Essex column: Medical advice that’s too tough to swallow?
In The Who’s rock opera “Tommy,” the title character is struck deaf, blind and mute as a child. Years later, after becoming a celebrated pinball wizard, he regains awareness of his senses and rises to cult figure.
A multitude of fans see him as a spiritual leader and flock to him for answers. What he offers them is his experience of sensory deprivation:
“If you want to follow me, you’ve got to play pinball
“And put in your ear plugs, put on your eye shades; you know where to put the cork.”
It wasn’t the guidance the adoring throngs wanted.
“We’re not gonna take it,” they respond. “Never did and never will. … We forsake you … Let’s forget you better still.”
As a culture, it seems, we want an easier, softer way than the discipline and deprivation that’s really required to get the result we want.
It’s true in finances. Start saving when you start working, live without extravagance, invest steadily but conservatively and most of us can attain financial security by middle age.
But few of us do this. Almost a quarter of non-retirees older than 45 have no retirement savings or pension.
It’s true of fitness. Make time to exercise regularly. If you want to run a marathon, you have to put in the miles; if you want to run or bike faster, you need to train for it.
The big one, of course, is weight and overall health.
I’ve never met anyone who wants to be fat, have diabetes, heart disease or cancer.
(And please understand that I’m not being critical of people with weight problems or who develop lifestyle diseases. I had cancer that likely was tied to behavior as a young adult, and while I’ve made changes, I have not adopted an ascetic lifestyle that would fully minimize my chances of a recurrence.) A lot conspires against optimum health.
I’m writing this because the Post Independent is fortunate to have a weekly column by a longtime Glenwood physician, Greg Feinsinger, who retired last year after more than 40 years of practice. He’s become an evangelist for a strict vegan diet.
In some ways, Doc Feinsinger is like Tommy, though he isn’t followed by adoring masses. He has a simple message that will improve your life, but it’s not news a lot of people want to hear.
Don’t eat meat, sugar, dairy products, eggs, fat or oil.
This often comes under fire from some readers.
A couple samples:
• “He is just trying to indoctrinate the readers into his meatless lifestyle. Take your bland diet recommendations elsewhere.”
• “We can’t eat anything with him.”
In other words, we’re not gonna take it, never did and never will.
Of course a lot of readers leave appreciative comments about his advice and report big changes in their health by adopting his approach.
The doctor’s recommendations are strict, and following them fully requires a significant commitment and, for most of us, big change.
I followed his plan very closely for about two months in late 2014, quickly trimming 30 points off my overall cholesterol and losing 17 pounds.
It’s hard. The food does tend to be bland, prep is time-consuming and you will miss some foods. After those two months, I’ve been 95 percent vegetarian, and too often eat sweets. Still, my weight has stayed off, my cholesterol has stabilized and my athletic performance in my age group is the best of my life.
I even tried Feinsinger’s “Doping with veggies” advice to drink beet juice before races. Beet juice tastes like I imagine a handful of dirt would taste. I guess it’s all about what you want, and I’m willing to drink dirt-flavored purple fluid — but not fully willing to give up ice cream.
While Colorado is leaner and more active than the rest of the country, Americans overall are dying and costing themselves and society huge amounts of money because of how we eat. (And how little we exercise, though Feinsinger, who’s very athletic, doesn’t write about that very much.)
Diabetes is epidemic, doubling in 20 years, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projecting that one in three adults could have diabetes by 2050.
A quarter of U.S. deaths are from heart disease.
Here’s Feinsinger’s science-based promise: “People on a lifelong plant-based, whole (unprocessed), low fat and oil diet don’t get atherosclerosis and therefore don’t have heart attacks or strokes.”
If most Americans followed this advice, our national health-care debate would be very different. While the Post Independent won’t solve the mess of the U.S. health-care system, giving readers information that can help them head off expensive, debilitating and deadly conditions strikes me as worthwhile. We’ll continue to run Feinsinger’s columns as long as he continues to write them for us.
He gets no financial reward from this, in his retirement setting up the nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He offers free consultations about heart attack prevention and other medical concerns. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. It might save your life, head off illness and let you feel better. If you’re into that, but it’s clearly your choice.
Randy Essex is publisher and editor of the Post Independent.