By Alisa Mullins
Dr. Elizabeth George was alarmed at the increasing number of obese children coming into her office in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. "Twenty years ago, I next to never saw a child, a 10-year-old, weighing over 150 pounds," she told a local TV reporter. "And now, it's common."
Dr. George spotted a news item about Rip Esselstyn, a graduate of a local boarding school, triathlete, retired firefighter, and author of The Engine 2 Diet, a book about the significant health improvements that occurred when Esselstyn's Texas firefighting unit (the Engine 2 of the title) went on a low-fat plant-based diet. Intrigued, Dr. George contacted Esselstyn for advice: She wanted to put Mercersburg on a diet—the Engine 2 diet, to be precise. She and Esselstyn recruited more than 100 of Mercersburg's nearly 1,600 residents to give the diet a try for 28 days—and the results were impressive.
People on the Engine 2 diet lost an average of 9.5 pounds, and more than half of them lowered their LDL (i.e., "bad") cholesterol levels by more than 20 percent—and some lowered their cholesterol by as much as 40 percent. As Dr. George points out, that's a bigger reduction than what's usually seen with people taking statins. Some people lost as much as 37 pounds in less than 30 days.
Local parts-manufacturing company president Dan Fisher, who participated in the challenge, said he lost about 10 pounds and lowered his cholesterol by 20 percent in two months. "And I'm hooked," he said with a smile.
Even the town's mayor, James Zeger, got into the act. He lost 15 pounds, his cholesterol dropped 16 points, and he gained enough energy to take up jogging.
Dr. George's success also inspired the nearby town of Greencastle, which has decided to take up the challenge, as have more Mercersburg residents. Esselstyn is promoting the Engine 2 diet's principles nationwide through the new Plant Strong program in conjunction with Whole Foods markets.
"You are what you eat, and your health is in your control," says Esselstyn. "People just don't realize how much power sits at the end of your fork."