As a heart attack survivor, stories of heart attacks among friends and colleagues of friends come my way with growing frequency, sometimes tinged with the fear that they might be next since they can’t seem to diet, and they don’t have time to exercise. Let’s say there’s clearly a growing demand for the information I repeat here.  So put down those cheese fries and listen.  You can feel better.  You don’t have to die of a heart attack.

It’s been a bumpy road, but I’ll cut to the chase: Heart disease is a food borne ailment. Here are the dietary rules I follow (after Dr. Esselstyn’s diet):

1. No animal products of any kind (including fish of any kind, fish oil, egg whites, all dairy, even yogurt).  Low-fat vegan milks (soy, almond, oat, et. al. are okay).

2. No oil of any kind in preparation, or added in dressings, etc. (including Saint Olive Oil).  Saute in small amounts of added liquid or the expressed liquid from the vegetables themselves.

3. No nuts or avocados. This includes peanut butter.  If you don’t have heart disease, walnuts in moderation are okay.

4. No fruit juice.

5.  Avoid added sugars.  Sweeten sparingly in recipes.  No sweetened drinks, jams, etc.  No artificial sweeteners of any kind.  Some vegans are sugar junkies.  Kick the habit.

6. Eat lots of vegetables, especially leafy greens like collards.  Tomatoes, onions, garlic, zucchini, kale, potatoes, yams, mushrooms, corn, brocoli, carrots.  Raw, steamed, pureed, stewed, baked.

7.  Eat legumes.  Every kind imaginable from garbanzos to pintos to lentils.  Mexican, Indian, Italian, American—all my favorite cuisines have delicious bean-based dishes.  I never worry about getting enough protein.

8. Eat whole grains, including whole grain pasta, brown rice, quinoa.  Whole grain cereals without added oil or sugar like shredded wheat and Grape Nuts are fine.

9.  Eat whole fruit.  Apples, oranges, bananas, berries, peaches.

People say to me, “I don’t think I could give up cheese.” (or butter or name your addiction).  Really?  As for me, I don’t think I could go back to feeling like crap all the time.  I feel infinitely better now than I did ten or fifteen years ago in training for a heart attack.  I have more energy in every way.  I eat all I want, and I never gain weight.  Once your palate adjusts to not being constantly assaulted by sugar, fat, and salt, you’ll find you can taste the food.  Not only do I not crave these things, but the typical “treat” strikes me as fairly repulsive like a salted Crisco milkshake with bacon sprinkles.

As for the exercise you don’t have time for, don’t you have stairs where you work?  A block you can walk around?  If you can’t spend a half hour a day walking, maybe a priority check is in order.  If you get on the diet, you’ll feel more like exercise.  I walk a lot to school and back, and do some yoga.  You don’t have to torture yourself, but you can increase your activity.

I recommend, as with fiction revision, killing your darlings one by one.  Meat, cheese, sodas, oil, added sugar, starting with the most evil and ideally working your way to the Esselstyn diet.  Not diet in the sense of this weird eating regimen you go on until you can start having crap again because you’ve lost a few pounds, but a permanent change in what you eat and hence who you are.  I know too damn many otherwise smart people who are discriminating as hell about the matter they put into their minds, checking sources, getting second opinions and degrees, but who will fill their bodies with shit as building blocks and act like fate or genes or age has made them sick and fat, who will eat desserts called Death by Chocolate and think it’s a joke.  Tell it to your heart.  It has this delusion it’s in charge, that when it stops, you get to do without everything from butter to thoughts, like it or not.  There is a rational alternative.

Interested?  Check out Esselstyn’s website, as well as his son’s.  Live long and prosper.  Please.