By Gretchen Schisla
I want to introduce you to one dynamic, authentic family. They live each day of their lives with joy, energy, and a commitment to not only take care of their own health, but to empower thousands of others to do the same. Meet the Esselstyn family. They were a complete inspiration to my partner, Eric, and myself during the Engine 2 Retreat (Powered by Forks Over Knives) we attended in Phoenix this past February.
Here’s the lowdown on what the powerful father, mother, son and daughter team bring to the table:
Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr.
Dr. Esselstyn is a leading champion in the field of “plant-based diets.” (2014 marks 30 years that he and his wife, Ann have been following the lifestyle themselves.) A former surgeon, researcher and clinician at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Esselstyn explained his position during his presentation and over our dinner together. As a breast cancer surgeon, he realized he wasn’t doing anything to help women prevent cancer, he was just physically treating and repairing their bodies. In addition, everyone in his family had died early of different diseases and he didn’t want the same fate for himself so he pursued an alternative — a low-fat, plant-based nutrition plan. In his 2007 book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, Dr. Esselstyn discusses the reversal of atherosclerosis in his heart-diseased patients as a result of following a low-fat, whole food, plant-based diet. He is sincere and profound as he discusses the unpopular stance he took among his medical colleagues, although he truly respects their work in the field. Dr. Esselstyn believes that conventional cardiology has failed its patients by developing treatments that focus soley on the symptoms of heart disease, and not the cause.
Ann Crile Esselstyn
Affectionately referred to as the “energy bunny,” Ann is the spunky, funny wife of Caldwell. She acts as food coach, counseling patients on cooking practices and sharing recipes she’s developed. It can be a daunting task to learn how to cook this way, but Ann makes it easy. Her sense of humor shines through when she demonstrates “stripping” kale on the stage, and enthusiastically shows the audience a few other tips and tricks she’s perfected over the years. We overheard her remark to her husband at the buffet station one evening, “You must be loving all these sauces!” Look for her new cookbook coming out later this year, it’s a collaboration with her daughter Jane. Check out this “Miraculous Walnut Dressing.”
You may know Rip as the Austin firefighter whose story made the New York Times. He’s the highly enthusiastic and encouraging son of the Esselstyn family, leading the Engine 2 retreats and arranging outstanding speakers whose research supports the WHY behind the importance of eating plant-based. In college, Rip was an All-American swimmer, before competing as a triathlete for a decade. After joining the Austin Fire Department, he challenged his fellow firefighters with high cholesterol and triglycerides to switch to a plant-based diet — and they saw amazing results. Rip has since teamed up with Whole Foods to serve as a coach and proponent of the lifestyle to the market’s employees, customers, and local communities. He touts the benefits of eating a plant-strong diet to anyone who will listen. A welcoming host, Rip also hosts monthly pot lucks at his Austin home for Engine 2 folks in the vicinity. When 250 people showed up recently, his wife said, “Rip, we have to find another place to have these.”
Jane is a teacher who’s expertise is middle school sexuality education. She brings a wholesome candor by teaching about healthy foods in much the same way she teaches kids. Extremely tall and athletic, she radiates the same love and enthusiasm as her brother, Rip. Together with her mom, Jane demonstrates just how easy and delicious eating plant-based can be.
Watch the video to see Jane and Ann Esselstyn prepare greens and two different kinds of dressings.
Journey Towards Better Health
The Esselstyn mission seeks to attack the cause of chronic illnesses at its source: the Standard American Diet. The cornerstone of the Engine 2 philosophy is simple — fill your diet with nutrient-dense foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. When combined with regular exercise, they work synergistically to propel your health, endurance and metabolism to levels you never thought possible. Along the way, you’ll find that you are building your resistance to heart disease and freeing yourself from chronic western illnesses, including inflammatory diseases.