June 13, 2013
Herbie of the Week: Glenn
Back in February, Glenn's wife posted this remarkable picture of Glenn on Happy Herbivore's Facebook page showing Glenn's incredible weight-loss (80 lbs. in one year!) since adopting a plant-based diet:
I immediately contacted Glenn and asked him to share his story as part of our Herbie of the Week series. Because Father's Day is in a few days, we have been featuring amazing plant-based guys this week — first my dad, then these awesome guys... so it seemed like the perfect week to share Glenn's inspiring story!
HH: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Glenn Pratt. I am a married 47-year-old father/step-father of 5 and grandfather of 2. I work as a paramedic for a local ambulance service, love camping and became a herbivore more than a year ago in February.
HH: Like my father, you had a stent placed in your heart before adopting a plant-based diet. Can you tell us a little more about that?
In 2007, I had my first stent placed following a bout of chest pain in my Right Coronary Artery. At that point we adopted a "heart healthy" diet.
Last February (2012), despite a mountain of medication for both my heart and my out of control diabetes, I had a stent placed in my Left Anterior Descending Artery. In medical circles, a blockage here has been nicknamed the "WIDOW MAKER."
HH: How did you find your way to a plant-based diet?
When my wife asked the cardiologist what we could do, he said, "perhaps Ornish may help," but told her we were fighting what he believed to be genetics from my family history and said he really did not see anything helping too much as the "snowball is already rolling down the hill."
We "would do what we can but it was only a matter of time until the eventual progression of the heart disease led to lasting and permenant damage." He also said we "should make sure affairs were in order and were prepared to do what you have to do."
HH: That's heartbreaking! What did you do?
My wife came home and researched EVERYTHING she could find on the Dean Ornish diet. The original diet proposed by Ornish and the studies were done on that proved beneficial to the reversal of heart disease was entirely plant-based but also included restrictions on oils and natural fats. No nuts, no olives, no oils, and no avocado.
Being an out of control diabetic, we also cut out sweeteners of any kind. No Splenda, no Nutrasweet, no diet soda, no refined sugar in any form or agave or honey. The Ornish diet has been modified currently to include dairy because of people complaining it was "too hard to stick to."
After hours and hours of research (and crying, might I add), my wife decided if I was going to turn this around it would be with an entirely plant-based diet with restrictions on nuts, oils, fats, avocados and sugars. I gave her 1 year. I promised if she made it, I would eat it and stick to it — but if at the end of the year I did not see results, I would go back to my "heart-healthy" eating.
HH: How'd it go? Was the transition easy for you?
At first the diet was horrible. She kept trying to make me foods as I knew them with lots and lots of veggie burgers, fake meat crumbles, fake commercial meats and had NO IDEA what to do with tofu. We had no idea what tempeh or seitan was and really had no idea what to do with it even if we had it. In short, she was still thinking carnivorous in the kitchen. There was one vegan mac and cheese which turned out so badly our dogs, who normally LOVE table food, would not even eat it. But my wife kept researching recipes and gradually, things got better. Each day, she read everything she could and then tried to apply it in the kitchen. Her goal was to make food that was plain good not "good for vegan."
HH: Any specific memories of finally finding a tasty dish? (I hope you're not still looking!)
The first break through came with "beef" stew! Whoever decided that mushrooms made a good substitute for beef was a genius!
HH: I know it was hard for you to eat differently, but did you experience any health benefits? Anything to motivate you to continue on with a plant-based diet?
The weight began coming off and I felt better immediately, but my heart was much slower to recover — and in July I had another stent placed in my Left Circumflex Artery.
There was another blockage they were concerned about at that point, but they decided to leave it alone for a later date and several small ones which we would have to be careful with. The cardiologist was even more doom and gloom and in a follow-up appointment gave us very little hope of a positive outcome for my case. In short, we left our follow up appointment feeling as if he had given up.
HH: How devastating :( Did your doctor say anything about your new diet?
He did say to continue to stick to my diet and lifestyle change, but there were too many things going against me. He suggested gastric bypass surgery but made certain we knew with my heart history that it would pose major risks and to make our decisions carefully.
It was after that visit we faced our biggest challenge. My wife was determined to not let anything happen to me and went back to the computer to redouble her efforts. It was during this period she began to have nightmares and spent a great deal of time in a constant state of worry and crying out of frustration.
Right around this time, she had stopped to grab the dogs some burgers at Wendy's. That hamburger smelled hot and delicious and absolutely wonderful, so I decided to take a bite. NEVER AGAIN — after being plant-based for so long, I became desperately and horribly ill! My body had no idea how to process meat and had rejected it as a foreign substance!
HH: I have heard so many stories like this — where someone slipped up or cheated and bam! Revenge by the GI system. Although I feel bad that people go through that digestive nightmare, I find it ends up being a huge affirmation for them. It makes them more committed to being plant-based than they ever were before.
Moving on, you mentioned you and your wife were totally clueless about tofu, as most people are when they switch to a plant-based diet. I feared it for years. How'd you warm up to tofu? I love hearing tofu stories!
Shortly after the Wendy's incident, when we were camping, my wife and I decided that we would love to go out to dinner for an evening. Somebody had passed my wife a menu for a very small family-run Chinese place near camp. After looking at the menu, we were thrilled to see several plant-based options for dinner.
We were very careful that everything we ordered was plant-based. However, my wife still HATED tofu — describing it a a nasty substance which reminded her of a super ball. My tofu for my dinner, however, was WONDERFUL! I cajoled my wife into taking a bite and she was amazed. Here is where she had what she called her "tofu breakthrough," as the elderly Asian woman who owned the restaurant came over and asked her if we were "new vegans." She said yes and they had an in-depth discussion on tofu for she too was vegan. Tofu has never been the same! What amazed us was the fact this herbivore was so willing to share her knowledge.
HH: What other culinary discoveries have you made?
Other things we discovered along the way are Penzeys spices, a vegan diner called the Loving Hut, and some smaller places to enjoy as special treats. Because I work 24 hour shifts and there is hardly herbivore-friendly take-out in the suburb of Pittsburgh I work in, Saturday became known as cooking day. My wife makes up several different things in the kitchen and breaks them down into packable meals for the week. Herbivore-friendly frozen dinners without fat and sodium!
HH: Have you had any other challenges (aside from the Wendy's incident) since adopting a plant-based diet?
The holidays proved to be special challenges also. We packed meals for both Thanksgiving and Christmas brunch to take with us to our family gatherings. While the food I packed was delicious, Thanksgiving dinner was not, as a GROWN family member decided to make disgusting comments throughout the meal about my lifestyle choice and almost had my wife in tears.
Christmas brunch was much better and even led to some tofu tasting around the table with the other side of the family. Clearly, they thought my wife was still torturing me with my lifestyle but were too polite to say so.
HH: Despite sticking to your plant-based lifestyle, you had another medical emergency — but it resulted in amazing news!!! Can you tell us about that?
On December 28th, I became horribly ill once again and after being rushed to the hospital by ambulance once again, we found out that my cardiologist was not in town, nor was anybody from his practice. Following our previous visits, we asked to be transferred to the hospital our PCP was out of and have him select a cardiologist to follow me.
They were convinced the chest pain I was having was from a virus but decided to do a cardiac cath to make sure. I just remember looking up in the recovery area with my wife looking down at me crying for all she was worth with a huge smile on her face. The cath was clean! The diet had worked!
The smaller blockages were GONE! The larger blockage they were worried about had shrunk by 50% and I would be going home that evening, which was December 31st, to enjoy the New Year and our new life together.
HH: So I guess your 1-year trial has now become a permanent lifestyle change! Have you made any other changes to your diet or lifestyle?
Since then, I have been permitted to return to the gym and begin working out and not only do I feel better, but there is now HOPE in our lives once again! While my wife supports my decision to be 100% plant-based, she is still a work in progress as she is a self-described Flexitarian whose diet is about 95% plant-based (but she falls off the wagon once in a while)!
HH: You mentioned previously that in addition to heart disease, you also had "out of control" diabetes. Have you noticed any improvements there?
I am no longer on any medications for my diabetes and my A1C's come back at pre-diabetic levels. I look forward to spending my vacation time this year with my family instead of using it for hospitalizations for when I have gotten sick.
HH: You have already lost 80 lbs. (in one year!), which is amazing! As well as reversed your diabetes and heart disease! Amazing! Do you have any additional goals?
My goal is to lose 40 more pounds over the next year and I feel it is within my reach. Our families no longer think my wife is torturing me or we have gone off and joined some bizarre cult — as the results have been so dramatic. I am not sure if they understand our decision to be plant-based but since achieving the results we have, they no longer question it. Our lives are happier and healthier and while the results have not been quite as dramatic for my wife, people are remarking how wonderful she too is looking.
HH: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
One other thing to note is with this lifestyle change I was never hungry. I ate until I was full and no more, no less. As the weight dropped, so did my appetite but as long as I eat normally, the weight continues to come off. Past "diets" always left me feeling hungry.
UPDATE (June 12): We are doing great. Last check-up was remarkable and I am still maintaining at least 3 days a week at the gym. Never thought I could do a plant-based lifestyle but now I cannot imagine not being plant-based. I feel wonderful.
Congratulations, Glenn! Thanks for sharing your story with us!