From Fat to Fit: How I Improved My Life While Helping Build a Kinder World

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I spent my tween years as a chunky kid, never meeting a pepperoni pizza or fried chicken I didn’t like. And when my father would take me to football games, I told myself I’d “limit” myself to one hot dog — per quarter.

Many people find themselves in a similar boat today and may be already wondering what happened to their New Year’s resolutions. While that new gym membership may still languish unused, there’s one resolution that’s not too late to make, is delicious, and could be even more impactful: pledging to enjoy more plant-based meals in 2016 and beyond.

It was that simple act that turned me around. At age 13, I decided to swap out animals in my diet in favor of plant-strong meals, and what a difference it made. Within months I’d gone from fat to fit, joining the track team and regularly competing in races. My cholesterol dropped to normal levels, and I felt better.

In hindsight, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. The evidence is clear: a diet higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal products is better for everyone: us, the planet, and for animals. As Marion Nestle from NYU’s nutrition department concludes: “There is no question that largely vegetarian diets are as healthy as you can get. The evidence is so strong and overwhelming and produced over such a long period of time that it’s no longer debatable.”

In a country where two-thirds of us are overweight or obese, perhaps it’s not a shock to learn that we gorge ourselves on more meat per-person than just about any other nation on earth. And that overconsumption of chickens, pigs, and cows is leading to some of our weightiest problems.

Whether it’s obesity, heart disease or various cancers, abundant evidence shows that putting more whole plant foods into our diet and fewer animals is the way to reduce our risk.

We’re already eating about 10 percent less meat per-person today than we were eight years ago. There’s a greater interest than ever in practicing the three R’s: “reducing” or “replacing” consumption of animal products and “refining” our diets by choosing products from sources that adhere to higher animal welfare standards. Whether people are doing Meatless Mondays or going whole hog — or perhaps no hog — and choosing meat-free every day, change is in the air, and on our plates.

So, how’s it done? It’s simple, and fun, as I learned when I started eating a plant-based diet 22 years ago. Doing our waistlines and the planet a favor is as easy as choosing a hearty three-bean chili, a Southwest bean and rice burrito, or a colorful pasta primavera. Even fast food chains like Denny’s, Burger King and Chipotle offer popular and protein-packed vegetarian items.

Now I’m proud to say that I’m fit, healthy, and have achieved more athletic goals — including the Marine Corps Marathon — than I would’ve dreamt of as a kid. I look back on the photos of the fat me with a sense of sympathy. I’m grateful that I began a new diet, not simply as a New Year’s resolution, but rather as a new lifestyle aimed at helping myself and the world around me.

There’s never been a better time than now to resolve to do better. Sure, that could be with exercise and other typical resolutions that too often fall by the wayside come February. But 2016 can be the year that we decided we wanted to finally stand up for our health along with that of the planet and its animals. And what better way to stand up than by picking a resolution that will stick because it’s so pleasurable and impactful? We can stand up for ourselves and our world, every time we sit down to eat.

Husband of Toni Okamoto. Author of nat’l bestseller Clean Meat. CEO of The Better Meat Co. Host of Business for Good Podcast. 4x TEDx speaker. Paul-Shapiro.com

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