“Lying in a private room at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center this past December, I made a couple of decisions. First, that I needed a better way to control the challenges I face with Crohn’s disease and food allergies, and second, that I had to get my health under better control. With a restricted diet post hospital stay and doctor’s orders to take time away from the gym and rest for a month, I couldn’t start in earnest until the New Year, but what better way to start 2012 than with a commitment and promise to myself that I’d focus on my health?
Most of the programs available were focused on weight loss. Sure, I needed to lose a few pounds (well, maybe more than a few) but that wasn’t my primary focus. I didn’t want to enlist in a program that had me counting points or a program that suggested food I couldn’t tolerate (lactose, soy, gluten, for example.) I was hoping to find a program that had more of a lifestyle shift focus versus a short-term weight loss focus. I found it in the 28-Day Engine 2 Challenge. Although it starts as a 28-day challenge, Engine 2 is really a plan of action and the stepping stone for making concrete healthy changes which can reduce cholesterol, reduce the risk for disease, control glucose levels, help maintain normal weight, increase overall energy and overall well being. Some believe it can reverse heart disease, but it was important for me to prevent or stop it in its tracks, and it was important for me to keep the Crohn’s in check.
Individuals following the Engine 2 plan adopt a whole food, nutrient-dense way of eating based on plants including a large variety of vegetables, whole grains, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds. Participants are offered two options for participation: Fire Cadet (phasing out groups of food over the 28-day period) and Firefighter (jumping right into a 100% plant-based diet.) For me, I felt phasing out foods was the right option versus going immediately cold turkey (pun intended.)
Enter Whole Foods Market in Bellingham, MA, whose corporate mantra is to promote the health of their customers through healthy eating education. In January, Whole Foods Market (WFM) posted on their Facebook page that they were sponsoring the Engine 2 Diet Challenge. Not only would I be able to start the challenge, but with WFM, I’d be joining a group of others in similar mind and would benefit from the knowledge and expertise of WFM’s Healthy Eating Specialists. It was a very wise decision. The program included a free membership to Team Fitness Franklin, a personal training session, and weekly supper clubs where WFM’s Healthy Eating Specialists, Karen Ring and Theresa Michaelson, introduced us to nutrient-dense foods and discussed substitutes to food we had been relying on but which needed to be eliminated on the Engine 2 Diet. They also introduced us to WFM’s Health Starts Here program which focuses on food in its purest state — unadulterated by artificial additives, sweeteners, colorings, and preservatives — the best tasting and most nutritious food available and the basis for a plant-strong, whole foods diet. The meetings were chock full of knowledge, but Karen and Theresa made it extremely entertaining with trivia contests, prizes, a weekly mystery food challenge, and encouraging participants to share their experiences, recipes, and success stories.
The first week, I eliminated all dairy, refined sugar and processed foods, focused on incorporating more whole foods into my diet, and consciously reduced the amount of animal-based products I was consuming. For the most part, this was surprisingly easy to do. I made mostly vegetarian food the first week and substituted lower fat foods for higher fat foods when possible, making turkey/quinoa meatballs with spaghetti and red sauce for example. The hardest part of this was not being able to have cereal with Lactose-free milk and not being able to cook with or eat butter. However, there were easy substitutions. I was able to substitute WFM’s 365 brand unsweetened almond milk with my cereal and ate more whole grain breakfast foods such as a half whole grain bagel or Health Starts Here sprouted breads with almond butter, or Irish whole grain steel cut oatmeal with honey and strawberries. That first week, I was able to go back to the gym, working out on the treadmill, elliptical machine, and universal weights. Although I was eating healthier and felt as though I was full at every meal, I did feel hungry and needed to add a late afternoon snack (nuts or fruit) every day. Living with Crohn’s, I’ve become aware of my trigger foods – the foods that could cause or lead me into a flare up – and the first week of Engine 2 eliminated one major trigger for me: lactose. Week one also brought another surprising benefit – a four pound weight loss I didn’t expect.
Week two, I eliminated all meats, chicken, eggs, and fish, and continued on without dairy, refined sugar and processed foods. Although removing eggs from the foods I would have a few times a week for breakfast was hard at first, within a few days I had established a routine of having either whole grains, fruit, steel cut oatmeal or a whole grain bagel with almond butter and didn’t miss them. During the second week, I wasn’t getting as hungry in between meals. I was eating so many healthy vegetables and whole grains, removing meat wasn’t a challenge; however, removing fish proved to be difficult. Although I didn’t cheat, I craved cod and sea bass. Although I might have been tempted, feeling better and seeing another pound weight loss was the motivation I needed to stay on the path.
In week three, you eliminate extracted oils in addition to dairy and meat. For me, this one was hard. Although I didn’t normally cook with a lot of butter, I frequently used extra virgin olive oil and canola oil in my cooking. For the first few days, I either didn’t use the oil or used a very scant amount. Although the texture of vegetables and other foods cooked in wine or broth is different, for the most part, it was easy to get used to. By the end of week three, I had dropped 7 pounds, and I learned to cook with Adzuki beans, blood oranges, and bok choy, each mystery foods which were introduced in our WFM’s meetings.
Week four was a week of revelations. I had successfully eliminated diary. I had successfully eliminated processed foods. I had successfully eliminated meat, and I had successfully eliminated processed oils. I had dropped my cholesterol level by 20 points, and lost a total of 8 1/2 pounds over the 28-day challenge. More important, I developed a stronger awareness of what healthy eating means and how I can incorporate more healthy choices into my and my family’s diet. Moving forward, I’m relying on the Engine 2 book and WFM’s Health Starts Here website to guide the way.”
Beginning total cholesterol: 196 (LDL 126, HDL 52, Triglycerides 87)
Ending total cholesterol: 178 (LDL 113, HDL 49, Triglycerides 82)
28-day weight loss: 8.5 lbs
Thank you Karen!
If you would like to see a 28 day challenge at your local Whole Foods Market, contact them and ask when the next one is! If they do not have one on the schedule, just ask. The more people who express interest the better!
Lastly, the team is off to Hawaii for a Whole Foods employee immersion this week. We are going to try our best to keep up with everyone online, but there might be some lapse with the time zone differences.