By Eric Adams, as told to Kara Mayer Robinson
My journey started in 2016, when I had severe discomfort in my stomach that I later learned was an ulcer. I also had vision loss and nerve damage in my hand. The real discovery was when I was told the cause was advanced type 2 diabetes.
For a brief moment, I said to myself, “Well, this was coming. When you get to a certain age, you get diabetes or heart disease.” Then I said, “No, I'm not surrendering. I'm going to at least have a good fight."
Going in Reverse
It was a wake-up call. Instead of hitting the snooze button, I got up. I shifted everything I knew as normal and tried to reverse it.
I Googled “how to reverse diabetes” and came up with a lot of information. I reached out to an amazing doctor at the Cleveland Clinic, who told me how eating the right foods would impact my health and potentially reverse my diabetes. I immediately worked toward a whole food, plant-based diet. Three weeks later, my vision returned. Three months later, my diabetes went into remission and the nerve damage in my hands and feet went away.
It was a challenge. I was battling 56 years of eating a certain way: fast food, junk food, fried food, processed food, sugar. I had to change my mindset. Instead of thinking about what I couldn’t have, I looked at foods I’d never even thought about.
A Learning Experience
I learned how to cook, one meal at a time, trying different spices and recipes. I started cooking with cumin, turmeric, oregano, garlic, paprika. I learned how to make cheese out of chickpeas, nutritional yeast, and a few spices. I was a gourmet ice cream guy. I used to put away a pint of it. So, I learned how to make my own ice cream with three ingredients: freshly made peanut butter, cacao powder, and a frozen banana.
Then I started going into the local bodegas and stores with my eyes open. I discovered lentils and dried beans and learned how to make soups and burgers with them. I built a meal repertoire.
In restaurants, I started creating my own meals by mixing and matching meals on the menu. If I saw steak and broccoli, I said, “OK, I know they have broccoli.” If there was asparagus with tuna, I knew they had asparagus. Now there’s never a restaurant I don’t consider to be a whole food, plant-based restaurant, because I make my menu.
Eventually, I started to think differently about exercise. I used to think, “I have to go to the gym, but I don't have time.” I started to say, “Wait a minute. Why don’t I get off one or two bus or train stops before mine, and walk the rest of the way?” I started to take the stairs. Now I use a stand-up desk -- I use my computer while standing. I found creative ways to have some form of movement every hour: stretching, doing jumping jacks, moving around my space.
Now I live a healthy life, not only physically, but mentally. I relieve stress with meditation. I’m involved in something I think is so important: Healthy Monday Campaigns, a public health initiative with Johns Hopkins, Columbia, and Syracuse universities. In Brooklyn, where I’m the borough president, we encourage schools and hospitals to have Meatless Mondays.
This has allowed me to share what I’ve learned and engage with other people. I also wanted to change the stereotypes that many Black people have around healthy eating. They feel it doesn’t impact Black people or that lifelong diseases are a part of your DNA. My goal was to show them it’s not your DNA; it’s your dinner, particularly with diabetes. I wanted to show them there’s a way to prevent and possibly reverse it.
My overall health is so much better now. What sent me to the doctor's office in the first place went away completely. My nerve damage went away. My vision returned. My blood pressure normalized. My cholesterol normalized. I dropped 35 pounds and I’m really living a healthier lifestyle.
I feel like a totally different human being with a new level of patience, understanding, and appreciation. I have a more optimistic approach to what's in front of me and I believe possibilities are endless. There are very few things I believe are impossible. They’re all within my control. All I have to do is to have the right mindset.