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Meet our Herbie of the Week: Tommy!
Once a die-hard carnivore, Tommy stopped taking his health for granted when at the age of 37, his doctor diagnosed him with diverticulitis after discovering abnormal growths in his colon and a pre-cancerous stomach lining.
Not long after his diagnosis, his wife Margret (a former Herbie of the Week!) stumbled upon "Forks Over Knives", and they watched it together. When it was over, Tommy decided right there to stop eating animal products and has been plant-based ever since (along with the rest of his beautiful family!).
In addition to reversing all his health problems, he's lost 45lbs, inches off his waist and has more energy than ever!
Continue reading for Tommy's inspirational story!
Switching to a plant-based, vegan lifestyle is, by far, the greatest thing I have ever done. Eating was always one of my favorite things to do, and for a long time, my lack of knowledge and lack of discipline got the best of me both physically and mentally.
As a child, I was exposed to copious amounts of cholesterol, salt and MSG through home cooked Thai meals and TV dinners. In high school, I often left campus to eat fast food. Working the night shift in the military and living in the dorms, I was required to eat whatever the “chow hall” provided…which I will admit was often very tasty, but probably not as healthy as it could have been. After my military enlistment, I followed my dream and went into law enforcement. Again, not having a good knowledge base on what healthy foods were and a lack of planning ahead: meals were limited to anything that was offered during the midnight hours (think drive-thru, gas station food, or 24/7 restaurants who aren’t known for their healthy menu options). On our days off, I was that guy who invited everyone over to show off my BBQ skills.
Never in a million years would I have ever thought of turning to a plant-based diet. I considered myself a die-hard carnivore. Greens were garnishment, and they were disposed of accordingly. To the amazement of my coworkers, I ate anything that was put in front of me!!! I was often asked how I could eat so much crap, not be obscenely overweight and still function. What they didn’t know was I had a hard time functioning. I was feeling fatigued, I was gaining weight, and I was easily agitated. Knowing what I know now about food, it scares me to look back and remember what I did to my body by eating all of that crap. If I knew just how bad I was destroying myself, I would have taken the time to prepare my meals and bring them with me, or make better choices eating out. That was the problem though…I didn’t know HOW much it mattered – the “food” choices and their effect on me. Things were about to change dramatically.
I have type O- blood. Because of its rarity, I was asked to donate blood more-often than periodically while in the military. Of course, I was willing to do so, and I continued to donate blood beyond my enlistment until one day, when one of my pints of blood was rejected due to a high count of Alanine Aminotransferase (ALT). A visit to my then family practitioner followed by a series of lab tests revealed I had fatty liver. The doctor was astonished to hear that I rarely consumed alcohol (most people with diagnosis consumed extreme amounts of alcohol). When I informed him of my fast food diet, he insisted my liver would fail within the year and I would die shortly after. I walked out of his office with a direct order to quit eating fast food, and to limit my fat intake to 30 grams a day. Ten months of limited gym time and eating tuna on wheat bread (no condiments) took me down from 210 pounds to 155 pounds. I remember during my six-month post-visit to the doctor how surprised he was to see the changes I had gone through, not because it was some miracle solution he prescribed me, but because I actually listened to him and followed through with it. I guess he had a hard time getting his patients to correct their eating habits. By the end of a year, I had completely reversed my liver condition.
Unfortunately, I didn’t stick with the plan. The way I saw it, I was back to normal and could eat a fast food meal here and there…and here and there. This time, I occasionally weighed myself to make sure I didn’t break 180 pounds. I picked 180 pounds because that’s when my uniform seemed to become uncomfortable. I know, pretty scientific stuff right there…but that’s how I gauged my “health”. My wife, Margret, and I knew our eating habits could be better, and eventually went as far as to reduce our grains and carbs, making for a more paleo-style diet, eating only lean proteins marketed as “lean” (although now that I know how to read food labels, this is completely false when way over half of the calories come from FAT). This went on for quite some time. Since I wasn’t feeling as fatigued and lazy as I did before, I managed to stay around 165 pounds with extreme exercise. I trained for marathons in which I was burning thousands upon thousands of calories each week. Again, I was basing my level of health on how much I weighed. And although I was in the range I wanted to be, I had an in-proportionate amount of belly fat that exercise couldn’t quite rid.
In 2011, this method of gauging my health proved to be highly inaccurate again when polyps were discovered in my colon. I had been experiencing extremely painful night time wake-ups, extreme pain. I couldn’t place the exact sensation, or self diagnose. Was it appendicitis? I had never felt such pain, from a place of rest, for no apparent reason. Going to sleep every night was slightly dreaded…and these restless, painful nights were the catalyst for a chilling diagnosis. We went to see our family practitioner. He examined me, listened to my symptoms and set me up for a mega-popular prescription antacid. Although he didn’t think it was necessary and was erring on the side of caution, he wrote me a referral to see a gastroenterologist specialist. Even the GI specialist discounted me at first, stating that I was “too young” to have developed any serious issues. He too erred on the side of caution and decided to “take a look” anyway. A colonoscopy/endoscopy procedure coupled with the removal of several colon polyps and stomach lining biopsies - proved to throw any of that “erred caution” out the window. I was 37, with several abnormal growths in my colon, had a pre-cancerous stomach lining, diagnosed with diverticulitis, and was scared. But I had lost enough weight (although gained some back) and my blood work numbers had turned around for so long, wasn’t I healthy?
Following my surgery, my newly acquired gastroenterologist informed me it was rare for him to schedule a colonoscopy appointment for a 37 year-old patient, quite rare for him to actually find something of concern and that I was now under the “cancer” microscope for the rest of my life - yay for twice-a-year colonoscopies ((sarcasm)).
Following that scare, I stopped taking my health (and everything else in my life for that matter) for granted, although we still felt in the dark. Having thought we lived a healthy lifestyle and eating “clean and right” – why was this happening? Never in our lives have we felt so helpless, no control, living our lives by the chance of that “dart” of cancer – and it had it’s aim on me. In the following months, Margret was consulting from her home office, and we were expecting our second beautiful daughter when she happened upon a powerful little documentary that would forever change the way our family lived.
I came home from work one day and Margret was at a loss for words, she stumbled a little for a way to ask me, but all she could come up with was “I would like for you to watch something with me.” I thought I was in trouble by the concerned look on her face, but couldn’t imagine what it could be. Margret and I sat down and she put on the documentary "Forks Over Knives". I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and seeing!!! The food industry was (and still is) out of control, and its consumers are paying for it, with their health and well being. I was sick to my stomach. I was pretty upset for being misinformed by the major food agencies and industries about what we were actually eating. It’s one thing to voluntarily eat food that you know to be unhealthy, but when you make a conscious effort to eat healthy and find out that what you are eating is actually causing cancer and/or harming you in some other awful way…that’s just not cool. Right then and there, the past two months with my cancer diagnosis, EVERYTHING absolutely clicked - I proclaimed “Well, that’s it. We’re changing the way we eat”, which was a relief to my dear wife. I know she was so torn – she knew (as I did in that moment) that those foods we had in our fridge were damaging to our health and at the same time she couldn’t imagine asking me to change so much of who we thought we were for so many years. Margret and I vowed to never eat animal products again.
Our family has been whole foods, plant-based for nearly 3 years, and absolutely loving it!!! The results have been phenomenal on so many levels!!! I have so much more energy, both physically and mentally, than I ever had before. All of my medical issues have been reversed and that stubborn belly fat has pretty much dissipated with no exercise regime. With that, I understand that being healthy is not just seeing a particular number on a weight scale; it’s being informed and knowing what I’m feeding my body. I find I enjoy cooking more than I ever have, because cooking without animal products at first may take a tiny getting used to (but it’s so much easier when you have good resources such as the Esselstyn, Campbell, and McDougall families, as well as Happy Herbivore) : )
I am a law enforcement officer. I am, for now, a very small minority in my career field in terms of my dietary choices. Once in a while, I’ll find another officer who is a vegetarian and even they’re saying: “Oh, right on, but I wish I had your will power.” It didn’t take will power for me to switch to a plant-based diet. It took having the TRUE knowledge of why what goes into bodies, the TRUE science behind how it affects us, both negatively and positively. It took me looking into the future and seeing that I want to be there for my daughters and their children. It took a threat to my health & life.
I have found that a plant-based diet has enhanced my performance in my career. One, my uniform and utility belt fits SO MUCH NICER! I used to find the way my uniform fit, for lack of better description, was painful! I look back at my older photos and I cannot believe the difference. Two, I often find (especially when ordering food at a plant-strong friendly restaurant) the fact that I’m a Vegan and a Law Enforcement Officer – the combination tends to open people to upbeat, positive conversation. I plant those “seeds” with the people I work with and people I meet while on duty. I think folks may be surprised initially that someone, a stranger, cares enough about their health to suggest a plant-based, vegan diet. If you can help just one person, it’s always worth it! I get dubbed “The Vegan PoPo” by pretty much everyone. And I proudly claim that title. I’m literally the “vegan police”, ha ha ha! I enjoy the outreach – to show people that you can be at your healthiest, top form and leave the animals off the plate!
There’s absolute scientific evidence (that goes back DECADES, and is backed by the most profound dietary research in our history) that our previous diet was not actually healthiest for our family. Margret has always provided our family with the healthiest food possible, based on the information that we had. When Margret found "Fork Over Knives", in addition to further diligent validation of reading and research - we discovered a whole new take on healthy eating and realized we needed to change our ways for the better and had finally found that way. We no longer feel helpless, or a target for degenerative diseases. Life is good.
NOTE FROM MARGRET (TOMMY’S WIFEY):
Okay y’all. I really need to chime in here because I proof-read Tommy’s interview, and there’s a lot that I need to add. Quite frankly, because Tommy is never one to toot-his-own-horn, no matter how well deserved!!!
My husband is the epitome of compassion and grace. He always has been! Since adopting a plant based diet and later becoming vegan, he’s had a tremendous impact on those around him in a variety of ways. He’s always helped people. ALWAYS putting others first (even above his own family) by going well above the demands of his job. He’s saved countless lives, comforted thousands of people, talked them off bridges, paid for their gas, used his own personal roadside assistance to help those who cannot afford a tow, bought food for those who need it, collects and distributes stuffed animals for kids involved in accidents or incidents that may seem scary to them, he advocates for animals on and off-duty (a lot of times in rural parts of the county animals need assistance, and he gladly ensures their safety as well as the human public). He plants those “positive seeds” everywhere he goes and any time he can. He often allows his co-workers to sample his lunch (I think they’re surprised, even those they tell everyone else that he eats “tree bark”). He credits me with a lot of our family’s positive changes. But he lives and breathes this commitment to a healthy life and healthy world, so diligently. I couldn’t be more proud of him.
Thank you so much Tommy (and Margret) for sharing your story with us!