Eric O’Grey is a lifestyle vegan, nutrition enthusiast, and animal welfare advocate. But just a few years ago, his life was very different. Eric was overweight and unhappy, and was even told by his doctor to buy a funeral plot. But after watching a television clip featuring past-President Bill Clinton who had rediscovered health through a plant-based diet, Eric started eating plant-based, embarked on a 150 pound vegan weight loss journey, and completely turned his life around.
Eric wrote this letter to Clinton sharing his incredible transformation to a healthy and inspired by life. Eric was kind enough to share this with our readers to provide inspiration and start a dialogue about these important topics. Enjoy!
Dear Mr. Clinton:
In August 2010, I saw you interviewed by Wolf Blitzer on CNN. You looked better and younger than I had ever seen you before. The droopy jowls under your neck and the large bags beneath your eyes were gone, and your face was oval instead of round. You had lost significant weight, and when Mr. Blitzer questioned you about that, you said the reason was that you wanted to look good for your daughter’s wedding.
But what you said next really caught my attention. You talked about getting back to your high school weight and reversing your heart disease by following a plant-based diet, based on a book entitled The China Study, in addition to treatment by Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn (author of Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease).
This captured my attention because I had returned from a business trip the day before, and my flight was delayed because my airline ran out of seat belt extensions. With a 52 inch waist, the regular seatbelt wasn’t long enough for me to buckle. The flight was delayed about a half hour, which caused the man seated next to me to say that he would miss his connection because I didn’t have the discipline to control my appetite.
I have received many “fat shaming” comments like that in my life, including from a doctor who suggested that I buy a funeral plot, because I would need one in the next five years.
I was 51 years old then and taking well over a thousand dollars in medications per month. I had Type 2 diabetes, my total cholesterol was 300, my blood pressure was 160/100, I was about 320 pounds at 5’10”, my waist was 52 inches, my neck was 18.5 inches, and my shirt size was 3XL. I was constantly exhausted, despite sleeping 10-12 hours each night. It was becoming increasingly harder to walk. I was sick and in pain all the time, and couldn’t even tie my shoes or walk up a few stairs without difficulty breathing.
At the time, I could not remember a meal in my life that didn’t include meat or other animal products. I had been overweight for 30 years and was now morbidly obese. I had tried every diet, diet book, and diet system ever marketed for weight loss in this country, including Atkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, and many more. I used my best efforts to follow each of those diets, and was usually able to lose up to 40 pounds each try. But the same result occurred every time: eventually I would burn out from eating almost all meat on Atkins, for example, and then I would go back to back to my old ways. I found all of these diets to be unsustainable, and with each I quickly regained the weight I temporarily lost plus an extra ten pounds.
When my doctor suggested that I invest in a funeral plot, he also recommended weight loss surgery. But after I saw your interview, I didn’t know what you meant by “plant-based diet,” and became determined to try that as a final step before bariatric surgery. Then I Googled “Clinton plant-based diet”, and while this may be difficult to imagine just five years ago, my search did not return any information or plan I could follow. So instead, I purchased a copy of the book The China Study, and while reading it, decided to find a nutritionist and learn what a plant-based diet was.
I was fortunate to find a nutritionist who also followed a plant-based lifestyle. In our weekly appointments, she taught me how to cook and what to eat. I began cooking for the first time in my life and stopped consuming all processed sugar. I learned how to eat a well-balanced plant consisting of whole plant foods. Most importantly, I learned that a plant-based diet wasn’t just salads and apples, but included the foods I like best, such as rice, potatoes, lasagna, Chinese stir-fry, and Mexican food. I was able to eat foods I liked, and as much as I wanted.
My nutritionist also urged me to find a form of exercise that I didn’t hate, and suggested that I consider adopting a dog from a shelter to walk each day. I went to my local Humane Society and told them I wanted to adopt an obese middle-aged dog so we would have something in common. Then a friend took me to me to a Body Pump exercise class. Just by walking my new dog (meet Peety!), going to a one-hour exercise class three times per week, and practicing my new plant-based diet, I began losing 3 to 5 pounds per week.
Read more about how rescuing an overweight dog named Peety saved Eric O’Grey’s life in his book, Walking With Peety.
Over the next year, my weight dropped from 320 pounds to 180 pounds. My palette changed, and I began to strongly prefer my new diet over my former standard American diet. In addition to my weight loss, my total cholesterol dropped to 130, my blood pressure went down to 118/60, and my glucose and all other medical stats became normal. Best of all, I no longer had any symptoms of type 2 diabetes or required any medications.
My waist size is now 33 inches, I have a 16-inch neck, and I wear a size medium shirt. I only need about 7 hours of sleep each night, and I wake up feeling rested and filled with energy. My energy and mental clarity are extraordinary compared to before, and the only comparison I can give is coming out of a lifetime fog.
These photos show the obese me in August 2010, and the new me now:
If my story stopped here, that would still be enough for an interesting article. But as they say in infomercials, wait, there’s more.
I continued to follow you in the media, and was watching your speech on television at the Democratic National Convention in September 2012 when I heard you say,
“We believe that ‘We’re all in this together’ is a far better philosophy than ‘You’re on your own.'” – Bill Clinton
That struck me powerfully when I heard you say it, and I couldn’t agree more. But I didn’t always feel that way.
From age 10, I’d considered myself a staunch conservative. Back then, I worked hard to earn 25 cents per day pulling weeds and doing other yard work for neighbors. I saved my money rather than spend it, while my brothers spent their money on ice cream as soon as it landed in their hands. My parents worked, and rather than leave us unattended, my father hired a woman named Donna to keep us out of trouble. This was during the late 60s, and we lived near San Francisco. Donna was a hippy in every sense, and was never shy about expressing her ultra-liberal views.
One hot summer day, as the ice cream truck rolled down my block, my brothers pressured Donna for ice cream. My father didn’t leave Donna money for ice cream, but she knew I saved my money, so she asked me to give her what I had so that everyone would be happy. I refused and asked her why she would ask me to spend my money on ice cream for everyone else. After all, I had saved my money instead of spending it, while my brothers spent their money on ice cream as fast as they could get it, and now they had the nerve to want mine also!
I will never forget how Donna glared at me with a look of total disgust and called me a “little Republican.” I knew that a Republican was the opposite of Donna, so I adopted that badge and wore it with pride. In 1972, at age 12, I even volunteered for the Nixon campaign, folding letters and doing other work at the local campaign headquarters after school and on weekends. I was a loyal conservative for the next 40 years, ultimately becoming a hardcore Fox News enthusiast. And anytime I heard someone use the terms “capitalist”, “conservative” or “Republican,” I envisioned a person who saved his ice cream money, while a “liberal” or “Democrat” was someone who spent their money as fast as they received it, and then tried to take the Republican’s money also.
Please bear with me as I pause this story, because if I read this far into an article with this many unrelated side stories and a mile of text ahead, I would assume the author had forgotten his point, if he even had a point, and was now just typing into the sunset. But I promise a point, and appreciate your continued attention as I tie all this together.
And this my point: As part of my transformation from an obese, sedentary omnivore to a healthy vegan, I also became a much nicer person. I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened and can’t entirely explain why, but within a year of my transition, I started feeling something bigger than the difference of reduced weight and toxicity. I felt fully awake and conscious for the first time in my life.
I started feeling happy, and truly happy, for the first time in my life, with a daily mental state I can only describe as a profound sense of joy and contentment. At the same time I felt more connected to other people, and even creatures, than ever before, and began genuinely caring about others and putting their interests before my own, and practicing liberal values in my daily life. People seemed to like me better, and I found myself with many times more friends than before. In my job as a salesperson, my sales and income approximately doubled.
So when I heard you say that being in this together is better than being on our own, I realized that the more I shared my ice cream with others, the happier I became, and the more ice cream I received in return. Just by changing the focus of my life from what was best for me to what was best for others, my life improved in every way imaginable. I felt like I had discovered the secret to life.
With your many foundations and unprecedented public approval, you are one of the most popular people in this country today, and you can reach an audience that includes almost every person on Earth. And when you talk, people listen. You have the ability to change the lives of millions of unhealthy, unhappy, broken-down, obese, tired, worn-out and selfish people with a simple truth:
People will never enjoy a fraction of the happiness and fulfillment they can achieve by hoarding their ice cream as they will by sharing it with others.
You can help people understand this by showing them how improving their diet and increasing their health will also advance the common good.
According to the Center for Disease Control, more than two-thirds of our citizens are overweight or obese. This is more than just a health crisis, it has also been described as a national defense crisis and a looming economic disaster in terms of health care costs. How much could we save, and how much might we have left over to alleviate poverty and provide a better world for others, if you started talking about these simple facts:
If everyone switched to a plant-based diet:
By publicly advocating and practicing whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet, I believe you would create a cool and hip trend that everyone would want to follow. And this, Sir, would be your greatest legacy.
Eric embarked on an incredible 150 pound vegan weight loss journey that started with one unexpected thing: adopting a dog named Peety. If you’re looking for that final push to catapult your healthy journey, this episode the The Plant-Powered People Podcast will give you lots of inspiration!
The plant-based experience and vegan weight loss information presented in this article is not to be construed as medical advice or used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any condition or disease. Please note that this article contains Amazon affiliate links, and shopping through these links supports World of Vegan!