Brian’s Blog

The Plant-Powered Experiment


Roughly five weeks ago, I began a little test to see if I would be able to survive on a whole-foods, plant-based diet (WFPB).  That basically means eliminating not only all animal products, but most processed food products as well.  In September, my wife and I participated in a 4 week program called the Complete Health Improvement Program, or CHIP for short.  The decision to try out this lifestyle change is based on many factors.  There are many reasons people choose a WFPB diet, although for me, the example set by super-athletes like Scott Jurek and Rich Roll and their accomplishments were enough to convince me to at least try it out. 

The idea of trying to clean up my diet really started to pick up momentum after a few months of home renovations, living without a kitchen to call my own.  Although I could do a lot worse than Subway or Tim Hortons, my diet during this past summer was far from healthy.  It really became apparent when my mother-in-law told me that after living with her for a few months while we worked on our house, of how surprised she was at just how much junk I ate, being an avid runner and yogi and all. 

With our new kitchen all put together I was determined to get back to some sense of eating healthy.  I was also preparing for two fairly big racing efforts, the 100 mile Beast of Burden in New York State, and the 12 Hour-That Dam Hill race on home turf in London, ON.  While putting in those long runs, I would regularly listen to audio books, rather than music.  One of those books this summer happened to be called “Whole” by Colin T. Campbell, author of The China Study.  After finishing that book, I was amazed at all of the things that I didn’t know in relation to diet and health, particularly the amount of misinformation in support of high-protein diets, especially those supported by eating meat and diary products.  Having grown up on a dairy farm, this type of statement qualifies me as a heretic.  After having listened to me talk about all this alarming new information and watching me still bring home pizza pops from the store, my wife thought it was time to put my money where my mouth was.  That is when we heard about CHIP.

CHIP is a lifestyle medicine program built around a WFPB diet while encouraging daily exercise along with other healthy choices for our lives.   They go so far as to administer blood tests at the beginning and at the end of the program so you can actually see the results of the changes. 

This was it.  I was ready to commit and really see what being powered by plants was all about. 

My wife was really supportive and wanted to try the program with me.  The diet we were to follow is more commonly known as vegan, although using the “V” word often plays host to a lot of other issues and beliefs related to the ethical treatment of animals so its use in the program is limited.  In addition to eliminating all animal products, we were asked to stop consuming caffeine and alcohol during the program.  We were taught how to read product labels and to avoid foods high in fat as well as sodium.  The program is geared more towards older folks who may have already started to develop health problems such as heart disease and diabetes, so a few of the recommendations seemed to be a little bit more dramatic than what I thought would be necessary for me to be healthy. 

The day before we started CHIP I spent an afternoon at home, trying to consume as much of the dairy and other animal products in our fridge so it wouldn’t go to waste.  Only now do I realize how stupid this was.  I followed that up by going to a friend’s stag and doe that evening and pigging out on as much meat and cheesy dips and cakes, not to mention copious amounts of alcohol before starting the 12 hour fast required prior to getting my blood taken.  In hindsight, these poor choices made my base reference less clearly representative of my true health.  I had gained about 10lbs in the previous 24 hours to my weigh-in and was still nursing a hang-over when my blood was taken. 

The program starts with a 5-day cleanse to get your palette re-aligned with real food and to clear your gut of some of those less digestible foods.  After my binge, this was absolutely necessary.  After a few days, I actually became quite sick, with a sore throat, body aches and a terrible headache.  I don’t know whether the diet change made it better or worse, but I definitely think stress played a factor since I would be running for 12 hours while less than 7 days into the program and I was dealing with a foot injury that made my ability to complete the race questionable. 

I was pleased to wake up on race day without much foot pain and the race was off to a good start.  There were only a few guys ahead of me from the start and they were in the 3 and 6-hour categories.  My nutrition strategy was to eat a chuck of boiled potato dipped in salt every 30-45 minutes and to have a bite of my ClifBar in between potatoes, drinking plenty of water to wash them both down.  I felt okay for the first few hours but felt that I was not digesting fast enough. 

By 6 hours into the race, my gut did not feel great and I had really dark urine when I went to the washroom.  That scared me a bit, because I know kidney problems can be very serious with potentially long-term consequences while running for extended periods.  I decided to just walk for about an hour while getting my hydration level up as much as I could.  I ended up getting back on track and feeling a bit better for the last couple hours of the race and completed 105km.  It was not the race I had hoped for (My goal was 130km) but I was pleased to be able to still feel good at the finish line.  I did waiver a bit and ate a slice of cheese pizza while waiting for the awards.  I also had a black coffee during the race to get my gut moving which seemed to help. 

During the few days after the race, I experienced very little discomfort and recovered from the run at an alarmingly fast rate.  I was very pleased with this.  I was also over the sickness from the week before, probably because the race was over and I wasn’t worried about it anymore. 

Over the next few weeks at CHIP, we learned a lot more about specific health issues and how nutrition and exercise can play a lead roll in correcting problems.  We also learned a lot of fantastic vegan recipes, which were fast, easy and actually quite tastey for the most part. 

One hurtle we came across was when our sewer backed up during the third week and we spent a few days without being able to use any water in our house.   Because we couldn’t cook much at home, we tried to eat elsewhere, finding it more difficult to stay on track.  That experience really reminded me about how grateful I am to be able to cook in my own kitchen with all of the ingredients we now use.  By the end of the forth week, it became much less of a challenge to stay within the guidelines. 

I had my final blood work done on Thanksgiving weekend.  The family meal that followed that afternoon was going to be a true test.  I knew that I didn’t plan on staying quite as strict with the diet as I did on the program, but I feel like I have made some long-term commitments to eating healthier.  I didn’t feel like I missed much by not having turkey or butter on my bread, although I did have some Caesar salad (with bacon bits, cheese and lots of dressing) as well as some cheesecake and other buttery desserts.  They were still delicious going down, but overindulging still feels heavy afterwards.  I think given vegan options, I would be quite content without animal products for the rest of my life.  That being said, I don’t think I’ve closed the door 100% for the odd thing that looks really good and does not quite qualify as vegan. 

I’m sure that I will solidify my position over time, but for now, I am satisfied as a very lenient vegan.  My wife is a bit more serious after seeing her positive results and is committed to being strictly vegan until Christmas before reevaluating.  I am very proud of her for what she has done and happy for us both for being about to support each other with these lifestyle choices. 

I must say it is much easier to say no to certain foods after finding out a lot more about the scientific studies about how they affect your health, not only long term, but short term as well.  Our culture has made it far too easy to make terrible food choices.  Large industries have held back a lot of education on where your food comes from, what it’s made of and what it can do to you, not to mention the influence they have on government policy.  I know that my preaching is not going to force anyone to change their choices, but I hope that it at least gets a few people interested in educating themselves further so that they can make informed decisions about what we choose to put into our bodies. 

During That Dam Hill, I was able to listen to Rich Roll’s audiobook of Finding Ultra.  That was a true inspiration to stay dedicated to being plant powered and see what my body can accomplish next year after having such a great racing season in 2014.  I ran sub 3 hours in the Boston Marathon, finished my second 100 mile race in 18:33’ (2nd Place) and ran 105km in 12 hours at TDH.   

So what were the results? 

Well as a young guy that runs marathons on a semi-regular basis, I started off looking pretty good.  My total cholesterol was 3.09, which is great.  After 4 weeks, it dropped 19% to 2.49.  My HDL decreased 19% as well, from 1.47 to 1.19.  The LDL(the Little Devils or “bad” cholesterol) levels dropped so low they were off the chart!  My Triglycerides decreased 69% from 1.05 to a measly 0.33.  My fasting blood sugars decreased 32% from 5.7 to 3.9.  My blood pressure is down significantly as well as my resting heart rate.  I managed to loose the 10 pounds I gained before I started and above all, I feel good.  That’s after only 4 weeks!!!! 

Many serious conditions like heart disease slowly build over years of poor food choices but one of the most remarkable things we have learned is that by changing your diet, the condition will not only be halted but can actually be REVERSED!!!

So the program is over now, and we are out there on our own now.  We will continue to have the support of the group leaders, Kathy and Gord as well as the rest of the attendees, who meets monthly at alumni dinners hosted by CHIP.  The full program is offered twice each year in London, ON.  For more information, please contact me by email at brian@mindfulnessrunning.com

© Brian Groot 2016