Day 62: My Tumultuous History With Food, Part 3 of 3

From Atkins to Vegan in a Heartbeat

This is the last of three posts that take a quick look at what I have been eating for the last 39.8 years.  Many of the details were glossed over to allow for more compact posting.  Hopefully this will help illustrate the long and twisted journey that led to my new vegan life.

It was May of 2003 and the Earth was spinning on its axis as it had for some time.  George W. Bush gave his speech on the USS Abraham Lincoln under his Mission Accomplished banner.  The first deer ever cloned by scientists was born and given the name of Dewey.  And of course, who can forget when Arsenal beat Southhampton 1-0 to claim the FA Cup?  (Thank you Wikipedia)

This was also the exciting month and year that I decided that I’d had quite enough of being called Big Man by strangers.  It was time to take off the fat suit like I’d always planned to do.  This was a great time of life to make this change too.  My elementary teaching career was underway and for the first time in years we had more money coming into the bank than we had going out.  It was just the tiniest little bit more, but that by itself was a near miracle and more stress relief than can be adequately explained.

With the best intentions in the world I selected the Atkin’s low-carb diet as my salvation. I had a mini-emotional breakdown the day before starting the meat diet because it sounded like a dangerous fad and I was already worried about my health.  However, I’d seen so many success stories I decided I would try my best to follow the rules and hope for the best.  Like when I do my taxes.

The weight immediately began to fall off.  By starving myself of all carbohydrates (bread, pasta, most fruit, rice, most vegetables, and Coca-Cola which I previously drank by the gallon) my body turned to the only energy source available and used it up quickly.  The joy of losing body fat fueled my normally weak will power and I dropped from 292 lbs to 222 lbs between May ’03 and March ’04.

However, before I give my own Mission Accomplished speech, I should mention the number of hospital visits I made during this period of time because of possible Atkins diet side effects.  In July, I went to the emergency room with what I thought was blinding abdominal pain.  It turned out to be colitis and diverticulitis which is just an infected bowel that can rupture and kill you.  No big.

Then in January, I began a three month nightmare that taught me what blinding abdominal pain actually was.  Kidney stones began dropping alternately from the right and left kidney and lodging in my ureters because they were so damn big.  Barbaric stone retrieval methods that I can’t bring myself to share were used, as well as days of forcing the stones out by drinking gallons of water and then hoping to black out before the pain got too bad.  Weeks of my life passed in a muted red-orange tunnel of pain.

Finally, with only a single kidney stone left to pass, I was taught a new lesson about the depths of pain when my mom died suddenly.  I fought valiantly against the gravity of grief, but succumbed to the lure of swallowing all my sorrow and then hiding it under food.

During the next seven years my weight behaved the way the economy was supposed to.  The pounds that I’d dropped and then kissed goodbye came back with a vengeance.  Several times I mounted an Atkins style attack on my body fat and was usually successful for a while.  However, it would inevitably end in a two night vacation in the hospital or a carbohydrate binge that ruined months of expensive work.  Steak and bacon and deductibles ain’t cheap folks!

What? Why would I continue to try a diet that had proven to increase my cholesterol, blood pressure, and possibility of death from a ruptured intestine?  Duh.  Being fat is hard.  Put aside the effort involved in carrying 100-150 pounds around with you everywhere you go.  The emotional baggage that you carry is ten times as heavy- minimum.

Last May was eight years after the birth of Dewey the Clone Deer and my own introduction to the Atkins diet.  I started the downward plunge again after reaching my terrifying all time highest personal weight of 336 pounds.  Last May, I started to use super low carb eating again and in five months I dropped 50 of the 150 pounds I had to lose.  I suffered two minor abdominal incidents that may have been colon related again, but both subsided after 24 hours without medical attention.  I also dealt with several bouts of terrifying chest pain that were thankfully not heart attacks.  I was at a point where losing weight was obviously doing me more harm than good.  I felt scared but I couldn’t bring myself to give up the weight loss miracle.

There was a lot of reflection and soul searching that went into the decision to drop Atkins and become vegan.  I was in the middle of watching Forks Over Knives when all of my swirling thoughts, hopes and fears coalesced into a solution.  When I asked myself what kind of life I wanted to live once I’d lost all the body fat.  It was a life of environmental awareness, compassion, global responsibility, and forward thinking.  I realized it was a life I could lead while regaining my health.

The blog picks up the adventure at this point.  I am no longer tricking my body into losing weight with a dangerous diet.  I am now happily living the life that I will continue to live as long as I am allowed to do so.  Before this new life I was on a metaphorical trip with a specific destination.  I wanted to reach it quickly and be done traveling because it was a mission I had to accomplish.  Now I am on a trip with a vague destination and no time table at all.  I am happily enjoying the scenery, the winding road, and most of all, the people I am meeting along the way.


About jasongillett

I'm Jason Gillett, 2 year VEGAN, and a 41 year old family man. My wife & I teach in a FL school. I am using a blog to chronicle our family's new life. View all posts by jasongillett

21 responses to “Day 62: My Tumultuous History With Food, Part 3 of 3

  • Lou Hyatt

    I hope to high heavens that you are compiling all of these segments into a book which could be located in the health, self-help, fiction, non-fiction or humor section
    of the bookstore or local library. Thanks for finally showing us visual folks a photo.

    • jasongillett

      Coming from someone on my list of favorite human beings, that is high praise indeed. Rest assured, when that day comes you will not need to travel to bookstores or libraries to get a copy. I will hand deliver yours. Shannon and I miss our daily Lou- its great to hear from you!

  • Sheree

    I always enjoy your posts, but this one is particularly touching. It’s hard to imagine how someone could go back to a diet that had caused them so much difficulty (did you not think the diverticulitis and kidney stones were related to your diet? Did your doctors ever mention it?), but I understand how desperate you were.

    It’s funny how life actually gets so much simpler when you switch to a vegan diet (and lifestyle). Less choice = more peace. The world starts to look so much different when you are no longer part of the mass food consumerism. But your heart hurts more for the animals and people who are still part of it.

    You are looking so great, too!

    Thanks for a wonderful read!

    • jasongillett

      Thank you so much for reading along over the weeks and for the moral support. This simple life is so full of flavor- I never get over feeling like I am eating in a foreign country- it is perpetually new and exciting.

      My doctors will get their own blog post at some point in the future because of how I feel they let me down. I asked over and over and over about meat and Atkins with the intestinal issues- they told me to avoid tomatoes and pomegranates because of the small seeds. I know this is true in some ways, but they didn’t address the bigger issue of what meat was doing to my intestines.

      I was led to believe that it was safe to continue from several doctors, including one who was treating me for gout- darn- I forgot to mention my gout in the post. Shoot.

      I once heard to look back, but not stare- I am so glad to be moving forward and to have you joining the fun 🙂

  • Annmarie

    You are such a great writer! Thank you for sharing your journey and keep up the great work……

    I, too, struggled weight most of my adult life. Although I still battle a tiny bit, it’s nothing like in the past, and all the struggles have taught me things.

    I have been vegan for many years now and it is wonderful. It’s a bit of a challenge when you’re eating around other people in social situations, but that’s a small price to pay for your own health, the health of animals, and the health of the planet.

    Thank you so much for your blog.\

    • jasongillett

      You are too kind and I am glowing from your complements! As to eating around other people, I am finding that at holiday parties I get vegetable trays all to myself because nobody else is bothering them. Happy Holidays, and thanks again!

  • Mandy

    I went into the hospital shortly after going raw vegan- with kidney stones!!! The doctors blamed them on my raw vegan diet. Interesting how they never want to blame meat-thick diets. (I dont think it had ANYTHING to do with my raw vegan diet, unless it was just my body getting tired and cleansing itself. My kidneys had been aching for a while before I went raw vegan to cleanse my body out!)

    Anyway, GO YOU! 🙂 I do eat meat now- but sparingly. It makes me feel like crap if I consume too much. My body ALWAYS feels better with fresh and raw!

    • jasongillett

      I agree- those stones don’t form overnight. I think your system cleansing had a lot to do with flushing them out, not creating them. I don’t even know if I can blame Atkins for mine- I think they were more a result of my Standard American Diet and the rapid weight loss caused them to precipitate.

      In any case, they are horrible, and cheers to us for being done with them!

  • Peter

    Death is a culmination of factors and LIFE is the reduction and act of counteracting these mostly self-induced factors. You are doing an excellent job on your journey. We all fall into the traps of conventional “health” wisdom due to our need to indulge in our addictions and eliminate their costly residues with swallow of a pill, but these indulgences and addictions can be easily conquered.

    “It turned out to be colitis and diverticulitis which is just an infected bowel that can rupture and kill you. No big.” As you learned through personal experience, these approaches are short-term improvements that lack long-term quality. The journey of a lifetime, should last a lifetime. In other words, don’t give in to temptation and temptation will soon cease to exist.

    My journey to is to smash the age record and live to 150. I am not special, I am just acting on what is available and utilizing it appropriately.

    LIVE Longer WeWill!

  • jasongillett

    I have been learning about your goal from and telling people about you for weeks. I think its an amazing story and very possible goal. I am glad that I have given myself a better chance to see you further along on your journey.

    The healing and disease reversal is the most appealing aspect of plant based living, I believe. It gives me the hope I need to make the change. Thanks for reading.

    • Peter

      Thanks for spreading the word and it was a great read. It is truly amazing how diseases and disorders are so interconnected by their root causes and methods of natural healing.

  • elle

    Thanks for sharing your food and diet history. I tried Atkins once myself as I was lured by the great reviews and photos of fit looking people – I mean these people weren’t just skinny, they were all FIT (but then maybe photoshopped who knows) – but as I was vegetarian at the time (vegan now) I couldn’t eat all the meat required so I ate a lot of eggs and cheese and whatever else wasn’t meat but still on the plan. I lasted a couple of weeks, I felt like crap all the time and there seemed to be a permanent odd smell leaking from my pores! Luckily those were the only side-effects I had but then it was only a few weeks – I also lost no significant weight that might have convinced me to continue. All the colon problems and kidney stones you endured must have been dreadful, at least you know where you are with plants.

    • jasongillett

      I am glad for you! You could tell Atkins was hurting you and you got away from it! I feel think headed in retrospect, but at the time nothing seemed too out of the ordinary or diet related. With age comes wisdom- mine was just a little slow showing up. Thank you!!

  • Jacki

    I cried when I read this b/c the same thing happened to me! My culprit was a paleo/South Beach Diet merger from hell, encouraged by my trainer (no longer my trainer). I was SO sick….I’m a runner, and I could **barely** run…I moved into a run/walk training group for beginners and I couldn’t keep up with them. My joints were inflamed and painful, my hair was falling out, my skin felt weird, I couldn’t sleep well, was exhausted, depressed, and confused. My periods stopped. I quit my “old lady” gentle yoga b/c it was too hard (I used to teach yoga..*sigh*). I didn’t lose much weight at all except an initial 10lbs. My weight training was going no where after months …I was gaining NO muscle tone. One day I awoke covered in orange sweat. No kidding. ORANGE. Off to the doc to be diagnosed with acidosis. Yep, from animal protein. Hurray! doc prescribed vegetarian diet, but 4 weeks later, a day after a painful half marathon, I developed diverticulitis. Yeah, from no fiber. No fiber? my paleo trainer said “oh that whole fiber thing is a myth, no one really needs fiber”. UM, ***I*** apparently need fiber. I’ve been vegan ever since, low/no fat vegan since I saw FOK a few months later. I’ve lost weight, can run again, everything is back to normal and healed. Still mad about that bad advice, tho. I could have died. And, I understood your feelings about doing Atkins to lose weight even tho you had unsettling feelings about it…that was how I felt. I needed to lose weight, everyone said it was easy and worked well for them (altho, looking back, everyone who said that is still fat..they gained the weight back). So I did it. and when I felt sick, my trainer said “eat more protein. eat 4 pieces of bacon w/ your eggs instead of 2”. I’m convinced now that she’s crazy.

    Thanks for sharing your story, even if it did make me cry. I’m glad you came to your senses!

    • jasongillett

      Thank you so much for sharing- it is nice to know that I have not made these mistakes alone. When we look for weight loss solutions, we can cling to some dangerous diets in the hopes of finding relief, blinded by hope. Especially when our doctors aren’t even giving us safe advice. Thanks again and congratulations on escaping the crazy trainer!!

  • elle

    Wow Jacki, your trainer needs some nutrition training! That’s some really bad advice you got there.

  • You know

    Beautiful! I love you Petron.

  • inthe5percent

    You are definitely not alone with the dreaded Atkins Diet. I, too, fell into that trap. It was my go-to diet for years. I could drop a good 15-20 lbs on it, the thing is, it always came back…with a vengeance. I can’t even tell you how many times I did Atkins or Atkins with a side of doctor prescribed diet pills. So horribly bad. It wasn’t until I figured out I was getting fatter and unhealthier that I decided it was time to quit. Thanks to Atkins I couldn’t stand the site or smell of turkey, pork or tuna. I guess because of Atkins it made it easier for me to go vegan. I just hate that it took me so long to figure it all out. Thank God for FOK. Keep up the good work. It’s inspiring.

    • jasongillett

      That Atkins trap was a hard one to get out of. I’m glad you made it out! I know exactly what you mean about being able to go vegan easier because of the Atkins Years. I was honestly so sick of bacon I don’t think I could ever miss it. Thanks for the kind words and reading- and have a great new year!

  • Heather

    Thank you for sharing your experience! It’s been interesting to me to read because I’m another person who has gone from eating a very low carb diet to eating a carbohydrate-rich vegan diet.

    My story: When my attempts to lose the weight through calorie counting didn’t work, I turned to Atkins. I spent a little over a year eating a very low carb diet. Meat, eggs, cheese, nuts, and low-carb vegetables. I lost the weight, and physically I felt great. I had none of the obvious problems that are cited by others (no hair loss — in fact, my hair seemed thicker; no digestive problems; my skin looked healthier; etc.). Perhaps not surprisingly, my LDL and HDL readings did go up — although, my ratio did improve. (Still, my overall numbers a pretty darn high.)

    Even though I felt good physically (Chol numbers aside), I was troubled by the ethics of eating a low-carb diet. I could not justify eating all of those critters OR supporting industries that take such a toll on human animals. So, I started to transition to a vegetarian low-carb diet. Instead of meat, I ate eggs, dairy, nuts, and tofu.

    One day, while watching a documentary about sea turtles, I decided that I could no longer eat anything that came from critters. In addition, I realized that I needed to do more to reduce my negative impact on the environment. That day, I went vegan.

    I’m curious to see how this will play out. I’ve gone from eating a diet comprised primarily of fat (60%-70%) to a diet comprised primarily of carbohydrates (70%-80%). I am basically eating a completely “opposite” diet of what I was eating on Atkins.

    Emotionally, I find this way of eating to be MUCH more nourishing. I’m getting my blood work redone in a few months, and I’ll be interested to see what, if anything, changes.

    Good luck to you — I’ll be reading your blog with interest 🙂

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