The Engine 2 Diet: The Texas Firefighter's 28-Day Save-Your-Life Plan that Lowers Cholesterol and Burns Away the Pounds
By Rip Esselstyn
There's no argument that the Engine 2 Diet can protect you from disease while making you feel and look terrific. But the diet might actually never have been created if it weren't for an argument.
Although we are often harried, there is still occasional downtime between calls at the firehouse knows as Engine 2, which is nestled on the outskirts of the university campus (I transferred here from downtown Austin's Central Station in January 2002). So we're constantly coming up with ways to keep ourselves busy. The competitions are endless: Who can climb the fire pole hand over hand without using his feet? Who rules the roost when it comes to Ping-Pong? Who can collect the most money in his firefighter boot for Jerry's Kids, our annual muscular dystrophy fund-raiser? Who can hoist the 180-point dummy over his shoulder, carry it up the back stairs, through the dormitory, and down the front stairs in the shortest amount of time?
So one day in 2003, when James Rae (aka JR), Josh Miller, and I were sitting on the station's front porch, we started talking about health and cholesterol levels, and as always, the discussion soon become a squabble over who cholesterol level was lowest. I was sure mine was, but so was Josh. JR, who had no idea, wanted to play along, so the next morning the three of us drove over to the People's Pharmacy and had our cholesterol levels checked. Josh's level turned out to eb 168, mine 199, but JR's was a whopping 344.
My level, much higher than I had expected, caused me to lose the bet. But I had an excuse: The day before, I had raced in the Dirty Duathlon (a 5-kilometer trail run), competing against my ex-trathlon competitor and friend Lance Armstrong and a slew of others ( I came in third, Lance was first). As a reward, I let myself eat my once-a-year cheeseburger with all the trimmings-not something you want to do just before a cholesterol test and not something I've ever done again.
But because JR's cholesterol was so high, it took all the heat off me.
It turned out that all the males in the Rae Family had died of heart disease before the age of fifty-two, excerpt JR's father, who had undergone triple bypass surgery at fifty-four. As one of the dire department lieutenants said when he heard about JR's tests: "The man's a walking heart attack." Furthermore, JR was married, the father of two young children, and only thirty-three years old.
So rather than pulling JR out of a fire someday, decided to rescue him through a healthy diet.
I had always eaten well at the station. Sometimes JR and Josh would join me in dinning on my plant-based creations. But now we made a concerted effort to start a healthy lunch wagon. (A wagon is a family-style meal in which we help each other prep, cook, and then clean up; it's a cultural tradition at firehouses throughout the world.) Every day we prepared wholesome sandwiches, tacos, veggie burgers, and wraps with hummus and vegetables on whole wheat or corn tortillas.
A few months later, when the Austin Fire Department held a contest for the healthiest lunch wagon, Engine 2 entered and won-another notch in our competitive belts.
Over the next year and a half, given our tendency to do everything to its fullest extent, and to support JR on his quest to back the Rae Family tradition, we developed a full-blown, plant-based eating schedule around our twenty-four-hour shift: lunch when we arrive at noon, dinner that evening, breakfast the next morning, and lunch before we left for home again at noon.
A year later, JR had his cholesterol checked again. It had only come down to the 270s. I suspected he needed to commit to our eating lifestyle at home as well as at the fire house, so I asked JR to eat all plant-based for just three weeks, then have his cholesterol level checked once more.
The result? His cholesterol had plummeted to an impressive 196-a drop of 146 points (or 57 percent) from his high of 344!
Since that time, JR and Josh were promoted to the rank of driver and left Engine 2 for other firehouses, and new firefighters have joined us. Today we have a fresh stable of plant-powered eaters here at Egnine 2. We're more passionate than ever about our diet. What's more, several other Austine firefighters, lieutenants, captains, battalion chiefs, and the doctor of the fire department wellness center hav emade the switch to plant-eating-and all with eye-popping results.
E2 POP QUIZ
Q: What percentage of heart attacks accord with people who have supposedly heart0healhty cholesterol levels?
A: Thirty-five percent of all heart attacks occur in people with a total cholesterol between 150 and 199 mg/dl, number most physicians and the American Heart Association consider desirable.
The Engine 2 Pilot Study
Truly my father's son, I decided at this pint that it was necessary to complete a more formal study to prove the effectiveness of the Engine 2 Diet. I wanted to bring more people on board to show the dramatic impact of an all-out, plant-based diet on a wide cross-section of people, from professional athletes to working moms and dads, from couples to singles, from meat eaters to vegetarians, from the very healthy to the not-so-healthy.
By the winter of 2006, armed with a medical director (a doctor for the Travis County Sheriff's Department), a community Web site, and a lab to test lipid profiles, I was ready. Now all I need were participants to make the Engine 2 Pilot Study a reality.
I put out the word, hoping to find two dozen volunteers. Within tow weeks, I had to cap the number at sixty-five. Far more people than I'd expected were ready and willing to clean up their diets and their lives.