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Vegetarian Essays/Vegan Essays

For much of his adult life, Steve Steiner has had multiple careers alternating between journalism, advertising, public relations, marketing, and food service/hospitality.

For a five-year period, he held down two full-time positions simultaneously, one as a reporter/editor, and the other as the night auditor for a luxury hotel. In both careers, he developed a talent as a turn-around specialist, taking distressed newspapers and one restaurant, and returning them to profitability.

He is currently embarking upon a new career endeavor, training to become a chef. A nearby community college offers a two-year associate's degree in culinary technology, and he will begin formal training starting in the fall of 2010. His ultimate goal in becoming a chef is and will be to focus on healthy eating.

Originally from New Jersey, he now lives in Hickory, North Carolina, where he has resided the past 21 years. He is the father of three and grandfather of two. He shares his home with two dogs (a Shih Tzu and a benudgin), four rescue cats, and a cockatiel.

Veganism Saved My Life ... Literally!

by Steve Steiner

Today is April 1, 2010, yet my headline is no joke. A year ago at this time, I was in extremely poor health. Today, though, it is almost the complete opposite (which I will elaborate upon later). But it wasn't April Fool's Day when this actually all began.

It started January 1, 2009, although there were suspicions several weeks prior. However, I couldn't do much about my suspicions until the first day of the new year, when my health insurance kicked in. At the time, I was the managing editor of two local newspapers, The Tribune (of Elkin, NC), and the Yadkin Ripple. New Year's Day was a workday for my staff and me, and while a meeting was scheduled for 1:00 p.m., I had arrived at 9:00 a.m., planning to get ahead of some of the work before me.

Didn't happen. On the drive to work (I was commuting 75 miles each way), I was extremely fatigued. When I arrived, I immediately went downstairs to a room in the basement where I had a sleeping bag; the sleeping bag was there because on Tuesdays I would literally put in a 24-hour day writing articles, editing articles, and laying out two newspapers. But I digress. I went to sleep. Before I knew it, I was being roused by one of my reporters who told me it was time for the meeting.

I don't remember much about the meeting; I was later told that I appeared "out of it," that I would be asked questions and that I would have to be prodded. What I do remember is that afterwards I was going through an emotional roller coaster. I would be joyful and elated one second, and as if with the snap of a finger, I would then be plunged into a severe depression. I would be laughing one second, then fighting the urge to keep from bawling my eyes out the very next second. One of my reporters kept urging me to go to the hospital, but I adamantly refused until after an hour, I couldn't take it anymore.

"I had been plagued with extreme thirst and frequent urination."
On top of all this, for the prior month-and-a-half, in addition to chronic fatigue, I had been plagued with extreme thirst and frequent urination. So it was no surprise when I was admitted to the hospital emergency room and my blood sugar reading was taken that I was declared diabetic; my blood sugar count, I believe, was over 400! I was held for about five hours before I was released. I was also given the name of a doctor to contact and advised to make an appointment, which I did. At that appointment, blood was drawn, along with an examination. A short while later it was confirmed that I had type 2 diabetes.

Steve Steiner Like many, I went into denial. Although my weight had dropped from 210 to 180 in a matter of weeks, once I began taking glucofage, which curtailed my obvious symptoms, my weight rapidly climbed back to 210-215 pounds. Again, like many in denial, I was inconsistent in addressing my condition. I didn't take my glucofage twice a day as recommended. Nor did I take a blood sugar reading, except in a rare instance. I kept my eating habits: primarily fast food, super-sized, and an extra burger and fries, to boot!

A number of factors converged to change my life. My 20-year marriage broke up when my soon-to-be former moved out in late April 2009. Because of the tumultuous condition of the newspaper industry, I could no longer put out a quality product, so I resigned. My last day at work was July 3, 2009. For the first time in five years I no longer had a job, as I had worked solidly all those years without even taking a vacation. It was glorious. It also contributed to saving my life.

At the end of July, I took an A1C test. A week later a nearby community college held a diabetes fair that, at the last minute, I decided to attend. Of course, on my way to the fair, I stopped at a fast food restaurant, ordered a triple burger, large fries and an extra large soda that I polished off within five or so minutes. It was no surprise when my blood sugar reading was about 360, and my blood pressure was in the pre-stroke range. Of course, I attributed it all to the meal I had devoured: you know, carbohydrates, sugar, salt, blah-blah-blah. In fact, the only "test" I "passed" with flying colors was an eye exam that indicated no damage from my type 2 diabetes.

Before I go any further, I need to add that my glucofage dosage had been upped from 500 mg to 1,000 mg (the size of a horse pill!), plus I had been prescribed a blood pressure medication and an anti-depressant. The anti-depressant is a puzzler, as I was never depressed about the fact I was now diabetic; so go figure. Best I can determine, prescribing an anti-depressant is simply SOP --- standard operating procedure.

"I came across a DVD featuring Dr. Neal Barnard."
A week after that, I received my A1C results. My count was 9.5, and my LDL and triglycerides were off the chart! None of the other measurements were any better. Now I was scared. I immediately went to the dresser drawer where I had tossed all the free material I had received at the diabetes fair. I came across a DVD featuring Dr. Neal Barnard, who is with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

I put the DVD into my computer and watched. I was mesmerized by what he had to say. He said it was possible to reverse diabetes, and that the way to do it is through a low-fat vegan nutritional lifestyle. After viewing the DVD, right then and there, I made the decision. No pun intended, I went "cold turkey" and quit eating meat, dairy, eggs and fish. I have never been too keen on fish unless it was shrimp or lobster, sometimes scallops, and in a rare while, salmon. Of course, there was tuna, but who among us has ever really stopped to realize it's fish. After all, tuna's tuna. Right?

Reversing Diabetes I also joined the local YMCA, which has a gym and indoor/outdoor swimming pools. This was mid-August. At that time I weighed 210 pounds. Being "retired," I had the luxury of working out every day. Plus, since I love to cook and bake, I had a wonderful time researching recipes on the Internet and trying new approaches. I also bought Dr. Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes, as well as recipe books and books by Dr. McDougall, Dean Ornish, and others. Since I no longer had health insurance, I had a friend of mine, who is a doctor, monitor me.

In just one month I was able to eliminate the need for taking glucofage. I also had a mini A1C performed that indicated my blood sugar count had dropped from 9.5 to 8.6, nearly an entire point. For those who may not be familiar with how an A1C is calculated, the figures differ from how a daily blood sugar reading is measured; this information can be found on the internet. However, the big result came following the official A1C reading done at the end of December.

By this time, through a not-for-profit charitable organization, I had acquired a form of health insurance and was assigned my own personal physician. Office visits cost me $5 each. All I can say is thank goodness for this program! I was able to review my progress with my own physician. When he reviewed the most recent A1C results, he was astounded.

"My A1C blood sugar reading was 5.2, a drop of 4.3 points!"
My A1C blood sugar reading was 5.2, a drop of 4.3 points! Perhaps, I should explain that according to the A1C "chart," a non-diabetic should be in a range of 5-6 points; a pre-diabetic from 6-7; and a diabetic should not be higher than 7.5. I had reversed my diabetes through exercise and, more importantly, by adhering to the low-fat, vegan nutritional plan promoted by Dr. Barnard and others.

Incidentally, my LDL and triglycerides were each at 97, and I was told that anything 100 and below was good. My overall cholesterol was 154, which I was told was also good. On top of all that, ever since beginning this program, my blood pressure was, on average, 110/70; I am told 120/80 is the top of the safe range. Finally, my weight was down to 163 pounds!

Then, that's when it struck!

On January 10, 2010, I thought I was having a heart attack just like the year before, when I suspected I might have developed diabetes but couldn't do anything about it until my health insurance kicked in; it was a similar situation. At the start of the new year, I began to experience a twinge on the inside of my upper left arm. At first I figured I had pulled a muscle as I had just begun using free weights in my exercise regimen. On Friday, Jan 8, while at the gym, I got on the treadmill, which I always did, and put the speed up to my normal pace. My left arm began to ache. As an experiment, I decreased the speed and the pain decreased, When I again boosted the speed, my pain increased. I immediately put a halt to my exercising.

Fortunately, I had a regularly scheduled appointment later that day, and when I met with my doctor, I told him what had happened. He immediately had me take an EKG that revealed nothing. However, he advised me to stop working out until a stress test was performed the following Friday. On a few occasions the next day I would feel a pain in my arm, but it would only last a few seconds and then stop. However, I also began to feel a momentary tightness or pain in the middle of my chest. Sometimes it would be in conjunction with the pain in my arm, but sometimes by itself. On Sunday it happened several times, usually when I was walking at a fast clip.

Steve Steiner "…the EKG they took revealed nothing."
That evening, while seated at my computer, I began feeling pain in both my arms as well as my chest, plus I was sweating profusely. I looked up heart attack symptoms on the Internet and I called 9-1-1. Of course, even though first responders and EMTs were here in a matter of minutes, by the time they arrived, my symptoms had ceased, and the EKG they took revealed nothing. They were urging me to be brought to the hospital, and at first I was obstinate, but my next-door neighbor convinced me to go, so I did. At the hospital I had a chest x-ray done, was given a blood thinner, and kept overnight. The next day it was determined I had not had a heart attack, perhaps an anginal incident (my words), and it was decided not to perform a heart catheterization at that time.

Since that incident, I had the stress test that indicated the possibility of a blockage. I then had a nuclear stress test performed that revealed that IF I had a blockage, where it MIGHT be. So I underwent a procedure with a device I believe is called a 64-slice machine. If I understand how it works, the device takes 3-D images of both the exterior and interior of the heart. I do know I was injected with a dye and given a dose of radiation. (As I write this, it will be April 5 before I meet with the cardiologist to go over the results and decide how to next proceed).

A few weeks in between the stress test and nuclear stress test, I was having lunch with some friends, and one of them teased me about how ironic it was that it was only after becoming a vegan that I had a "heart incident." I knew he was joking, and that it was his method of expressing his concern, but it gave me the opportunity to explain that it was quite the opposite. Had I NOT quit eating meat, dairy, eggs and fish and had I not begun an exercise regimen, all of which contributed to my letting go nearly 50 pounds, then what I had suffered might very well have resulted in an actual heart attack --- a FATAL heart attack. And that wasn't only me talking. I was also echoing the words of my primary care physician AND the cardiologist!

"…had it not been for Dr. Neal Barnard, I might not be alive today."
So this is my story and why I genuinely am convinced that had it not been for Dr. Neal Barnard, I might not be alive today. Before I end this story, I will add that while the reason I switched over to a low-fat vegan nutritional lifestyle had its genesis in health concerns, in my research I have learned much more of what I was peripherally aware: factory farms. So being a vegan has also expanded to incorporate ethical concerns. Am I a 100% vegan? No. I still wear shoes and belts made with leather. I picked up this leather jacket for $5 at Goodwill, and since this was a particularly harsh winter in North Carolina, I'm glad I had it. My gloves are also leather. Once in a rare while I absolutely yield to having cheese. Don't get me wrong; usually I will eat vegan cheese, but every so often -- and these incidents grow fewer and further -- I crave the real deal, especially when I make onion soup. So I am by no means perfect. But, what the hey, I've only been following a vegan nutritional lifestyle since mid-August; so cut me some slack. I am positive by this time next year, I will have long forsaken the craving for dairy cheese (and I have been told that the one food group missed most by people who become vegans is cheese, not meat). As for articles of clothing, well, the jury's still out on that one.

Anyway, thanks for reading through this lengthy tale of mine. In the meantime, I was given the go-ahead several weeks ago by my doctor to return to the gym, but to take it not so strenuously. Thank goodness, because in the interim, my weight climbed back to 170. It's back down to 165, and I am striving to reach 155 by my 59th birthday on June 14 (hint, hint). By the time I reach my 60th birthday, my goal is to maintain a weight between 135-145 pounds, with a waist no larger than 32-33.

So wish me luck, everyone. And by the way, are there any vegan ladies who are single who are interested in a bald, Jewish vegan man who resembles the actor Robert Duvall (on a bad day for Duvall)?

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