) levels in my blood have finally improved! From 5.5 to >7.0!
- Other indicators that suggested liver/kidney problems have also improved dramatically.
- Weight is around 111kg (245 lbs).
- BP remains stable around 110/68 with a resting heart rate around 49.
- Now need to add exercise to the equation.
- Recovery from running is much faster now. (Within 12 hours instead of a day or two.)
Toe nails finally look normal! Seems my feet now get the proper nutrients and circulation for my toe nails to grow properly. This suggests that I had developed circulation issues in my legs. Possibly related to diabetes?
Sleep app shows a significant drop in snoring over the past year. (I speculate this is from virtual elimination of alcohol consumption.)