WHY I QUIT PALEO KETOGENIC DIET & WENT PLANT-BASED – Dr. Lim
By Bryan Wright
So over the last few years, I have had a remarkable transformation myself from being a huge advocate of a paleo diet during my medical residency back in 2012 to now going the complete opposite direction and being a passionate whole food plant-based advocate since 2014. And the background behind this is that, unfortunately, in seven years of training, four years of medical school and three years of residency, hopefully this will change one day, but I did not receive a lot of education or classwork on nutrition. In fact, during four years of medical school, I would put it at zero. Zero hours. And so you’re just essentially left to learn whatever you do from the media or outside. And around 2012 my older brother Jonathan, he had adopted a paleo diet, and had been losing some weight with it, and I very much became spellbound by the idea that carbs are bad and that you have to cut all carbs out of your diet in order to lose weight and get healthy. And so my dad, my brother, myself, an average breakfast was eggs, sausage, ham, avocado, basically high fat, low carb. And I’m embarrassed to say I even recommended this to some of my patients. In fact, I had a diabetic patient who was on insulin, and I remember staying late after clinic trying to be a good doctor and sitting down with him for about 45 minutes to an hour counseling him on getting rid of all the carbs out of his diet and eating a high-animal-protein, high-fat diet in order to cut back on his insulin requirement. That was basically the the extreme to which it went. Fortunately, in 2014, in the summer of 2014–this was after I had finished residency–I was watching television, and I switched on to PBS. And on my screen came Dr. Joel Fuhrman. And Dr. Fuhrman was making these absolutely outrageous claims about the power of something called a whole food plant-based diet– I had never heard those four words before–about the power of a whole food plant-based diet to not just prevent but actually reverse chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, And at the time it seemed totally ludicrous to me because I just was not used to hearing about the ability to reverse these. My way of thinking is that our goal is to manage them as best we can. But it warranted further investigation. And so as I do in all things in life, I basically just dove head first. And I still remember that night I watched Forks over Knives. And after that, I was so impressed by it that I poked around Netflix, and then I watched Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, which is the Joe Cross film of his Incredible transformation. And by about 4 a.m. that day, I was a convert. I had never seen or heard anything like it. Shortly thereafter, about a month thereafter, I went to the International Plant-Based Nutrition Conference in San Diego and had the opportunity to hear from the likes of Dr. Ornish and Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. Barnard and Dr. McDougall, all these sort of titans and pioneers in the movement, and essentially, with each day that has passed since 2014, my conviction in a whole food plant-based diet as the key to health for our nation, our world has only grown stronger and stronger. And I know that I’m realizing I’m never going to look back. This is it. This is the truth. And my mission in life is to spread this simple truth as far and wide as possible to all the corners of the globe. And I think that’s– or I believe that’s what I’ll be spending the rest of my life doing. The biggest surprise for me in observing my patients who have adopted a whole food plant-based diet is that they have actually been able to not just control or manage, but reverse their chronic illness while coming off their medications. And that’s just radical and revolutionary because when I was in med school in residency, the predominant mantra was management of chronic illness no matter how many medications it took. If I had a new patient come in with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, if I could get good blood glucose control, good cholesterol control, and good blood pressure with the aid of medications such as Metformin, Glipizide, Lisinopril, Hydrochlorothiazide, and Lipitor for their cholesterol, I was considered a good doctor. And now what I’m seeing is that these same patients who come in on all these medications are able to get rid of all of them just by changing what they put at the end of their fork with better control than when they were on the medications in the first place. That’s, to me, just radical, revolutionary, and shocking. And this doesn’t even begin to touch on how much better they feel in terms of their whatever symptoms they came in struggling with, whether it was bowel issues, headaches, fatigue, low energy, bad breath, you name it. Everything seems to go in the right direction. I just gave a talk at PCRM on breaking through the weight loss plateau, and one of the patients that I shared during the presentation is Robert, who in 2014 weighed 298 pounds, had blood pressure in the 140s over 90s, and was taking multiple medications, including an antidepressant, an inhaler for his asthma, a powerful blood pressure medication called Norvasc, and a cholesterol-lowering medication. And he was very sedentary, not moving around very much. Well, he went to a wedding, and saw the pictures that came back from the wedding, and said, “You know what? I’ve had it.” And at this point he had tried many diets. He had tried Medifast. He had tried Atkins. He tried the juice diet. He would always get these short-term results, and ultimately, a few months later, put back on the weight. But when he saw the pictures from this wedding he decided, “You know what? I’ve had it. I can’t do this anymore.” And he learned about a whole food plant-based diet, and he went all in. He did not hold back. He didn’t sort of dip his toes in the water. He jumped in head first. And I had the privilege of seeing him in 2016 at True North, and I took a picture of him that I showed in my presentation of him weighing 173 pounds now, down from 298 pounds. He looks like a completely different person. His blood pressure is in the 110s over 70s. But most notable of all, he’s off every single one of his medications. He’s off his blood pressure lowering medications, his cholesterol medication. He’s off his antidepressant. And he’s off of his asthma inhaler. And when I took the picture of him, he was just about to go for his 5 mile run that he does every day. He’s just one example of the kind of patient transformations that I see and have the privilege of witnessing on a daily basis. One of the most common mistakes that people make when they’re trying to eat a healthy plant-based diet is that they still get into certain plant-based foods that are high in caloric density such as nuts and seeds and sugar, table sugar, maple syrup, and breads and crackers and cereals. And it’s not that these foods are bad in and of themselves– I eat all of those foods–but a lot of people will eat them to sort of a unhealthy extent and eat less of the fruits, the vegetables, the legumes: beans, peas, lentils, and the whole grains. And really I want them to focus more on that end of the caloric density scale and be eating less from some of the higher calorie dense foods Dried fruit is another example. If we take dried fruit, the average caloric density of dried fruit is around 1400-1500 calories per pound. Compare that with real fruit which is less than 300 calories per pound. Even though it’s made from the same thing, it’s a huge difference in terms of caloric density. And that can prevent people from achieving their weight loss goals or achieving their healthy weight. Well, unfortunately I think that one of the biggest misconceptions in the mainstream news media now is this whole low-carb, ketogenic, high-fat movement. And, you know, my mentor and one of my heroes, Dr. McDougall, puts it best. “People love to hear good news about their bad habits.” I love that quotation because it really does capture it. I mean, when someone’s saying eat as much butter, steak, fried chicken as you want because it’s filled with fat and low in carbs, then that’s news that people want to hear. And unfortunately, the media is going crazy with it. So I think that is doing a huge injustice to the health of not just our nation but our world. And we have our work cut out for us in the whole food plant-based movement. It’s one of the reasons that I truly believe in my heart of hearts that– I’m 40 right now– but, you know, God willing, 40 years from now when I’m 80 I’m still going to be doing this. That’s how big of an issue this is. That’s how much work there is to be done, and that’s how sick we are as a world. So hopefully, 40 years from now, the low-carb, high-fat movement will be a thing of the past.