Archive for the ‘Book Review/ Talk Review’ Category

This review was originally posted in the Civil Eats blog– an awesome site to read conversations and thoughts from forward thinkers dialoging about sustainable agriculture and food systems as part of building economically and socially just communities

I am not typically a fan of diet books, especially ones that promise radical results in a short period of time. My philosophy is gradual, graceful lifestyle changes that bring health into harmony in a sustainable manner. Not a battle with a restrictive diet. So when I saw the title of the book, The Engine 2 Diet: The Texas Firefighter’s 28-day Save-Your-Life Plan That Lowers Cholesterol and Burns Away the Pounds, I dismissed it as another get-thin-quick scheme. However, I knew the core of the E2 diet was eating meat and dairy-free and was curious what a Texas Firefighter (a description that invokes big portions of mostly meat to me) had to say about this meal plan that is gaining mainstream popularity. Bill Clinton has adopted a plant-based diet and Meatless Mondays are now offered at many schools and hospitals.  But is this just a fad? There seems to be a paradox because at the same time it is predicted that world meat consumption will double by 2050 and between 1950 and 2007, per capita meat consumption in the U.S. increased by 78 pounds to a whopping 222 pounds per person per year.

Then I saw an early screening of the movie Forks Over Knives, which features the book’s author, Rip Esselstyn. Something about the charming, fit firefighter and his enthusiasm for leading us all on a health make-over was all the more intriguing. The movie mostly features Rip’s father, Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, a well-known doctor and researcher, and Dr. T. Colin Campbell, a researcher and co-author of The China Study. The film’s premise is that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting the conventional menu of animal-based and processed foods.

Esselstyn follows in his father’s footsteps by promoting a “plant strong” diet and undertakes his own experiments to develop his E2 diet and subsequently demonstrates its efficacy.  The diet was started after a bet with his fellow firefighter as to who had the lowest cholesterol. When this good-natured competition revealed that one of their fellow firefighters had a cholesterol level over 300 (a suggested healthy cholesterol is under 200 with greater than 240 considered very high), Esselstyn and the Engine 2 crew were inspired to put a diet and exercise plan into action.

Esselstyn wants you to try the diet for at least 28 days and claims it will be effective in lowering total cholesterol and LDL (the bad cholesterol) and in losing weight. You can do this by easing in and eliminating foods one week at a time (e.g., week one no dairy and no processed foods) for four weeks or go straight to the total E2 diet for all four weeks. On a very basic level the E2 diet is basically a vegan, low fat diet (similar to Dr. Dean Ornish) along with exercise.

Since breaking down the four week diet portion of the book only takes four pages, the rest of book is filled basic nutrition knowledge (cholesterol, blood pressure, label reading, Body Mass Index, etc.), disease descriptions, and medical research that supports his plan, some E2 exercises (lunges and side stretches), and a section on myths about food. The last third of the book is recipes, kitchen tips, and promoting weekly planning and all of it is peppered with personal antidotes and stories from disciples of the diet.

I appreciated the plant-centric, low processed food message that Esselstyn promotes and I liked his layman, no fuss language, but sometimes his overly enthusiastic live-the-dream-with-this-diet tone irked me.  As someone who works with patients and clients trying to make lifestyle changes, his all-or-nothing approach seemed hard to swallow, even for only 28 days. I think Dr. Ornish does it better when he offers a spectrum of choices; his latest book, the Spectrum, acknowledges that some shifting towards low fat, plant-based diet is better than nothing. It also bothered me that Esselstyn’s medical research, which was casually discussed in one chapter, wasn’t rigorously referenced.

On a positive note, Esselstyn’s enthusiasm is probably more infectious to those who are not in the field. A reader will feel his love for food and health and his passion to spread his message. I suspect this book would appeal to men especially, with the firefighter angle, and does a good job of simplifying concepts such arterial plaque and insulin resistance. The recipes in the book looked quite good (especially the no-added-fat dressings and sauces) and I especially liked the E2 exercise section. The E2 exercise program could all be done at home or while traveling and had simple directions and photos making it all very do-able.

All in all, the E2 Diet is a good book for the general public to learn about basic nutrition concepts, and wet their appetite for vegan, low processed food. For the main course I would be sure to read the books of Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Dr. T. Colin Campbill and Rip’s father Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, all whom Rip Esselstyn thanks in his acknowledgements.

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Last week I had the opportunity to hear Dr.Dean Ornish speak at the Commonwealth Club. This was my first time seeing Dr. Ornish speak and I was immediately impressed with his ease of public speaking; his warmth, sense of humor and a palpable sense of passion for optimal health for all people.

Dr. Ornish has been publishing clinical research and promoting lifestyle change for over 30 years, and one of my favorite quotes of his from the talk was “why is eating vegetables, walking and meditation ‘radical’ but surgery like angioplasty is not”. His ground-breaking research has show that holistic lifestyle changes alone can reverse heart disease and may stop or reverse early stage prostate cancer.

The title of this talk was “Change Your Lifestyle, Change Your Genes!” since recently he has been working on how these same lifestyle changes can affect gene expression.  His research showed that these healthy choices can “turn on” disease-preventing genes and “turn off” genes that promote cancer and heart disease.  Remember that you genes are being passed down to your progeny so by positively manipulating your genes to stay healthy you are protecting future generations as well (another reason for those self-less folks out there).  Additionally his research (done in collaboration with Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD) has also showed that these lifestyle changes can lengthen telomeres, the ends of chromosomes that control how long we live…..
Quite compelling reasons to sign on to his “program”, right?

You must be wondering what it is….well his first books (most famous is“Eat More, Weight Less”) talked about the lifestyle changes that he used in his research. This was/is a very low fat mostly vegan diet (<10% of your total daily calories coming from fat ), at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day, stress management (via meditation, breathing techniques, yoga, etc) and psychosocial support (feeling of love and intimacy).

Well it turns out some of his critic’s say his diet is too hard to follow (although study participants were able to continue for at least 5 years according to the study I linked to below) so in response Dr. Ornish has come out with the Spectrum, which is exactly that.  He promotes a spectrum of choices and encourages people not too think in black and white/ all-or-nothing perspectives but rather head towards healthy, sustainable lifestyle change.  If you don’t need to reverse heart disease, then you don’t need to go on the extreme program, just start adding healthier choice and take a compassionate approach to lifestyle change.

That’s what I am talking about!   I appreciate the Spectrum concept because it matches my own philosophy that you to make change you have to do it gradually and it has to come from you and from curiosity and love of health not fear and restriction.  To make changes to feel better and feel the joy of being alive in our amazing mind-body-heart system.

The Spectrum book has two parts, with part 1 covering the “Nutrition Spectrum”, “Stress-Management Spectrum”, and “the Exercise Spectrum” with some tools (guided meditation etc).  The book then discusses how to use these tools to lower your cholesterol and blood pressure, loose weight, prevent/reverse Type 2 Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease and Prostate/Breast Cancer.  Part two is written by Art Smith and included the recipes and kitchen tips and tools to cook your way to this new health spectrum.  The book also included as DVD to help you with meditation and mindful eating -for more on mindful eating see my previous post.  Love that he included a DVD to get you started on what can be a scary prospect (you mean…I just sit there…) and his lovely wife contributed to the DVD as well.

For me this book has a lot of information I know already but I am still enjoying the recipes (will post one later in the week) and hearing/reading his holistic perspective inspires me to keep walking this path for my own practice.  I give it a like button thumbs up!

Click here to download a PDF of Dr.Ornish’s 2005 clinical trial to prevent prostrate cancer with his lifestyle changes. Very science-y but I love this kind of stuff and thought you might too.

Click here for a download of Dr.Ornish’s version of the food guide pyramid and his prescription for how to eat (but remember- it’s not rigid- its a spectrum!)

Dr.Dean Ornish and myself (10.5.2010)

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