Eric O’Grey is an inspirational speaker with a bachelor of science in finance from San Jose State University and a juris doctor from Emory University. Eric enjoys long-distance running with his dog, Jake; gourmet plant-based cooking; and spending time with his wife, Jaye. He is passionate about animal kindness, plant-based nutrition, and helping others reverse obesity and achieve their optimal weight and happiness. Learn more about Eric and his initiatives at EricandPeety.com and in his new book, Walking with Peety.
1. Why is walking the most underrated type of activity?
Walking may provide the greatest benefits with the fewest injury risks of any exercise activity. Walking is also the best way to get back on a path to health. Seven years ago, I was 340 pounds and taking daily insulin injections, metformin, and other medications for my type 2 diabetes. When my doctor suggested that I should buy a cemetery plot because I would probably need one in the next five years, I decided to get a second opinion from a new doctor. Instead of prescribing more drugs, my new doctor told me to adopt a shelter dog, because that would require me get outside and walk and get back into life.
I followed my new doctor’s advice. At first, my new dog and I were only able to walk about 100 yards at a time, but after a few months, we were walking two to three miles twice each day. Through our walking, we met new people in my neighborhood who encouraged my progress, and I am still friends with many of these people today. I also learned that walking is the safest and most effective form of exercise for people who are overweight and obese, since walking is low impact and has a low risk of injury for obese people compared to other exercise.
Walking outside is also a great way to get vitamin D naturally, since your body produces vitamin D from exposure to sunlight. And, I found that when I walked for a half an hour before lunch and dinner, I was less hungry and consumed less at those meals, which accelerated my weight loss.
Be sure not to confuse walking as exercise with just tracking “steps” on a fitness watch – walking for exercise involves an elevated heartbeat for an extended period. Taking “steps” are better than just sitting on your couch, but to experience real benefits from walking, you should work up to walking for at least half an hour at a time, twice per day, and don’t worry about the number of steps you take while doing that.
2. What is your idea of a perfect walk?
I enjoy walking in many different places, but especially with my dog. Sometimes we walk to the store, other times we walk on serene nature trails next to a river, and we often even hike on hill and mountain trails. When it’s raining or too cold to walk outside, you can still walk on a treadmill at a gym. And I find that on good long walks, I’m always able to come up with solutions to problems.
3. What would you say the difference is between the old and the new Eric?
In less than one year, just by walking my dog for a half an hour twice each day and transitioning from a standard American diet to a whole food, plant based diet, I dropped from 340 pounds with a 52-inch waist to 185 pounds with a 33-inch waist. During the same time, my total cholesterol dropped from 400 to 120, and I got off all medications, including daily insulin injections for type 2 diabetes. I also became a much happier, more outgoing person because of these health improvements.
4. Have you incorporated other forms of activities in your lifestyle besides walking?
After losing my excess weight, I found I had a lot of extra energy, and began craving more exercise than I could get from just walking. So I began running, and found that I really enjoyed long distance running. Now, my dog and I run at least 30 to 40 miles per week. I also average 5 full marathons per year, and 15 or more half marathons. But it’s important for me to repeat that I did not start running until after I achieved my ideal weight by walking and transitioning to a whole-food-plant-based-no-oil-lifestyle.
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5. What are some of the life lessons which you have learned since making big changes in your life?
You must educate yourself about the basics of nutrition and how your body works to achieve your optimal weight, health and happiness. Health is not a spectator sport. You must be personally involved in your health and decisions involving your health, rather than just passively accepting and acting on well-intentioned but sometimes misinformed medical advice. Diets are temporary and will always yield temporary results. Achieving and maintaining your ideal weight and optimal lifetime health is a lifetime effort, and requires good daily nutrition and light exercise.
Getting back to your high school weight is not an insurmountable goal, and should not be viewed in the same manner as climbing Mount Everest. Just start today by making a resolution to eating more fruits and vegetables while you figure this out, and get outside and start walking, as far as you can today, and a just a little bit farther tomorrow.
6. Why do you think people are afraid of changing their lifestyle and their habits when it comes to food and activity?
Change is always difficult, but anything worth having, like good health and happiness, is worth working toward. Much more difficult than change is the difficulty and discomfort you will experience if you do nothing and don’t change. I was 51 years old when I started on my path to recovering my health, and could not remember eating a single meal in my life that did not include animal products. But then I decided to follow my new doctor’s advice completely, and changed from my standard American omnivore diet to a whole food, plant based diet without added oils.
At first, I experienced cravings for the unhealthy foods I was used to eating. Then gradually, over two months, those cravings disappeared and I began to strongly prefer my new foods instead. Starting with my commitment to change my nutrition and engage in daily light exercise, I achieved tremendous improvements in my health and happiness.
7. What tips do you have for someone looking to adopt a pet?
Please, please, adopt companion animals from your local animal shelter, rescue, or humane society, and never purchase a companion animal from a breeder. Almost 3 million homeless dogs are euthanized each year, and many of those dogs were purchased as “purebreds”. When adopting a dog, please consider an adult or senior dog rather than a puppy. Adopting a puppy, especially for an inexperienced pet owner, would be like an inexperienced parent adopting a two-year-old child. An adult or senior pet will most likely be house trained, at least reasonably well behaved, and past the stage where they will destroy your furnishings.
An older dog will know that you rescued him or her, and will continuously express their gratitude with loyalty to you for the remainder of their life. The dog I adopted became my walking partner and accountability partner, and was instrumental in helping me develop a pattern of healthy behavior that lead to the restoration of my health.
8. How does a plant based diet related to a healthy lifestyle?
I’m often asked: Is it healthy to stop eating animal products, and instead to only consume a plant based diet? According to the American Dietetic Association, the answer is yes: “Well planned vegetarian [including total vegan] diets are healthful for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”
But if meat, dairy and eggs promote obesity and chronic disease, why do so many people consume those products? Because we have been raised to subsist on animal products, and this is all we know until we learn better. Despite the proven benefits, the truth about the nutritional superiority and life changing benefits of a whole food, plant-based diet is still not being championed by a majority of healthcare professionals.
And that truth is: The detrimental health effects associated with consuming animal products have been known for many years. More than a century ago, in 1907, the New York Times published an article entitled “Cancer Increasing among Meat Eaters.” This multi-year scientific study showed that recent immigrants who were “practically vegetarians” had the lowest cancer mortality of all U.S. residents, and concluded that consumption of animal foods “is a most important factor in the increase of [cancer] and its death rate.” Consumption of meat was again identified as a public health concern in the 1950s when the American Heart Association first recommended that dietary cholesterol and fats be reduced for the prevention of heart disease.
Based on a report by the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research in 2007, evidence linking red and processed meats to colorectal cancer was deemed “convincing.” Large scale studies by the Harvard School of Public Health and other sources, monitoring tens of thousands of people over decades, concluded that meat consumption is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality. Other recent studies have estimated that up to 80% of chronic disease (type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cancer) can be reduced with a plant based diet, and that meat and cheese consumption have similar mortality risks to smoking cigarettes.
So why don’t doctors do more to promote plant nutrition over pills and procedures? A growing number do: “I recommend a plant-based diet because I know it’s going to lower their blood pressure, improve their insulin sensitivity and decrease their cholesterol” said Dr. Kim A. Williams, M.D., former president of the American College of Cardiology. And according to Dr. Neal Bernard, M.D., president of the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, “Plant-based diets are the nutritional equivalent of quitting smoking.”
9. What are some of the misconceptions about type 2 diabetes that you would like to comment on?
The underlying cause of type 2 diabetes is not sugar – it is insulin resistance. Current medical studies point to fat toxicity within our muscle cells as a major factor behind insulin resistance, especially from animal fats. This fat toxicity impedes insulin sensitivity and promotes insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, and leads to the vicious cycle of obesity and insulin resistance.
The bottom line is, the greatest chance at reversing your type 2 diabetes and achieving your ideal weight is to stop eating animal products and to instead subsist on a whole-food-plant-based-no-oil-diet. So please find and consult with a vegan friendly physician or naturopathic doctor to get your health and weight under control permanently. Healthy, whole plant sources of carbohydrates such as potatoes and rice are not to blame for obesity and poor health. In fact, studies suggest that adults eating a high-carbohydrate diet are more likely to have Body Mass Index values below 25.
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