Healthier Pastor

Last night I received an email from a pastor friend letting me know that one of his congregants had passed away, a death that saddened him. He asked if I could pray for his family. A relatively young man in his forties, he collapsed at work and died. Doctors believed he had a heart attack.

As medical professionals will admit, the first sign of cardiac disease for many people is death.

My friend’s email got me thinking – is it that our doctors are not pushing ways to reduce our cardiac incidents, or is that we patients don’t care? I’ve been reading “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease,” a book written by Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr.

Dr. Esselstyn would say, “Yes,” to both parts of my question.

Doctors today aren’t inclined to suggest significant dietary and lifestyle changes for their patients at risk of cardiac issues because they believe that their patients won’t listen. They end up watering down advice to make any changes that their patients can make without taking away some of the things that caused the problems in the first place. Considering that people don’t want to stop eating doughnuts and cheeseburgers, watered-down nutrition and lifestyle advice fits within their lives.

Dr. Esselstyn writes that heart disease should be a “paper tiger” and need not exist. The term “paper tiger” comes from the Chinese and refers to someone or something that claims to be powerful or threatening (like heart disease) but is ineffectual when challenged (like with a better eating plan and lifestyle.)

The plan that Dr. Esselstyn lays out in his book is simple: You follow a low-fat, whole-food, plant-based diet. If you have heart disease, stay away from fatty plant foods like nuts and avocados. But everyone is to stay away from added oils like olive, canola, or vegetable. You’ll eat a diet filled with greens and beans, legumes and whole grains, fruits and unrefined plants. Salads without oil will become your new best friend. You add exercise into your day because it helps make your body healthier.

Overall, when you follow this lifestyle of eating and living, your health will get better. In fact, by taking out all animal products from your diet, your body will start healing itself. That’s right – you can turn back your heart disease by just living a lifestyle that promotes health. I know this sounds too fantastical to believe, but Dr. Esselstyn has scientifically proven that his plan works. And the science shows that by adopting this lifestyle, people with underlying conditions like heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes can significantly reduce or eliminate the medications they take.

The only thing this requires is following a lifestyle that will change your life.

The hardest part is doing it.

When I think about my life, I’ve always loved fried foods, pizza, and anything with salt. Wise potato chips are my favorite, as was Big Jim’s Pizza in New Milford. Following that kind of diet is not heart-healthy. It is a diet that promotes all of those diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes that tend to pop up as you get older.

For the longest time, I’ve wanted to start a health ministry at St. Matthew’s. Time after time, when I think all of my planning is just right, I put my plan back in the drawer. The fear I have is that no one in the church will join me. Marketing people I know tell me to do it and make it a community effort. People will jump on board as they see it progressing. They tell the old marketing mantra: “Keep It Simple; Make it Fun.”

In my ministry, I’ve said it many times before: As Christians, there is no retirement plan. There is no “moving to Florida, so you can stop serving God and your neighbors.” But when we’re suffering from diseases like cardiac issues and diabetes, none of us want to go out and do the church’s mission. We want to rely on “younger people” who aren’t signing up in droves to become church members.

I know I want to be around for a long time working in our God’s harvest fields, but I need to get healthier. And today, December 9th, that ministry I feared starting begins.

I will be the guinea pig to show that it is possible to change your life with a lifestyle that promotes health. Come to worship this weekend, and we can start together.

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