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Benjamin’s story- How Potatoes and Other Starchy Vegetables Saved His Life

Dr. McDougall’s recent book “The Starch Solution” just hit shelves this month, so we asked Benjamin if he could share his incredible story of how starches changed his life.
IN THE BEGINNING THERE WAS AN ARMENIAN AND A PIZZA…

I have been in the food business since I can remember. My first stab at it was at Rico’s pizza in San Jose, California when I was 14. As an Armenian kid I was told that I qualified for a job there just by being Armenian. I was super nervous when I approached the owner for a job. “I heard that if you are Armenian you can get a job here.”
the response? “When can you start?”
thus a life long career in the food business was born.
The last 15 years have been spent in the natural foods industry and of the last 11 they have been almost obsessively focused on selling cheese, wine, beer, chocolate…you know, the good stuff that everybody wants and nobody needs!
Halloween 2003 with a half wheel of Beeler Sbrinz
After many years of climbing the company ladder in the world of cheese and living a somewhat sedentary lifestyle of VERY rich food indulgence I found myself extremely obese (by medical definition), with the triple threat of lifestyle induced diseases. Diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
october 2010 eating raclette at burrough market london
I tried to follow the doctors orders…kind of… and after about 7 years of getting progressively worse I was on the verge of being prescribed daily insulin injections. Mind you I was already on 4 drugs at this point. For me that was a wake up call. I ain’t stickin’ needles in me!
My employer offered a health immersion program for those of us that qualified. The way it works is that you go live at a facility for a week, eat healthy food, exercise, and learn about proper nutrition. More on that in a minute. Being the stubborn person that I am I decided I could do this on my own. I bought a vegan diet based book on how to reverse diabetes and I followed the plan for a month. My numbers drastically improved. I lost a little weight but my month long experiment ended on my birthday on a trans-atlantic flight to Zurich for a cheese buying trip.
All of my progressive reversed and quite frankly I got worse.
Fast forward 9 months and I apply for the aforementioned health immersion and find myself in Santa Rosa at Dr. John McDougall’s program. I learned his system of how as humans we thrive on a low fat starch based diet. I also learn the danger of consuming other mammal’s milk products. It was incredible the amount of information I absorbed in one week. It was also challenging everything I knew and believed about food.
WHO’S IN CHARGE AROUND HERE?
Up until that point my main basic decision on weather a food was worth eating was solely left to my palette and my brain. My stomach and other organs whom have to process everything that goes into my mouth had absolutely no say in what I ate and very poor representation up in the brain. This 30 second experience in my mouth determined weather a food was good, average, bad, or mind blowing-ly phenomenal. I was never concerned about what the effects of that food would be on my system or my long-term health. For most of us this decision making process is the only process we have. Most of us have ideas about what is healthy and what is not but rarely does that guide us to make better decisions. We like pleasure. its natural. Its a normal human drive. The only interruption in this process for me was getting better information. This is precisely what happened when I got McDougalled.
A CHOICE AND A CHANCE
Now I was presented with a choice and a chance. The choice waswhat to eat on a daily basis and how that food would either cause my body harm or it would heal it. The chance I was given was on the one hand-to spend the rest of my life on drugs, a regular customer of the medical profession, severely overweight, with low self-esteem, and most likely a limited amount of time with my wife and kids or choose the foods that the human body thrives on, heal my body and my mind and get to see my kids grow up and maybe even live into old age. The decision was relatively easy to make on the surface. The changes I would need to enact not so much.
THE MCDOUGALL WAY
In one week on this new way of eating and exercising I was able to kick all of my medications, lose 3 pounds, and begin a journey of self-healing. My total cholesterol dropped from 185 to 124. My fasting blood sugar went from 250 down to 110. I suffered from nightly heartburn that required me to take 3-4 tums a night just to sleep. This was also completely reversed with the elimination of dairy products.
CHA-CHA-CHANGES
When I got home I changed just about everything. I started to cook like a madman! I planned every meal I would eat for the entire week-3 meals a day 7 days a week. I started doing a daily power/fitness walk. I was eating ton of starches and was feeling incredibly full and never deprived. The pounds started to melt away. At work I was afforded the opportunity to lead a team that was focused on service rather than products. I would be lying if I said that I leaped at the opportunity. It was more a nudging on the part of some co-workers and one of my bosses. The changes were having an amazing affect on me and everyone who knew me could see the difference. The best part is that no one really knew the most significant changes. They were all in my brain. I was feeling so much better about myself. It is amazing what it feels like to make good decisions for ones well being even when they are difficult. You feel good about yourself and for me I quickly started to feel more and more positive about life in general. That isn’t really that hard to understand. The crazy part is how I got better at work. My mind was awake! I became more organized, sharp,  and thoughtful. My energy level both physically and mentally was off the charts. My boss said I looked like I was glowing. I felt like I was on fire!

june 2011-50 pounds lighter
THE FOOD
As a type 2 diabetic I was counseled to stay away from potatoes, pasta, rice, wheat and other forms of carbohydrate. What I have learned is that if I choose “whole” unprocessed versions of these items and cook them without added fats my body and my blood love me for it!
That being said you will notice that my meals are all centered on starchy foods. They keep me full, give me energy, and quite frankly are so satisfying to my pallet that I never feel deprived. I start each day with hot or cold cereal and hashbrowns. Almost every day I eat hashbrowns. Does that sound like a diet to you? I eat a lot of soup, beans, potatoes, corn, rye bavarian bread, homemade veggie burgers, polenta with greens and beans, enchiladas, tacos, and burritos. The list goes on. I don’t eat a lot of tofu and soy as it is generally pretty high in fat and calories. I don’t eat the isolated soy protein products because while most are low in fat they are some of the most industrially processed foods on the market.
Living in California I have the opportunity to buy a lot of seasonal fresh produce. That will influence many of the posts. I will also show you how I ensure my success by planning ahead and leaving very little to chance.

This diet is incredible simple in structure and concept. Its very difficult to execute. We are surrounded by incredibly convenient really unhealthy food. When you make a decision to eat real food and limit your fat intake you will quickly realize that for the most part its a D.I.Y. endeavor.

If you have read this far then you must be related to me or have insomnia. At any rate that is the back story. The hardest part for you the reader is over. From here on out I will be focusing on the really exciting part…
THE FOOD!!!!

-benjamin

To follow Benjamin’s progress please check out his site!

What are your favorite starches? Leave a comment and enter to win a copy of Dr.McDougall’s new book!

About the author

Engine 2 Team
The Engine 2 Team is dedicated to helping you become plant-strong! Each of us are on the plant-strong journey right along side of you!
  • liz

    I love potatoes!!! Hashbrowns sound amazing…now I’m craving them:) I am so impressed with all the changes that you have made:) Great job!!!

    • Susan

      We can eat them and not feel guilty!

  • lisa

    congrats.. great story… keep going..

  • Ed

    Great story! My favorite starch is Mashed Potatoes – just love them! I’ll survive if you take them away but I’m a happy boy when they’re on my plate.

  • Dalores

    I love hash browns. The changes you have made are amazing! I would love to drop the extra weight and have more energy.

  • Dawn

    I love love love beans & rice…. mexican style!!! Nothing better than brown rice, stopped by black beans and then topped off w/ fresh home made salsa!!!

    • Suzan Marie

      That’s what I had for dinner last night! Yum!

  • Therese von Rodeck

    Thank you Benjamin! I am Irish. I grew up eating potatoes. I LOVED my potatoes! As I reached adulthood my weight grew with my age… I now have lost the weight and I am eating my most loved potatoes again!! I have shared this post with my friends because they think I am CRAZY for eating potatoes….. and they are right. I am CRAZY for my potatoes!!! :)

  • julie

    i love oatmeal with bananas and blueberries – every morning….in 3 weeks my cholesterol dropped 90 points!!!!

  • Kelly

    Way to go! You are just one bright example of the positive changes that can be made without medications. Great job!

  • Karla

    Another amazing story! Thank you for sharing! I’m reminded of a time when my mom was trying to counsel my daughter on staying away from “carbs”. And when my daughter admitted she loves potatoes, my mom exclaimed, “Bad! Those go straight to your pancreas!” Of course, she said this after her third Mai Tai (which, by the way, bypasses the pancreas, apparently?)

    I think my favorite starch is red potatoes. I like them any way, skins on.

  • Abby Chau

    Potatoes, Potatoes and more Potatoes. Oh, and throw in some pasta. I’ve been surprised at how easy it is to make really good plant strong mashed potatoes.

  • Mare

    Awesome job! Congrats on your success!

  • Jenny Wells

    I’ve been making garlic herb potatoes like crazy lately. They’re my favorite new side dish! I used to avoid potatoes because of their bad rep in the media, but the testimonials and reviews of this book have changed my mind! I’m excited because the starchy foods really help feel me up. I’d love to read McDougall’s book to learn more!

  • http://gardengateblog.com Cynthia

    Sweet potatoes ! Roasted, baked, mashed, I love them all.

  • Katie Loss

    Great story! I’ll be less shy about using more whole grain starches from now on. I’ve always hit the beans hard, but shied away from other starches….no longer! Thanks for this great post.

  • Kathy Grant

    I am jealous that your cholesterol dropped so much so soon! Mine has dropped but not as drastic. Keep up the good work and stay Plant Strong!

  • Maureen

    sweet potatoes and sprouted whole grain toasted muffins!!

  • Andrea Pixley

    I am eating Jamaican peas and rice right now. So good with coconut milk in it!

  • Ed

    It was Dr. McDougall for me in the eighties. A long time before that, I was dabbling with Professor Arnold Ehret’s Mucusless DIet Healing System. The common thread in all these systems is, as Mom said, “Eat your vegetables!”

    Great story, Benjamin. An inspiration, indeed.

  • Shana Brannon

    Your story sounds so much like mine, Benjamin! I’m a trained chef, specializing in pastry. My whole world has changed. I LOVE all kinds of potatoes. (Never met a potato I didn’t love!) Favorite way to eat them is oven roasted with garlic and fresh rosemary.

  • Denise

    My most loved starches are: we’ll all of them! Weekly I eat sweet potatoes (orange, Japanese, Hawaiian) and squashes (kobacha, butternut, spaghetti, acorn) and steel cut oatmeal. Rice only if having brown rice veggie sushi (too easy for me to eat too much rice – a trigger food for me)

    Cheers

  • mary

    I would have to say potatoes both sweet and white.

  • Lisa W.

    I little red potatoes. So full of flavor and goodness:)

  • Mary Arnquist

    I love potatoes and sweet potatoes. So good!

  • Jenny

    Congrats on a healthier lifestyle! And also for sharing your story.

  • Dani T

    I love sweet potatoes. Sweet potato in my smoothies, “ice cream”, soup, muffins, and even just baked in their skin to tender perfection!

  • Jenny

    Congrats on the healthier lifestyle and also for Sharon your story!!

  • http://unsheeply.net Heather

    Potatoes!! Growing up we had them for almost every meal. My grandpa would plant a couple rows of them in the field alongside other crops so they’d have them available in the root cellar all winter long. Major comfort food as well as fills me up.

    Congratulations on all your sucess, Benjamin! Very impressive.

  • Carol

    Stories like this inspire me to keep going! One of my favorite starchy dishes is breakfast hash with vegetables, tempeh, and roasted diced potatoes. A mix of white and sweet potatoes if I have them!

  • Aubrey

    Brown Rice! Though I have a thing for potaotes and oatmeal, rice is by far the most versatile food in the world. I can make a big pot all at once for the entire week and have easy quick meals by adding fresh (and sometimes frozen) veggies right on top.

    I can puree a mango and water and throw it on the rice for a delicious morning “cereal” or even add fresh marinara sauce (sans oil of course!) and veggies for a Risotto veggie pasta!

  • Joanne

    Potatoes!!!!!!!!!!! Any style is fine by me!!!! =)

  • Subadra V

    OH my goodness! I love this post! It calls out to me! I am so happy for you Benjamin! What you have accomplished is incredible! It’s so hard thinking about making these changes. I am a vegetarian already, however, it’s been so hard figuring out what to do with giving up dairy etc. etc. I didn’t want to just eat all non-starchy vegetables etc. I love my potatoes, bread, beans etc. Thanks for this. I really mean it! Will definitely have to read the book.

  • Suzan Marie

    Potatoes! Love love love them with salsa!
    Quick, easy and satisfying! :-)

  • Tyler

    Congratulations Benjamin! What an inspirational story! My go to starches are sweet potatoes, black beans, and of course cereal – I eat Rip’s big bowl religiously every morning which keeps me fueled and full of energy!

  • Joyce Corlett

    Way to go. Your story is great encouragement for many diabetics who think they have to give up eveything tasty!

  • Angela W

    Great job! I like potatoes as well! I love to eat them diced and steamed with carrots on top of a toasted corn tortilla that has been spread with mashed pinto beans. Top it with finely shredded cabbage…… DELICIOUS!

  • kurt ott

    Baked sweet potato fries and hash browns!!

  • martha

    sweet potatoes!

  • Jeff

    Great story, I am down 68# right now and still have some to go myself.

    For me you just can’t beat a sweet potatoe. I usually cook a dozen on the weekend and eat them during the week. I love them cold, right out of the fridge as a snack, I even eat the skins. I think I could put sweet taters and kale into just about any recipe now and it tastes better.

  • Michelle Careins

    I love Potatoes any way I can get them; baked, hash browns, roasted , mashed. Potatoes are one my husbands favorite meals. Just a straight baked potato and whatever other veggies we have on hand. Mmmm now I’m getting hungry.

  • Sherry Masser

    Thank you, Benjamin. I am Chinese American with Irish ancestry. I love my starches. I have lost 32 lbs. & feel great. This is not hard-it’s a wonderful lifestyle change.

  • Chris d

    I don’t eat them often and I am not sure why, but I love potatoes. They are also one of the vegan foods with the highest amount of iodine if you eat the skin). I need iodine because I have hypothyroidism.

  • ellieb

    Sweet potatoes are one of my favorite foods – plain or mixed with other things!

  • Valerie

    Congrats on the return to health. My favorite starchy food is sweet potatoes.

  • http://nicole-veganmama.blogspot.com/ Nicole Partridge

    Sweet potatoes, baby!

  • chickpeafreak

    Potatoes, any which way. Beans and winter squashes too! Love them all. =)

  • http://outinthemsticks.blogspot.com rebecca

    awesome! I just love stories like this.

  • Tiana Duart

    Starches Re the best. However, it’s so sad that our society pushes milk and meat as healthy but outlaws things like potatoes as unhealthy. Trying to convince my mother that white potatoes are fine especially with the skin. Love me some baked potatoes with the no cheese sauce from E2 28 day challenge no cheese Mac. And some salsa. Yummy.

  • vic

    today may 8th ..Dr john Mcdougall’s book “the Starch Solution” is in stores and amazon etc.. sounds like your on the mcdougall plan to me.. cheers on your success.. v;p

  • Erin

    Sweet Potato!! By far the best for me – I use them in so much now and even just for lunch with some fresh salsa, I mix them for dinner with black beans and kale! The sweet potato can be for breakfast, lunch, snack or dinner!! Love it!

  • http://outinthemsticks.blogspot.com rebecca

    oh, and my favorite starch hands down is sweet potato!

  • http://www.jennkagyhealthyme.com Jennifer Kagy

    Inspiration at every corner! Sweet potatoes are my fav!!!

  • Jason

    I love microwave potato chips. No oil.

  • Kimberly Bryan

    My favorite starch right now is baked sweet potatoes! So easy, just wrap whole in foil toss in the oven at 350* for 30 minutes, and BAM!!! DELICIOUSNESS! I add a touch of cinnamon, or pepper depending on my mood. :) Greatest snack ever! YUM

  • Sheila Z

    Choose only one? OK, potatoes of all kinds, but steel cut oatmeal comes in a close second. Butternut squash is high on my list too.

  • patty

    Sweet potatoes!!!

  • Renee

    Sweet potatoes are my favorite! Especially the Peanutty Sweet Potato from The Happy Herbivore! Could eat it daily….and just about do. :)

  • Holly Ward

    Sweet potatoes are wonderful….easy to cook or order!

  • Marsha

    Beans and corn tortillas

  • Karen

    My favorite starch is sweet potatoes. They can be made sweeter or savory, crispy or creamy.

  • Jenn

    Quinoa right now…

  • Kim hawkins

    Potatoes are my lifesaver. I even eat them cold like hard boiled eggs. Bake ‘em up 5 pounds at a time. Love ‘em smashed with kale. Here’s how I do it: cut your taters in quarters & put them in a pot with just enough water to cover, then fill the pot with chopped kale. Cover and boil until potatoes are done, 5-10 minutes. Drain the water, then smash it all together. Yummy!

  • Sheri

    I really need to read this book……. I love starches and feel guilty eating them !!!! My favorite starches would have to be pasta and potatoes. I need to lose about 60 pounds!! Soo happy for your success Benjamin!!!!!!! You are radiant in your after picture!!!WTG!!!

  • Deneen

    Fantastic! Love starchy foods! Congrats on a great article!

  • Jennifer Zunino

    Sweet Potatoes are my yummy yummy comfort food …. just baked and sprinkled with a little spicy seasoning …. the perfect blend of warm, sweet, spicy deliciousness :)

  • Rhonda

    Favorite Starch? Sweet potatoes and Steel Cut Oats! Found white sweet potatoes locally, loving them. Now would like to find some of the purple fleshed sweet potatoes….

  • http://www.DMacDzigns.com Deidre

    I bought some new potatoes from a vegetable stand down the road from the office. I have to say that was the best potato I have ever had. I think it is because for the first time, I was able to really taste it, being it wasn’t drowning in fatty butter. I loving this new way of eating. Thanks guys, you rock !!!

  • Maru

    Being from Venezuela I must say rice and beans!! Brown rice and black beans Caribbean style!! Yummmm….

  • tammy

    Potatoes!!! Any variety… and prepared any way!

  • Monica

    Anything potato! Baked,mashed, boiled …

  • Aggie

    Great post! I love short grain brown rice. I make a big batch in my rice cooker on the weekend and it is the base for many meals during the week or I will eat it all by itself. So, so good.

  • Carol Kenny

    Great article!

  • http://nanetteblanchard.blogspot.com Nanette

    Potatoes are my favorite starch and I love to cut them up into fries and bake them on my Silpat non-stick baking sheet. Occastionally I’ll do half potatoes and half sweet potatoes and add some garlic.

  • Lisa

    I love McDougall’s way of eating. He was the one who initially go me to go vegan many moons ago. Sadly, I went back to the standard diet. But am regrouping and following his plan again. Already feeling better. Get to eat potatoes and grains and feel better… a combination that can’t be beaten.

  • nicci w

    I LOVE sweet potatoes…. rice…beans. I recently started cooking with black beans…..yummy!

  • Lisa

    rice and beans! Yum!

  • Leslie

    Small red new potatoes roasted with rosemary

  • Mark

    Red potatos and lately sweet potatos, trying to learn about whole wheat pasta!!

  • Erin

    Too many to pick just one, really. But I do LOVE potato pancakes with some sour cream (dairy-free) and fresh apple sauce. YUM.

  • melissa

    I love, Love, LOVE potatoes! Anyway you want to cook’em.

  • http://milanorunningmom.blogspot.com Fawn Simpson

    You have an amazing story! Thank you so much for sharing it and thank you for your inspiration. Potatoes are a comfort food for me. Bring ‘em on!

  • John

    …potatoes!

  • karen

    I could eat my weight in mashed potatoes. ; )… I make them with garlic, white pepper, lots of almond milk, an nutritional yeast.

  • Holly

    Turnips are a new starch for me that I’m enjoying a lot, but my go to starches are probably japanesse white yams and butternut squash. YUMMMMMMM

  • http://thriftyveggiemama.com Jamie

    I love starches! It’s a close call between pasta and potatoes.

  • Abby

    I love roasted red potatoes! I am excited about Dr. M’s new book!
    Congrats to you, and your health!

  • Connie

    E2 baked. french fries, yum. or polenta especially before a long run.

  • La Donna

    Very encouraging. Inspired me to have a potato for lunch.

  • Lynnette

    rice- brown & wild, and potatoes- especially yukon gold and little reds!

  • Nelson

    I love brown rice and all types of beans. I used to eat more potatoes, but since I went plant perfect, I just don’t get to them because of all the other great food.

  • Laura Polecastro

    Corn. As in popped or on the cob!

  • amandag49

    I love whole wheat pasta & mashed sweet potatoes :) Love the blog!! I read it all the way & no we’re not related. lol

  • Lisa McCann

    I LOVE sweet potatoes!!!!!!! And. Corn

  • Kyle Kopatz

    Potatoes…hands down are my favorite. Hash browns, fries, chips…all bad stuff.

  • laquick61

    I think potatoes are my favorite. I will have to learn to eat them without butter and sour cream.

  • http://simplyanu.blogspot.com Anu

    sweet potato with black bean chili on top :)

  • colby higgs

    Sweet potato!

  • Barb

    My favorite is sweet potatoes steamed with brussels sprouts, zucchini, yellow squash, onions, etc. and sprinkled with garlic and Mrs. Dash. My husband makes up batches of hash browns and freezes them so we can take them out anytime. We also love mashed or baked potatoes with Mrs. Esselstyn’s mushroom gravy recipe on top.

  • Teresa Heple

    Rice – especially brown and wild rices.

  • veggie365

    Here’s another vote for rice! Love it and it is so versatile! :-)

  • LC

    japanese sweet potatoes are hands-down my favorite starch!!

  • http://www.resilience.massagetherapy.com Cathy Lewis

    Corn is my favorite starch. I love polenta and grits! Super good with enchilada sauce and veggies on top. I also love no-fat corn tortillas. I heat them up on the griddle then put all kinds of stuff in them: beans, veggies, tofu, rice, etc. The best part is that I thought I was allergic to corn and potatoes for almost 15 years, I was convinced it set off my auto-immune disorders. Turns out, once I cut out animal foods and processed foods, I don’t react to them at all! I also have very few auto-immune issues now, cool huh?

  • Shawna

    Sweet potatoes and quinoa are my favorites right now!

  • ciane

    What a great story! I have watched some video clips of Dr. McDougall. Outstanding! He explains things in a way that doctors and laymen can both understand and accept!

    Good luck on your continued success, Benjamin.

    My favorite starch is actually a grain – corn! I grew up in Iowa’s corn belt! I eat it plain – no salt, butter, or seasoning. I also love it in salsa, soup, veggie wraps, and over a plain baked potato.