At age 66, Bill Clinton still travels and works at a pace that completely exhausts staffers who are two or three decades younger. Yet, while coping with heart disease and the usual complaints of aging, he has managed to change his diet drastically, lose more than 30 pounds and keep the weight off. If he can do all that, then maybe there’s hope for the rest of us baby boomers — and Americans of all ages — whose eating and exercise habits (and medical expenses) worry him a lot.
I first noticed a change in Clinton’s eating habits when we were in Capetown, South Africa, back in July 2010. Sitting down next to him, I glanced at his plate and saw none of the steak, shrimp, fish or chicken on the buffet — just a tangle of green lo mein noodles and a pile of broccoli. “Is that all you’re eating?” I blurted.
“That’s right,” he replied. “I’ve stopped eating meat, cheese, milk, even fish. No dairy at all.” He smiled and yanked on his waistband. “I’ve lost more than 20 pounds so far, aiming for about 30 before Chelsea’s wedding. And I have so much more energy now! I feel great.”
Clinton traces his decision to change back to the morning in February 2010 when he woke up looking pale and feeling tired. His cardiologist quickly brought him into New York-Presbyterian Hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery to insert a pair of stents. One of his veins had given out, a frequent complication following the quadruple-bypass surgery he had undergone in 2004.
Prodded into action, Clinton started by rereading Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease, which urges a strict, low-fat, plant-based regimen, along with two books that were, if possible, even more militantly vegan: “I just decided that I was the high-risk person, and I didn’t want to fool with this anymore. And I wanted to live to be a grandfather,” says Clinton. “So I decided to pick the diet that I thought would maximize my chances of long-term survival.”
To most Americans of Clinton’s generation — especially those, like him, who grew up in places like Arkansas, where barbecued pork and cornmeal-crusted catfish dominate the local cuisine — cutting out meat, fish and dairy would seem a radical deprivation. But Clinton quickly adapted. “The main thing that was hard for me actually — much harder than giving up meat, turkey, chicken and fish — was giving up yogurt and hard cheese,” he says. “I love that stuff, but it really made a big difference when I did it.”
For Bill Clinton, breakfast is almost always an almond-milk smoothie, blended with fresh berries, nondairy protein powder and a chunk of ice. Lunch is usually some combo of green salad and beans. He snacks on nuts — “those are good fats” — or hummus with raw vegetables, while dinner often includes quinoa, the Incan super-grain, or sometimes a veggie burger.
In addition to his dietary changes, Clinton also walks two or three miles a day, outdoors whenever possible; plus, he works out with weights and uses an exercise ball for balance drills. And, of course, he continues to play golf, always walking the course without a cart.
Moral of the story….its never to late to begin a journey to a healthy life! Sometimes it takes a heart attack or a massive surgery to kickstart the process, but why wait until that event?