FROM THE HOSPITAL TO THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: An Intimate Look At My Personal And Medical Journeys

Updated: Aug 28

Haters are gonna hate, and when writing about diet, food culture and veganism, you’re bound to find people who disagree with you. When I started blogging over a year ago, I expected backlash and promised myself I wouldn’t get worked up when someone threatened me or doubted my credibility. Lately, I’ve had someone ask menacingly what my credentials were after writing a blog about hormonal health. I understand their frustration. I mean, it must suck being a predator making a living off of people’s naivety and desire for health hacks and quick fixes, and this random plant-based doctor with a PhD claims that you should ditch the miracle cures, cleanses and detox kits. Instead of feeling threatened or belittled, I find solace in knowing that what I preach is evidence based and supported by extensive peer-reviewed research. I too was skeptic about plant-based diets when I was a heavy meat eater. I too felt that vegans and vegetarians were “different”. I used to call them “granolas” before I became one of them. I now understand why we are so misunderstood by society. We are still a heavy minority in terms of dietary pattern. Our perspective on nutrition is founded on a holistic view of how it affects personal health, planetary health and how our food system mistreats animals, and not just taste alone.


When I started my plant-based journey, I felt like an outcast. I was alone and although the science had already convinced me that living my life this way was what I wanted to do, it still created friction in my social life and defied social norms. Still, I stuck with it, convinced that it was a lifestyle that would align perfectly with the healthy human I wanted to be.



HOW IT STARTED


It’s not like I just woke up one day and said “hey, I’d like to be Plant-Based Dr. Jules from now on”. My journey is a weird one, and one I could’ve never predicted. Many small, yet significant events happened in succession and convinced me that it was time to overhaul my diet in order to find the health I had lost. Transitioning to a plant-based diet and lifestyle changed my life and the more I stuck with it, the more that awesome things started happening in my life. I started reading about veganism, not sure if this was right for me, then watched a few documentaries about factory farming. Once I opened my eyes to the realities of how our food is made, I couldn’t look away anymore, and the cognitive dissonance I once hid behind was now undeniable.


So how does that make me an “expert”? I’ll get to that in a second, but first, I really wanted to detail how I got fascinated with the science and painting the picture below will easily explain the passion I have of sharing my experience, knowledge and the science with you about plant-based diets, for free, gifting my time to anyone who wants it.


A PERSONAL JOURNEY


In the early 2000’s, I was playing basketball with my friends. My eye began itching and within 30 minutes, I looked like Will Smith in the movie “Hitch”. The condition I had just experienced was called angioedema, and being a doctor, I recognized it quickly. My eyes were swollen shut, I was covered in hives from head to toe and had weird and debilitating chest pains. I thought I was going to die. Yet, like any young macho doctor, thinking I knew better, I chugged a glass of water, downing some antihistamines along with it and went to bed. This first episode put me off work for a few days, the first sick days I’d ever taken in my young career. I dismissed the episode as a “one off” and blamed it on someone’s perfume or something I ate prior to playing. A few years went by, tolerating the occasional hives after the shower, or after shovelling snow on a cold winter day. I lived with it, not too bothered by the itchy rash. I blamed it on my “atopy” which describes this propensity towards allergic conditions. I already suffered from asthma and eczema and had long ago accepted that I had simply been dealt a bad genetic deck of cards. I had always been allergic to cats, but mildly and this didn’t keep me from being close to them. That is, until my second episode. Sleeping at my in-laws’ house, which harboured a few cool cats, I woke up with a second bout of facial angioedema. I had asked for it. What was I thinking sleeping in a house full of cats? Same symptoms, same time off work, same treatment. At this point, I’m still coping with asthma, eczema, allergic rhinitis and I’m taking regular antihistamine medication to manage my daily symptoms. We blame the second episode on the cats. Then the hives get worse. I start having them daily, with frequent itching. My eczema starts to get out of control. During sleep, I’m scratching until I bleed, unknowingly making the rash worse. Then, I decide to go on a boys’ trip to Montreal. I usually pack a suitcase full of meds “in case” allergies decide to surface and ruin my trip. At this point, I’m worrying about the carpet in hotel rooms, strong perfumes or anything different from my usual routine, knowing too well that it might trigger an attack. I’m thinking about my allergies every single day. This particular trip, I forget my unscented body wash. Not wanting to make a fuss, I don’t say anything, not wanting to complicated anyone’s day by telling them that I’m afraid of using the hotel room’s cheap soap dispenser glued to the shower wall. I decide that I’ll simply deal with the consequences and use the damn soap. That’s when things go wrong. The rash is on fire, and the one I had following this trip was like pouring a bucket of allergens directly on my skin and then having me bathe in them. The rash lasted for months. Itchy and bleeding scales made me suffer in silence. I covered my skin and didn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t hide it from my wife though. My hives worsened and each workout I did made them worse. As an athlete, my life revolved around sports and training. Yet, I took my pills and trucked along. I never once doubted that there would be a life changing event in my near future. Then the 3rd episode strikes. Again, during a basketball match, my eyes start to tingle. I recognize the symptoms quickly. I ask my best friend Jeremie to drive me home, which he does without hesitation, having been a witness to my first angioedema episode. But this one is different, it’s especially violent…




A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS


This episode is not like the other ones. Both of my eyes close up within 15 minutes. I take my Reactine. Hives cover my entire body. I take my Benadryl. 20 minutes pass and it’s still progressing. My wife suggests that we go to the hospital. Thinking that I know better, I decline and ask for more time. Then the chest pains hit me. Irresponsibly of me, instead of calling an ambulance, I ask my wife to drive. I was scared shitless at this point. I was recognizing anaphylaxis-like symptoms that were getting worse by the minute. On the way to the hospital, I use my doctor-connection card to call the ER department. I immediately tell my ER colleague to get ready for me, that maybe I’m in anaphylaxis, a potentially life threatening event. Trouble breathing, chest pains, full body hives and facial swelling so severe that my glasses did not fit my face anymore. Reflecting back on that night, I realize that I was embarrassed to admit how scared and in pain I really was. I tried to joke my way through it, recognizing how weird it was to get admitted to the hospital where I worked, only to have colleague nurses install my IV and colleague doctors prescribe me tests and treatments that I was very familiar with. I thought I was going to die that night, and it took years before I actually told anyone about how scared I felt in that situation. I was embarrassed of being sick. Here I was, a young doctor and athlete, hooked on IV’s, totally dependent on others people I had either taught or had taught me during my medical training and residency.


THE DIAGNOSIS


After meetings with ER docs, family docs, allergy specialists and dermatologists, I’m diagnosed with cholinergic angioedema and urticaria. This condition causes me to develop hives and even sometimes severe swelling in response to rapid changes in body temperature, like the ones seen during hot showers and sweating during physical exertion. This was devastating for an athlete. Even with adequate treatment consisting of a cabinet-full of meds, I still had hives. I continued to work out daily and stopped playing basketball for a year, a sport I had been playing since I was 12. Considering that I actually built a basketball court in my backyard, this was devastating for me. The next year, I decided to play again, yet was living in constant fear of the 4th episode, assuming it was going to be the big one that took me out. When I told my doctor that the hives were persistant even with adequate treatment, I was told to double the dose. I hated taking all of these pills. I felt drowsy, embarrassed and frequently hid in my closet where I snuck in a few extra puffs of my asthma inhalers, nasal sprays and doubled down on my allergy medication before basketball games and workouts. This went on for years…I rarely spoke about it. It took its toll on my mood, and on my life in general.


THE AHA MOMENT


In 2012, my life changed. Zara, my first daughter, is born. She’s beautiful. She has her mother’s eyes and her father’s medical conditions. Shortly after her birth, we notice blood in her diaper and hives on her skin. My wife insisted that she breastfeed Zara in order to give her immune system a fighting chance against the bad genetic cards she had been dealt by her father. The dietitian we saw at the time suggested that my wife cut out all dairy products in order to pursue breastfeeding. In retrospect, this was a very avant-garde recommendation that would set in motion a series of events that would change many lives. Miraculously, things got better. The blood disappears, and her severe diaper dermatitis, which also bled regularly, got better. Only parents will understand how traumatic it is changing your kids bloody diaper only to hear a 6 month old baby scream in agony.


Things get better, but only temporarily. Once my wife stops breastfeeding, Zara gets back on baby formula. Now, she’s eating like us and regularly consuming milk, cheese and other dairy products, as well as meat. That’s when things go south. Now it’s her eczema that takes over, then hives, then asthma. Remember that at this point in time, I’m still dealing with daily hives and my own plethora of medical conditions. We are discouraged, saddened that my daughter’s medical history will be similar to her father’s. Then the turning point happens. What starts as a common cold turns into an asthma attack like she had never seen. Within a few hours, even after getting pumped with Ventolin puffers, my daughter is struggling to breath. My wife races to the hospital where she’s appropriately managed. At this point, I’m tired, I’m burned out and desperate. All of these years, I had tolerated my own medical misfortunes, but enough is enough. No one messes with my daughter…



THE SEARCH FOR THE HOLY GRAIL


This last medical scare lights a fire. I’m more motivated than ever to find a solution. By this time, Zara is about 18 months old. We are still eating meat and consuming dairy products. But the wheels are turning. I’ve started reading about lifestyle medicine in hopes of finding something that resonates with me that could possibly help my family. Then my second daughter Kassi is born in October 2014. Unfortunately, she suffers the same fate as Zara. At this point, I’ve discovered how dairy and eggs are linked to atopic conditions like asthma, allergies and eczema. We decide to start experimenting. I started by cutting out dairy from my diet and making simple swaps. I switch my breakfast cereal with dairy milk for oatmeal and soy milk. I reduce my consumption of cheese. There’s still cow’s milk in my coffee, but I’ve drastically reduced my consumption of dairy and eggs. This process happens slowly. Although I still eat meat, I’m not eating ham, or bacon for breakfast like I did before. I feel better, but remain unsure if it’s the food or all in my head. Time flies by, and then like it was meant to be, How Not To Die, a bestselling book by Dr. Michael Greger, is released on December 8th 2015, the day after my daughter Zara’s 3rd birthday. We fed her cake, knowing that the dairy and eggs in her birthday cake might trigger her asthma and eczema. We felt like irresponsible parents by giving her milk and eggs, knowing very well what it might do, and also felt inadequate by keeping her from eating staple foods that every kid grows up with. We didn’t know what to do. Then I read this book. I flew through it, amazed at how it spoke to me and to the experience my family was going through. It also resonated with me when I read all of the scientific studies which corroborated exactly with what my medical experience taught me. I was finally convinced. I knew I had to keep progressing on the plant-based spectrum, in order to test the hypothesis that my medical conditions would get better.



THE MIRACLE OF NUTRITION


Once I transitioned towards a whole food plant-based diet, miracles started to happen. I still remember my first workout without hives. Then my first basketball match without my asthma inhalers. I remember stopping my antihistamines, only to see my symptoms remain dormant. I remember stopping my nasal sprays, then my heartburn pills. Soon my eczema was gone and most importantly, my daughters’ too. I was now recovering quicker from my workouts, with less soreness and better performance. The whole transition from a standard diet to a primarily whole food and plant-based diet took about 18 months. By 2019, I had read every study on plant-based nutrition I could get my hands on and was actively searching for my next book to read. I had gotten my life back, and the medical conditions that had plagued me and my daughters were either gone or drastically improved. That year, I decided to pursue my love for athletics and drove 10 hours and 1000 kms to the outskirts of Montreal, where I competed in my first ever Ninja Warrior competition. I was anxious that the level of exertion required by this event would trigger my angioedema and send me to the hospital, but I performed better than expected and my 188 beats per minute heart rate didn’t cause any problems. That’s when I realized that none of this could’ve ever been possible without proper nutrition. My wife encouraged me to tell my story and with her love and support, I started sharing it on social media. Soon after, I started telling my story and spreading the science about evidence based nutrition to other medical professionals at my workplace. Once my story was out in the world, I was overwhelmed by the support and curiosity of people around me. I started putting some ideas on paper, and these became my passion project plantbaseddrjules.com, a free website that shares scientific research and translates it into easy to digest blog posts about everything from nutrition myths to practical tips on how to lower cholesterol with food.



MY NEW PASSION


For the last few years, I’ve dedicated my life to my family, my work and my two passions, fitness and spreading the word about plant-based nutrition. On the day of writing this post, I’ve posted 58 consecutive weekly blog posts, I’ve qualified and competed in the World Ninja Championships in Las Vegas, and I’ve completed an extensive plant-based nutrition certification course offered by the University of Guelph. I still spend my spare time reading and writing about nutrition and my long term mission is to integrate nutrition education to medical training at our local medical school. I’m also still training on most days and my goal is now to qualify for the World Ninja Championships that will be held in Orlando in July 2023. If you’re wondering, I haven’t had a hive in almost a decade. My heartburn is gone, my mood is infinitely better, my allergies are basically 95% better and I don’t take any asthma puffers anymore before exercise, like I used to. I can’t guarantee that the exact same thing will happen to everyone, but this is my story.


I know that plant predominant nutrition isn’t for everyone and remains highly misunderstood by many who are still poorly educated about it. This dietary pattern is not only based in science, it’s also much easier to adopt than ever before, with plant-based options being more widely accessible. Visibility creates awareness and awareness creates demand. Demand then increases options and makes the process exponentially easier. At 41, I’m now the healthiest, the strongest and the happiest I’ve ever been. Although my story is only one anecdote, and these remain a weak form of evidence, the incredible number of anecdotes like mine are now confirmed and supported by decades worth of peer reviewed science, from prospective cohort studies and randomized controlled trials, to numerous meta-analysis and systematic reviews. There isn’t any doubt anymore, plant predominance is the best diet for personal and planetary health. If you still don’t believe in the science of plant-predominant nutrition, then I’m afraid you simply haven’t read the data. To learn more about plant-predominant nutrition, please visit my free website plantbaseddrjules.com. There, you’ll find tons of free resources and even a free downloadable eBook where you’ll find over 20 of my family’s favourite plant-based recipes!


Thanks so much for reading!

Jules

Plantbaseddrjules.com

Check out my instagram accounts:

@maritimeninja @plantbased_dr_jules








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