Aaron Calder, age 40, Brighton, East Sussex
I was in really good health but always drank a lot when I went out and socialized. That spiraled into drinking through stress. Seven years ago, I’d been drinking every day for over a year, really heavily, and wasn’t eating properly either. I was hospitalized due to vomiting blood—a lot of blood, not just a little bit. It was very serious, but they managed to save me.
I was vegetarian, and when I came out of hospital, I just carried on. I changed my diet slightly because I had cirrhosis, and they said I needed to watch what I ate—no salt, watch out for saturated fats, that sort of thing. I did that for a bit, but then I just ate whatever I wanted, so I was eating very unhealthy.
I was flicking through to find something to watch when I saw the documentary. I was hooked and the more it went on, I couldn’t believe that he was feeling better. And it wasn’t just him: There are other people in the documentary who gained a lot of health from their plant-based diet.
I was very skeptical, thinking, how can Joe be exercising if he’s not getting all the nutrients? I found it hard to believe—being vegetarian, I’d always believed that people need eggs and dairy and so on to survive. I went straight onto Google and saw you can get all your nutrients from a plant-based diet.
I gradually went vegan. I bought a juicer and started having juice every day and eating lots of healthy things—I cut out some ingredients and things with added sugar and salt.
A couple months into changing my diet, I started to lose weight—I felt better, I looked better. When I went to the doctors, they confirmed everything with tests. They said, “You’ve lost over 2 stone [28 pounds]. Your blood tests look really great. Your cholesterol is fine.” But the main thing for me was when they did a scan of my liver. For two scans, I’d had the worst score possible: 75. They rescanned me, and as a vegan, it went down to 39. Cirrhosis is irreversible and leaves permanent scarring—so for me to have a score like that was good, even though 39 is majorly high. Obviously, I was pleased it was improving. Then I had another one toward the end of last year and it was 30.
I have to go to the hospital two or three times a year for these blood tests where they monitor liver enzymes and things like that just to see how my body’s coping. Over time it did get better, but it was very slow. I’d given up hope and thought this was how it was going to be for the rest of my life. When I went after I changed to vegan, the doctors said my blood tests were perfect. They said if they hadn’t known I had cirrhosis, they would have said I was in full health.
When they did my last scan on my liver, they said all my fatty deposits are gone, and I haven’t got fatty liver disease.
[When I was a vegetarian,] I always had a meat substitute on my plate. I’d always have a vegetable, and then maybe some chips, and I’d have a burger or a chicken substitute. It wasn’t the healthiest.
Changing my diet….was so much easier than I thought. It’s almost like a detox when you change your diet and cut things out. Once you haven’t had them for awhile you actually don’t want them anymore. The most important thing is to start—even if it’s just juicing with vegetables and fruit once a week. Do it once, and then you find that you enjoy and feel better. Then you might think, actually, I’m going to do it every morning. To me, it’s just important to make a start—then it follows from there.
A lot of people say the same thing: You feel lighter [after going plant-based]. Obviously, I lost weight, but I feel like my digestion is better, my reactions are much quicker. I noticed that my hair got thicker and so did my nails. I sleep a lot better. That obviously helps your overall wellness.
I get less spots—my skin is clearer. I have more energy as well—because of issues that led into drinking, obviously I’ve had issues with mental health, I just feel more positive. I think that’s partly because of the diet and you’re getting all the nutrients. Also because when you look at the news, and the damage animal proteins do to the environment, it makes you feel mentally better that you’re doing something about it. So for me it’s really a win-win lifestyle.
The benefits [of going plant-based] are so amazing. I owe a lot to watching “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead,” because it just completely changed my whole thought process on diet.