Today, people tend to think that I’m an athlete, with some kind of über-willpower and drive. This is the ultimate flattery for me. But it couldn’t be further from the truth. Almost all of my life, I've been a lazy bum.
Sure, I did well in school — but that wasn’t because I studied extra-hard. I guess I can thank my father’s genes, which gave me the ability to memorize. And while I played some sports growing up, I mainly sat on the bench, which was comfortable and safe.
As I grew older, I grew lazier. I'd go to the gym from time to time and lift a few weights for my arms but mainly just to impress girls. Yes, I got through medical school and residency, which were demanding and required hard work — but that was more because it was a requirement. I didn’t use willpower; I was driven more by fear of failure. I did what I had to do.
And so about five years ago, I found myself lying on my couch watching TV with my McDonald's sitting on the table next to me. My cholesterol was high, but hell, I knew we had a med for that. I was tired, very tired — but I was a surgeon. I was supposed to be tired. My belly was growing ... big. But that’s supposed to happen with age, right?
If you had said to me at that moment that I would later become a vegan Ironman, I would have laughed. No way. At that point, I had never biked or gone swimming, and running was just too painful. Also, I hated veggies. Despised them. In fact, I'd go weeks without consuming a single fruit or vegetable. I’d maybe agree to some lettuce only if it were placed on my cheeseburger.
I was doing what most people in our society do: avoiding the pain of exercise and enjoying the pleasure of lying on my couch eating high-fat and sugary foods that I picked up easily on the way home from work.
But around this time, I starting noticing the improvements my gastric bypass patients had made. They looked incredible. Many of them had completely turned themselves around, running marathons and eating better. And this made me wonder if I, too, was capable of much more.
I started to really study diet and its effect on the human body. The more I learned, the more shocked I became. You'd think a doctor would understand the relationship between diet and disease, but I had only received about one hour of nutrition in medical school.
I had been taught that the human body was broken and that Western medicine was the only chance we had to survive. If you have a heart attack, you need a bypass; diabetes, you need insulin; and cancer needs chemo. Preventive medicine only meant getting a mammogram.
So you can imagine my shock when it started to dawn on me that I was killing myself. Yes, I had momentary pleasure lying on the couch eating burgers. But I actually felt horrible. I wasn’t avoiding pain — I was creating pain. I was also kind of upset with Western medicine. The fact that we are supposed to have the most advanced medical system in the world yet have some of the highest rates of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity was a shocking discovery.