A New Model for Medical Care
Plant-based eating transformed the way I think about health, both personally and professionally,” says James F. Loomis Jr., M.D., medical director of the new Barnard Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Loomis was the director of prevention and wellness at St. Luke’s Hospital in St. Louis, team internist for the St. Louis Rams football team and the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, and tour physician for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. But in 2010, what should have been a routine surgery on his knee inspired a “miraculous” change in his life. Prior to the surgery, Dr. Loomis had followed a standard American diet, which he thought hadn’t caused any health issues, as long as he stayed active.
But his surgery rehabilitation didn’t go well, and the enforced inactivity led to weight gain, and his diet finally caught up with him. In July 2011, a physical showed elevated cholesterol, borderline high blood sugar, and borderline high blood pressure. His physician suggested a cholesterol-lowering medication, but that obviously did not go to the root cause of his problems. A short time later, Dr. Loomis happened upon and watched the documentary Forks Over Knives. That led him to look into the medical literature showing the health benefits of a plant-based diet.
“At that point I knew it would be unconscionable not to try a vegan diet for three months. The results were nothing short of miraculous,” says Dr. Loomis. “Within three months, I lost 25 pounds, my cholesterol dropped from 240 to 150, my blood sugars and blood pressure dropped to the normal range, and energy markedly improved.” During that time he finally rehabbed his knee, and since then, as he has added more exercise and continued following a plant-based diet, he has lost more than 60 pounds. And with energy to burn, he has completed a marathon, several half-marathons, and numerous triathlons, including a half-Ironman. As the medical director of Barnard Medical, Dr. Loomis and his medical team provide state-of-the-art medical care and give patients the tools they need to improve their health through plant-based nutrition.
Working with Dr. Loomis are physicians Angie Eakin, M.D., M.S., and Stephen Neabore, M.D., dietitians Cameron Wells, M.P.H., R.D., and Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., medical assistant Manuel Calcagno, R.M.A., and nurse practitioner Emily Kasmar, M.S., A.G.P.C.N.P.-B.C. Practice Based on Proven Science Barnard Medical offers the medical services patients would expect to find at any medical center. “We provide wellness check-ups and diagnose and treat a wide range of medical conditions with the same high standards of modern medicine. We prescribe medications, order blood work or imaging, and refer patients to specialists when needed,” Dr. Neabore says. “Our practice is based on proven science.”
What differentiates Barnard Medical is that it gives patients the support they really need to put nutrition to work. “We want to treat the cause of the problem,” he continues. “If a patient has type 2 diabetes, we will recommend nutrition interventions to help reverse the course of the disease and hopefully reduce the number of medications they need. We will spend more time with patients, and all patients will be encouraged to consult with our dietitians. We will offer support groups and continuing education for all the most common conditions.”
Ms. Wells says that it’s rare for patients to be able to work with physicians who see the value of using food as medicine, and she is eager to guide patients to good health with plant-based nutrition.
“A plant-based diet is powerful,” says Ms. Wells, who is finishing her training as certified diabetes educator. “But to put it to work, people need knowledge, practical tips, and support. That is what we provide.”
Changing Patient Destinies
“Your DNA is not your destiny,” says Dr. Eakin. “Positive diet and lifestyle choices can profoundly affect risk of disease or progression of existing disease.” Dr. Eakin first learned the basics of nutrition in high school and became interested in how food affects the way the body functions. This led her to complete a master’s degree in nutrition, and then to medical school.
“I first learned about the Physicians Committee and Dr. Barnard’s work on diabetes in a vegetarian nutrition course during graduate school,” says Dr. Eakin. “The research on a plant-based diet is vast and convincing: Food as medicine is simple and effective.” Dr. Neabore was an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) in college. But he wanted to provide lifelong care, not just emergency care. “I wanted to learn everything I could about diseases and how to treat and prevent them,” says Dr. Neabore. “I felt that working as a physician would afford me the greatest opportunity to help others.”
In medical school, he began learning about plant-based nutrition from the Physicians Committee’s Nutrition Guide for Clinicians. "I was astounded to see that so many diseases had a basis in poor nutrition,” he says. “I was craving nutrition information for both myself and my patients, and I quickly started educating my patients about plant-based diets.”
Creating Success Stories
Dr. Loomis—whose grandfather used to tell him he was related to Hippocrates, because his family came from the same Greek island of Kos—says he looks forward to helping Barnard Medical patients succeed in improving their diets and maximizing their health. He has seen this success firsthand.
“I had a patient come in with new-onset, poorly controlled type 2 diabetes, so I recommended that he watch Forks Over Knives and read Dr. Barnard’s book on reversing diabetes,” says Dr. Loomis. “We elected not to start him on medications right away, while he tried a plantbased diet. In three months, he had completely reversed his diabetes. That was two years ago, and his blood sugars have been completely normal since.”
Dr. Neabore once had a patient who had previously been prescribed several medications after being diagnosed with obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. “The first time I saw him, he was feeling depressed about his diagnoses,” says Dr. Neabore. “He hated the idea of taking medication and was surprised to learn that most—if not all—of his problems
could be traced to poor diet.”
They came up with a plan for eliminating animal products, cutting down on fat, and increasing intake of fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. “Each time I saw him for a return visit, his weight and his lab values continued to improve,” says Dr. Neabore. “Eventually, he was able to stop all his medications.” Dr. Eakin had a patient who had carried 20 pounds of excess weight through high school and college and had developed an eating disorder after trying various commercial and very restrictive diets. With Dr. Eakin’s guidance, she transitioned to a plant-based diet and within months lost her excess weight. And along with psychological counseling, the diet helped her overcome her eating disorder.
“I’m persistent with patients,” says Dr. Eakin. “Just as with smoking cessation or alcohol abuse counseling, multiple intervention attempts and constant support are often necessary for lasting change.” The need for support is why Barnard Medical offers ongoing support groups and nutrition classes for patients who are interested.
An Apple a Day, Really
Barnard Medical staff also practice what they prescribe. “Apples are my go to. I eat at least one nearly every day,” says Dr. Neabore, whose favorite dinner is a big plate of pasta and a hearty salad. A long-distance runner, he was inspired by vegan ultramarathoner Scott Jurek to begin a plant-based diet.
Dr. Eakin—who says she would love to be a vegan pastry chef or dietitian if she weren’t a doctor—favors homemade peanut-butter-banana oatmeal for breakfast and roasted vegetables with seasoned rice for lunch. “Plant-based eating gives me energy to get through long days,” says Dr. Eakin, who first started a plant-based diet in college.
Ms. Wells says, “I am all about simple. When I find something I like, I stick with it.” Her day’s meals might include pumpkin oatmeal with walnuts and raisins for breakfast, hummus and pita, bean salad, and steamed veggies for lunch, and black bean sweet potato enchiladas with salad for dinner. She also snacks on fruit between meals.
Oatmeal is also a go-to for Dr. Loomis, who regularly eats steel-cut oats with fresh berries and nuts for breakfast.
“Food is the most powerful medicine you can put in your body,” says Dr. Loomis. “By adhering to healthful plant-based diets ourselves, we provide our patients firstline evidence of just how protective and health-promoting a plant-based diet can be.”