Whole Foods Immersion

I recently returned from an immersion program in California presented by Dr. John McDougall. This program and others like it are offered to Whole Foods employees and the public to allow them a chance to learn about and experience healthy eating, how foods we are not really meant to eat can affect our bodies and our health, and to give them the tools they need to change their health simply be eating the right foods. The program I attended was aimed directly at how what we eat affects disease in the body, and as it turns out, how disease is affected by what we eat.

The program teaches a starch-based diet, based on potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, rice and starchy vegetables, with fruit and green vegetables added to balance the dietary needs. Now, I thought, as most other people do, that starches are bad and make us fat. The information, based on science and clinical trials,  that Dr. McDougall and his staff laid out shows dramatically different results. It turns out that for 60 years we have been the products of bad science and really good marketing. We have been taught for decades that a balanced diet includes meats, dairy and fats, as well as the grains and vegetables. But if we look at all of the long-livning groups of people throughout history, their diets are based on starches like rice and beans. The most obvious example of this lies in many Asian cultures. As it turns out, our bodies burn the starches and the sugars that result from digesting those starches, much easier and more efficiently than fats or proteins. That’s why there are far fewer Asians suffering from diseases like diabetes, coronary disease, and most notably, obesity. Another interesting thing about eating a lot of meat and dairy products, a la the Atkins or Paleo diets, is that those foods don’t fill up the stomach. Starches, on the other hand, tend to swell when mixed with water. This means that when we eat starches like rice, beans or potatoes, the fluids in the stomach make the them swell and cause us to feel full. Remember how your mom always said not to eat too much of the bread the waiter would bring before your entree at a restaurant? That you would “fill up on the bread” before the main course of the meal? That’s starch.

How does this apply to me? The immersion was exactly that, an immersion. We were kept busy 15 hours a day with lectures by doctors, nutritionists, psychologists and chefs teaching us the ins and outs of eating a starch based diet. We also had three exercise sessions a day (although they were optional) and were fed this starch based diet three times a day. We were free to eat as much as we wanted and I never left the table hungry. We ate things like bean burritos, country potatoes with salsa, oatmeal, fresh fruits and melons and even had treats like brownies and pudding, although they were made with soy and no added oils, fats or dairy products. In short, we walked the walk as we learned to talk the talk.

The results were astounding for me. I lost six pounds in as many days, lowered my blood pressure and dropped my triglycerides by 147 points. In just six days! There are no drugs available today that can have such a profound impact in such a little time. Blood tests were taken on our first and last days to monitor the changes in these and other factors, and mine showed that my liver enzymes were elevated when entering the program. The blood tests the last day showed that they were even higher. I had a chance to consult with the doctor on three occasions during the week and share my medical history. I was told that I was an “interesting case”. This, apparently, is a doctor’s euphemism for “we have no idea what’s wrong with you” and on our last visit he told me that he does not know what to call it, but that my body is very sick. He also said that even a diet plan like this cannot always fix what is wrong with the body and that sometimes once it is broken it will always be broken. The upside of that is that this way of eating will help the parts that are well get even better and will allow me to better deal with what’s still broken.

I feel that I have said to my close family for a number of months now that I feel a radical change has to be made to achieve radical results. I also feel that this may be that change. I prayed every day that God would open my mind to what I needed to learn and to show me what could happen through my experience. Now that I have gotten a taste of it, I’m really looking forward to what the next few months hold.

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