Brooklyn Borough President and 2021 NYC Mayoral candidate, Eric Adams shares his story of completely reversing diabetes through a whole food plant-based diet. He also shares practical tips from his brand new book, Healthy At Last, on how to painlessly implement dietary changes to prevent and reverse chronic illness.
Brooklyn Borough President
Eric Adams is the Brooklyn Borough President having previously served three terms in the New York State Senate and 22 years in the New York City Police Department. After being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2016, he adopted a plant-based diet and successfully reversed his diabetes.
Maria Marlowe: [00:00:33] Welcome back to the Happier and Healthier podcast. Today I’m joined by Eric Adams, the Brooklyn Borough President, who’s going to share his story of reversing diabetes through a whole food plant based diet. He’s also going to be sharing tips from his brand new book, Healthy At Last, a plant-based approach to preventing and reversing diabetes and other chronic illnesses.
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Maria Marlowe: [00:03:29] Eric, thanks so much for being here.
Eric Adams: [00:03:31] Thank you for allowing me to speak to your audience, your listeners.
Maria Marlowe: [00:03:35] Definitely. So I started reading your book Healthy at Last. I’m a few chapters in. And I’m really enjoying it. It’s a very easy read. You’ve made it very entertaining. So before we get into the meat of the book, I’d love for you to share your story. And what inspired you to finally become healthy at last?
Eric Adams: [00:03:58] That’s a powerful just entry point because the, At Last, it was an old song that many people in the African-American community were aware of. It was a woman who found her love at last. And we lived in this state of being unhealthy for so long that our bodies actually got used to being unhealthy. And once I made the transformation, it was, wow, at last I knew what life was about. And this journey started about four years ago for me, where again, I normalized the discomfort, the pain until it reached the point that I was feeling discomfort in my stomach and, you know, what’s funny, I was in Dubai. And I said, when I get back to the country, I was going to go to the doctor because men, you have to drag to the doctor. We have a culture of you know what? You suck up the pain. Don’t be a little wimp.
Eric Adams: [00:05:01] And at the same time, I was losing my sight. At first I thought it was just because I was getting older. But the vision in my left eye was just about all gone and my right eye was also experiencing some vision loss and I was having nerve damage in my hands and feet. I didn’t know that the tingling was an indicator of permanent nerve damage as well as high blood pressure, cholesterol. So I went to the internist and he basically told me after he sent me to check my stomach and my colon that I had an ulcer. That was the original issue. But he said for the most part, you know, you’re diabetic and your diabetes is at a coma level. And he says, I’m surprised you’re not in a coma, to be honest. And that’s just really started me on this journey that I’m on now.
Maria Marlowe: [00:05:49] That’s, I think, the case for so many people who are passionate about healthy eating, it often starts with a scary diagnosis. Unfortunately, hopefully we can change that in the next few generations. But so I know there are a lot of things that you changed you. So you went you were eating a certain diet for fifty six years and then overnight you changed that to a completely different way of eating. So I know there’s a lot of things you changed, but what would you say were the top three changes that you made that you think had the biggest impact on your diet and that you think anyone listening who has or wants to prevent a chronic illness? Those are the top three things that they should try to shift.
Eric Adams: [00:06:31] And that’s a great question, because there are so many untruths about food, and that’s what my book Healthy At Last attempts to do. To simplify this complicated conversation. You hear so many stories of eat this, don’t do that, take vitamins, don’t take vitamins. And you just really say to yourself, you know what, you throw up your hands. And I wanted to find a way of basically how would I comprehend information and how could I just become smarter in that space? And so when I reached out and started to try to find answers, I went to five of the best doctors in the city who told me that, Eric, there’s nothing you can do. Your diabetes is hereditary. Your mother’s diabetic. Mom was diabetic for fifteen years, seven years on insulin at the time.
Eric Adams: [00:07:23] And it was only because I have to go into those doctors’ offices that I came home with a stack of pamphlets of living with diabetes and a bunch of medicine. I can remember like yesterday sitting at my laptop with the pamphlets, living with diabetes and all this medicine. Medicine for my ulcer. Medicine, for my blood pressure. Medicine, for my cholesterol. Medicine, for my eyes. Medicine, for the diabetes-3, including insulin. I remember having it next to my laptop saying, I just can’t believe this. You know, something inside us tells us that, you know what? This is not true. We just got to listen to that sound, that voice and I typed on my computer, Maria, reversing diabetes and not living with diabetes. And all of this information came up, these different doctors.
Eric Adams: [00:08:18] And one of the doctors, as soon as I called and he told me flew down to see him. He’s the same doctor that treated Bill Clinton for his heart disease. And he started telling me about food and the power of food, and I remember when he was saying that it’s some of the things I had to stop eating, I was like with this nut, I’m going blind and he’s telling me to stop eating steak. And when I got back home and started to look at what I had in my refrigerator, my pantry, I realized and I started reading the labels and it just was an epiphany. It was a moment of wow.
Eric Adams [00:08:57] And so the foods that I really had to wean myself off of was the really the overconsumption of meat and how meat became the center of my life, you know, and how your mind is actually shaped. When I was a child, if you went to visit a friend’s house and they didn’t have meat on, at dinner, the lunch, the breakfast, it was a symbol of, wow, this is a poor house. And so we were cultured into believing that meat was a symbol of manhood, was a symbol of wealth. It was a symbol of, you know, prominence. And here it is. This is very destructive consumption of something that became part of the culture of how you identified yourself. And so that was really one of the most important things I had to do to understand overconsumption of meat in my diet, how it was really leading to a lot of the health crisis that I was experiencing.
Maria Marlowe: [00:10:02] And I imagine I know, for example, I had a similar epiphany with different health problems, but when you learn that meat, for example, and animal products are not as healthy as you may have thought, it can be a bit shocking. So how did you deal with that transition? Like, what did you swap in fake meats or did you go straight for the Whole Foods, the beans, the lentils, the tofu? Like, how did you actually make that transition?
Eric Adams: [00:10:28] Great question. Great question. Because you’re right, you know, I was what, you trying to take my hamburger away, you know, telling me I can’t have steak? So you’re right. It was like a heart. It’s like all of a sudden waking up and realizing that you’re not who you think you are because, you know, you define yourself through your food. We don’t realize it, but we define ourselves through our food. We’re culturally connected to it. And so when I was told I could no longer eat meat, it was not only the animal product, it was like, hey, that’s the way my dad talked to me, you know. My son and I used to go to McDonald’s, you know, so I was going to the heart of that how in which I define myself.
Eric Adams: [00:11:14] And so the first week I remember the first week of, like, thinking that sitting on the edge of my bed and say, wow, the world has come to an end. And I did the first meatless day and on a Monday. And then I woke up on a Tuesday and like I said, wait a minute, you’re still alive. And I said, OK, like, how do I do this right. And so I didn’t go the route of doing a lot of substitutes. I went the route of I’m going to start from scratch and then build up my diet slowly. So I just really started with a Whole Foods, plant-based. My food for the first week Maria was awful. I used to have a cereal in the morning, made out of flax seed that I didn’t grind. You know, it was a real learning process. I was the baby that was crawling and then taking my first steps. And so I wanted to do it right.
Eric Adams: [00:12:12] And now people may find their own place. And I point that out in a Healthy At Last that you need to find your comfort place. You know, it was comfortable for me to go cold turkey. Another person may be comfortable to start with transitional foods. So the book doesn’t beat you up. It just really tells you to find your comfort place and move towards the goal. So I started out with just getting rid of all the meat and going to a real whole food, plant-based diet. Because I was in such bad shape, my body was you know, I don’t think people can really imagine waking up, not being able to see, being told that you’re going to be blind, that you’re going to lose some fingers and toes.
Eric Adams: [00:12:55] So I say, you know what? I’m going to give it my all and put on a good fight. So I really just got rid of all of those items. And I encourage those who are going through doctor tell you may go to dialysis or you may have the permanent nerve damage or vision loss. I encourage them to really dig in deep because now you’re saving your body at that time.
Maria Marlowe: [00:13:17] Yeah. Before we get to the other two changes you made just on the subject, what are some of the misconceptions about diabetes like? I think you’ve kind of mentioned some of them, like one that you have to live with it forever instead of reversing it. But is there anything else you think?
Eric Adams: [00:13:33] Yes. Yes, there is. I was amazed at the five endocrinologists and the experts I went to and I said, well, how did I get diabetes? I was amazed at how much they didn’t know how. And each one of them gave me well, you’re born with it. Well, it’s, you ate too many carbohydrates. You ate too much sugar. Like all of them gave me different things. And these were the doctors. And why were they so wrong? And then I learned that, as I point out in the book, that we don’t teach nutrition in schools, we teach sick care and how to write a prescription to cover the symptoms of an ailment. And so one of the huge misconceptions is what causes diabetes and how saturated fat is the enemy of diabetics. It clogs and prevents insulin from doing what it’s supposed to do. It gums up your arteries and your veins so you can’t do the job it’s supposed to do.
Eric Adams: [00:14:44] And you can’t correct your diabetic state if you continue to consume saturated fat. And saturated fat is for the most part, one of the largest producers of saturated fat is meat, animal products, you know, dairy, all of those things that are associated with saturated fat. And that was a real eye-opener for me, particularly when I was looking at some of the advice from my doctors that were telling me, you know, just eat a leaner a steak or, you know, they would give me advice that was contrary to the information that I was supposed to be doing.
Maria Marlowe: [00:15:24] Yeah. And another big one, I think, is that sometimes diabetics are scared to eat fruit or scared to eat vegetables. Right.
Eric Adams: [00:15:33] That’s so true. So true. Because we want to stay away from carbohydrates and not understanding that I eat fruits every morning. Matter of fact, I start my day with several cut up pieces of fruit and a bowl of blueberries in a smoothie, which is so filling, you know, matter of fact, this is my little smoothie here that I have, you know, but it’s so filling and it carries me throughout the day. I don’t feel lethargic. I don’t feel tired and bloated and always feeling as though gassy. But you’re right. I think that’s a big misconception about the consumption of fruits. And that was something that got my mom OK, because my mom was diabetic, as I stated, 15 years, seven years on insulin.
Eric Adams: [00:16:18] And when mom went plant-based and in two months, she was able to get insulin and she started to eat fruits again and see the joy of fruits. Oatmeal, diabetics often told not to eat oatmeal, not understand it is the instant oats that’s bad. But the steel cut oats are good for you because of the slow process of releasing the glucose. So it’s really about the right foods, the right way and not over-processed.
Maria Marlowe: [00:16:47] Yeah, it’s amazing, though, you’re right, how our current medical system just doesn’t share it doesn’t have this knowledge to share in the first place. So when you are diagnosed, it’s always a good idea to be your own researcher and find a way, because with really chronic illness in general, whether it’s diabetes, heart disease, whatever, diet and lifestyle really make the biggest impact, without a doubt, diet and lifestyle.
Eric Adams: [00:17:15] And that is part of what I lay out in the book is how important diet and lifestyle. We have an amazing program here at Bellevue Hospital. I partnered with Dr. McMakin, who’s really such a forward thinking physician, and we really point to diet and lifestyle. We have the first of its kind in New York City, if not America, a lifestyle medicine clinic in a major hospital system where we have seven hundred fifty people on the waiting list. Two hundred and something, 50, 60 people are in the program and we’re reversing disease. This is the first level of what we want to do in all of our health and hospital administrations because it’s about diet and lifestyle and lifestyle doesn’t mean you need a two thousand dollars a year gym membership. As I point out in the book, Healthy At Last, you could know, just take the stairs, walk more, have a standing desk. There are simple things and modifications you can do in your life every day that could put you on the right path to have a healthy lifestyle. And diet plays a major role in how you can really be the first chronic diseases.
Maria Marlowe: [00:18:34] Right. So we said the first one would be eliminating or greatly reducing animal products. What would you say are the other two habits that were really key for you or anyone that wants to reverse chronic illness?
Eric Adams: [00:18:49] Stop eating out as much as. It used to be that 90 percent of the food I consumed was from restaurants and eating out. Now, 90 percent of what I eat, I make myself. And I was not a cook before. The only thing I used to make before is burnt toast. But now I started experimenting. Sundays are my experimental days where I make different meals, do different things to just learn about food, learn about my taste buds, because we all have unique taste buds. Learning how to find taste as the salty or sweet in natural ways. Mother Nature has done an amazing job and so I don’t eat out as much. And when I do eat out, I learn how to combine meals from the appetizers portion of the meal.
Eric Adams: [00:19:43] If you see a broccoli and steak on the menu, that means they have broccoli. If you see asparagus and fried chicken, that means they have asparagus. So I look at the menu and then tell the chef, the waiter, hey, I need you to put together this dish for me, chopped up asparagus, broccoli, etc., or I will eat before I go to a restaurant and then have a small portion of a salad or something. I’m already full, so I’m just going out for the socializing aspect of it. But I already had my healthy meal. Really controlling what you eat out, because no matter how much you tell the chef, don’t put it in the oil, don’t put in the sugar, the salt. Their goal is to make you enjoy the taste of the meal, not to for you to have a healthy meal. And I find that you always have chefs that what they want to do with their way and not the way you want. That was important to me of not eating out all the time and eating the food out somewhere.
Maria Marlowe: [00:20:43] Yeah, that’s a good one. And those are all really great tips. I also, whenever I go out, I combine, I make my own plate out of whatever is on the menu. So you mentioned the hospital initiative, but now are there any other initiatives that you have enacted because you’re in a very prestigious position, right? You’re not just a guy that got diabetes and reversed it. You’re the Brooklyn Borough President. You are going to be running for mayor next year. So have you enacted any other policies, like in public policies or anything with the schools to help New Yorkers have access to healthy foods?
Eric Adams: [00:21:17] Yes, and it’s so important and I think that’s a good point that you raised, that those of us who are in public positions should use our professional and personal lives to really drive public policy. And it would have been wrong of me not to use the opportunity to talk about how do we impact the lives of people. And so we have been really focusing on, number one, our children and our seniors. And we have been extremely successful in persuading the city to stop serving processed meats in our school system, which is a type one carcinogen. And we’ve also moved to have meatless Mondays in our schools and our hospitals and other governmental agencies who have moved to the city to have a 50 percent beef production purchase in the city.
Eric Adams: [00:22:10] And hopefully we can move to no beef reduction or purchasing at all. We’re doing initiatives to get milk out of our schools and at least not make it as a requirement, as, you know, as a default to show their other healthy milk substitutes and get many of our milk producing manufacturers in the state to start looking at alternative milk, almond milk, cashew milk, just really getting our entire state and country on a different level of how we produce food in this country.
Eric Adams: [00:22:46] And we focus on our seniors. Partnering with our faith based institutions to show them how to build these support groups. Because that’s one thing I’ve found. Maria, you really need a support group in place because food is addictive. Let’s be clear. And just as you have in NA and AA and all of these support groups that allow people who are addicted to a substance, you need to support groups in place and faith based institutions that are the best locales to sort of build these support groups that people could come change recipes, talk about the issues, lean on each other during those difficult times, because we don’t want people to beat themselves up when they have a bad day, when they eat something they know they weren’t supposed to eat. We want to encourage people to say that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. You just have to keep moving towards that light.
Maria Marlowe: [00:23:39] Yeah, the community aspect is so important when it comes to habit change because it is easy if you’re doing it alone, it’s very easy to throw in the towel too soon. But when you have that supportive community, it makes it so much easier to stick to it. And I know Brooklyn has its first vegetarian school, right? Vegetarian. Which is pretty awesome.
Eric Adams: [00:24:00] It is, and, you know, it’s fascinating when you look at the we first got the idea in the other county in Queens. Brooklyn is made up of five different counties. And Queens was one of the first places that they had an all vegetarian school. And when you looked at the numbers, children performed better. They had less issues of confrontations between the children, less days off from school. So there was some clear indicators that these schools were actually doing better based on a more healthy menu in lifestyle. And we believe that’s going to show also here in the fall of Brooklyn as well. And so the goal is to continue to roll out of these schools where our children are eating a healthier diet.
Maria Marlowe: [00:24:48] I love it. And I know that the book is coming out October 2020. right? It’ll be available on Amazon and anywhere books are sold. Anything else about the book that you want people to know and why they should pick it up?
Eric Adams: [00:25:03] I think that a chronic disease hijacks your life and you’re just not yourself. And sometimes I believe we understand the productivity of being able to just do your job every day. You’re thinking about the tests, you’re thinking about hospice, you’re thinking about your family. And not only does it impact the individual, but it also really impacts the caregiver. My mom going was going back and forth to the doctor, my sisters, all of my brothers and sisters are experiencing some form of chronic disease and just seeing just how traumatizing it is. And the book is really a way of navigating you through that. As we talk about meditation in the book, as we talk about finding the quiet space, as we talk about some of the recipes that we show you and resources and positive affirmation and really an easy read, it’s not a, it’s not a college textbook. It is something that you could pick up and just smile a little, learn a little, look at yourself and laugh in the process, but just start the process of slowly evolving out of where we are to where we want to be.
Eric Adams: [00:26:21] Inside all of us is a person that we knew as a child and they’re still there. You know, we’ve been weighed down by life and we’ve been told what we couldn’t do and what we couldn’t become. And once you start to evolve out of the toxic environment of what we consume in food, you’re going to find your entire life is going to change. And when I say healthy at last, I’m not only talking about physically based on being disease free, I’m talking about either mentally and spiritually. And that’s the holistic approach that I look for in the book. I want people to walk away from that. It is possible to at last, be healthy. In the book, I believe, is one of the beginning steps to accomplish that.
Maria Marlowe: [00:27:09] I love it and I can attest it is a very easy read and it’s an enjoyable read. I feel like you’re just having a conversation with me. Like, you know, it’s very conversationally written and I learned so much. It was so interesting. Your chapter on soul food. There’s history in there. You know, there’s a little bit of everything, and I really, really enjoyed it. So one last question that I like to ask all of my guests. If there’s one step or one piece of advice, you can leave our listeners for how they can live a happier and healthier life. What would that be?
Eric Adams: [00:27:41] I believe the power of belief is so important and I believe that we no longer believe and believe it, not just saying something, although positive affirmation can lead us on the pathway of embracing a belief. But quantum physics has taught us that we can actually change our reality by really reprogramming every cell in our bodies, by really believing. And if I were to give a piece of advice, I would tell people, just believe again. Believe again, no matter what’s around you, what it appears like, believe that it’s possible, that you can live the life that you know you deserve, because we all deserve a life as full of prosperity, as filled with happiness, no matter where you are right now in your life, if you just dig deep in every day to start the process of waking up and saying, I believe that I’m going to become who I want to become and you will become that person.
Maria Marlowe: [00:28:52] It all starts in our head. That just so beautifully said. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed this conversation. If you guys want to check out the book, it’s Healthy At last. I will link it in the show notes.