Doug Schmidt loved to eat meat and ate it every day, until at the age of 49, out of the blue, he suffered his first heart attack. “No one expects to have a heart attack at age 49,” he said. In the hospital, near his home in Rochester, NY, he made the decision to follow the American Heart Association’s dietary guidelines and cut way back on meat and dairy and switch to a more whole-food plant-based diet. Then, just a few months later, he was sent back to the hospital barely able to breathe, and the doctors told him he could have another heart attack any minute.
After getting through that ordeal, Doug knew it was time to take matters into his own hands and not trust that the AHA had the right approach. He and his wife started doing more research while he was recuperating and found out that a plant-based diet based on whole foods and zero oil was the healthiest way to go for someone in Doug’s position: No meat, no dairy, no animal fat whatsoever. “She wanted to keep me around,” he recalls. Eventually, he adopted a completely vegan diet which ended up saving his life. Within weeks of going full-on vegan, he started losing weight and his blood work improved. Every three months he checked in with his doctor and within 3 years he was completely back to normal healthy levels of cholesterol and other markers for cardiovascular disease.
All in all, changing to an oil-free whole food plant-based approach helped Doug lose sixty pounds and change his entire life, including changing his career path (he is still working as a baker) to focus more on educating others about how to start a plant-based diet of their own, for whatever their reason may be. The Beet chatted with Doug on Zoom and he shared his entire journey including the challenges, the rewards, the motivations, the exact foods he ate to get healthy and what inspired him along the way. Here is his play-book including the helpful movies to watch, books to read, and more.
The Beet: Why did you decide to switch to a plant-based diet?
DS: “I had a heart attack at 49, and nobody expects to get a heart attack at 49. All the research showed that if I didn’t change my eating habits, I would have another heart attack within five years. Initially, I found Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn’s work on preventing and reversing heart disease, and at first, I said ‘That’s too extreme, I’m not going to do that.’
“So the first year I followed the American Heart Association guidelines, which said I could have a little meat, I could have dairy, I could have eggs, and I ended up in the emergency room with a threat of another heart attack. After that health scare, I took things more seriously but still, the switch didn’t happen overnight. It took us about three years to get fully on board. I switched my diet to save my life, but you know that there has been the added bonus of helping the environment and helping the animals, so it’s allowed me to walk a little softer.”