T Nation

Hippy Dippy Lifting - A Reluctant Vegan(ish)


Haven’t posted in a while but I’m going to put this here on the grounds that I can’t be the only one that’s gone through this. So here’s the story:

About 18 months ago I went in for my annual checkup for the first time in five years. They did the standard blood work and everything else (ahem!). Three days later my doctor calls me at home on a Sunday (!!) and tells me that my cholesterol is a crazy 335 (!!!). He wants to see me the next day so he can put me on a statin.

It was a complete surprise but I manage to bargain with my doctor and tell him I’d see him in a month after I cleaned up my diet. He hung up but not before saying that I was a fucking idiot (he really said that I was taking a huge risk with my levels) and that I might drop dead by then (he really said that it would be very difficult to bring the levels down just by diet).

A month later my cholesterol was down to 260. Two months after that it was down to 220. It took me a little more than a year to get it under 200 and, right now, I’m floating around 160 without ever taking any meds. Unfortunately, I had to go vegan to do it.

This isn’t a recommendation but it’s pretty clear to me that food, like medicine, is dosage dependent and that veganism is a pretty extreme lifestyle. Still, I needed something pretty extreme. For 3-4 weeks I did the Esselstyn diet, but once I remembered that some vitamins are fat soluble I switched over to Dr. Furhman’s diet. If you want to get into the weeds, you can google it but I basically eat oatmeal, berries and nuts for breakfast, bean burritos and cut vegetables for lunch, and a gigantic salad, vegetable soups, and more beans and nuts for dinner. I stay away from dairy, sugar, added oil, and meat. My compliance for the first year was about 95%. Surprisingly its been hardest to stay away from added oils and cheese.

Physically - again if you’re interested - I felt like shit for 3-4 weeks in the same way I feel like shit when I give up coffee. I had another bad couple of weeks 3-4 months later when my weight stabilized. I started feeling run down and fluey but it went away before I changed my diet. When my cholesterol went under 200, I started eating fish once or twice a week.

Just prior to the diet change, I had worked up to a 480 back squat at 175-180 pounds, which was good for me even though I felt a little porky. After the change, I didn’t feel like doing much more than riding an exercise bike and playing candy crush. It was six months before I lifted regularly again but then it was only maintenance lifting in support of some adventure racing/surfing I was doing last summer. I did my usual modified 5x5 this winter and ended up hitting a 440 back squat at160 pounds before I started to grind my joints.

So I feel like my max strength is 1) lower but 2) within range of what it was before I changed my diet. Even though I lost a lot of weight, it feels like there’s a firmer ceiling on my maxes across the board (not only for my squat), which makes me generally less motivated to lift heavy or to air out a run just to see what I’ve got. But, on the plus side, I’m probably not going to have a heart attack today.

I also seem to recover a little faster from both strength and endurance workouts, which means I can work out more (which is a plus in my life) but when overdo it, I feel washed out in a way that’s hard to describe. My joints feel better, my inflammation markers are down, and I’m probably more productive at work, especially after lunch. But despite feeling generally better, my body comp feels off. I feel skinny fat in a way I’m not used to.

So - the experiment has been a mixed bag but generally good, especially considering where I started. I’m going to spend the next 8 weeks or so doing a strict bodybuilding routine while mostly vegan just to see where I get.