This Firefighter’s Plant-Based Challenge Started A Food Revolution
You learn a lot of things while working as a firefighter. In addition to the immediately necessary skill set of, you know, fighting fires, firefighters learn how to perform CPR, how to recognize the signs of allergic reactions, and how to tell (and take) a good joke.
One thing they don’t all learn is that one way to stay healthier longer is to adapt a plant-based diet. After fighting fires for six years in Austin, Texas, Rip Esselstyn turned all of his lessons on how not to die into a book, an eating plan, and a way of life. This is his story.
Our first call came into the Engine 2 station at 5 a.m.: “Lifting assistance.” This meant that EMS needed us to help them lift and carry a patient into the ambulance.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t unusual. This call was like so many others in which we had to help EMS carry people who were morbidly obese. This time, it was a 44-year-old woman who weighed 450 pounds and couldn’t walk; plus, the hallways in her home were so narrow and abrupt that the stretcher wouldn’t fit. We lifted her onto a thick wool blanket, and then we had to maneuver her around tight corners and down the stairway.
It took eight of us to accomplish the task. After we loaded the woman into the ambulance, I asked the EMS workers why she was being transported to the hospital. They told me she had a fever from an infection in her lower leg that wasn’t healing and they needed the doctors to look at it. Along with being overweight, the woman had type 2 diabetes. Obesity is actually one of the biggest risk factors for diabetes, which is why the latest term for this one-two punch of obesity with diabetes is “diabesity.” It is becoming an epidemic in North America.
Six years later, I had left the Austin Fire Department following the success of my first book, The Engine 2 Diet. The book documents my personal journey with a plant-based diet, as well as the medical science behind it, and tells how I got a bunch of Texas firefighters to eat nothing but plants all day. I had discovered a deep desire to help people and save lives and was bringing those efforts to a whole new level by becoming a full-time crusader for plant-based foods.
As part of my partnership with Whole Foods Market, I started holding retreats for their unhealthiest employees. The company’s CEO decided to allocate millions of dollars to educate his employees with this gift of health. The retreat programs were at first exclusively for Whole Foods Market employees, but after two years we opened the program up to members of the public as well. For one week, these participants live and breathe the plant-strong lifestyle. They eat a delicious array of whole-food, plant-based meals. They enjoy morning exercises and afternoon hikes. They soak up entertaining and educational lectures given by the best plant-based minds in the world. Add all this up and it’s a powerful formula that enables people to rescue their health. They now hold the keys to preventing and reversing the worst of the chronic Western killer diseases.
During one of these weeklong rescues, I met David Honoré, a 48-year-old native of Philadelphia, who, like most of us, grew up eating the standard American diet, which is rooted in meat, dairy, and processed foods. But David didn’t just eat meat daily. He ate it several times a day. And he loved it! “I was the king of meat,” he admitted. “I ate enough for three lifetimes!”
However, David’s body didn’t love meat, nor did it love the other processed foods, fat, and dairy he was consuming. By the time he reached 40, David had developed type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, and he was having challenges “raising the flag.” To remedy all this, he was taking eight different prescription medicines.
It never occurred to David that his bad health might have been a result of his diet—that is, until he spotted a memo at work about an Engine 2 Rescue program. After taking a good, hard look at himself, David realized that he was on a self-proclaimed “collision course with destruction.”
David arrived in Sedona scared of what the program might ask him to do, and he was worried that he wouldn’t like the food. Instead, he loved everything he ate and enjoyed the program immensely. Best of all, in just seven days David cut his total cholesterol level in half! Not only that, but David’s blood pressure dropped from 142/83 to 134/74. His triglycerides fell and his LDL (“bad”) cholesterol plummeted. As a bonus, he dropped 8 pounds without even trying. All in seven days!
If David could achieve these benefits in just one week, what could he accomplish if he gave it a year? As of today, he has lost another 70 pounds and is off every one of his medications. Best of all, his diabetes has disappeared.
It’s not a miracle. There are no sleight-of-hand or cheap parlor tricks involved. It’s just good old-fashioned strong-food nutrition. The most underused and overlooked tool in the medicine cabinet or on a doctor’s prescription pad is the food at the end of your fork.