by Bruce A. Smith
Always a big man, Graham resident, Raymond Cool, lost 300 pounds in an inspiring manner – he did it all with small adjustments to his diet that he calls his “baby steps.” Perhaps more importantly, he has kept the weight off for over three years.
To lose that weight and stay fit, Raymond had to learn the fundamental truths of nutrition, food addictions, and the psychological dynamics that push a man to put almost 500 pounds on a six-foot frame. From that journey he developed a weight-loss program he calls “Baby Steps to Healthier Living,” which he promotes through classes, personal coaching, and public speaking.
By 2010, Raymond was facing serious health issues due to his excess pounds. He struggled to walk and his spine needed surgery. His hips and knees were riddled with arthritis and inflammation brought on by extreme attempts to exercise and lose weight that Raymond describes as “insane.” His blood pressure was routinely high, even while taking multiple prescription drugs and at times approached 200/120.
He was so morbidly obese that routine things like getting dressed and attending to personal hygiene presented serious challenges. He walked with a cane, sometimes two, and toted a milk crate so that he could sit when talking with friends since he couldn’t stand for long. He took many prescription drugs, costing over $20,000 each year. He had been unable to work and on disability since 2004.
His doctors couldn’t advise much more than the standards of “eat less and exercise more.” But Raymond had been following those caveats since boyhood. He was always a chubby kid, and grew to be the fattest guy in high school. To counter the weight Raymond played sports, lifted weights, and starved himself. He could lose a few pounds while always feeling hungry and miserable, and when he lessened the intensity of self-deprivation the weight came back.
When he muses over those days, Raymond traces his food dependencies to early childhood. His mother was survivor of World War II who starved at times due to the debacle that befell her Germany by 1945. In response, when she married a GI stationed in the American sector and eventually came to the United States, she showed everyone her love by feeding them endlessly. Raymond calls her a “food pusher,” somewhat whimsically, but also knowingly.
Nevertheless, it set an early pattern of “food-is-love” that Raymond embraced throughout his life. Despite that perspective Raymond attempted to lose weight. He tried many diets. He walked regularly and sought an active life. He accepted society’s dietary mantra to toughen up, develop self-discipline and “just say no” to food. It didn’t work.
“When it comes to dietary change, some make it because they can tough it out. It becomes the formula for everyone else, which doesn’t work for most people,” Raymond said, adding, “All or nothing almost always results in nothing.”
Raymond says there was no one moment, no definitive event that motivated him to lose weight. Rather, it was a slow realization that he was on a painful, tragic spiral to death if he didn’t drop the weight. His marriage to Lisa in 2009 added more incentive, as he didn’t want her to witness his decent, nor struggle to care for him. As a result, the weight had to go.
For the first several months, he studied about nutrition and healthy eating habits. Then his first actual “baby step” was to buy a grain mill and grind his own whole wheat flour for the bread he baked in his kitchen. Expanding over the next few months, he started eating baked potatoes for lunch and making a squash-cauliflower-corn concoction for dinner. After a lifetime of failed diets, Raymond knew the key was to never feel deprived or hungry so a central piece of his weight-loss was to eat as much as he wanted, as long as it was good food – nothing in a box or processed, and certainly nothing from a fast-food joint.
At the beginning, Raymond never said “no” to meat or an extra portion. But over time he noticed that he was eating less meat and his plate was not piled as high with the veggies. Clearly, his body was adjusting to a new way of eating.
Raymond also went for walks that were as vigorous as his body could tolerate. Gradually, his stamina and health increased. In the first three months of his new “diet” he lost 17 pounds. Encouraged and excited, Raymond continued and over the next 18 months he shed most of the 300.
In the process, Raymond gradually removed dairy from his diet, as cheese is a major source of fat and salt, major impediments to weight-loss. He realized another health benefit almost by accident, as dairy products are increasingly thought to be injurious to health. Numerous studies have shown, as presented by cardiac specialists Drs. Caldwell Esselstyne and T. Colin Caldwell of Forks Over Knives fame, that dairy has enzymes and proteins that can foster cancer growth, contribute to diabetes, and lead to heart attacks.
Noted nutritional expert, Dr. John McDougall of Santa Rosa, California, has also been a major supporter and guru to Raymond in his weight-loss and health campaign. Many of Raymond’s classes now feature videos and instructional clips from Dr. McDougall.
But Raymond’s Baby Steps program is all his own.
“The Number One Baby Step is to eat good food,” Raymond said. “And the Number Two Baby Step is: ‘Don’t Starve’! I’m never hungry. I eat lots of rice and beans, lentils, salads – and lots of butternut squash. ” In time, Raymond became a great cook, and currently he is skilled with spices, tastes and textures. His cooking classes are both tasty and informative.
So, it’s clear that the key to Raymond’s Baby Steps is not to eat less food. Rather, the goal is to eat fewer calories. Hence, Raymond’s instructions focus on how many calories are in popular foods. Some of his findings are daunting – even shocking – such as the 4,000 calories in a pound of olive oil. Of course, nobody consumes olive oil by the pound, but even a mere tablespoon has 119 calories, so even small amounts of olive oil add more calories than we realize. As a result, it’s a lot easier to say goodbye to the high-fat foods like mayonnaise, butter, and salad dressings. Cheeses are also “calorie dense,” so they should be reduced or eliminated in a weight-loss program.
As Raymond lost weight, his over all health improved as well. His blood pressure dropped to normal levels and his diabetic proclivity was resolved. As a result, he no longer takes any medications for those conditions. Further, his arthritis is mostly controlled.
One of the first discontinued medications was Lisinopril, which freed Raymond from its nasty side-effect of a chronic dry hack. Ironically, this cough is further intensified by the inflammation of the body’s esophageal and intestinal linings, known colloquially as acid reflux, which is brought about by the low-fiber foods of the customary American diet. So, Raymond’s plant-based, high-fiber diet can fully reverse that condition.
Raymond touts eating plant-based, home-cooked meals, made with wholesome, basic ingredients. Leafy greens are a part of his diet, along with a variety of grains and cereals, such as oatmeal, barley, and quinoa. He buys his organic wheat in bulk from the Eatonville Mountain Cooperative, and makes all of his breads. His dinner rolls are delicious.
He eats lots of fruits, and in season buys pounds of blueberries at a local farm, freezing them for the whole year. Raymond loves nuts, but eats them sparingly due to their high “calorie density.” Along with the squash and other previously mentioned veggies, carrots, broccoli, beans and all the usual garden vegetables that are available commercially make up the majority of his diet.
He also suggests reducing the use of oils in cooking, preferring to sauté his foods in water or broth rather than calorie-laden olive oil. While it’s true there are healthy nutrients in some of these oils, when you factor in their high calorie load you find it is better to get those nutrients elsewhere.
Perhaps the biggest baby step that Raymond espouses is to do whatever one can do right now to move a little closer to better health: “No matter where you are, whatever your circumstances, or your weight or age, you can take a baby step that day towards better health. ”
At his classes in Graham he touts a constant reminder to approach this process without guilt – and with a sense of humor.
“If you need to put three pats of butter on that baked potato – do it. Maybe next week you can use only two!” he said recently to his audience. “And whatever you do or can’t do, don’t feel guilty or ashamed.”
Practicing what he preaches, Raymond frequently makes jokes about his still-continuing addiction to cookies and chocolate. At Christmastime he also ‘fessed up to a craving for eggnog, which he resisted.
Raymond also reminds folks that, initially like him, perhaps all one can do is study about weight-loss before making any changes in cooking and eating. “When I started, I read for months and studied all about nutrition before I did anything,” Raymond said. “So read, watch videos and You Tube documentaries and educate yourself about your body, food, and how best to eat healthfully. It’s a process. It takes time to get ready to do something, to change your life. Remember, it took me many years to gain my 300 hundred extra pounds and five years later I’m still working on it. So know that losing that weight is also going to take time.”
The Baby Steps program is also not a formulaic process. “The first few baby steps vary for each person. We all have our food issues, and they’re different for each of us – so, what we need do to make changes are different for everyone, too.”
Raymond stresses that weight-loss issues are tied into larger questions of health, and usually involve emotional and psychological components.
“‘Baby Steps’ is not a dietary program in the customary sense of that phrase. It’s bigger than just nutrition and weight-loss. Problems with food are often a reflection of problems elsewhere in life,” Raymond said at a recent Graham class. “Most people with severe food issues – and I certainly had one at 500 pounds – won’t be helped by a single approach to weight-loss, such as diet and exercise.”
In fact, one of his presentations focused on this dynamic when Raymond offered a hand-out on the “Wheel of Life,” illustrating how food, emotions, and a sense of happiness and satiation are inextricably connected. Raymond recognizes that weight carries so much emotional baggage that many people can’t handle attending his classes, so he offers many walking groups so that individuals can obtain health benefits and perhaps receive a few helpful hints along the way.
In addition, Raymond offers individual coaching, and also hosts a “meetup” group for people who want to discuss their weight-loss journey. In fact, these groups have spawned a monthly dinner where participants gather at a local home to enjoy healthy food and the camaraderie of folks on the often fraught struggle to lose weight.
The Baby Steps Emphasize:
Eat more whole grains. (Not white flour, enriched breads, pastries, etc.)
Eat more high-fiber foods, such as beans, fruits, cereals
Deal with food addictions, cravings, compulsive eating, ie: therapy
Eat less animal products, such as meats, fish, eggs, dairy
Eat more plant-based foods
Stop thinking diet and start thinking “Healthy Eating”
MOVE! Walking is great, but there are many exercises one can do seated in a chair or even lying in a bed. Everyone can move more!
Modules of the Baby Steps program:
Overview of Raymond’s story
Spiritual perspective on food and health
Basic nutrition – why we eat
Benefits of shifting from meat-based to plant-based eating
Myths, lies and misconceptions of weight-loss
Finding resources and support; dealing with the medical establishment
Benefits of high-fiber menus
Cooking classes, movie nights, and walking groups
Health impacts linked to weight-loss
High blood pressure
Gall stones and Kidney stones
What does an actual Baby Step look like? Some are simple and relatively painless. Raymond says that one lady lost five pounds in six months by discontinuing her use of olive oil. Another individual dropped his weight from 280 to 140 by giving up soft drinks, fast food, and engaging a modest exercise program. One fellow lost 65 pounds in one year simply by eating more rice and beans.
To learn more about Raymond Cool’s extraordinary journey to health, and to tap into his font of knowledge:
By email: Raymond@RaymondCool.com
Or visit his website: http://www.Raymondcool.com/contact.html
The “before and after” of Raymond Cool