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Losing Weight with an Eating Plan, a Bike, and Old Spice

Pastor Jon Heydenreich 

Pastor Jon Heydenreich

Faith Lutheran Church
Andover, Massachusetts
September 2013

I keep an exercise log, and my last recorded weight was in March 2012 — 245 pounds. I was 56. I think I topped out around 250. I deluded myself into thinking I carried the weight well because I am 6’4.” But age and surgeries were slowing me down.

I had been a fairly serious athlete — was an oarsman in college and played football, too. Rowed for 20 years after college, and was in the Head of the Charles Regatta a number of times. But two back surgeries pushed the brake pedal on those activities. After my first surgery, my neurosurgeon warned me: “Do not gain a pound!” Fifteen years later, and I had gained 45 pounds.

Then along comes this 30-A-Day health emphasis from the ELCA.

I did it for the easy money. All I had to do was ramp up my exercising a bit and voila — $500. So I had my first check-up in eons (thank you, ELCA program!). My doctor told me his story: his cholesterol had been 260, now it was 130 — with no meds. He was on a plant-based diet, which meant nothing with a face (beef, fish, poultry, pork), no dairy, limited processed foods in favor of whole grain bread and pasta, brown rice, no oils.

I listened politely and said to myself, “no way am I doing this.” He gave the same talk to my wife, an ELCA pastor (we serve the same church). And he gave it to our two adult sons, one of whom got serious about it. That pushed my wife, then I got on board. So as of September 2012, we were “all in” — although we worked our way into it.

I was mindful that my father died from coronary artery disease at 68, and had his first heart attack at 50. So I read The Engine 2 Diet, by Rip Esselstyn, recommended by my doctor, which was key. So was Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr.

The Eating Plan

What do we eat? Protein, which comes from beans, lentils, spinach, and broccoli. We eat all the vegetables we want, and I eat an unbelievable amount of pasta and rice. We make our own tomato sauce with fresh garlic, oregano, and basil. Every Sunday in the fall and through the spring we make a crock pot stew of our tomato sauce and whatever we feel like throwing in there (onions, lentils, corn we froze, carrots, celery, potatoes, mushrooms, you name it). Also, my wife Marsha makes the best brownies I ever had from The Engine 2 Diet book recipe. No (or very limited) fat in those brownies.

The Bike (and the Old Spice)

I also resolved to ramp up my cycling. In 2012, I cycled 3,400 miles and will do about 6,000 in 2013. Yes, it takes an effort. Lots of discipline and focus. Whenever possible I cycle the five miles to my church, Faith Lutheran, and I cycle home the long way — 20-40 miles. For me, there is perhaps no more serene moment than when I cycle home at midnight after our five Christmas Eve services.

Cycling in every Sunday gets me relaxed (I still get nervous) and cycling home the long way helps me unwind. Oh, and no shower in the church, so I usually smell like Old Spice, which probably reflects my age.

Marsha started power walking with a little jogging (she is not as attuned to the athletic endeavor as I am). Our son was a football lineman and shotputter at St. Olaf. He also has embraced the diet, although not as strictly as we have.

The results? My wife lost 30 pounds. Our son lost 30 pounds. I’ve dropped 45 pounds — and my cholesterol went from 225 to 139, without meds!

A Wonder-Filled Year

Now it’s one year later, and I’ve had a few breakdowns along the way — a steak and cheese sandwich, a hamburger, chicken, or pork chops from time to time. We get pizza every other week. But we’re on this diet 85-90%.

I have learned to plan my day. Weddings are the biggest temptation, as it means I have the rehearsal dinner — and potentially, the reception (which I avoid). Over the past year I traveled to two weddings, and they were minefields when on my eating plan. But I learned. First wedding, I had a chili dog. Next wedding, I brought my own beans and rice mixture. But there were other temptations I did not anticipate. Oh well!

According to the BMI index, I was once obese. Now I am normal. This new weight is below my college weight, although truth be told, I still have “extra.” Muscle weighs more than fat, and I was much stronger then.

I could drop dead tomorrow. Get killed cycling. Who knows — there is mystery to life. But it has been a wonder-filled year.

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Pastor Jon Heydenreich


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