[Editor’s Note: This story and article has been condensed, adapted, and excerpted with permission from The Change.]
In October 2012, I became an employee of Whole Foods Market. In addition to discounts on food, Whole Foods Market offered an all-expenses-paid health retreat to its full-time employees who needed and could benefit from it. The program aimed to teach you how to eat healthfully and live healthfully. I soon applied to attend and was accepted.
One year after I’d started working at Whole Foods, I boarded a plane and flew to Naples, Florida to attend Dr. Scott Stoll’s Immersion program. When I originally made the decision to attend, I did so out of desperation. I felt as though I had already tried everything else, and none of it had worked. Before attending the retreat, I had lost weight a number of times, but had also gained it back each time.
Looking back, I realize all the gadgets, pills, and diets over the years were simply the means for me to feel, even if for the briefest of moments, hope—hope that one day my life and health would improve. I wished I could take my son to the park and play catch with him, like every other father and son. I imagined taking my beautiful wife dancing. To say that the Immersion program transformed my life would be an understatement. Prior to meeting Dr. Stoll, I had spent close to twenty years struggling with all aspect of my health—facets that went far beyond just weight.
Before attending his program, I had never had a doctor tell me I was in control of my health. I had always thought I was a victim of my genetics. I had considered my heritage to be the biggest influence on my physical state. My father had suffered from high blood pressure, so I would have high blood pressure, I had thought. I had also been told many, many times that, as an African-American, I would likely have high cholesterol and die early of heart disease or stroke. Immersion taught me otherwise. During the 7-day program, I learned how to conquer unhealthy cravings and addictions by eating whole-food, plant-based meals with no added oil, sugar, or salt. I also got rid of my emotional and physical dependence to caffeine, tobacco, junk food, and animal products. It wasn’t easy, but I stuck with the program. During that one week, I lost 33 pounds and six inches off my waist.
Upon leaving the retreat and getting back to home life, I continued to follow the principles I had learned at immersion. I followed a whole-food, plant-based diet. Every day I would head to the gym and spend at least sixty minutes walking on a treadmill. Within three months, I had lost an additional seventy pounds and my doctor had taken me off all my medications.
[Editor’s Note: Milan went on to lose 225 pounds. He details his experience in The Change, which he co-authored with Dr. Scott Stoll, the director of the immersion program. In the book, Dr. Stoll also takes readers step-by-step through the program. In the excerpt below, he outlines the history of modern health immersions and how he started running the programs for Whole Foods Market employees.]
A Brief History of Health Immersion
In 1975, Nathan Pritikin, an inventor in the fields of physics, chemistry, and electronics, opened the first four-week health immersion program. His visionary immersion program was, in fact, born out of his own personal battle with disease. At the age of forty-one, Nathan was diagnosed with severe heart disease and refused to accept the bleak prognosis of a short life. He analyzed all the research he could find, looking for a solution, and discovered that heart disease could be treated effectively with lifestyle changes. In light of this finding, he decided to immerse himself in a new way of being.
He removed processed food from his diet and shifted to plant-based nutrition with occasional animal products, while also incorporating exercise and stress management into his daily routine. In doing so, he lowered his cholesterol significantly, reversed his heart disease, and normalized his heart rate. His experience motivated him to help others. He once said in an interview, “All I am trying to do is wipe out heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.” And so immersion therapy was born.
Today more than one hundred published studies have been based on his ideas, which demonstrate the fact that numerous diseases can be reversed through diet and lifestyle intervention. For example, one study showed 74 percent of type 2 diabetic patients were able to discontinue all their medications by immersing themselves in a healthy lifestyle and following a plant-based diet for just four weeks, and 44 percent of those on insulin came off insulin in the same time period.
The concept of health immersion blossomed under the cofounder and co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, John Mackey. He was instrumental in developing a one-week immersion program to help improve the health of Whole Foods team members who were facing chronic health conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, or high blood pressure.
I had been serving on the Whole Foods Scientific and Medical advisory board when I was asked to host a weeklong health immersion program for Whole Foods. Of course, the idea made perfect sense to me. The one-week program we run is a unique opportunity for people to step back from their busy schedules, bad habits, tempting food environments, and the stressors and pressures of life and recapture perspective, vision, inspiration, and motivation.
—Dr Scott Stoll, co-author of The Change
Dr. Stoll is the athletic team physician for Lehigh University and the medical director for the Back and Neck Center at Coordinated Health. A former Olympian, he’s also the team physician for the United States Bobsled Team and serves on the Whole Foods Market Scientific Medical Advisory Board.
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