Doctors are the worst patients! Anyone that has tried to ask a doctor they know, to help themselves know exactly what I am talking about. They know they need to do certain things, but often times, they wait till the last minute, or keep postponing the inevitable.
Dr. Jenny, my wife, has been a vegetarian for as long as I can remember.She is a self-proclaimed “foodaholic”. She just loves to eat food. Ever since I’ve known her, she has had the ability to discuss our next meal as we are finishing the present one. It therefore, shouldn’t come as a surprise that she’s had a tendency to put on a few pounds. I suppose way before undergraduate college and then medical school, she did weigh more than someone of her height should. Undergraduate college involved eating ice-cream and fries for dinner. It’s all good she thought. All vegetarian, right? For some reason, every time she tried to take part in sports, such as long distance running, she would find that her lung capacity could not keep up and she always felt a tightness in the chest, but most importantly, she couldn’t wear the clothes she wanted to wear. Gasp!! For a woman that is a big deal!
Let’s take a look at what was happening those days.
On the left is a photo of her at 16 years of age, with her dad, Dr. Richard Schwalbe. On the right is what her stomach probably looked like after eating chicken.
But before we go into details of what is going on in her stomach, we need to understand some basic physiology. How does the brain know that we are full? The stomach has something called “stretch receptors” and as the name implies, these receptors produce a hormone called ghrelin that signals the brain to stop eating.
The problem with the this scenario, is that chicken is very (calorie) dense, so in order to stretch one’s stomach, the stomach needs to be – well – full. So by the time the stomach is full, there is more chicken in it than what is needed to maintain a healthy body weight (excessive calories).
So, if she had eaten the amount she should have, her stomach would have looked like the one below. But then, her stomach wouldn’t have been stretched and she’d have felt hungry and ate till she felt satiated. This is one of the main problems that leads to being overweight and obesity – eating too much before you realize it.
Once she became a vegetarian, one would expect such issues (of being overweight) to go away which by and large they did. I recall most of her weight came off when we started doing some very hardcore, aerobic and weight, workouts (called P90X) every morning at 5am. A lot of her fat melted away, but surprisingly her weight did not come down by much. Nor did her issues with breathlessness go away.
Soon after our first son was born, in a routine blood test, we noticed that one of her liver enzyme was higher than normal. The level shouldn’t have caused concern, but since liver issues are familial (her mother passed away due to liver disease) we decided that she should do the same thing that she had suggested to me – to eat more plant based foods and avoid dairy (milk, cheese, curds) and eggs.
We made a concerted effort in keeping our pantry stocked with nuts and dry fruits instead of packaged snacks and chips. [I must say that this is an ongoing war with the pantry, but I digress!] We also started back on (gentler) exercising, yoga and meditation as much as time would allow. We also subscribed to a food service that delivered fresh fruits and vegetables to our doorstep every week and at the same time, used part of the proceeds to give away a similar basket of veggies and fruits to a low income family in the Washington DC neighborhood. I bet her stomach looks like this now – full yet the fruits and vegetables do not cause weight gain because they are not so calorie dense
Very recently we checked her liver enzymes and they had returned back to normal levels. In fact, most of her enzymes were in the low-normal range. In addition, she had got a special test to check her liver for damage (through the amount of fat stored and the amount of fibrosis). The nurse who did the test, repeated it about 3 times before declaring that the numbers she saw were barely detectable and in fact, the lowest she has seen!
One day she asked if I remembered the pregnancy scars she had when she had our first son because she just couldn’t find them! Such is the restorative effect of eating a plant-based diet. On that subject, she also noted that she doesn’t have to use shampoos and soaps for oily hair and skin. He hair is naturally shiny and the occasional acne she used to get have disappeared too.
As for her breathing troubles, she has been (off and on) running 5Ks and 1/2 marathons. Here is a shot of her just before the Las Vegas marathon.