Name: David Roberts
Diagnosis: Heart defect (the blood funnels as it exits the heart, making the heart work extra to properly disperse blood), high cholesterol, early signs of heart disease
Prognosis: Inevitable heart failure
Year Diagnosed: 2010
What was your life like before your diagnosis?
Very sedentary, but quite normal. I was a father of two young kids (both under the age of three), so the house was in a constantly state of crazy. I didn’t make as much effort as I should have to be active with them because I was so out of shape and low on energy.
How did you find out about your diagnosis?
One night I was lying in bed, and my left arm started to go numb a bit, and my fingers started to tingle. It was pretty sporadic, and I was quite confident that I wasn’t having a heart attack, but it got my attention. The next day, I got up and headed off to work. I was talking to my dad and told him what I experienced the night before, and he told me to call right away and see if I could get in to see the doctor. I saw the cardiologist and he did an exploratory surgical heart catheter (let me tell you, it wasn’t fun). Long story short, the test results concluded that I didn’t have a heart attack (yet), but I did have a rare heart defect from birth. It was fairly slight, and only became unmasked because of the weight my body was carrying and the amount of work my heart had to do to support it. The doctor told me I needed to quickly find a way to not only drop some weight, but more importantly to get heart-healthy. He said, “David, if you want to be here to see your kids grow up, and live to old age with your wife, you need to find what will work for you and get at it.”
What was your treatment plan laid out by your doctor?
Because of the heart defect, there wasn’t much that I could do other than lose weight, get my cholesterol under control, and treat my heart as delicately as possible. The biggest challenge I faced was my doctor put me on strict orders for zero physical activity (so he could monitor my heart due to the abnormality—that lasted for just about the whole first year I was vegan), so exercise was out of the question. I was forced to make these changes and get results strictly based on what I was putting into my body.
How did you find out about a vegan diet?
I give my wife all the credit. She took it upon herself to research heart-healthy diets (though I hate using the word “diet” when referring to veganism), and everything she found kept pointing to a plant-based lifestyle. She also attended a local vegan cooking class and spent a lot of time talking to the chef who was very informative and helped further open her eyes. Additionally, both my wife and I had recently lost our mothers to cancer, and a big reason we decided to dive into a plant-based lifestyle (in addition to all the heart-healthy benefits) was all the research and findings on how veganism is such a strong cancer fighter. It’s vital to us to do everything in our power to live the longest, healthiest lives possible.
When did you decide to give it a try?
About a week or so after I received all the test results from my doctor, I had a guys’ trip to Vegas scheduled. My wife had been busy researching different diets, and when I returned home she sat me down and told me everything she had read and said becoming vegan is the most heart-healthy way of living. She said it’s not just for people fighting cancer, and not just for people with heart issues, it’s for anyone who wants to live a long, healthy life.
What was it like to transition to a vegan diet?
At first I was adamantly against it. When my wife laid out her findings, I specifically remember saying, “F— that!! I’m a man! I need to eat meat! I love milk way too much to give it up! Thanks, but we’re going to have to find something else because that’s not me.” She looked at me with that look only wives and mothers can give and asked softly, “David do you trust me?” I said of course, then she replied, “Then shut up. Eat what I feed you for the next 30 days, and don’t say a word about it until the 30 days is up!” I said OK. What could I do? Besides, I had been a yo-yo dieter my whole life so what’s another 30 days of something? No sweat. Well, the transition to veganism didn’t get off to an amazing start. There were a number of recipes that met the garbage disposal, and a few meals out that we would have liked to keep eating, but we were committed to giving it a chance. We quickly found some new foods we really liked, and eventually found our groove. Then a crazy thing happened: about three weeks into that 30 days, we were eating dinner together (I had been eating what she told me to eat, and reading what she told me to read), and I turned to my wife and said, “If this is really what being vegan is, then I’m all in.” I never turned back!
What was a normal day of eating like before you started eating vegan?
Fast food (anything “ordered by number” was the go-to). Meals generally consisted of which drive-thru would be least likely to recognize us, and when we did cook at home it was usually a combination of the quickest foods we could get to the table (lots of frozen goods and chicken on the grill). Anything fast and easy!
What is a day of eating like now?
I was never a breakfast eater before going vegan, but now I never skip it. Breakfast is usually coffee, fresh fruit, steel-cut oatmeal, coffee, cereal with almond milk, and more coffee. Lunch could be a rice and vegetable bowl with a light sauce, PB&J, a bean and rice dish, a vegetable sandwich (I love St. Louis Bread Co.’s Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich, add avocado, no feta), or a bowl from Chipotle with brown rice, black beans, fajita vegetables, medium salsa, corn salsa, and guacamole. Snacks usually consist of fresh fruit, Clif bars, and Primal Spirit “Beefless” Jerky. Dinner is tofu or tempeh dishes, brown rice, steamed vegetables (I love Brussels sprouts, but pre-vegan I would never even try a bite), pasta dishes, or breakfast for dinner (Vegan With A Vengeance has an amazing pancake recipe). For dessert, Chocolate-Covered Katie has an awesome Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake recipe. Also the occasional Oreo (how I wish I never learned they were vegan).
When did you start to see results? What did your doctor think?
Almost immediately! Instantly my energy levels were up, and pounds started dropping. I was sleeping better at night, and my complexion was better then ever. In that first year alone my cholesterol went from 290 to 107 and I lost about 60 pounds. The most amazing part about it was that those numbers were strictly a result of the food I was eating. Now some will say as heavy as I was, my numbers were bound to drop. Maybe so, but one of the things I absolutely love most about being vegan is that while I achieved those kind of results, I didn’t have to diet. I didn’t have to count calories, drink shakes, or count Weight Watcher points. I simply had to be vegan. My doctor was thrilled. He was not the one who pointed me to a plant-based lifestyle, but was well versed in the benefits of it, and encourages me to continue it forever!
How are you doing today?
I’m healthier than I ever imagined I could be. My weight is down from 315 pounds to 199 pounds. My cholesterol today is 105. My energy levels are way up (which makes for a very happy wife and kids). Just recently, my wife and I welcomed our third child (our first “veggie-baby”), and the experience of watching her carry him as a vegan was truly magical. I’m training for my first marathon in February (if you’re in Fort Lauderdale, come cheer me on at the A1A Marathon on February 17). There is tremendous power in the foods we eat, and as you can see becoming vegan didn’t just change my life, it prolonged it!
Want more inspiring stories? Read about Natalie, and check back next week for more!