Randy Hale could hardly believe his ears when he learned the name of his friend's diet.
“My knees just went weak. I said, ‘Bacon? A bacon diet? Count me in!'” Hale said.
The 55-year-old Elgin man imagined gobbling down bacon-wrapped burgers, bacon a la mode and other bacon-laden dishes, while losing weight and getting his blood glucose levels under control.
“No, Randy. I didn't say bacon. Vegan. It's a vegan diet,” Steve Ryan said.
Hale had to reconsider.
Vegan — as in eating beans instead of beef, carrots instead of cheese, and whole grains instead of whole milk.
“I kept thinking, ‘No more cheeseburgers,'” said Hale, who wears a white beard and, at the time, a belly like Santa Claus.
Ryan had lost weight and eliminated his diabetes medication by following a vegan diet recommended by New York Times best-selling author Dr. Neal Barnard, after finding another diet too tough to handle. A few weeks later, the friends got to see the effects of the diet in action as the slim Ryan eased his kayak through a lake in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Oklahoma, while his buddies puffed along. Again, Ryan encouraged Hale to try the diet to try to help control his diabetes and get into shape.
Hale has worked for two decades as an environmental education specialist who gets paid to hike the trails and give medicinal and edible plants talks in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. So he didn't have a really good excuse for not staying in shape in a beautiful setting. But what he needed was motivation. After that weekend, he found that motivation in his first grandchild, Cailin.
“I was thinking, ‘When she's old enough to drive, maybe she'll be driving me to dialysis or maybe I'll be an amputee. Or maybe I could chase the kids around in my motorized scooter,” Hale said.
The 5-foot, 6-inch arthritic, diabetic man weighed 185 pounds the first day of his diet on July 28. Today, he's an energetic, nonmedicated, 140-pound feel-good guy on a mission.
If he hurts anyplace, he eats sweet potatoes with barbecue sauce and spices up almost everything with turmeric.
“Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory nuclear bomb,” Hale said.
“My dog has arthritis, and I'm thinking of trying to get sweet potatoes and turmeric in her. Maybe she'd walk better,” he said.
Celebrities and contraband
Hale took on a diet like that adopted by celebs like Bill Clinton, Ellen DeGeneres and Alicia Silverstone, said Neal Barnard, a nutrition researcher, author, medical doctor and former tobacco user.
Barnard gave up what he calls “contraband” because of his job before medical school of helping a pathologist with autopsies. As they clipped out the ribs and exposed the heart of a massive heart attack victim one day, they found a miserable looking, oxygen-starved heart. Throughout his body, petrified chewing gum-like substance clogged virtually every artery.
“This is in your body, too,” commented the pathologist.
“Why?” Barnard stammered through tobacco-stained teeth.
“Did you have bacon and eggs this morning?” asked the doctor.
“Yes,” the twenty-something replied nervously.
Autopsy over and victim's chest sewn back, Barnard headed for the cafeteria. They were serving ribs for lunch.
Motivation set in that day. Eventually, cheese and eggs followed meat on Barnard's personal list of revolting foods.
“It's very much like quitting smoking. At first it's hard. But after a while you think, ‘Yuck, why did I eat that stuff?'” Barnard said.
He said it's not always easy for someone to become a vegan at first but tastes often change after about a month.
“It does seem like for the first week or so, you should be listening to folk music and wearing tie dye. But after three or four weeks, if you go back to that double bacon cheeseburger you'll find it wasn't the joyful experience that you once associated it with,” Barnard said.
On the third week of Hale's new lifestyle, he was more than 14 pounds lighter when he visited his doctor. Hale said when Dr. Daryl Birdwell checked his blood sugar, his mouth fell open.
“Randy, you've reversed your diabetes,” he said.
His blood sugar was 85 compared with 158 on his previous checkup.
Hale said his energy level increased so that within a couple of months, he hiked 12 miles in the morning, 2.5 miles in the afternoon and then went home and carried his grandchild 1.5 miles.
His Santa-size breeches shrunk from a 40-inch waist to a 28/30 waist.
“The biggest thing is finding your motivation,” Hale said.
He said he's doubled his motivation now through Cailin and new granddaughter Ridlee. Rather than having to chase them around in his motorized scooter someday, he hopes to influence them to exercise and eat right. He's already logged 110 miles of carrying his older grandchild, Cailin, or pushing her in her stroller.
He said he has no problem sticking with the new diet, except for one food.
“I miss chocolate a lot. I have good willpower but not at 2 in the morning. There's not a drug strong enough to keep me away from chocolate cake at 2 in the morning,” he said.
But Barnard said he has a recipe for that.
His book, “21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart,” includes a “Wacky Chocolate Cake,” recipe that substitutes applesauce for butter.
New Year's resolution
Millions will start diets on New Year's, but Barnard said people find the 21-day vegan diet not as difficult to maintain.
He's working with celebrities, doctors and dietitians with the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine to team up with Silverstone, NBA champ John Salley and celebrity chef Tal Ronnen to coach the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart.
It's an online program going live Jan. 2 at www.
Dieters will get recipes, celebrity advice and more on trying a plant-based diet.
At a glance
Vegan on the go
Breakfast: Boil up oatmeal and combine it with fresh or dried fruit. Or try pancakes made with soy or almond milk. Try dry cereal.
Lunch: If you go to a restaurant such as Subway, order a sandwich without the meat and cheese. For a Mexican fast-food restaurant, order a bean burrito but hold the cheese.
Dinner: Try angel hair pasta topped with wild mushrooms and chunky tomatoes but not meat or cream sauce from an Italian restaurant.
Randy Hale's favorites
Good foods to eat
Both vegetarians and meat eaters should take a vitamin B-12 supplement.
After three or four weeks, if you go back to that double bacon cheeseburger, you'll find it wasn't the joyful experience that you once associated it with.”