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One Month at a Time: Final progress report after month on vegan diet

SAM OWENS | Gazette-Mail The results: On a vegan diet, with some exercise, reporter Bill Lynch lost weight and his hypertension level blood pressure went down.
SAM OWENS | Gazette-Mail Bill Lynch weighs in and gets re-tested at Spring Hill Primary Care in South Charleston after (almost) a month of eating a vegan diet and getting some exercise.
SAM OWENS | Gazette-Mail Reporter Bill Lynch checks back in with his doctor after a month of eating a vegan diet. According to their scale, he lost about 12 pounds. His bathroom scale says more like 18.

Going vegan for January started out as a whim, just a funny idea that arrived in an email I almost ignored.

After my doctor’s visit at the end of December (my first check-up in a decade), it became a little more serious.

Dr. Bradford and his staff at Spring Hill Primary Care pointed out I was in pretty sad shape. I was grossly overweight, my blood pressure was lousy and my triglycerides were elevated.

I wasn’t taking care of myself.

So, after I got the bad news, I thought, “Well, this is perfect then. Let’s just see what happens.”

Within a few days of switching to just plants, I did feel better. I felt better every day, and I couldn’t really understand how that was possible.

It shouldn’t work that fast, I thought, but I felt more at ease. My temper didn’t seem ready to boil over. I felt less anxious, less argumentative and just easier to be around.

The amount of swearing while driving dropped by a good 30 percent.

I thought I’d be miserable at least part of the time. I thought I’d go hungry. I thought I’d get bored. I thought I’d whine about not getting to eat pizza.

None of that happened.

Eating vegan wasn’t hard. It required a little planning sometimes, but not much more than usual. I tried some new recipes, took suggestions from friends on what to eat and even let Gazette-Mail culinary columnist April Hamilton show me how to make quinoa at Darin Fisher Designer Kitchens in Charleston.

We even got that on video.

A few things changed. I didn’t make chicken fajitas at home any more, didn’t wander the cheese aisle at the super nice Kroger, but we kept spaghetti night.

I found out I could still eat a lot of things — like bagels, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and Oreos.

I didn’t have to give up beer.

I lost weight. From the scale at the YMCA, I watched the first 10 pounds melt off in about a week and my clothes got looser. I moved to a new notch on my belt.

Not all of this was diet, of course. Along with eating vegan, I went back to the gym, started lifting weights again, and got on the treadmill or in the pool once in a while.

Three weeks into the experiment, I was 18 pounds down — according to my bathroom scale — and felt better than I had in ages.

It all seemed to be going well, and then I went back to Spring Hill Primary Care, a little shy of a month later.

My official weight was down from 268 to 256, a decrease of 12 pounds, while my bathroom scale at the house told me I was 250.

Dr. Bradford laughed and said, “Everybody’s home scale reads better than ours.”

My blood pressure had gone from 148/92 to 127/72.

In the span of a few weeks, I’d gone from hypertension to normal. In fact, I don’t ever remember the bottom number having been below 78.

The blood work didn’t say much. The numbers had jiggled slightly up or slightly down since the last test and were inconclusive.

Dr. Bradford said, “I was afraid of that. It’s not enough time. Usually, when we run these tests there’s a break of a couple of months.”

I agreed to come back in April to let them draw blood again.

We talked about the weight loss, which he thought was great.

“It’s the good kind,” he said. “You’re not taking off a lot of weight at once. It’s coming off slow, which means you have a better chance of keeping it off.”

The doctor wanted to know if I planned to stick with the vegan diet.

He wasn’t the only one. For the last week, I’d been getting that question over and over from people at work, from people I know and even from strangers in parking lots.

I’ve thought about it a lot.

I felt wonderful, better than I could remember ever feeling, which seemed baffling to me.

Dr. Bradford said I felt good because I was eating good carbohydrates, which meant I got the energy I needed directly, and I wasn’t relying on a lot of processed foods.

I’d eaten the fake meat and tofu sparingly. Instead, I’d relied more on beans, nuts and grains for protein.

There’d been plenty of leafy greens, but I hadn’t stopped eating potatoes.

I didn’t have any real cravings — except for cornbread, inexplicably. I even tried making a batch of that using soy milk and an egg substitute. It tasted fine, even if it was about as light and fluffy as a slate shingle.

But I didn’t want any of my usual foods. I didn’t feel ravenous for cheeseburgers, didn’t really miss bacon, or my beloved Turkey Hill Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup ice cream. I was OK without it and didn’t feel cheated somehow for not having it.

The weight loss was good. If I stuck to how I was eating, Dr. Bradford thought I could shave off a pound or two a week.

“Think of small goals,” he said. “Try to get to 230 pounds. If you get there, we can see if you can get to 200.”

He said he thought 200 pounds was just about right for me, even if the charts said I should drop another 30 pounds.

“Real life gets in the way of those charts,” he said.

Even before I went back for the check-up, I’d decided I’d stick with it. I can’t say for how long. A lot of people don’t stick with it. Over the past month, I’ve met a lot of former vegetarians and one or two people who’d been vegan for a few years before going back to hamburgers and barbecue.

But I wondered, if I feel this good now, how will I feel in two months or six? What would it be like during the summer when it’s time to grill out? What about Christmas?

So, Veganuary has become “the year of trying to eat vegan.”

But while I promise to check in with an update here and there (there will probably be more on the blog “One Month At A Time”), February is upon us, and it’s time to move on to the next thing I know very little about:

Improv Comedy.

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5195, follow @LostHwys on Twitter or visit Bill’s blog: blogs.wvgazettemail.com/onemonth.

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