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Interview with Dr. Steve Lome: Creating Community for a Whole Food, Plant-based World

Cardiologist Dr. Steven Lome shares how to prevent heart disease and save 3 Trillion Dollars a Year!

The Veggie Fest festival may be over on August 11th, but that’s just the beginning of our roundup for Veggie Fest Presents! which continues year round to bring you more speakers, more food demos, and more renowned chefs for the 2019-2020 calendar. On Saturday, August 24th at 1pm, we are looking forward to hosting Dr. Steven Lome from Rush Copley who will be speaking on “Heart Disease: Prevention is the New Intervention.” Not only does Dr. Lome practice cardiovascular medicine at Rush, but he is also the founder of www.pbnm.org, a lifestyle website created to help people throughout the country transition to and maintain a whole food, plant-based diet. We recently sat down with Dr. Lome to find out more about the amazing studies promoting a plant-based diet to prevent—and in some cases reverse—heart disease.

Q: I read a little bit about your story, how you came to advocating a plant-based lifestyle years after practicing cardiology. It’s fascinating that you arrived at this philosophy almost immediately after watching Forks Over Knives. Would you tell us more about your transformation?

Dr. Steven Lome: Certainly! I often think about it like this: There were two different angles or avenues that merged together simultaneously. At a personal level, I had been following the Standard American Diet (SAD), eating foods that my culture told me to eat, which resulted with me reaching about 260 pounds and certainly struggling with some medical issues. This was the personal side of my journey. Then, professionally, about the same time I was watching Forks Over Knives, I was getting frustrated as a physician that my patients weren’t getting better: Even if they were following all the guidelines given by the American Heart Association—taking pills, getting invasive by-pass procedures, having side-effects from their medicines—still they weren’t getting better.

Even when I gave my patients all the right medications (based on the guidelines set by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology), they might still have a heart attack or a stroke or a stint because, as we all know, the cause of heart disease relates to diet and lifestyle, and so really, we need to treat the cause to prevent the disease from progressing. I was not taught to treat the cause.

The two cardiologists that trained me were both obese and diabetic, and they never spoke to their patients about diet and lifestyle matters. If you could truly reverse heart disease or prevent 100% of it, wouldn’t that be the main thing you would want to do?

When I watched Forks Over Knives, it hit me on both sides: On the personal side, I had been trying to lose weight and making the mistakes most people make. First, thinking that exercise was the main key was my first mistake; secondly, I was making the mistake of following the Standard American Diet and following the USDA dietary guidelines, eating chicken or fish, dairy products, and olive oil. Thirdly, I was still consuming unhealthy foods, fast

foods, and junk foods in small amounts—what I personally considered to be in “moderation.” As we know, moderation doesn’t really work. Consuming junk food should be 0.

When I watched Forks Over Knives it hit me, “Oh, this is why I’m still struggling to lose weight, why I’m trying so hard to exercise and eat healthy, and Oh, this is why my patients still aren’t getting better because I’ve never been addressing the root cause of their illness.” Everything came together for me after watching this one documentary.

Q: Did you feel betrayed by the medical system?

Dr. Steven Lome: I certainly had been feeling frustrated and angry that I hadn’t been trained in this. Until watching Forks Over Knives, I’d never heard of Dean Ornish, Dr. Esselstyn, reversal of cardiovascular disease, or lifestyle medicine. That was my introduction to these concepts.

Q: And you made big changes, moving from a rural setting to Chicago, and eventually working at Rush Copley with Dr. Kim Williams—a premiere cardiologist and advocate for the plant-based diet.

Dr. Steven Lome: I had been working in the farm country of central IL and wanted to make more of an impact in lifestyle medicine and plant-based nutrition. After moving to Naperville, I met Dr. Williams at a Physicians Conference and was soon hired as a cardiologist working at Rush Copley. Although I did not set out to work at Rush in order to collaborate with Dr. Williams, it was certainly a great opportunity.

Unfortunately, as Dr. Campbell said [in his June 2019 talk at Veggie Fest Presents! in Lisle, IL], unless changes in the way we practice medicine are done at a system-wide level, nothing is going to happen in a big way unless it’s reimbursable. Only monies available can create a vibrant model. That’s the reality.

Q: So that’s where your non-profit website, pbnm.org, comes in: Plant-based Nutrition Movement. Tell us about it.

Dr. Steven Lome: PBNM is all about creating a community for patients and plant-based “lifers.”

Because I had been frustrated not being able to do programs at Rush medical system on plant- based nutrition and heart-disease reversal, in April 2018 I gave a talk and a lot of people who showed up inspired me to create a community where this lifestyle is supported with cooking classes, cooking demos, and community-wide events.

I recruited multiple physicians and currently have 15 physicians on our health-care committee board at PBNM. We have 4 – 5 nurses and 2 – 3 nurse practitioners. We’ve created initiatives to help support the community by providing resources to support a plant-based lifestyle. We focus on whole food, plant-based foods, free of oil as well. Our second biggest branch outside of Chicago is in Tampa, Florida. Tampa has 13 physicians. They are very active

doing multiple events and cooking classes. We have a group in Knoxville, Tennessee, a group in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and we are hoping to set up a base in Kansas City, soon.

Q: There is an underground movement throughout the country of people interested in veganism, and so the platform that you’re building isn’t going to go away. More and more people are turning to this way of living and eating,

Dr. Steven Lome: Absolutely, and for many reasons. People are getting frustrated with the current healthcare system which is very financially motivated, procedure and pill pushing. They’ve lost trust and faith in the system.

Secondly, people are also realizing—more and more through social media and with documentaries out there such as Forks Over Knives and Plant Care Nation—that changing your food and lifestyle is really the most powerful thing you can do. It’s just a matter of being able to do it.

What is preventing the movement from sweeping the globe is the dollars spent on the fast food industry, the processed food industry, and the dairy & animal agriculture industries: These businesses have billions of dollars to market and brainwash the public into thinking they want to consume meat and dairy products. The only way to fight this epidemic is for people to realize the situation and step-up to make change. It’s this grass roots movement that will change the future. We don’t need or want these unhealthy products that are destroying our health, our kids’ health, and our environment.

At PBNM we have 10 – 12 monthly meetings throughout Chicago, and we hope to have close to 30 monthly meetings within the year. We have physicians and nurse practitioners for our members to consult with, free of charge, and we have different health topics each month.

Q: Are you targeting people with diabetes and heart disease, or is this a broader initiative?

Dr. Steven Lome: We are supporting everybody. We are giving general lectures on ideas like how a plant-based diet affects diabetes, heart-disease reversal, autoimmune disorders, weight-loss, hypertension, and high blood pressure. Anyone who wants to get healthy—no matter their reason—and needs support, that’s what we’re all about.

For those people who want to eat a plant-based diet but don’t know how to cook, we offer cooking classes and recently certified twenty PBNM cooking coaches. Soon, we are hoping to have up to 80 monthly cooking classes throughout Chicago.

Q: So tell us a little bit about your wife, who is also a doctor, and how she fits into this passion of yours.

Dr. Steven Lome: Yes, my wife—Helen Jeong—is a doctor in family medicine and a physician who works at Edwards hospital. She also eats and cooks a whole food, plant-based diet, and our

6 kids—age 1 to 12— are also completely plant-based and consume almost no oil. My last two children were conceived and born at 100% completely plant-based from the beginning, so you can see that you don’t need animal protein or products at any stage in your life.

Q: You have been working nonstop, getting this message out to the world, and changing the lives of your patients by creating a community that supports them. With all the people you’ve met—from doctors, chefs, and athletes—who is inspiring you today?

Dr. Steven Lome: As a cardiologist, I’d have to say that I am inspired today by my colleagues, Dr. Kim Williams and Dr. Dean Onish.

Dr. Williams is very humble, extraordinarily knowledgeable, and has done so much to educate everybody at the American College of Cardiology about whole food, plant-based nutrition. Because of his efforts, prevention guidelines for heart disease from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology now recommend a whole food plant-based diet as the mainstay. This is a change that happened just a few months ago in February or March, 2019. It’s really all because of him. The guidelines are called the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease—primary prevention, meaning preventing the first heart attack or the first stroke. Secondary prevention is when someone has already had heart disease, and that guideline is going to come out hopefully within a year, and I’m sure it’s going to recommend the same thing. This is the first time that the American Heart Association has strongly recommended a plant-based diet (and, also, the “pro-vegetarian variant of a Mediterranean style diet”). Both of those recommendations exclude beef, pork, chicken, and fish. That’s a very positive step in the right direction.

Q: That’s powerful. You also mention Dr. Dean Ornish.

Dr. Steven Lome: Dr. Ornish has developed the most solid research to show the power that overall lifestyle has on cardiovascular disease. Without him doing the “Lifestyle Heart Trial,” we wouldn’t be near where we are today with our knowledge of what we can do. Because of him we have the ability to take a patient who needs bypass surgery—with 2 or 3 blockages—and rather than saw their chest open, we now have an alternative which is called a lifestyle medical approach that is to adopt a plant-based diet—with no oil, a weight-loss program, no smoking, and exercise—and we can actually make the heart disease reverse without having to go through a complicated operation.

Think of it: Five hundred thousand Americans get bypass surgery every year, and although there are a percentage of those operations that are critical and lifesaving, I would have to estimate that 90% could be treated with a lifestyle medical approach. The World Health Association estimates that 80% of heart disease is preventable. Dean Ornish’s research, however, shows that 99% of heart disease is preventable, especially if a whole food plant-based diet is

started in childhood. You just cannot deny the fact that Dean Ornish has probably had the biggest impact of any cardiologist out there in regards to the research. He’s the one who inspired Dr. Kim Williams, as well.

Q: Why don’t more universities teach this approach and more doctors recommend it to their patients?

Dr. Steven Lome: We are pushing hard for a paradigm shift in the healthcare system toward a lifestyle medicine model. More than 80% of our healthcare spending right now is for preventable diseases related to diet and lifestyle. That’s nearly 3 trillion dollars we spend every year to treat preventable diseases. Can you imagine what we can do with 3 trillion dollars for our country? College tuition could be free for all Americans. We could build and repair roads everywhere. We could build schools everywhere. We could feed the entire country. It’s an insane amount, and it’s every year.

Q: That would be a great platform if you were running for president.

Dr. Steven Lome: I would love to be the first American plant-based Surgeon General!

Q: This has been such a treat chatting with you today. We’re really looking forward to your talk, “Heart Disease: Prevention is the New Intervention,” at Veggie Fest Presents! on Saturday, August 24th at the beautiful new Science of Spirituality International Meditation Center in Lisle, Illinois.

Until then, we’ve got our dancing shoes on for our annual two-day, show-stopping free festival on August 10 & 11. How about giving us a shout-out for all your fans? What do you love about Veggie Fest?

Dr. Steven Lome: I went for the first time two years ago. The food support is one thing people need, and you do a great job. I really like the educational talks. I saw Dr. Kim Williams speak in 2017. I also love the scale. You attract such a buzz around the plant-based community and help to keep it growing!

-Kathryn Kruger for the Veggie Fest Team

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