About a year after moving to Melbourne in late 2013 life became extremely difficult (I’ll spare you the gory details) and I slumped into a state of despair. But there was no time to feel sorry for myself, I had to keep working, I had bills to pay and responsibilities.
At the time I was working on a mental health crisis response team with Victorian Police where we only work evenings and don’t get paid a meal break, so we eat on the run every night, which means you pretty much end up living on take-away and fast food. Over a period of about three years I went from 63kg to just over 84kg (and believe me, it wasn’t muscle). I was deeply depressed and extremely anxious.
I hid it well though. This whole time I was still not only working with police but I was also putting my game face on and talking to groups of people about mental health. I presented as positive and optimistic, but I was deeply sad.
I may have done a good job at focusing on my mental health via psychotherapy for my PTSD but I never focused on my physical health until 2018 when my dad was in hospital for a hip replacement. I looked at all the patients in there with lifestyle related illness like diabetic ulcers from Type 2 Diabetes, and looked at the terrible food that was being served in the cafeteria and to the patients on the ward, and something in me snapped! I knew that if I didn’t change the way I was living I’d end up the person with high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
I switched to a whole food plant based lifestyle that day, started exercising, and lost 21.2kg (one quarter of my body weight) between April 2018 and January 2019 (21.2kg might not seem like much, but I’m a pretty skinny guy with not much muscle and I went from 84.2kg to 63kg, which was all fat!!!!!!).
The journey has so been amazing. I feel happier and healthier at 53 years of age than I’ve EVER felt in my entire lifetime and in March 2019 I completed my first ever half marathon in just under two hours. I was over the moon about this.
Sadly, and I’m pretty confident I’m not on my own here, the pandemic hit me hard. Working on the front line, living alone, lock downs and travel restrictions of only 5km saw my mental, emotional and physical health take a terrible dive. Despite knowing what I “should,” be doing I continued to make choices that, whist in the short term helped me feel better, long term were slowly taking their toll.
Fortunately I was able to turn that ship around and just over 12 months ago I started strength training with a personal trainer at the most amazing gym in Melbourne (5th Element Wellness) and this part of the journey has been so much fun. I’ve slimmed down and gained 7kg in muscle and my trainer has me doing things I never, ever thought I’d be able to do, and hitting personal bests most weeks. It brings with it such a feeling of accomplishment. I refer to my gym as my, “happy place.”
And on a side note, from a psychological perspective, strength training has been absolutely marvelous. As a survivor of four different sexual assaults at the hands of different men as a child, I’ve always felt unsafe around other men, even good friends and family, and felt weak and small. With strength training I’ve found myself feeling safe and strong in my own skin for the first time and it’s bloody liberating!!!!!!
The main reason I moved from only running to strength training is because in terms of both lifespan (how long you live) and health span (how well you live), strength is just as important as having good cardiovascular fitness. If you want to understand more about lifespan and health span, have a look at this 4-minute clip where Dr Peter Attia articulates it very well (and this clip and Peter’s incredible podcast was one of the reasons I was so inspired to start strength training).
I’ve also completed a Certificate in Plant Based Nutrition via eCornell University. We’ve known about the link between diet and physical disease for an awfully long time, but it’s only in more recent times that we’re learning about the link between nutrition and our mental health and I love sharing what I’m learning on this journey.
My hero and guru right now is Dr Peter Attia. Peter Attia, MD, is the founder of Early Medical, a medical practice that applies the principles of Medicine 3.0 to patients with the goal of lengthening their lifespan and simultaneously improving their health span. If you want to know the difference between lifespan and health span, have a look at this 4-minute clip where Peter articulates it really well.
He is the host of The Drive, one of the most popular podcasts covering the topics of health and medicine.
He is also the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller, Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity.
On this journey I’ve been inspired by other people’s journey’s too. One such man is Andrew Taylor. You may recall the Australian man who ate only potatoes for a year, well that was Andrew. You can see a news story about him and you can follow him via his website and social media pages.
I had the enormous privilege of meeting Andrew recently and being interviewed for his podcast. It’s a pretty heavy interview. We talked about thriving after trauma and we talked about my own story of being diagnosed with PTSD and surviving childhood sexual assault. Feel free to pop over the Andrew’s site and have a listen to our chat here.
The person who actually started me down this pathway of whole food plant based is actually a man by the name of Rich Roll. Somehow I stumbled upon his podcast without knowing anything really about his story. But it turns out he has an amazing story, and also follows the whole food plant based diet.
“Although he competed as a butterfly swimmer at Stanford University in the late 80’s, Rich’s career was cut short by struggles with drugs and alcohol — an addiction that led him astray for the next decade, alienating friends, colleagues and family, landing him in jails, institutions and ultimately rehab at age 31. Although sober, Rich soon found himself 50 pounds overweight; the furthest thing from fit. Everything came to head on the eve of his 40th birthday. Defeated by a mere flight of stairs that left him buckled over in pain, he foresaw the almost certain heart attack looming in his near future.”
You can read more of Rich’s story. I highly recommend listening to his podcast. He has the most amazingly diverse range of guests on his podcast and his interviews are all long interviews, so he has time to really get into the meat of the topic with his guests.