Mark Richardson of Missoula admits he began overeating, and eating unhealthily, after losing his daughter to a car crash.

“My relationship with food was unhealthy,” he told a crowd at a nutrition boot camp hosted by CostCare Clinic on Tuesday. “When my daughter died, perhaps I was filling the hole. Within a year I gained 100 pounds or so.”

Richardson, who stands 5 feet, 10 inches tall, and is 54 years old, weighed 377 pounds when he went in to see a doctor for a health check-up.

He got a variety of bad news. He had unhealthy blood pressure, elevated liver enzymes and was diagnosed with diabetes.

“I was really mad at myself and really frustrated,” he said. “I got pretty emotional after reading all that. I have a history of diabetes in my family, but I don’t blame my diabetes on my hereditary genes. It was totally self-inflicted.”

Richardson expected to be told to take a variety of medications, but the doctor also recommended buying “Whole30,” a nutritional program guidebook written by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig. Richardson has been on it for 154 days, and he’s lost 94 pounds. He said his doctor was so shocked that he used cuss words when he saw how much weight Richardson had shed.

Essentially, the Whole30 program advises people to cut out grains, dairy, added sugars, alcohol and legumes for 30 days, and then eat those foods only in extreme moderation afterwards.

“I feel fantastic, as good as I ever felt in my life,” Richardson said. “I got drafted to play professional soccer when I was younger, and I feel as good as I did then.”

Richardson almost broke into tears when he talked about how much his unhealthy eating affected his work.

“My general manager and her husband are now doing the Whole30, a lot because of the difference she’s seen in my work,” he said. “I have more energy to give them. I owe them more than I gave before. I used to breathe heavy just going up the stairs.”

The Whole30 diet has become hugely popular in the United States in the last year, and many Missoulians are taking part in the program.

Carol Bridges co-owns the Cost Care Clinics in Missoula with Lesley Von Eschen. Bridges, a physician, has seen her share of fad diets like the South Beach Diet, the Atkins Diet and the so-called Paleo Diet. However, she believes the Whole30 diet is sustainable because there’s a lot of science behind it.

That’s why she’s offering six-session nutritional boot camps in Missoula to guide people through the process and offer support.

“One of the reason’s it’s catching on is because it’s so effective and sustainable,” she said. “The program is designed to help people treat obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, insomnia, depression, chronic fatigue and heartburn. We’ve got a year under our belt pushing people to do a 30-day challenge, and the results are amazing.”

Bridges tells her students that humans evolved to live without diets full of processed foods until about 150 years ago, when processed flour, high fructose corn syrup and antibiotics all began to be consumed by humans. She said added sugars and processed foods are overconsumed, and she recommends to people that they eat more proteins like baked chicken, vegetables like broccoli, and unprocessed foods. She said legumes, although they contain protein, also cause low-grade inflammation.

Bridges is quick to point out that the Whole30 isn’t necessarily a “weight loss program.” In fact, many of the students in her class are overweight. The main point, she said, is to treat chronic diseases like diabetes and stomach issues associated with foods that cause inflammation.

Like many diets that have seen an explosion in popularity over the years, the Whole30 diet has its critics. This newspaper is not a medical journal and this article should not be taken as an endorsement of any particular diet program. However, the customers in Bridges' class seem satisfied.

“My wife suggested it along with Dr. Bridges because I was eating unhealthy and I was overweight,” said Alan Powell, 54. “I knew that I could probably lose some weight. And I’ve lost 20 pounds on this program. I feel great. Basically, I have a lot more energy and I’m not fatigued.”

Bridges said that the food industry has maximized the amount of sugar in processed foods and shifted the blame for unhealthy consequences to fat.

“That has caused us to eat rich, nutrient-poor ‘no brake’ foods,” she said. "I decided to do the 30-day challenge myself. All of the things they say can happen did happen – like how you feel better, sleep better and have clearer thinking."

For Mark Anderson, who has lost nearly 100 pounds, he believes the diet will add years to his life if he sticks to it like he plans.

"At one point I was just checking days off my life," he said. "It took diabetes, really a life-changing event, to set me on a path for my children, my grandchildren and my employer."

The next CostCare boot camp will be held in April. For more information call 370-7050.

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