Doug Schmidt, an elementary school teacher in Rochester, suffered a near fatal heart attack at age 49. “I weighed 225 pounds and thought I was just an average American, middle-age guy,” he told ABC News. Following a second heart scare a year later, he decided to make some lifestyle changes, beginning with a gradual transition off red meat and towards a plant-based, whole foods diet.
Within three years, his diet had become completely plant-based and does not include processed foods, sugar, or oil. Schmidt lost 60 pounds in thr process, and was able to stop taking his medications. He also saved a bundle of money, and radically reduce his carbon footprint. (See his amazing before and after images below.)
“The medicine was in the food,” said Schmidt, “I eat more now than I did on my standard American diet, but it’s all good stuff and your body just craves it and thrives on it.”
It’s been ten years since his first heart attack. Schmidt, who was formerly a professional baker, is also a wellness coordinator in his school district. His transformation drew the attention of his fellow teachers. Two years ago, he led the 10-day plant-based diet challenge attracting 30 curious colleagues. The next year the same challenge drew about 65 participants.
This year, the “10-Day Jumpstart Your Health Challenge” has been adopted in 35 school districts and a community college and counts 1,300 participants. It is challenge is based on The Engine 2 Diet book, a plant-based food plan by Rip Esselstyn. A website and a Facebook page provide support to the participants, and serve as platforms for sharing recipes and meal planning.
Schmidt hopes to coordinate with author Esselstyn to help people incorporate their new dietary habits into a sustainable lifelong plan.
“When I look at my fridge, it looks totally different than it did 10 years ago,” he said. “Yes I’ve given up some of my favorite foods, but what I’ve gained in my life is so much richer.”
“I literally feel like I’m 20 or 30 again,” he said. “My only regret is I wish I would have done this 10 years earlier.”
A turn away from meat is not as common in the USA as it in countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, and Israel – which boast some of the lowest meat consumption in the world. In Israel, plant-based diets are so popular that the military has incorporated vegan options into the soldiers’ meal plan.
A plant-based diet consists of minimally processed fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, herbs, and spices and excludes all animal products, including red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products. Interested in learning more about eating less meat? Check out the Reducetarian Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to improve human health, protect the environment, and spare farm animals from cruelty by reducing societal consumption of animal products. ForksOverKnives is another excellent source for plant-based meal planning.
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Image of Doug Schmidt from ForksOverKnives