While some visitors to this site come searching for first-hand vegan diet advice and easy and delicious vegan recipes, others wind up here simply curious about how vegans can live without consuming any animal products, including dairy or eggs.
A vegan diet is widely described as a “strict vegetarian diet”, and apparently even vegetarians see it as too difficult to follow. On the other hand, many long-term vegans cannot identify with the challenges of those trying to go vegan.
All the hyperbole over a vegan diet can be overwhelming to someone just considering beginning one. To ease the journey, I recommend the term “plant-based diet”–focusing on the vast number and variety of plant foods available, instead of what you perceive you’ll be giving up.
When I first read “The China Study” and decided I was ready to take author Colin Campbell’s One-Month Challenge (“You’ve eaten cheeseburgers your whole life; a month without them won’t kill you.”), I wondered why the publisher didn’t commission a China Study diet plan and recipe book to aid the transition to a plant-based diet.
Well, Rip Esselstyn’s “The Engine 2 Diet” is about as close as you can come. Esselstyn, the son of esteemed cardiologist, Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., and an accomplished athlete and firefighter, created the Engine 2 Diet to rescue a colleague with cholesterol level 344 from an inevitable heart attack.
Esselstyn’s book spells out his diet plan (proven by “mind-boggling” results from 2 pilot studies), the medical basis for it (dispelling common myths about protein, carbohydrates, etc.) and provides advice on making it work (i.e. attitude, vital signs, reading food labels), including more than 100 recipes honed on Engine 2 firehouse lunch wagons. He even includes a home-based strength/resistance exercise program as well.
Nevertheless, I resisted buying “The Engine 2 Diet”, because I mistakenly believed I was already following it. In particular, in addition to having a regular fitness program (consisting of cardio, strength and flexibility training), I followed a vegan diet, and was eating only whole foods with minimal added sugar.
However, when a friend asked me for some sample vegan meal plans, rather than write my own down, I thought it easier to send him Esselstyn’s book, and I bought myself a copy, too. It was then I learned that E2 Diet goes far beyond just vegan, whole foods, and no added sugar: E2 limits fats and sodium, too.
E2 introduces two 28-day diet plans, one called the “Fire Cadet”, which eases into a plant based diet “gradually”, and a more rapid approach called the “Firefighter”. The end result of both diets is the same, with the only difference being the pace.
Below is how the Fire Cadet goes:
- Week 1-No dairy of any kind and no processed or refined foods (white rice, white pasta, white bread). Esselstyn calls dairy products “meat in liquid form, because they contain just as many “concentrated, disease-promoting and nutritionally compromised calories”. In addition, he points out processed and refined foods contain no fiber and scant vitamins and minerals.
- Week 2-No meat, chicken, or fish, plus none of the items in week 1. As Esselstyn describes it, all meat (red meat, chicken fish) is steeped in saturated fat, cholesterol, and unhealthy animal protein.
- Week 3-Cut out all added or extracted oils. “Oil is off limits because the Engine2 Diet is based on a whole foods, nutrient rich diet.” Although oil is extracted from plants, Esselstyn notes, “all that’s left is the most refined and concentrated doses of calories on the planet.” The book recommends obtaining healthier forms of fats from walnuts, flaxseed meal, soybeans and leafy vegetables.
- Week 4-All of the above, or the “whole shebang”, i.e., no dairy, no refined foods, no meat and no oils.
Additional useful E2 guidance:
- Total calories from fat in the product must represent no more than 25% of a food’s total calories”.
- To avoid excessive sodium, amount of sodium (mg) per serving should never exceed the number of calories per serving.
- No added sugars.
The only difference between Fire Cadet (above) and Firefighter plans is that Firefighter begins doing the “whole shebang“ and the Fire Cadet takes 2 weeks to get there.
Whichever plan you consider, it seems unrealistic for the average person to adopt E2 within the space of four weeks. I was seriously committed to a plant-based diet when I began four years ago, but it took a few months for me to eliminate all animal products, and several more months to transition to whole/unrefined foods and eliminating added sugar, oil and salt.
After four years on a plant-based diet, I recognize E2’s whole shebang as a logical progression and something to strive for, but won’t kid myself that it will be easy. For someone eating a typical American diet, E2 trumps Dr. Campbell’s “One-Month Challenge” by orders of magnitude, since using even moderate amounts of oil, sugar and salt–albeit unhealthy–helps smooth the transition from meat eating to a plant-based diet.
No doubt that E2 diet and exercise program is the best prescription for rapid weight loss and ultimately top fitness and vitality. However, unless you have incredibly strong motivation and support network (family, friends, co-workers, etc)–giving up consuming animal products is probably an ambitious enough goal to set your sights in the beginning.
As the book’s title and spartan appearance implies, the E2 diet and exercise plan will help you avoid a medical emergency (Esselstyn’s colleague dropped his cholesterol from 344 to 196). I worry that those lacking such a sense of urgency may steer clear of E2 (like the friend I gifted the book to who has not yet found time to read it!) and avoid making small changes to improve their well-being and save the environment, too.
Regarding the book’s esthetics, E2‘s publisher must have researched the male target demographic, but more photos would make it more readable. Additionally, the exercise section features small photos in black and white, and there are no photos of food in the recipes. On the other hand, Esselstyn’s website supplements the book.
Don’t get me wrong: this book is a valuable resource I wish I had read years ago. Just be sure you are mentally prepared, because E2 is the whole shebang.
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