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'Engine 2 Diet' author kicks off challenge in Mercersburg

Mercersburg Academy alumni Rip Esselstyn shares healthy eating message

September 22, 2010|By DANA BROWN
  • Mercersburg (Pa.) Academy graduate Rip Esselstyn, who developed the Engine 2 Diet, addresses Mercersburg-area residents who signed up to take his 28-day challenge.
Jennifer Fitch, Staff Writer

MERCERSBURG, Pa. -- Mercersburg physician Liz George would like nothing more than to be put out of business and she has enlisted national best-selling author and Mercersburg Academy alumni, Rip Esselstyn, to help the community possibly do just that.

At George's invitation, Esselstyn visited the community last week to kick off a communitywide healthy eating challenge based on the weight-loss, cholesterol-lowering plan he created for his fellow Engine 2 firefighters in Austin, Texas. Esselstyn's successes have been touted on national television programs The Dr. Oz Show and The Today Show.

George, co-founder of the Mercersburg Area Council for Wellness, first challenged several community members to join her during the month of July in trying Esselstyn's 28-day plant-based diet program.

The results were impressive, George said.

Some participants saw a 25 to 30 percent drop in their cholesterol, some lost 10 to 15 pounds and most "experienced more energy," she said.

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Inspired by the positive results in the overall health of the first participants, George encouraged Esselstyn to come to town to help create a healthy-eating project for the entire community.

"It's a communitywide adventure," George said.

Esselstyn said he jumped at the opportunity to return to Mercersburg, where he attended two years of high school at Mercersburg Academy, to share his message.

Speaking to more than 1,000 people during his recent two-day visit, Esselstyn shared his message for healthy eating with students, businesses, community leaders and anyone who wanted to listen.

"The message is a simple one," he said. "It is about self care, and it starts with you and what you put in your mouth."

"This isn't just a diet, it's an adventure in perfect health," Esselstyn states in his book "The Engine 2 Diet: The Texas Firefighter's 28-Day Save-Your-Life Plan that Lowers Cholesterol and Burns Away the Pounds."

Starting Friday, about 100 people will embark on Esselstyn's 28-day plan to eat a plant-strong diet of whole foods including whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds, while cutting back on meats and dairy products, as well as refined and processed foods.

Before starting the plan, most participants had weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure checks. At the end of the challenge, participants will again be checked to document improvements.

Participants are divided into teams with a team leader who completed the Engine 2 Diet challenge in July.

Danielle Fox, of Mercersburg, was one of the first to follow Esselstyn's plant-strong diet during the summer and is leading a team of 12 participants throughout the next month.

Fox said the program "is really not that hard to keep up with," adding that she feels better, has more energy and has seen improvement in her running performance.

"I wasn't feeling well with the way I was eating and I knew I needed to make a change," Fox said.

Her goal as a team leader is to help other people become "aware of what they are putting into their bodies and to make better choices," Fox said. "It's a personal journey."

Several activities are planned during the next 28 days to provide team members with ongoing support, including a community-wide pot luck dinner, cooking classes on how to cook with plant-strong foods, as well as several individual team activities.

Esselstyn plans to return to Mercersburg Oct. 21 for a special program graduation ceremony to be held at Mercersburg Academy.

Both Esselstyn and George believe the first step to bringing about a change in people's understanding of the connection between disease and what they eat is to simply get the conversation started.

"The first step is looking at it and being willing to take on the conversation," George said. "Every step that each person takes becomes a bigger step. We want this conversation to expand."

"Americans' eating habits are catching up to them," she said, adding that the country is facing an obesity epidemic with 50 million people already excessively overweight.

Esselstyn said "about 75 percent of American health care costs are due to food-related diseases."

As a physician, George said she is treating more patients on a local level with diabetes, heart disease and hypertension, and she's seeing these diseases in younger people.

"People just don't know. They don't get the connection between what they're putting in their bodies and disease," George said.

Esselstyn and George hope Mercersburg becomes an example for other small communities to follow.

"If Mercersburg can embrace this, they will be at the forefront of the movement," Esselstyn said.

"We hope this will be a blueprint for other communities," George said. "I hope they put me out of a job."

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