Today, OHH reviewer Carrie Forrest gives us her two cents about the book Staying Healthy in the Fast Lane: 9 Simple Steps to Optimal Health by Kirk Hamilton. And read on for your chance to win a signed copy of this book!
Book Review: Staying Healthy in the Fast Lane: 9 Simple Steps to Optimal Health by Kirk Hamilton
Review by Carrie Forrest
When I transitioned from being a meat-eater to becoming a healthy vegan, one of my sources for advice on plant-based nutrition was Kirk Hamilton, who is the creator of the Staying Healthy Today radio interviews and podcasts. Kirk is not only a vegan himself, but is a certified physician’s assistant based in Sacramento, CA, with many years of clinical experience. I follow his work closely and appreciate his commitment to honing in on the most relevant, factual research on plant-based living.
It was, thus, with great anticipation that I read Kirk’s self-published book from 2011 entitled Staying Healthy in the Fast Lane: 9 Steps to Optimal Health. The book is intended to synthesize Kirk’s vast experience with treating patients for diet-related conditions, and to offer a guide for those of us who want to find our way to be the healthiest we can be. For those of us who are animal activists, staying healthy is a necessary component to avoiding burnout, which is yet another reason why the health-aspects of veganism calls to me so vehemently. I am pleased to report that this book does not disappoint: it is clearly written with the informative yet firm tone of a caring, competent health professional describing to a patient the necessary steps that she or he must take to prevent and treat diet-related conditions.
Staying Healthy in the Fast Lane tackles, in turn, “The Problem,” “The Solution” and “The Program.” By now, we are probably all somewhat familiar with the problem, as we have seen the statistics about obesity and chronic disease in our country, an epidemic that is spreading throughout the world. The sad truth is that the standard American diet derives less than 6% of its calories from unrefined plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
Kirk points out that the research clearly links chronic disease with an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and tobacco use, and that if these risk factors were reduced, “at least 80% of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes would be prevented and 40% of cancer would be prevented.” These statistics are admittedly scary, but it is also empowering to think that we can manipulate our lifestyles to prevent disease. The important question is: How can we make these changes in our busy, modern lives? According to Kirk, this isn’t as hard as we think. We can all have good health, as long as we follow “a daily consistent practice of simple principles and disciplines that incorporate physical activity; a whole-food, unprocessed, vegetable-based diet; and a positive, loving mental outlook on life.”
Refreshingly, in addition to his focus on how our diet can drastically affect our health, Kirk also addresses some of the non-health related aspects of veganism. This is something that I see far too infrequently in books focused on health, and it’s really heartening to see Kirk’s recognition of the important intersections among all the benefits of a plant-based diet. Kirk not only questions the sustainability of diets that include animal products, but also discusses the issue of animal rights. In his words, “I believe there is something that negatively affects our core spirit as humans by senselessly killing billions of animals per year for food, for really no reason.” Exactly!
I also love his particular focus on dairy. In a chapter entitled “Double Trouble? Dairy and Grains,” Kirk issues an “Ain’t Got Milk” challenge, asking non-vegan readers to try going off dairy products completely for at least three weeks. He explains that in his clinical experience, he has “seen more suffering from common health complaints stopped immediately by eliminating dairy products than any other single medical therapy.” He then questions the typical American assumptions about dairy products and bone health, by summarizing scientific evidence showing that “osteoporotic bone fracture rates are highest in countries that consume the most dairy, calcium, and animal products.” The dairy chapter alone was enough to inspire me to put Staying Healthy in the Fast Lane on my list of “go-to” gifts for friends and family members who are not yet vegan.
The culmination of the book is Kirk’s Triad Wellness Program, which is based on “9 Simple Steps to Optimal Health.” His Program encompasses diet, exercise and mind-body work, with three steps for each. It is a true guide for those who want to improve their health. The essence of the food recommendations come from Joel Fuhrman, M.D., author of Eat to Live, and the focus is on consuming nutrient-dense foods like vegetables (especially leafy greens), fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds. To answer the question of how to incorporate these suggestions into our busy lives, Kirk gives helpful tips such as how to grocery shop, how to order in a restaurant, and how to control food cravings.
After addressing how to incorporate a whole foods, plant-based diet in our busy lives, Kirk then moves to the importance of exercise in an overall health program. He recommends starting with fifteen to thirty minutes of daily activity, and then working up to about an hour a day of something that includes aerobic exercise, strength training, or flexibility. The truth is, if we want to ensure a good quality of life as we get older, then we must develop an “exercise habit.” Going back to avoiding activist burnout, physical activity is yet another key to that, and something that all of us who work tirelessly for the greater good should bear in mind – especially if we want to be in it for the long run. This doesn’t mean that we have to spend hours at the gym, however. As Kirk points out, consistency is more important than intensity and technique. The important take-away is that we all need to get off our vegan tushies and move more.
Finally, Kirk’s Triad Program includes techniques to nourish the mind-body connection and improve our emotional health, at the same time as we’re eating better and getting physically stronger. Kirk’s discussion of this piece of the puzzle is brief, and not overly intrusive, but it nonetheless provides some great concrete exercises to inspire change.
While reading Staying Healthy in the Fast Lane: 9 Steps to Optimal Health, I found myself truly grateful to Kirk for taking the time to create an accessible and thorough resource that effectively synthesizes so much of the invaluable information he has learned from his research review and clinical experience. As I work toward my degree as a registered dietician, Kirk is a role model to me – someone who truly wants to help others, while at the same time understanding the connections between people, animals, and the environment. Kirk Hamilton gets it, and Staying Healthy in the Fast Lane deserves a place in the library of anyone who wants to live a healthy, vegan life.
Want to win a signed copy of Staying Healthy in the Fast Lane: 9 Steps to Optimal Health by Kirk Hamilton? Comment below and tell us your favorite way to stay healthy. You must comment within one week — by midnight EST on May 21, 2012. Thanks!