Pastor Warren recruited three nationally known doctors—Dr. Daniel Amen, Dr. Mark Hyman, and Dr. Mehmet Oz—to coach him in getting healthy and help him design The Daniel Plan to be used at Saddleback Church in California. All three doctors graciously volunteered their expertise and time for free because they care about our health.
Two of our founding doctors, Dr. Daniel Amen and Dr. Mark Hyman helped pioneer The Daniel Plan and made profound contributions that have transformed thousands of lives. Their medical insight and passion to help people get well started years ago and affected their own lives. Get to know a little bit about their journey toward health and the impact of eating and cooking well has had on both of them.
What was the turning point for you that changed how you eat?
Dr. Amen: When I read the study that showed as your weight went up the size of your brain went down, it just horrified me. I knew my brain was one of my most precious resources.
For 30 years, I had been trying to lose weight. I have genes that say I should be fat. So when I got really serious about changing my eating habits, the big surprise for me was that I wasn’t hungry. I took out the high--glycemic foods and got my vitamin D level normal (it was 17 when I started, normal is between 30 and 100). Plus, I realized that you actually have to eat to lose weight but eating well got my appetite under control.
Dr. Hyman: I visited my sister at her college when I was 15 years old, and she introduced me to the “veggie” room in her cafeteria. That’s when I learned about crunchy organic peanut butter, rich, deep and flavorful slathered onto dense multi--grain homemade bread. After that, I could never go back to processed peanut butter full of high fructose corn syrup and trans fats on white bread. The vegetarian food was so good, so delicious that I became a vegetarian for eight years. I had some vague idea that it was good for me and better for the planet.
Then in college and beyond, I explored the world of cooking and whole foods and joined the food co--op in Ithaca where I went to school. I lived in a community house with eight people, and we ate together every night. Each of us cooked for everyone else one night a week. I took this very seriously and learned how to cook using recipe books and learned my way around farmer’s markets
and food coops and even community gardens. Making fresh, delicious and inexpensive meals from scratch (we had little money) for a bunch of hungry college students, and sharing the joy and pleasure of real food made with love was the beginning of a lifelong passion for learning about how to prepare great food to share with great people.
How have your eating choices changed your life?
Dr. Amen: In every way. If I am more conscious about my eating, I am also more conscious about my overall health and brain. If I am conscious about my eating, I am also more conscious about how I feed my loved ones. If I am conscious about my eating I am now more conscious about the health of our planet and how agriculture affects many aspects of life.
Dr. Hyman: I love food. I eat almost anything, as long as it is made by God, not man. Food is the fabric that ties everything together for me—my health, my work, my family, friends, and the health of our environment, even our global, social, and economic prosperity. Food is the medicine I use to treat my patients. It is more powerful than anything else I have at my disposal as a doctor to prevent, treat and even reverse disease.
The way I eat reflects my values, my purpose in life: Eating is a profoundly spiritual, political, and ecological. Eating can be an act of love or an act of destruction to your health, our precious planet or our global human community. You are not just eating for yourself, but you are eating for whole human race and our precious planet. That is how eating changes my life and how I hope it can change yours. Think about that next time you take a bit of something.
How long did it take for your food tastes to change?
Dr. Amen: Literally less than two weeks. It was more my mind that had to change. When I realized that it was loving to eat right, what was good for me tasted a whole lot better.
Dr. Hyman: It took one week for me. Once you unhook from processed food, sugar, flour, industrial packaged foods, your taste buds change, your brain chemistry gets reset and you quickly stop craving the junk and start craving vegetables—really! Blueberries can taste like candy. And candy will taste terrible and way too sweet. Just try it for one week.
Dr. Amen: You should see us [myself, Dr. Hyman, Dr. Oz] when we are together—we’re like squirrels. We take healthy food with us wherever we go—we stash it in our desks, our pockets, and our briefcases. That’s how vigilant we are about healthy eating choices.
What are some foods that you used to love that you can’t imagine eating today?
Dr. Amen: Brownies, Snickers, Rocky Road ice cream, pancakes, muffins … simple carbohydrates that boost the risk of diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. For me, I have to be really careful, because I can easily get triggered to dive back into those foods. So I am irritatingly vigilant for the health of my brain and my body. When we really think about what these foods do to our bodies, we have to arm ourselves with the five Essentials of The Daniel Plan.
I like ice cream, but it’s better for me that I avoid it. My treat is 65 percent chocolate that has DHA [an omega 3 fatty acid] in it. Eating well means there is no suffering required.
Dr. Hyman: When I was a kid I loved Twinkies, Hostess Cup Cakes, Lik--m--aid, Smarties, and Peanut M&Ms. I used to pour powered colored flavored sugar into my mouth. Now my body rejects those things. I walk by the candy aisle, and no matter how hungry I am, it just doesn’t register as food. In fact, when I eat food--like substances, my body now knows immediately. I get sores in my mouth, my tongue feels weird, and I get a strange cloudy feeling in my head. So I can’t imagine eating junk or candy; I love the naturally sweet things—fruit, maple syrup, honey, and small amounts of real sugar.
For someone just starting, what important first steps would you suggest?
Dr. Amen: Prayer, education, motivation, support, and brain envy. It all comes down to our minds and what we believe about ourselves. If you start today, think about what your life will be like 30, 60, 90 days. Then think about what your life will be life 90 days from now if you don’t change your health. If you’re like most people who start The Daniel Plan, you’ll feel better, your clothes will be loose, and you’ll have to go shopping. The most important part is getting your mind right then getting your food right.
Dr. Hyman: I agree. The first step in changing how you eat is to connect to why you want to change. Once you realize you want to change, I recommend a very short detox. It can be a powerful way to realize just how bad the food you were eating truly makes you feel, and how quickly and easily you can feel better. It’s also important to design your life for success. Clean up your pantry. Go shopping and put real food in your kitchen. Stock emergency food packs so you are never in a food emergency and always have something to eat that will nourish not deplete you.
When you cook, what are your go to ingredients that you have to have on hand?
Dr. Amen: Tana—my wife! When I met her, she didn’t know how to cook. I didn’t even want her to cook! She would make a mess in the kitchen. But as she became more familiar with my work, and because she had cancer that came back three times, she began to really take health seriously. So she figured out how to become masterful at taking healthy foods and making them taste great.
Besides Tana, in our kitchen, we always have lean protein powder, frozen berries, spinach, and sugar--free dark chocolate.
Dr. Hyman: I stock my kitchen so that even if I don’t have time to shop or plan I always have something to eat. If I have these ingredients on hand, I can come home and make a simple meal in less than 30 minutes. I was recently gone for three weeks but when I got home, I was able to cook a delicious meal from scratch from the foods I had on hand. Most of these ingredients last for a long time. Buying a few fresh vegetables on my way home from work once or twice a week allows me to make a simple meal anytime. It’s all about planning and preparation.
Do you have any tips for getting kids involved with cooking?
Dr. Amen: Cook with them. Give them skill and let them have success with healthy food.
Dr. Hyman: Make it fun. Put on fun music in the kitchen. Dance and sing in the kitchen so they have good memories of being there. When my children were little, we made cooking a family adventure. Children naturally love to help, to play with food and learn. So bake with them. Teach them to chop vegetables. Make a pie. Teach them how to grill ribs or make shish kebabs.
Dr. Amen: Tana and I cook with my grandkids. One of my grandchildren came to live with us for six months. And we’d cook with her, and she learned how to cook healthy food. My daughter, who is 10, spends a lot of time in the kitchen with her mom. She is so proud of herself because she can make a totally healthy pumpkin spice cake. One of our grandkids helps herself to the shelf in our pantry that has all kinds of ingredients for smoothies and shakes—she makes her own. If we make them teachers, then they teach their friends and families. If they get it, they’ll give it away, and then get to keep it forever.
Dr. Hyman: Why not grow a small garden and allow them to plant, weed, water and harvest their food so they have a real connection to where food comes from? Take kids shopping. Teach them to choose real food, such as how to know if a vegetable is fresh or a fruit is ripe, or how to shop from a recipe. Make it a family event.
Tell us one of your favorite meals and who you shared it with?
Dr. Amen: Tana and I were traveling together in Texas and went out for dinner. We ate Cioppiono, grass--fed New York steak, sautéed spinach and asparagus. It was amazing. I looked at her and said, “This is not really suffering.” Eating well is about believing that you are worth it and that you are more valuable than your cravings.
Dr. Hyman: Every summer I go to Cape Cod for vacation with my family and friends. We have a tradition of a seafood feast with lobster, steamed local clams, fresh summer corn on the cob, a big salad of summer tomatoes, arugula and avocados. We make a mess and laugh and tell stories on the deck outside.
How do you plan out your meals for the week? Any tips?
Dr. Amen: I say, “Fail to plan, then plan to fail.” We get together at the beginning of the week and decide what we’ll eat for dinners. Breakfast is usually a protein shake, and lunch can be sushi or a chicken salad or stir fry minus the rice.
Dr. Hyman: I make it simple. I have one or two breakfasts, one or two lunches and three to four dinners that I can whip up quickly. I save the more elaborate recipes and meals for special occasions or weekends when I have more time. For breakfast I stick with my whole food protein shake or a couple of eggs, poached or lightly fried in olive oil and an avocado. For lunch I have salad with avocado, toasted nuts, cherry tomatoes, arugula, and a can of wild salmon on top. Sometimes if I am in a hurry, I will just have a whole avocado with some balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper on top and a can of sardines with seed crackers. For dinner: grilled chicken or fish, or sautéed tofu, stir-fried broccoli, asparagus or broccoli rabe or broccolini in olive oil with a little mirin (Japanese rice wine), salt and pepper. I make some black or forbidden rice for the week and store it in the fridge then just reheat it in a pan.
Where is your favorite place to shop for food and why?
Dr. Amen: Anywhere they really think about food. I like Trader Joe’s, Mother’s, and Whole Foods for the healthy options but have also found great deals at Costco.
Dr. Hyman: My favorite place to shop is my local farmer’s market during the growing season. I love to see what is local, seasonal, fresh, what unusual and new vegetables are grown and to get the freshest fruits and produce. I love to look into the faces and talk to the people who grew my food.
There is also a local Italian produce market that turned into a fabulous store that features great meat, fish, chicken, and produce. My other favorite store is Costco. I can stock up on nuts, canned fish, vegetables, fruit, olive oil, condiments, staples and save a lot on food.
What is the one health tip you tell people that has profoundly changed your life?
Dr. Amen: I always ask myself, Thenwhat?IfIeatthis,thenwhat?HowwillIfeelin30--60minutes? HowwillIlooknextweekornext month?
Dr. Hyman: Have protein for breakfast. Every day. No exceptions. My shake fills me up and lasts me for almost six hours with full energy and focus. Protein is a powerful way to start the day and is a key to automatic weight loss and health.
How do you create healthy mealtime celebrations for birthday, holidays and family gathering?
Dr. Amen: Often, people celebrate with food that makes us sick. They soothe others with food or drink that is bad for us. So in my house, we create brain healthy treats instead: fruit plates, nuts, fresh no--sugar--added sorbets (fruit has enough sugar), and frozen bananas.
Dr. Hyman: The happiest times for me are inviting friends and family over and cooking a fabulous (but often simple) meal for us all to share and enjoy together. We go to the garden together and pick our dinner. Or they help cut veggies or just hang out in the kitchen with good music playing in the background. We also often have ritual meals. Special meals on Thanksgiving, or birthdays become traditions where everyone looks forward to being together, eating good food and having fun. Building family traditions around food are a wonderful way to create happy memories and build life--long connection with family and friends.