“Wait, you’re a what?! A vegan? Why?” “What the hell do you eat?” “Where do you get your protein?” “Aren’t you bored eating salads all the time?” “Don’t you miss the taste of a big, juicy steak?”
I didn’t hear any one of these sentences this past weekend up in Santa Rosa, and it was so relieving. Not that I expected anyone to ask me that crap, but I never knew how good it would feel to be among so many other plant-eating folk. The McDougall Advanced Study Weekend was incredible – filled with some of the most influential doctors, scientists, and authors advocating for a plant-based diet, all of whom were hanging around and available to talk to all weekend. If you don’t know who Dr. John McDougall is, he’s a physician who’s been advocating a diet based on whole foods, starches, vegetables, and fruits since the 1970’s. He’s got tons of best-selling books and has helped thousands of people change their lives and defeat heart disease, obesity, and other chronic diseases through lifestyle change. He runs a 10-day live-in program up in Santa Rosa, sort of a nice “prison,” where people go to change their diets, learn about nutrition, and exercise to jumpstart their lifestyle changes. He also holds these 3-day Advanced Study Weekends twice a year. There’s so much information and food photos I have to share with you, so it’s going to take several posts to get through it all. Here it goes:
Santa Rosa is definitely a change of pace from LA. In the middle of Sonoma County, it’s got a small-town vibe and the Flamingo Hotel, where we stayed, looks like it hasn’t been changed since it was built in the 50’s (it’s been renovated and updated, don’t worry its pretty nice). We had free access to the health club next door which was pretty sweet, and the restaurant in the hotel actually had a McDougall-friendly menu. In fact, the guy’s been able to influence several restaurants in the area enough for them to include McDougall-friendly items on the menu – being a big fish in a small pond definitely has it’s benefits.
The lectures started with a welcome talk by McDougall, who talked about his goals and then went through what he’s been working on since the last meeting in September, via the newsletters he puts out each month. I’m not subscribed to his newsletters, but I’m definitely going to asap. A couple of things he said that I found interesting:
- He said some people tell him “eating well is difficult.” Here’s what’s REALLY difficult – being overweight and struggling to get in and out of your car, visiting doctor after doctor, missing work because you don’t feel well, and spending hundreds of dollars a month for medication that your doctor tells you you’ll have to take for the rest of your life. So take THAT, naysayers! (I added that last sentence)
- Health insurance spending by employers cost $253 billion in 1980. In 2008 it coast $2.3 TRILLION. That’s a helluva lotta money employers are just throwing down the drain mainly because people are making poor food choices. In fact, he estimated that $1500-$2000 on every GM car is there to cover the cost of their health expenditures.
- In terms of employees, there are plenty of healthier people around the world who take less sick days, have more energy, and work harder, and are competing for our jobs.
- He also talked about becoming a good consumer in order to protect yourself from abusive doctors (not that all doctors are abusive of course, but once in a while you’ll run into an MD that recommends you go through some sort of procedure or take a medication that might not be right for you.) The power of the internet is amazing – we can go to pubmed.gov and check out all the latest medical journals and studies about various pills and surgeries.
- He talked about a study in which Michigan State University students were asked to eat 12 slices of bread daily. And guess what…they lost an average of 19 lbs in 1 month! Insane. The 600-900 calories of starch filled them up and replaced that amount of volume in fat they were probably consuming before.
- His $10,000 challenge to Paula Deen still stands, but he can’t see why everyone was ganging up on just Paula – all the other cooking show hosts cook the same unhealthy kind of crap! (I thought this was a very valid point, so SCREW YOU, TV SHOW CHEFS!!!)
Then we had dinner, and it was my first experience going to a healthy plant-based buffet where I could literally eat everything there. It was difficult at first not to just completely gorge myself, and I kind of did this first night. I got better as the weekend went along, though. Here was the menu for Friday night, along with the newsletter issues they appears in (you can visit the archive here):
- Mixed Green Salad with Oil-Free Dressings, along with bowls of assorted veggies and beans
- Split Pea Soup (Nov ’04) and Minestrone Soup (Jan ’10)
- Quinoa Garden Salad (Jan ’05)
- Baked Yams with Peanut Dressing (Feb ’06) – these were insanely good, especially with the dressing
- Steamed Veggies
- Lasagna (April ’10)
- Shepherd’s Vegetable Pie (April ’02)
- Brownies (April ’10), Fresh Fruit Cobbler (May ’04), Vanilla Soy Ice Cream
After dinner, a doctor by the name of H. Gilbert Welch spoke. I’d never heard of him, but he was hilarious and incredibly informative. Plus, he kind of looked like Anthony Edwards would if it were the 70’s. He’s an internist at White River Junction VA and a professor of medicine at Dartmouth, and he’s got a book out called Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health. He’s also widely published in the most prestigious medical journals around. Here are a couple tidbits from his lecture:
- Doctors find themselves in a conundrum – they can never know who is over diagnosed at the time of diagnosis, who they tend to treat everyone. I’ve got a conundrum for ya – what’s the difference between you and a mallard with a cold? (please tell me you get that)
- How are doctors over diagnosing? 1) They’ve been changing the rules – changing what’s considered high blood pressure, for example, to include a much larger portion of the population. 2) They’re able to see more with the advances in medical imaging (which is definitely a good thing at times too) 3) They look harder, using advanced imaging even on people who aren’t sick, which has lead to over-diagnosis of diseases such as thyroid cancer and melanoma, and 4) they stumble on to things, (incidentalomas) which are nothing 90% of the time.
- The question is: how often should we get ahead of symptoms? There’s been a failure to distinguish between two types of early diagnosis: Health Promotion/Disease Prevention vs. Early Screening and looking harder for things to be wrong – I DEFINITELY know doctors who do this, do you?
Some interesting things to think about. I’ll post about day 2 as soon as I can. Until then, let me know your thoughts!