“And I’ve never felt better in my life.”
How did it all happen? Nelson tells his story…
I have one very good friend to thank – Alan Schein.
Alan and I had been business partners in the past. Alan’s a brilliant, creative entrepreneur. It’s always a real privilege to work with him. Over the years, Alan has also become a wonderful friend. And now, Alan has introduced my wife and me to a wonderful new life.
My story begins with Alan’s and my mutual LOVE of food. Years ago, Alan’s wife, Susan, said that Alan and I didn’t have an eating problem. We had an “ordering” problem. She knew us well! We had this favorite restaurant for big business dinners in New York City – great Italian food. Every time Alan and I made reservations, the owner would go all-out. We’d start with paper-thin kettle chips, freshly cooked and slathered with mozzarella cheese. Then came a big antipasto bar. Then we’d get a 36-ounce rib-eye steak that the owner had special ordered, just for us. It was covered in garlic and butter, and of course, more mozzarella!
Then, at dessert time, Alan and I played a game. We’d both say, “Oh, we don’t want dessert.”
Then Alan would say, pointing to the one of the richest desserts on the menu, “I think I’ll order this for you.”
And I’d say, pointing to another belt buster, “Well, I’m going to order this for you,” and we’d end up eating each other’s dessert.
But now, all that’s in the past, thanks entirely to Alan introducing me to the Pritikin Program.
“You’ll have a good week.”
In the summer of 2009, after finishing a major project that had kept Alan busy for the past few years, he gave me a call. I was in Connecticut working as a financial consultant. We hadn’t seen each other lately; both of us had been focused on our own lives. But Alan had a plan. He’d been to Pritikin in the past, and he wanted to go back, but only if I went with him. “You could help me get back on track,” he explained. “For the first time in a while we can spend some time together. You’ll have a good week,” he encouraged. “You’ll relax. You’ll have some fun. We can reconnect.”
So I went.
I came in knowing nothing about the Pritikin Program.
I left with a whole new life.
Like a lot of guests at Pritikin, I’m a type “A”er. I thought I had control over my life. I thought I knew what I needed to know about food and health, and I thought I could manage my health situation. But since college, when I weighed 165 pounds, I’d gained two to three pounds every year. I’d diet in what I thought was an effective way, losing 10 or 20 pounds, primarily on the Atkins Diet. But each time I stopped, I gained back more than I had lost. And it came back quickly.
Plus, by the time I’d arrived at Pritikin, I wasn’t feeling great. I hadn’t had a heart attack or anything else serious. But I’d begun to have aches and pains everywhere. That’s what happens when you’re heavy. When I lifted stuff, my muscles didn’t work well. When I walked up just one flight of stairs, I got winded. When I slept, I slept poorly.
From the day I walked into Pritikin, I was impressed. It was much different from anything I had tried before. The emphasis was clearly on health, not just on losing weight. Also, the faculty seemed to truly like what they were doing. Nutritionists Tracy, Gayl, and “Dr. Death” (Jay Kenney) were all very motivated and focused. Drs. Scheib, Sugar, Blum, and Fruge… they all cared about each new arrival and what each guest was about to undertake.
My first major “aha” moment came when I sat down with my assigned Pritikin physician Dr. Blum. It was unlike any other visit I’ve ever had with a doctor. Normally, a doctor tells you, “You’ve got to do this and this. And if you don’t, I can’t help you.”
By contrast, Dr. Blum and I started out by reviewing all the results of my blood work and stress test. He basically said, “You’re an analytical guy. Here are the facts. Now, let me explain what’s going to happen to you next.” Though clear and concise, he said it all with such concern. But what he told me was graphic and grim.
“I can assure you,” Dr. Blum continued, “that whatever you’re currently doing is not working. And I can assure you that if you continue doing what you’re doing, things will not get better from here. But you can take this opportunity this week to learn the things you need to know to be successful. It’s not a quick fix. It’s a different approach to eating and life, but we’ll give you all the tools.” His overriding point was: “You now know what you’re dealing with.”
My meeting with Dr. Blum, in effect, was not really a conversation about change. It was a conversation about recognition – the recognition that I was on the wrong track when I thought I was on the right track, the recognition that the things I was doing that were intended to help me were actually making things worse, not better.
All during that week at Pritikin in the summer of 2009, I got facts and more facts. Olive oil isn’t good for me? Whoa! Little by little, my veneer was stripped away.
I used to think, for example, that you could learn about a food’s nutrition by reading the front of the box. “Did you know,” I texted my wife, Mary, “that there’s about 1,500 milligrams of sodium in one can of Progresso soup?! That’s how much sodium we should have for the entire day!” Progresso was Mary’s “go to” food whenever she was in a hurry. She’d heat up a bowl and feel good about it, thinking it was “healthy.” Neither of us had ever realized how bad it was for her blood pressure problem, requiring daily blood pressure medication.
Eat as much as you want
I was amazed, too, at the Pritikin concept of focusing, not on quantity of food, but quality. Eat as much as you want, I learned, but do so with the right foods, and protect yourself by choosing what you put in your mouth. Eat more fresh food, more fiber, fewer processed foods, no fast food, and most importantly, never allow yourself to get hungry.
One comment really got to me. When another guest asked in class about counting calories, the instructor (Gayl, I believe) firmly replied, “Have you ever noticed that only fat people count calories?” It dawned on me: People who are not heavy simply eat different foods, and they can eat massive amounts of the right foods. That convinced me. I needed to pay attention to the calorie density of foods, not the total calorie count.
I really liked what I was eating
What helped, too, was that I really liked what I was eating. That’s vital for a foodie like me! Within days, my taste buds were changing. For a guy who never ate breakfast, I was now enjoying a full breakfast, including oatmeal, plus morning snacks like veggies and fresh soups, fruit snacks all day long. Lunch was a huge salad created at a hugely eclectic salad bar and more tasty soups and entrees like bean burritos. I had never eaten this much! Dinners featured lots of variety – grilled bison, seafood, pasta primavera – a range that was interesting and broad in tastes and textures but totally Pritikin. Amazingly simple, tasty food. I was convinced that there finally was a better way.
Plus, I was seeing real progress. By midweek weigh-in, I had already shed 12 pounds, and I felt much better – never hungry, always interested in the next activity whether it was morning exercise, relaxing in the pool, eating, or afternoon and evening lectures. Never a dull moment. There was always variety and information that enforced what I’d learned in earlier sessions. I had everything I needed to change and succeed.
And then, there was a special treat I had never anticipated…cooking school. Thanks to Chefs Anthony, Steve, and Vincent, I began to see how easy this all could be. And how tasty food could be, using their culinary tips.
By the end of the first week, I had lost 20 pounds. That’s a lot. But remember, I was pretty heavy when I arrived.
Over the course of the week, I kept texting my wife and talking with her daily. By the end of the week, she asked Alan, “Where is my husband and what have you done with him? There’s a stranger talking to me about eating healthy.” She was pleased, but not really clear about what was happening. She probably felt this was all just a gimmick and would pass with my return home, just as Atkins had passed and my weight had returned.
Little did she know that not only would my new life continue, she would be enlisted!
Watch out, Emeril
When I returned home, her first shock occurred when she walked in the kitchen. Surprise #1: I was cooking. Surprise #2: All over her counter was zucchini (not my usual rib eyes!)
We immediately removed a lot of food from our cabinets and replaced it with food that met Pritikin guidelines – never more sodium than calories, never more than 20% of calories from fat, and much more fruits, grains and vegetables. We stopped eating out except for sushi, and then without the soy sauce, shifting instead to wasabi mixed with brown rice vinegar, and sushi prepared with brown rice. It all boiled down to less fat, sugar, and protein, and more fiber-rich whole foods and grains. Who knew that carbs were okay if you ate the right ones?
Mary and I became label readers to the max. We bought a rice cooker, a really good one, and a steamer that worked perfectly for vegetables. We bought new knives for chopping all those veggies. We “invested” in cutting boards and Pritikin cookware. We also bought the same monster-size wooden salad bowls that the Pritikin Center uses for our new monster-size nightly salads at home. We bought the Pritikin triple blade chopper to chop up our salads, combining lots of different lettuces and many other tasty ingredients (our personal favorites – freshly roasted garlic, arugula, and mache).
I whipped up three no-oil salad dressings that I learned to make in cooking school. I ordered a case each of Westbrae Stone Ground and Dijon Mustard and a case of Alessi White Balsamic Vinegar. Mary fell in love with the dark “special” balsamic vinegar (Roland) that I brought home from Pritikin, so I ordered more of that. I also found a Gold’s Horseradish (it’s green like wasabi and even tastes like wasabi) that adds a nice kick to salads. Now, we take it with us to sushi restaurants, too.
Chicken with Cherry Tomatoes
The first night home, I used my cooking school training and prepared Chef Anthony’s Chicken with Cherry Tomatoes served over brown rice. While I was chopping and sautéing, Mary was a little skeptical, and why wouldn’t she be? Here I was, in her kitchen. Never before had I cooked much. But after her first bite, she was hooked. I fixed Chef Anthony’s Merry Berry Parfait for dessert, and that sealed the deal. She was convinced this new life, and its new menu, would work.
Salmon with Salsa and White Wine
The second night, Mary put together two huge salads and steamed green beans while I poached salmon with salsa and white wine. We were so full we had leftovers, which were used the next day to make salmon wraps filled with carrots, celery, onions, garlic, and fresh basil, and served on a salt-free wrap. Hmmm, I love good food!
Quinoa Edamame Salad
Over the weekend, I made a large batch of Quinoa Edamame Salad followed by a really great vegetarian entree that combined whole-wheat cous cous, bulgar wheat, and caramelized vegetables like carrots, onion, red pepper, and garlic. The next day I was back in the kitchen, cooking up a huge batch of Portobello Mushroom Ragout, which is wonderful over a baked potato. Plus, it freezes well, so on days when we’re rushed, dinner is just a microwave zap away. We also started enjoying hummus on vegetables as a snack or appetizer, and we found some great low-sodium, high-fiber, multi-grain crackers from Crunchmaster with a nutty sesame flavor. All completely Pritikin compliant.
We also ordered bison in all types of cuts and found that we actually preferred bison burgers to regular beef burgers. Bison filets and rib eyes were equally delicious (yes, I can still have my rib eyes!) just in smaller servings (four ounces instead of 36) and rarely more than a few times each month. My foodie wheels kept turning! I started making a special “Pritikin Chili” using bison and lots of vegetables. We love the Italian White Bean and Spinach Stew on a cold day in Connecticut. Obviously, we were immersed. There was no lack of variety or flavor. Just great food, simply prepared. All based on what I learned in Pritikin’s cooking school. And I was having one helluva good time in the kitchen.
Sometimes, it’s the little things that hit you over the head. I noticed, for example, that our dishes are now much easier to clean. No more greasy, sticky stuff that’s ridiculously hard to scrub off. I realized, “That used to go in my arteries, and who was scrubbing off my arteries?!” (Nowadays my Pritikin nutrition helps to naturally clean up those arteries.) Easy-to-clean dishes are among the greatest indications I have that what I’m now putting in my body is better for me.
After three weeks of being home and eating our new menu, I lost another 12 pounds, which meant that in just over a month I had lost 32 pounds, and I was feeling great. Mary and I joined a new gym and began working out together, which made us feel even better. What’s more, our son, 32, and daughter, 21, were so impressed with Mom and Dad’s healthy new habits that they started incorporating some “Pritikin Kool Aid” into their lives, too.
But that was only a start compared to what happened next.
Return trip to Pritikin
In October 2009, Alan called and asked me to return with him to Pritikin. This time Mary and Susan came with us. Mary’s entire first week, as mine had been, was consumed with activities focused only on her. Our Pritikin hostess (also named Mary) had told me and now told my wife, “This week is all about you, a rare opportunity. The outside world doesn’t matter. Take this time for yourself.” My Mary reveled in her experience, declaring the week one of the best vacations ever. We flew home, both totally focused. That’s so important. Pritikin can inspire you, and educate you, but it’s a couple living together, supporting each other in their healthy new lives, that sustains you.
Mary has never had a weight problem. She’s always been 5′ 4″ and 125 pounds. But now she’s comfortably under 120 pounds, and more confident than ever that she will never have a weight problem. She had blood pressure issues pre-Pritikin and was taking two medications, but has whittled them down to a very small dosage of a diuretic. And best of all, she knows with certainty that she isn’t contributing to a blood pressure problem with the foods she used to eat.
As I said at the beginning, I’m now down to 185 pounds and known as “Half Nelson” by family and friends. My ultimate goal is my 1974 college weight – 165 – and with the support of my wife and family I know that I will achieve that goal!
Most importantly, I have never felt better in my entire life. I can do things now I wasn’t able to do a year ago. Sailing last summer was a totally different experience. I have a 30-foot boat that I sail competitively. When my crew and I transport the boat around the country to different events, one of us has to get into its very small hatch. Pre-Pritikin, I couldn’t squeeze through that hatch. Now I just slip right in. I’m nimble and quick, climbing in and out of sailboats all day long.
People tell me, “You look 10 years younger.” They say my personality has changed, too.
It has. I now have this natural uplift. Before Pritikin, I had gotten pessimistic because of the way I felt – sluggish, slowing down. I had resigned myself to the fact that I might have another 5 to 10 good years left.
Now, I have a totally different view of the future. I’m confident the end is not in sight. I’m seeing unlimited years of great living.
Not a day goes by that I don’t feel how blessed Mary and I are for our new knowledge, and the power it has created to achieve our health goals. For that we thank Alan Schein and his wife Susan for introducing us to the Pritikin Program. We thank all the great people at Pritikin and the Pritikin Program itself.
And the best part is, neither Mary nor I live in fear of “going backwards” and losing all the benefits we have gained. We have the knowledge and tools to be healthy and happy for years to come. Change was possible. And it will be permanent for us.
Do I sound like the “Jared” of the Pritikin Program? You bet! But here’s what drives my enthusiasm: It’s worked for me, and I want it to work for other people, not because I want to be a prophet, but because I want other people to be able to achieve what I have.
I want everyone to feel this good!