"Make Your Wish My Legacy"

It was the autumn of 1983. I was a third year resident at the University of Wisconsin Family Medicine program at St. Mary's Hospital in Madison.  I was "newly minted doctor" on rotation in the Coronary Care Unit taking care of critically ill patients with all types of cardiac problems.  One evening I admitted a 53-year-old woman who I will never forget.  She had just experienced a severe heart attack and was fighting for her life.  Lying in bed with oxygen flowing, IVs in her arms, monitors beeping and all of the wonder drugs and technology that modern medicine could muster to keep her alive; she looked at me as tear rolled down from her eye and said "you're a young doctor and I hope that in your career you will help people like me before they get to this stage – please help them to do what it takes to prevent this from happening to them".  I looked into her eyes that were filled with fear and sadness and said: "yes ma’am… it is my plan to make your wish my legacy.  Thank you for your insight and your inspiration..."

 

By that time I had already read enough to know that her heart attack, which occurred when a buildup of inflamed cholesterol laden plaque in one of her coronary arteries ruptured and blocked vital blood flow to a portion of her heart muscle, was almost entirely preventable. In medical school they had taught us that coronary artery disease is a progressive disease that is a largely a consequence of aging.  But alas, the full truth emerged just 7 years later when Dr. Dean Ornish published a landmark study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Using the latest in cardiac imaging techniques and a rigorous scientific design, he proved that this "disease" is not really a disease at all -- but rather a condition that is not only preventable, but also largely reversible with some straightforward lifestyle changes. 

 

Since then, additional overwhelming evidence has proven that the cornerstone intervention to prevent and reverse heart disease-- our nation's leading killer -- is a Whole Food Plant-Based diet.  In addition, it is now clear that this same diet helps to prevent and commonly reverse virtually all of the most common chronic diseases that I see every day in my office as a Family Physician. 

 

True to my CCU patient’s wish, in my 33 years since finishing residency, I have dedicated my medical practice to inspiring people of all ages to take charge of their health and "Say No to Chronic Disease and Yes to Vitality”.  I set the stage for them to take charge of their health by choosing great tasting, colorful health promoting whole plant based foods as the ticket that allows them to discontinue their medications, increase their energy levels and prevent, or in many cases even reverse, diseases like arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and many others. 

While medical practice is slow to change, the enthusiasm that I see for Plant-Based Health and Wellness in heroes like Paul Chatlin and the 6000+ members and volunteers of PBNSG are evidence that this movement has turned the corner and is “going viral”.  There is a growing understanding that junk food, chicken, fish, red meat, dairy products, refined oils and eggs are all horrible disease promoting food-like substances masquerading as human food that should at the very least be minimized, and ideally eliminated, from our plates. 

People of all ages are recognizing in record numbers that we are not slaves to the marketing ploys of the animal and junk food industries, but rather educated consumers who recognize that “Health is a Gift we Give Ourselves". We are saying Yes to a whole food Plant-Based lifestyle for ourselves and our children and, in the process, the world is becoming a better place for our families, for the animals and for the earth itself.  Please join me in making my 1984 patient’s near dying wish a reality that we can all be a part of by living and sharing the heath and joy that comes with a Plant-Based Lifestyle.  In addition, help to change the culture at your workplace by reading and employing the principles in Gigi Carter’s new book: “The Plant Based Workplace”.  More on this in my next article and, in the meantime, have a Healthy and Joyous Holiday Season!

-Bob Breakey-

"These Times, They are Changing!"

41 years ago this month I ate my last bite of chicken.  I had already given up red meat 5 months prior, and by year’s end, fish and seafood would also leave my plate forever.  Sometimes people ask if I ever miss these foods and I can honestly say “not one bit”. 

For one thing, as I transitioned away from animal and processed foods my tastes changed; old cravings for foods high in fat, salt, sugar and animal proteins were replaced with a new appreciation for colorful, flavorful, whole plant foods that bring both great taste and great heath.  In addition, once I had “peeked behind the curtain” and learned of the disastrous health and ecologic consequences of eating foods that were never intended for human consumption, I lost any possible desire to eat these foods again.  If my taste buds ever attempted to lure me into trying some BBQ chicken, eggs & bacon, a grilled cheese sandwich or a hot fudge sundae, my brain would override them and say, “No thanks-- I like my arteries”.

Now I’m not saying this was always easy, but once I started down this path my severe eczema and facial acne resolved, my vitality improved and it felt great knowing that my meals were cruelty free and my food choices were helping to support, rather than denigrate our fragile biosphere.  By 1985 when I had just completed my medical training and was opening my Family Medicine Practice, I had also greatly limited my dairy and egg intake and then over time moved away from all animal and processed foods to a truly “whole food plant-based” lifestyle.

I was inspired to share what I had learned and experienced with my family, friends, patients and colleagues.  Starting in 1980 I began presenting seminars on nutrition. I increasingly experienced the “Joy of Medicine” that would arise as I helped my patients to reverse their Diabetes, Heart Disease or even Multiple Sclerosis with some straightforward lifestyle changes.  The science of nutrition was evolving slowly but surely towards the reality that a whole foods plant-based diet is the optimal way to nourish our minds and our bodies for vitality and the prevention of chronic disease.  Further, while many desire a long life, they fear the debility and pain that commonly accompanies older age in America; and it is now crystal clear that a whole food plant-based lifestyle optimizes our chances of living well into our elder years with independence and vitality. Go to “You Tube” and Search “Your Last 10 Years” and watch the one minute video that pops up for an excellent portrayal of how important it is now to consider the future consequences of our current choices.

Back when I started my journey, I envisioned a day when a whole food plant-based lifestyle was embraced by tens of millions of Americans.  A time when it would be common knowledge that this is the optimum diet for human health, for saving the Earth and for treating animals with the dignity and respect they deserve.  It has now become increasingly clear that my “future vision” is now unfolding before our eyes.  Back in the day there were only a few pioneers supporting an evidence-based approach to nutrition science and working to educate our citizens.  They were largely ignored and commonly chastised for being “radical” in their approach.  But not any more… here is a pertinent quote:

All truth passes through three stages.
First, it is ridiculed.
Second, it is violently opposed.
Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.
- Arthur Schopenhauer, German Philosopher, 1788 -1860

In these last 15 years, we have seen a clear turning point in the whole food plant-based nutrition movement as the peak of this “second stage” came and went - never to return. Per capita consumption of meat in the United States fell by over 12% from 2007 to 2012, and cow’s milk consumption is also dropping precipitously. While we still have a long ways to go, the level of scientific support, the caliber of highly respected physicians, researchers, athletes and health care professionals now adopting and advocating this approach, the inspiring personal stories from millions who are making the change and the rapid growth of groups like PBNSG are all evidence that we are moving quickly towards the third stage when this “truth” will be widely “accepted as self-evident”. 

This all adds up to the fact that this is a very exciting time to be involved in PBNSG and the WFPB movement.  I have never seen such momentum…. and now, watch for these two documentaries to further accelerate these trends:

“Game Changers” by James Cameron: www.gamechangersmovie.com  (Fall, 2018)  

“Code Blue” by Dr. Saray Stancic: www.codebluedoc.com (January, 2019)

Perhaps the biggest news of all is that the enthusiasm and momentum generated by Paul Chatlin and over 5,600 PBNSG members are attracting national attention and making Southeast Michigan an epicenter for the Plant-Based Nutrition movement.  A place where the “Plant Strong”, the “Plant Perfect” and the “Plant Curious” come together to explore and learn how best to spread Health, Wellness, Vitality and Sustainability for humanity and the Earth we inhabit.  Thank you for your interest and for your dedication to supporting our PBNSG mission and stay tuned for more updates coming soon. 

In the meantime, please join us at my upcoming seminar on September 18th: Health is a Gift You Give Yourself”, where we will review the basics and then move quickly to the “advanced course” as we continue to create a new vision for the future of America and the World!   

Plant Based Health Care with Dr. Bob

When we were growing up, my 3 brothers and I ate horribly! 

For breakfast, some of our favorites were:

  • Lucky Charms or Captain Crunch cereal with whole cow’s milk
  • “Instant breakfast” with whole milk (and often with ice cream for some “extra healthy” protein and calcium)
  • Fried Bacon with barbecue sauce
  • Dad’s famous Omelets -always with lots of butter, cheese and whatever sauces or leftovers he could find in the fridge…

For Lunch it was:

  • Bologna or ham and cheese sandwiches on Wonder Bread  
  • Corn or potato chips with sour cream dip
  • Tuna salad sandwiches with extra mayo

And dinner was always centered around some type of beef, chicken or pork (or if we were really lucky, a frozen Banquet Chicken, Turkey or Beef Pot Pie) plus a token vegetable and a big glass of whole milk.

Candy, Kool-Aid, ice cream and cookies were frequent desserts or snacks—Easter and Halloween were two of our favorite holidays!

Our favorite restaurant was McDonald’s for 2 double cheeseburgers, a large fry and a vanilla malt– and then of course Baskin-Robbins across the parking lot for a double scoop dessert cone!

Thanks to the amazing adaptability and resilience of our young human bodies we survived… but not without consequences.  One brother suffered from recurrent ear infections and chronic tonsillitis requiring repeated antibiotics and eventually a tonsillectomy.  Another brother suffered with recurrent constipation; and I had a hand rash called “dyshidrotic eczema” that caused severe peeling and cracking on my palms and fingers; as well as severe facial acne forcing me to borrow my girlfriend’s makeup to cover my pimples before heading over for my high school senior portrait. 

In retrospect, it was quite amazing that we survived-- and yet the sad reality is that we actually ate better than many of our friends…  To be clear, I am not blaming our parents for all of this.  It was the 60s and fast, convenient processed food plus lots of animal protein to “grow up big and strong” were just the accepted norms for nutritional excellence.  Our parents were simply taught wrong about how to eat and how to feed us.  They actually thought we were eating quite healthy!  I remember at one point my dad, who was a doctor, said to my brother: “if you’re not going to eat the whole cheeseburger at least take out the meat and eat it-- that’s your protein and the most important part if you want to grow up strong!”

One thing that helped us survive and thrive was our mutual desire to live and enjoy life to the fullest.  We loved skiing, boating, hiking, traveling and adventuring out at our cottage on the lake or up north at our family cabin on the river.  By 1977, when I was 21, all 4 of us were reading and learning all we could about health and vitality in order to support ourselves in our quest for vitality.  By year’s end all 4 of us had become vegetarian.  Our parents were a bit shocked at first, but they grew to accept this new reality -- and even started enjoying at least a few more veggie foods themselves.  My skin conditions resolved, and the more I learned about health and nutrition, the more I committed to dedicate my career as a Family Physician to help others learn and appreciate the critical importance of whole food plant-based nutrition to stay free from chronic disease, avoid the need for medications and experience life to the fullest with all the vitality, stamina and endurance that come from providing our amazing bodies and minds with optimum real human foods.

Thank You Paul Chatlin for all that you do in your similar quest -- and for providing me with this new monthly forum to share what I have experienced and learned over these past 40 years as a “Plant Based Family Doc”.  And to all of our PBNSG followers I also say a Huge Thank You!—Together we are inspiring our communities with a message of Hope, Empowerment and Vitality.  Let’s spread new levels of Great Health Far and Wide!

Join me Next Month for:  “From Vegetarian to Vegan in 1985…”