“I Had an Epiphany: ‘This Is My Life. This Is My Body. I Am Not Blaming Anyone or Anything for Letting It Get to This Point, But from Here on out, I Am Accountable, and I Am in Control!'”
I guess we are all handicapped from the start, victims of Earl Butz’s “Get big or get out” agriculture plan in the 1970s. In those days, people, for the most part, trusted the government and naïvely believed that it had the citizens’ best interest at heart. So they blindly followed when told that they needed an obscene amount of meat and dairy products and that microwavable dinners were just as healthy as the ones grandma would make. Convenience foods designed for saving working moms precious time were costing us much more than the sticker price. They were wrong, and we are the ones to pay the penalty. According to the Centers for Disease and Prevention, less than 3 percent of children 6 to 11 were overweight in the early ’70s; however, starting in the mid-’70s, that number started to rise dramatically to where it is now: more than 20 percent. I was no exception to this—more like the poster child.
I didn’t have the ideal childhood, but who does, really? I was raised mostly by my father, a single dad of three children who didn’t have the time or knowledge to build balanced meals for us. He did the best he could considering the combination of his endless work schedule and nutritional awareness being what it was in the ’80s and ’90s, especially in New Orleans. For most of my family, there wasn’t an issue, at least on the surface. Having a high metabolism seemed to offset those greasy, fried and fatty foods. I wasn’t that lucky, taking after my grandfather, it seemed, as we were the only big ones in the family. His metabolism started to slow after the war, and, apparently, my metabolism got lost on the way home from one of the many routine trips to Rally’s that my grandfather and I would make.
I remember the first pair of husky jeans I had when I was in elementary school. Even back then, I was self-conscious about my weight and the stigma “husky jeans” would have on my adolescence, resulting in depression and low self-esteem. Through my childhood up until college, nothing would change: a McDonald’s breakfast combo to start the day, a few Double Stacks, chicken nuggets and fries from Wendy’s at lunch and takeout or possibly something mom just fried up for dinner followed up with a quite a few cocktails with the buddies to close out the night.
Soon, I was hovering around 230 pounds, depressed, tired, unmotivated and showed no signs of changing. It wasn’t until years later at a job interview that I realized the hole I had dug myself into. After being unemployed for a year following a cross-country move, I had finally landed a job and needed to get a physical. It had been many years since my last trip to the scale, but in my head I was guessing I weighed anywhere from 230 to 250 pounds. I will never forget those few agonizing seconds on this particular scale. The nurse asked me to step up, and I watched the large weight on the 200-pounds mark as she slided the top weight across from zero to 50—nothing. She moved the top weight back to zero and bumped the larger weight over to the 250-pound notch. As she began sliding the smaller weight, I could feel the blood rushing from my head, my palms started clamming up and I remember thinking to myself that clearly something was wrong with this scale. Then it happened: The beam finally started to sway back and forth until it finally found its balance, the big weight on 250, the smaller one on 50. I may have gone to Louisiana public schools my entire life, but math was one of my stronger subjects. Three hundred pounds. Twenty-eight years old and 300 pounds! I dealt with it the way I dealt with all my problems back then. As soon as that little torture fest was over, I went to see my drug dealer: the red-haired, red-nosed, yellow-vest-wearing, drug-dealing clown, Ronald McDonald.
It wasn’t until the birth of my daughter, Evangeline, that I started taking stock of the things that really mattered in life. You never think you could love someone so much, and when you do, the only thing you think about is, “How can I spend as much time with this person as possible?” The elephant in the room—pun intended—was me! I knew that my weight, health, lack of energy, lack of motivation and depression were going to rob precious time away from me that I wasn’t willing to give away.
Evangeline was 5 months old when I turned 30. At this point, I had been giving some thought about changing my diet and life but hadn’t really come up with a plan. While I was taking a shower the night of my 30th birthday, I took a few minutes longer than usual to come to terms with the fact that I was now an old man, according to my teenage self. Where have I been in the past 30 years? What have I accomplished? And most important, where was I going?
After looking down at a body that had been so abused by Coke, cheeseburgers, pizza, chips, fried chicken and beer, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What will this gut look like in another 30 years?” Or worse yet, “Will I even be around 30 years from now?” To say I came out of the shower that night a new man is not an exaggeration. That water washed away the haze that was blinding me for the past 30 years, and I had an epiphany: “This is my life. This is my body. I am not blaming anyone or anything for letting it get to this point, but from here on out, I am accountable, and I am in control!”
What followed the next few weeks and months in spring 2012 was an exploration into my diet and lifestyle, eliminating things and reducing others during which time I did manage to drop about 10 pounds. Then one particular day, I was home alone, vegging out on the couch. My wife and daughter were in New Orleans, visiting family, when I came across this documentary on Netflix called Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead. The title jumped out at me, as it is intended to do, and with my belly hanging out from under my 3XL shirt, I mustered up enough energy and courage to press the play button. As soon as it was over, I jumped on the Web and started researching juicing. Then I watched again.
When I woke in the morning, I called my wife to tell her I was buying a juicer and was going to change my life. I am sure she thought this was just another one of my bottle-rocket passions, but like every good wife does, she refrained from bringing up the kayak or new golf clubs sitting in the closet, and she said, “OK—sounds good,” which was all I needed! I ordered a juicer and sat in torture for the three days that it took to come, dreaming of the juice concoctions that were in my future. The day finally came, and before the UPS driver was out of my driveway, I had that juicer cranked up to “1.21 Gigawatts,” filling up my cup with what was to be my breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next 65 days.
So it began, Day 1 of my juice fast! I think it would make for a better story to say I went through detox or had insatiable cravings, but none of that happened. It went surprisingly well. Drinking about six green juices with some water Day 1 led to Day 2, which led to Week 2, 3 and so on. I kept on a consistent four- to six-green juice regiment, losing a pound a day, on average. Other than a couple of poker nights, when I would make raw V-8-type juice as a treat, I drank green juices for the entire fast. I had no set date on which I was going to stop. Part of me thought, “I can do this forever. Why stop?” But then those feelings were quickly overruled by my realistic side.
With no set date in mind to end the fast, it would end just as organically as it began. One day while reloading on fresh juice ingredients, this big, beautiful green watermelon caught my eye, and I decided that was it. That is what I was going to eat when it was time. So it found a place in the basket and eventually on the shelf at home until a few days later, when it was time to celebrate! On Day 65, June 6, at approximately 6 p.m., and 60 pounds lighter, my daughter and I shared our first watermelon together. It was a bittersweet day. I was extremely happy with the weight loss but also sad to close that chapter of my life and nervous to face this new life without the clutch of food and alcohol.
Truth be told, I don’t believe fasting for weight loss is a long-term solution. So many people fast to quickly lose weight only to gain it back as fast, if not faster, than it was lost. Instead, I treated those 65 days like a long-term meditation and self-exploration session. For the first time in my adult life, I had to face myself without being able to hide behind food or alcohol. You can learn a lot about yourself by removing the blinders and meeting your problems head on. Being able to tell between eating for true hunger rather than eating to deal with stress or depression has been very helpful post-fast. In fact, I am positive, if not for the fast, issues like that would have never been addressed, and I would have fallen right back into my old routine.
My plan was never to give up meat and/or to go vegan, let alone fruitarian, but through somewhat of a spiritual awakening that took place throughout the latter part of the fast, I felt as though I didn’t really have a choice. One saying I hear often that is so true is, “I think therefore I am vegan.” Through meditation, I have come to have a better appreciation for the earth and, in turn, compassion for all living beings. I am able to look at trees as I drive down the highway and get lost in their beauty or follow clouds as they crawl across the sky. Gaining that appreciation has helped me look at food as something precious, something that a farmer nursed from a seed to provide our family with nourishment. Although we are designed to eat for nourishment, it seems that was the farthest thing from my mind when I used to literally stuff my face.
Like so many people, I was addicted to salt, sugar and fat and didn’t care where it came from—some laboratory in the Midwest, the freezer section of the local supermarket or wrapped up in a brown paper bag from the nearest fast-food drug lord. Food is the ultimate drug. There are suppliers on every corner and pushers on every TV channel, billboard and website. I was an addict, and like most addicts I used a classic coping mechanism: addiction replacement. Trading in Double Whoppers for a few melons, a 6-pack for a green juice and the remote control for a pair of running shoes, lazy days that were spent in front of the TV are now fruit picnics at a park in the sun with my daughter or working in the garden. I am now proudly addicted to life!
My transition from juicing to raw food went as to be expected. While fasting, I spent a good amount of time researching and planning out my post-fast diet. I knew I wanted to stay vegan but stumbled upon this new concept of “raw veganism.” When you research raw food recipes online, it seems gourmet meals are all you will find. Which, in my opinion, are designed to entice the average American to think about actually ditching their meat-and-cheese-covered pizza for the raw variety. Let’s face it: Whoever is taking those raw food meal pictures deserves an award! So gourmet high-fat meals consisting mostly of nuts, seeds and dehydrated treats were an expected starting point.
After eating tacos with walnut and pistachio meat, and pizzas with cashew cheese, it was like nothing had ever changed! After a few weeks of eating gourmet, I started feeling bogged down and bloated, lacking the energy and clarity I experienced during the fast. After tweaking some things, I settled on my current meal plan, which has me feeling great throughout the day, satiated at night and eager to greet the new day. My current meal plan consists of fruit all day and a large salad at night, comprised of no less than 1 pound of greens with a fruit-based salad dressing I blend up every night. My daily menu fluctuates by seasons and what I can get a deal on.
Lately, breakfast might be a pineapple or a larger melon. Around 10 a.m., I usually have a snack: maybe a few apples, grapes, tomatoes or bananas. Lunch might be another melon or two or a few papayas. I also make banana ice cream, or “whip,” on a regular basis. I can never just make one, or, if I do, it is a huge bowl with three spoons! Dates are also another favorite of mine and my daughter’s. Sometimes it seems we can go one for one with them. Dinnertime salads usually comprise lettuces and spring mixes with kale and spinach from my own organic garden and are sometimes topped with mushrooms, green onions, microgreens and/or sprouts. Salad dressings have lately been made up of oranges, red bell pepper and apple cider vinegar as a base. Then I throw in herbs and spices like basil, cumin, oregano and parsley. I may also include a jalapeño pepper or cayenne pepper if I am feeling spicy. I don’t add salt to any of my food; instead, I opt for dulse flakes, which have the extra benefit of containing Vitamin B12.
In an effort to get chicks after high school, I did visit a gym from time to time, but that got pushed aside in lieu of the “HUGE ASS BEERS” on Bourbon Street. It wasn’t long before the only exercises in my daily routine were “12-ounce curls.” However, exercise has been a welcome byproduct of this lifestyle. I never ran in my life besides playing team sports as a kid and, even then, I am not sure you could classify that as running. I have home videos of playing baseball as a kid with my dad yelling, “Unhitch the piano!” as I rounded the bases. Since my weight loss, I have started running, riding and working out on a daily basis. I run anywhere from 20 to 30 miles, cycle between 30 and 40 miles, swim around 5 miles and go to a gym five days a week.
I am in better shape and stronger now at 31 than I was on the high school football team. I have run several 5Ks, 10Ks, a 10-miler and one half-marathon. Currently, I am training for the upcoming triathlon-cycling season and maybe a marathon later in the year.
Clearly still new to this lifestyle, there is a lot to learn about myself, nutrition and training, but I am hopeful that I will learn and continue to grow as I blaze forward on this path to health and happiness. I have already seen such great results, losing 140 pounds in less than one year by just listening to my body and following my heart. I can’t wait to see where I will go after getting support and education and meeting like-minded Fruitloops at The Woodstock Fruit Festival in August.