We bring you the story of Mostafa Helmy, in an open letter by the man himself. (Read his original post in Arabic here.)
“Happy New Year, everyone! In light of the New Year and in the spirit of decisions and resolutions that never really last long, I feel this is the perfect timing for what I have to say. Perhaps it will excite someone enough to do it.
Let’s start with the shock.
Before my last birthday in October, I weighed 190 kilograms. Yes, 190. Not 90 with a mistakenly added 1 or 100 with a typo. It’s a scary figure, but other than that, I usually looked less than my weight, because I tend to gain weight equally everywhere. I weighed 190 kilograms, but looked 150 kilograms maximum.
No matter how people can be fooled by how you look, your body never is; it knows quite well exactly how much you weigh.
I don’t want to prolong the emotional introduction, but I felt all the effects that naturally accompany this weight. From not being able to move and not wanting to go anywhere (or not being able to, but not admitting it) to swollen feet and ulcers (things that naturally happen to people over 80, not a 33 year old), it is a long list that can be compiled into a book.
As someone who’s always been overweight, I have tried all possible diets that you might have heard of. I tried the calorie diet, Atkins Diet (which is composed of pieces of carbohydrates and focuses on proteins and fats), Dukan Diet (consecutive days of animal protein only), chemical diet, biological diet and weapons of mass destruction diet… Anything you’ve heard of, I’ve probably tried. The result was usually the same. I lost weight for a while, then in a week or two or three, I got bored or tired or my will wavered. I stopped the diet, regained all the weight and more… every time.For many reasons, some philosophical, I was against the stomach procedure. However when you weigh 190 kilograms, philosophy can often be a luxury you cannot afford.
It became clear that I needed to do something. I promised myself to diet everyday with every meal, but these promises would disappear in an hour when I became hungry again. Diets that I had followed for weeks or months I couldn’t follow again for a few days. Sometimes I would start the diet in the morning and stop following it by lunch or dinner.Something had to be done, for the consequences were going to be bad, really bad. Since I resisted the idea of the operation to the very last minute, I had to either find another solution or shut up and have it.
Around two and a half years ago, my friend Bassem Youssef had started a diet called the plant-based diet. Bassem, as many of you know, is not fat at all. He followed it to maintain his health. When he first told me about it, I thought he was crazy. The diet is as follows:
1. Refrain from any animal products (No meat, poultry or fish, no milk or cheese of all kinds)
2. No fats of all kinds, including margarine, butter, oils (yes, not even olive oil)
3. No concentrated, enhanced, or preserved products (No canned products, white flour or soda drinks, even the diet ones)
4. No salt (drum roll…)
5. No sugar
What then? Is this even normal? Since Bassem is a heart surgeon, he didn’t do this out of nowhere. What made him do this is that he knew of people who had been very sick with incurable diseases, like MS, Type 2 diabetes, cancer, cardiac diseases and especially Autoimmune Diseases, who had been cured by this system and no longer needed their medication.
Even though Bassem is originally a heart surgeon and my friend and everything, it was very hard to believe at first. When I heard about it from him, I browsed the Internet and read about the plant-based diet. I found that it was all true. It didn’t only make you lose weight, but it also showed tremendous results in only six weeks. Cholesterol levels go down to their healthy rates – they could be at about 300 and go down to 150 in a couple of weeks without medication – and the levels of blood sugar decreased to the extent that its medication was no longer needed. In cases where there is complete dependence on insulin, its doses were considerably decreased. Even worn out heart valves mended like magic.
I became convinced that the system was healthy and solid, but just because it’s healthy and solid didn’t mean I was going to do it. We come back again to that number: 190 kilograms. The choice was either the operation or the plant-based diet, and since I was against the operation, I followed the diet.
The nice surprise was that the diet was not only green salad. I’m not a rabbit; I like to eat, probably more than you do, and if it was just green salad, I wouldn’t have lasted three or four days. I eat rice, Pasta, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans and lentils, and I can eat Egyptian baladi bread (in small quantities because it still has white flour) and all kinds of unsalted nuts, fruits and vegetables. Carbohydrates are welcomed. Yes, they are cooked without fats or salt, but they’re still delicious. Try to slice a potato, sprinkle some pepper and spices on it and put it in the oven. You’ll feel like you’re eating French fries and you’ll like it, following the diet or not.
The other piece of good news is that after three weeks, I stopped missing salt. It’s like when you stop putting sugar into your tea; after a while, you get used to it and feel that it’s sweet without sugar. Your sense of taste changes. The truth is, I can’t imagine that I’m losing weight with the food I’m eating. For lunch, I have a huge plate of pasta with fresh tomato sauce and vegetables everyday, and when I stand on the scale, I’ve lost weight.When I went on the scale two days ago (December 30th), I had lost 28 kg since my last birthday on October 9, without torture or hunger. It was a bit hard during the first few weeks because of the salt, but I’ve gotten used to it and I like the food I’m eating.
You can keep complaining and saying you want cheese or meat, but the truth is, as long as you’re eating things that fill you up (like rice, pasta and potatoes), focusing on what you can’t eat doesn’t make any sense. I used to ask why all the foods I liked had to be fattening, but I realized that they didn’t have to be – I was the one frying them. Rice, for example, is not fattening. The problem is how we cook it and what we add to it.
Plants have protein; it’s not just meat. Lentils are all protein and so are nuts. When you get your proteins from these, you get the entire benefit, rather than getting cholesterol and increased heart pressure as well. Animals get their proteins from plants and we get them from animals. Why? We can eat the plants right away.
I can keep talking about these for the next couple of hours, but I will stop here. I didn’t write this for praise or to share my weight loss journey with others. I don’t want this kind of pressure, with people waiting to know how much more I’ve lost or see my progress picture at the gym. If it were for me, I would have done it in silence and alone, because it isn’t even about me. This system works, whether I continue with it or not. The truth is, I don’t even want to stop it. For the first time, the diet is not tiring me and I’m not even getting a cheat meal. Regardless of my personal success, though, this works.
It was hard for me to find something this effective and not tell people about it. Some of these people are like me and they don’t know what to do. I had to tell people that my feet were swollen for a year, didn’t get any better with medications or lotions, but slowly went to normal after a week of this diet. I had to tell them that my sleeping patterns have been adjusted and my psychological health much better just because of a few eating choices.
Watch Forks Over Knives or read The China Study. They have an entire explanation of it. Forks Over Knives have a website with success stories and recipes. You’ll realize that the food IS good – my 190 kilograms prove I do not take taste lightly! www.forksoverknives.com/recipes
Also, because many people have asked me about portions, you eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. Fatty food hits the Pleasure Center in your brain and makes you want more even after you’re full, because your body keeps secreting hormones that tell you how good this pizza is and how many calories it has. This was how the primitive man knew to eat plant produce not leaves. The more empty calories something has, the happier your body gets. This is why all fattening foods make you happy. Once you stop eating foods with concentrated empty calories, you will stop overeating after you’re full.
My last point is that carbohydrates are not the enemy. The perfect ratio, from calories not portions, should be 80% carbs, 10% vegetables and 10%fruits. You don’t have to measure it exactly with pen and paper; you just need to weigh it in your head. If you’ve had potatoes all day, know that the next meal should have some salad and fruits. Don’t torture yourself or be too much of a perfectionist about it. In most cases, you’ll find it comes naturally.”