Doctors Make Major Diet Changes

When not discussing hospital business, their emails, texts and face-to-faces can at times pivot to such abstruse topics as hemp protein and nutritional yeast. Omega 3’s and omega 6’s. Dr. Michael Greger and Mike the Vegan.

A little over a year ago, Dr. Dan Lombardi, SBH’s chief quality officer, felt the need to make some changes in his life. He was feeling the stress of an approaching visit from Joint Commission and, as a consequence, found himself binging on junk food. He had added a few pounds and was experiencing frequent migraines when he finally decided enough was
enough. Furthermore, he had become increasingly concerned about the
propensity for cancer that seems to run through his family.

Meanwhile, at about the same time, Dr. Eric Appelbaum, SBH’s chief medical officer, had turned 50. And even though he is as an athlete – having competed in Ironman triathlons and marathons – and describes himself as someone who “eats to live, rather than lives to eat,” overhauling his diet at this time in his life intrigued him and, he figured, would set a good example for his family.

“I was watching a ton of videos, and one of the steps mentioned was the
importance of finding a partner,” says Dr. Appelbaum. “Dan and I never set
out that way, even if we talk every day about business, but it just happened.
We come from different places. He comes from a family of great cooks and
I never cooked.”

The two long-time friends and colleagues quickly realized the advantages of being able to bounce ideas off each other, of having someone they could turn to for support, and of sharing in the research they both covet.

It all started for Dr. Lombardi in spring 2019, when he purged processed foods from his diet. That Lent he gave up chocolate, which had long been his Kryptonite. He soon began a morning ritual of producing smoothies with hemp protein, frozen blueberries, raw kale or spinach, flax seed, banana, sunflower butter and turmeric.

For lunch, he had transitioned to salads that, at first, contained animal protein (until he digested The China Study by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell, a book that examines the link between the consumption of animal products, including dairy, and chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and various cancers), but now is likely to include such things as beans or tofu.

Dinners often call for a Buddha bowl with whole grains that might feature
brown rice as a base with such choices as sautéed kale, marinated tofu and garbanzo beans. Over this, he may pour a meatless red sauce, a balsamic vinegar base topping, or a Mexican flavoring like salsa verde. During the day, he often supplements his diet with organic bars.

Dr. Lombardi says his love of cooking has never wavered. “It’s peaked my
interest again in cooking, but instead of marinating a steak, I’m now creating flavors and foods that I never experimented with before. I’m now
making sauces without oil or dairy and introducing myself to new foods.”

For Dr. Appelbaum, however, cooking is a novelty. One of his go-to dishes is
tempeh tacos and he’s done wonders, he says, with leftovers. This may mean taking chickpeas and whole wheat pasta in a big bowl and adding green onions with some lemon juice. His children feast on his sweet potatoes, cut into circles and roasted without oil. Like Dr. Lombardi, he also favors Buddha bowls, but tends to splash them with tahini dressing.

He devours salads with different types of dark, leafy greens, plenty of whole grains, nuts and seeds, and unlimited amounts of fruits. “For the most part, it’s just a whole lot of fruits and vegetables, with the protein sources coming from the plant-based foods I’ve incorporated like tempeh and tofu.”

Rather than call it a vegan diet, he prefers referring to his new way of eating as a whole food, plant-based lifestyle. “I’ve tried to really cut back
on all oils as much as possible because it’s highly processed stuff,” he says. “It’s kind of like the example of a juicer vs. the fruit. Yes, you get plenty of vitamins if you have orange juice, but if you eat the whole orange, the fiber is proven to be healthier. It’s the same with some of those oils, like walnut or avocado oils.

I’d rather just eat the avocado.” He’s big on flax seed, which he adds to his “four hour oats”– a specialty he pours nightly into a Mason jar using water,
almond milk, oats, cinnamon, and fruit, and sticks in the fridge overnight to absorb the different flavors. His enthusiasm for this has caught Dr. Lombardi’s attention.

Both doctors gorge on available research that offers other ways to enrich their diets, digesting videos and studies provided by both clinicians and diet
guru websites. They are both fans of the Cronometer app that allows users to track their nutrition and count calories.

Dr. Appelbaum discusses his diet with co-workers and patients, but believes
“people need to be on their own journey. I’m not telling people to do anything except do the research and see how they feel.”

Dr. Lombardi has dropped 48 pounds from 208 to 168, which he says is the
lowest he’s been since high school. He hasn’t had a migraine in months. His
wife tells him he no longer snores.

Members of his family take a look at him and pledge to give up red meat. He tells them “not so quick. Read about it first. It may be good for me, but not you.”

As for him, there is little question. “I feel great,” he says. “You start to get
addicted to some of the foods you used to eat and you have to break that
addiction. Your taste buds change. I recently ate a French fry and said,
‘Gee, that’s really salty.’ With the new flavors, I never feel deprived at all.
Experimenting is something I really look forward to.”