A post that has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Photography. Hang onto your hats, tech boys.

I'm in pretty good shape.  I swim with four or five former Olympians and a local Tour de France veteran.  Well, when I say I swim with them what I really mean is that we all show up at the same pool and take instruction from the same coach but I inhabit a lane a few lanes down from the "big dogs."  The pool is divided between slower (but still very competitive) swimmers in the first few lanes (on the left as you face the pool from the shallow end) and very, very fast swimmers on the right hand side of the pool.  I swim somewhere in the middle.  On crowded days, a bit to the left.

I try to go every weekday to the seven a.m. workout since I need to be up to transport my kid to cross country practice.  On the weekends we have practice from 8:30 to 10:00 am, both days.  Our workouts vary between 3,000 and 5,000 yards.  

One of our swimmers is a guy named, Rip Esselstyn.  In addition to having been an All American swimmer at the University of Texas, and a professional triathalon-er, and the current USMS 45-50 year old world record holder for the 200 backstroke, he's also the author of a best selling book called "The Engine Two Diet."  His book is a bestseller and it studies the benefits (on world class athletes and ordinary people) of eating a vegan diet.  All vegan, all the time.  His dad is a doctor, specializing in cardiology, at the Cleveland Clinic.  Dr. Esselstyn is the author of the book,  "Preventing and Reversing Heart Disease."

They have both done extensive research into heart disease and their books imply that eating a vegan diet can help make you heart attack proof.  The interesting thing about all this is that Rip has been able to convince many of the world class athletes he knows to undertake a vegan diet and the results have been pretty amazing.  Everyone's cholesterol drops dramatically, and, in the pool they seem to get faster and faster.

I've read Rip's book and his dad's book and I understood most of the underlying premises but I had been letting entropy and habit take their course.  Sometime in December two of my friends (who are only a few years older than me) got panic diagnoses from their doctors.  Both had over 90% blockage of major arteries.  Both required major surgical intervention.  Both were voracious omnivores.

We generally eat pretty healthy at home but I'd been letting things slide at lunch.  BBQ spare ribs here, a double cheeseburger there,  some really greasy Chinese food (but I swear it was loaded with veggies....) and of course, the errant cookie with afternoon coffee.  I was pretty good at breakfast and amazingly healthy at dinner (under the unblinking eye of Belinda...) but lunch was totally out of control.  Fries anyone?  And, at 56 years of experience who among us shouldn't be watching our diets?

So, after I watched Rip place one of the world's best known athletes on the full bore vegan diet, I decided to dive into the deep end and kick my "lunch training" up a notch.  A big notch.  Which has resulted already in tightening the old belt a notch or two.

Since the middle of December I've developed a new routine that saves me cash and hopefully will allow me to live forever and torment readers of this blog well into my triple digit years.  I've made it pretty clear to all my photographer friends, the ones who lunch with me, that I'll be having lunch at the vegan bar at the downtown Whole Foods Market.  The one at Sixth St. and Lamar Blvd.  The Mothership.  

How does this save me money?  Well, my favorite thing to order is the beans and rice on a bed of fresh, raw spinach leaves.  Big food but small cost.  Currently $3.99.  Filling, made with no oils or dairy or meat products, and served up fresh.  Today the beans were cannelli, made with garlic and chunks of artichoke hearts.  They were incredible.  The vegan bar also makes infused water.  My favorite is blueberry and sage.  It comes with any entrée, free.  As in no charge.

Then, in defiance of my own morning nature,  I finally learned how to make passably good coffee on my own and I'm eating a special blend of cereal called, Rip's Big Bowl.  It's really good.  And vegan.

So, what does all this get me?  Well, for the cynically pragmatic, I'm saving about six dollars a day versus my previous lunch adventures and that adds up pretty quick.  I eat lunch out most days.  I'm swimming faster than I did last year, although I'm sure we can chalk up some of the improvement to the placebo effect.  I'm dragging along a few friends, a subset of whom are a bit overweight and might benefit from sharing my new dietary discipline; and they haven't really complained.  Finally, I'm eating quite a bit farther down the food chain which should make Michael Pollan happy.

It's an experiment, like everything else in life.  But so far this is a happy experiment.  Am I going totally vegan?  What?  Do I look insane?  Life has to have space in it for the occasional strip of bacon, the random breakfast taco, and an nice, juicy rib eye steak from time to time.  But lunch is generally the meal where most of us do the most damage and I know I'm not keen to get my chest cracked open and have some veins moved around.  So it seems like a good place to start.  

Why am I discussing this on what has always been a photo oriented soapbox?  Because it's my only New Year's resolution and the more people who know about it the more friends I'll have holding my feet to the fire and helping me over the bumps in the road (I barely made it out the door past the hot dessert bar today....).  And if I jar someone else into at least considering their cardio health then that's cool too.

Coffee's not bad with a little rice milk in it........naw, screw that.  I'll still toss in some half and half.  

Whatever you've resolved for your New Year I hope you'll decide to throw in some exercise and a good balance of veggies over animal products.  I need to keep as many of you readers around as I can....you know I love a good audience.


JohnF said...


stefano60 said...

well done, sir!
although i never fully became a vegan, i turned vegetarian 20 years ago ... and never regretted it since.
on top of all the other obvious considerations, it did wonders to my health and i could never see myself going back to being a carnivore.
ok, i will eat fish and dairy products, but it is still a FAR healthier diet than most.
keep it up!

Unknown said...

Great post and well timed. I've been kicking myself for 2 years now, having fallen off the vegan bandwagon. I've gained back all the weight I lost and am tired. Ive resolved to turn this around as part of my new year resolutions - thanks for giving my a virtual kick where needed. Kept it coming and stay with it.

Rob said...

That's so ironic! My wife and I start the Engine 2 diet through our local Whole Foods next Monday! I've had Rip's book and eaten some of his recipes for almost a year.
I will help you keep on target as I also do this!

kirk tuck said...

I had lunch with Rip today at Whole Foods. He's a great inspiration. Until he stepped most people assumed athletes couldn't be Vegans. Love watching a 49 year old man go well under 1:55 for a 200 free. From a push off. Just amazing.

Dave Jenkins said...

Better you than me.

Gregg Mack said...

That's absolutely great, Kirk! While I admittedly don't know much about the Vegan diet (other than a trim, fit co-worker of mine is), about 3 years ago I realized that there really aren't any overweight 90 year olds walking around on this planet. My wife and I started eating only lean protein, and lots and lots of veggies. I've lost 32 pounds, and she's shed a remarkable 60 pounds. Unlike you, and most of my co-workers, I bring my lunch to work. That helps me tremendously, but does limit my "social interaction" - something that's probably already lacking, being a "geeky engineer". :-) Keep it up, as it is great for the self-esteem, as well as the health benfits your Vegan friend had made you aware of.

james lj said...

Gotta drink coffee black, man. If it don't taste good black, it ain't good coffee :)

WTG, Kirk. Trying to make some changes myself. I stopped buying lunches about three months ago and have made all but two during that period. So got that new habit going. Have to work on another. I used to swim a lot. So you have me thinking about getting back into that.

Rene said...


I switched to a vegan diet about 18 years ago at the urging of my then 13 yr old son who "informed" me that we were no longer going to allow meat/dairy/fish products in the house. Although not overweight, I shed 10 pounds and dropped my cholesterol level quite a bit. We added limited fish and dairy (non fat) back in a few years ago feeling the need for more concentrated protein as we grew older.

My father had 3 heart attacks, one of which almost killed him. After watching that, it was easy to go vegan. Is Rip's breakfast bowl recipe published anywhere? That's my downfall!

Nathan said...

Have you ever tried Beets down on 5th street near MoPac? It will be more expensive than WholeFoods (which I eat at often since my office is at the same corner), but it is worth the trip and price. It is all Raw, Vegan food. Their "BLT" (made with eggplant instead of bacon) and their pizzas are just great.

Steven Willard said...

Good for you! And you never know who else you might influence for the better. Me maybe? It's a great place to begin, thanks.

Travis said...

I'm doing pretty much the opposite, these days eating a diet consisting about half and half between meat/eggs/fermented dairy, and veggies. I've lost 55 pounds so far and my doctor is very happy with my blood work.

We all get a different genetic mix, and we all have to find what keeps us healthy and sustains us. I think the big win, and the common thread between these approaches, is getting away from the "Standard American Diet" involving lots of highly-processed food. (And the particularly offensive refined carbs and industrial oils.)

Jeffrey Friedl said...

Try drinking coffee black for 10 days. At first it'll be different than you're used to and you won't care for it, but if you can power through that wall, eventually you'll find that you can enjoy the coffee more (the pure coffee is not marred by sugar or cream) and it's a heck of a lot more convenient as well. After a while, do go back and try a cup the way you used to make it, and you'll likely spit it out in disgust.

atif said...

I'm doing much the opposite, these days eating a diet consisting about half & half between meat/eggs/fermented dairy, & veggies. I have lost 55 pounds so far & my doctor is very happy with my blood work. Latest Mobiles

John F. Opie said...

Back when I was a student, I lived in a group house that was largely macrobiotic vegetarians: I lived that lifestyle for 3 years until I realized I was spending a lot of time worrying about the proper mix of amino acids and the like, and fell of the wagon. Didn't gain weight, though, until I stopped smoking (2 packs a day, something called "Rothhändle", a German cigarette, unfiltered, delicious turkish tobacco...) cold-turkey and put on around 30 lbs. I'm still working those off some 22 years later. :-(

We are, though, omnivores, and it does mean listen to what your body wants. Vegan means no animal products whatsoever, and you will, at some point, run into some dietary deficiencies, as there are needed amino acids that are only available in animal products.

While I'm not quite swimming at your level, it has become a part of the daily routine, with 1km on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday morning, then between 2 and 3 km on each weekend day. That has enabled me to carry a Manfrotto 028b tripod and a camera backpack with a Gigapan Pro in it all day hiking, around 25kg all told with water etc...

David Hufford said...

I have been cycling in amateur competition as well as for fitness for nearly 18 years now, since I let myself get way out of shape to where I weighed 198lbs at 5'9" in 1994.

Since I got serious about exercise and diet back then, I find it nearly impossible go any length of time without riding, or if the weather is too harsh, jogging (yuk!).

Diet? I just cut out fast food, sodas, and ate more vegetables and cut way back on juk food. Except for chocolate which everyone knows is not junk food. I don't think I could do the vegan diet though, even if it did make me a better cyclist.

Speaking of equipment, cycling has more than it's share of nonsense, but at the end of a race there is rarely debate about who was best that day, and like your Tour de France neighbor wrote, "It isn't about the bike." Applies to other kinds of equipment too.

James Weekes said...

As a triple bypass recipient I applaud your move. Both of my daughters and my granddaughter are vegan. Two of them live with us. Through gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) pressure my diet has been moved in that direction. Almost no red meat, two or three vegan meals a week, a lot more fish and a far greater proportion of plants to animal products. As a result I have shed 74 lbs and kept them off for 5 years.

Two little product plugs to give a try. Next time you're in Whole Foods pick up a small bottle of Vegenaise with the yellow label and a tub of Earth Balance Soy Garden margarine. The Vegenaise will be in a cooler. Both taste great and have no animal fats.

I'm with you on the occasional piece of bacon or red meat.

AndyK said...

At the Engine2Diet website:

Sean Staples said...


I started the E2 diet this past October after seeing Forks before Knives and can only say good things about the food and results. The thing i liked about E2 is you learn that vegan is not all granola and seaweed. Say hi to Rip from an E2r inHouston!

yansen said...

Kirk, if you don't mind I just wanna give you the second opinion: http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/kosloff15.htm

Dr. Heart Surgeon said...

Anyone who claims that eating a certain way, or any other behavior, will make you "heart-attack proof" is (a) selling you something, (b) badly uninformed, or (c) probably both.

Medical science has come far in understanding behavioral, environmental, and congenital factors affecting the whole coronary and vascular system. But we're nowhere near making sweeping dietary proclamations.

I know that I'd get 100% consensus in offering the opinion that your excellent regular exercise regiment and your disciplined, self-conscious diet are having significant positive impacts on your hear health. Keep other systemic inflammation factors in control (ex: dental health), don't run with scissors, don't drive drunk, and you should live as long as your parents' genes will permit.

kirk tuck said...

Cool suggestion. I'll get by. Appreciate it.

kirk tuck said...

Both parents in their middle 80's and going strong. Totally independent and my dad still walks two or three brisk miles a day. Good role models on so many levels.