How were you feeling, physically and mentally, before you discovered Pritikin this past March?
CH: I didn’t feel good, and my visits with my regular doctor weren’t getting to the bottom of things. I was at the point where I had to start taking a statin to control my cholesterol. For the past six months, it was almost as if I could see myself aging daily, it was scary. I felt exhausted almost all the time. Driving to and from work, I’d literally have to stop to rest. I’m a judge in Wyoming, and we have the least populated state in the country, so I spend a lot of time in the car traveling from court to court. That aspect of my life, my work, made the state of my health impossible.
I started to feel changes, and things seemed to be accelerating rapidly. We live in Jackson Hole, which is a meca was all things outdoors. I’d be on my skis or bike two days a week, but I was not able to perform as expected. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what.
How did you find Pritikin?
CH: My wife had been living by Dr. McDougall’s rules, which is a parallel to Dr. Pritikin, and she had been talking about a plant-based diet and bringing all the research to me for years, probably for a decade. I recognized the truth, and I could see the results in her life. She’s an über athlete and I can’t keep up with her, and so I looked to that philosophy for some answers. But ultimately I felt that this approach was more one-dimensional, so I went searching for something more holistic. That’s when I found Pritikin. I appreciated that the focus was on health; it just seemed so much more correct than just focusing on short-term weight loss.
Was there a specific moment that made you pull the trigger—and book your stay?
CH: It was in the winter—winters are long and hard here—and I had been out cross-country skiing and knew something was wrong. I knew I had to find answers, and it was imperative. We had a family vacation planned that spring break, and I went home and said to my wife, Charise, I need to find these answers, but don’t have the time. She said to go find your answers during this time, during spring break. That the family would sacrifice the time together to help me find these answers, that’s a powerful thing.
Did you have any doubts about Pritikin before you arrived?
CH: I was confident that I was on the right path to find answers. I had done the research, but I just don’t know why, I had some doubt that it would work for me. I had tried other things, which had worked great for a while but were never sustainable. Those programs all focused on one thing, and that was weight. I know that’s terrifically important, but what Pritikin offered me was answers to bigger issues in my mind. Still, it was stunning to me, it was inconceivable that things could change that fast. I hoped, but I didn’t believe.
What was going through your head when you arrived at Pritikin?
CH: I was ready to hit the ground running, and went into the experience 100 percent committed. I wasn’t going to look for any shortcuts—I was going to drink the Kool-aid by the pitcher full.
The staff was amazing. I felt very secure and taken care of from the minute I got picked up from the airport. The driver had been working at Pritikin for decades—he was a Pritikin cheerleader before I even walked through the door, telling me what a great experience I was about to have. From the minute I got off the plane, Pritikin was there for me and I felt completely in good hands.
What was the first thing you did during your stay?
CH: My first intro was dinner at Pritikin, because I got there in the evening. It was challenging. One thing I really liked about the Pritikin philosophy is that isn’t about portion control, but I found the food to be pretty bland and tasteless. I thought, Okay, this is going to be an obstacle. I love to cook and to eat great food. As a foodie, I was totally into sauces and it was a big shock to go back to basics.
Did your perspective on the food at Pritikin change as time went on?
CH: I felt like my taste buds changed dramatically—and quickly. I could taste the natural salt in food, rather than missing the added salt I was so accustomed to putting in. My last meal at Pritikin was exactly the same as my first meal at Pritikin. In two weeks, what I thought was a very bland and tasteless dinner was now terrific. I ordered the exact same thing to see the difference. I was shocked at how we’ve been trained to put things in our body that we don’t need and that aren’t good for us. It’s not a huge sacrifice to eat better.
What did you enjoy most about Pritikin?
CH: The whole-body experience. That’s why I chose Pritikin; they offer not just the nutrition and the education, but the physical instruction and some spiritual instruction, too; there’s some time to find that greater meaning for life. It was that holistic experience that drew me there and what continues to keep me on course.
What are the most important lessons you learned?
CH: The first big revelation was how much I depended on salt, and how much salt I was putting into my body, and that was really problematic. The other thing about the nutrition was, what they were saying was based on years and years of research. It wasn’t a fad, it wasn’t the latest new thing, the coconut oil or the keto. It was science-based, and that science is decades of science. They weren’t afraid to buck all the trends and say, this is what the science is. It wasn’t about weight, weight is a natural byproduct. It was almost as if i was hearing something I already knew, but I was really hearing it this time. It just clicked, and I was able to make the changes.
Did you learn anything new about how to approach exercise?
CH: Every one of the staff people on the gym side was amazing. I’m not a great athlete, but have been a wannabe great athlete. I thought I knew a lot about exercise, but learned a ton from Jamie and his staff, about the why and the benefits we could accomplish. I haven’t been able to touch my toes in 10 years. After 10 days of consistent stretching, I was able to. I made tremendous feats in such a short period of time.
What did you think of the medical team at Pritikin?
CH: Having access to great medical advice and care on site was critical. Because that’s where the measurables were. Sure, you can get on the scale and touch your toes, but I was more concerned about what was going on inside. The answer I got right off the bat was that I was headed for a cliff, like what I expected, but it was pretty discouraging. But then to have access to medical advice, and learn, here’s where we are, here’s where we want to be, here’s how we’ll accomplish that, and then to see actual progress week a week later. The weight loss is great—I’m grateful for it—but to see those numbers move from the red to green zone cemented things for me.
How has your life changed since Pritikin?
CH: When I had my exit interview with the doctors, I said, this is a miracle. I was in full metabolic syndrome when I got to Pritikin—everything was degrading rapidly. My numbers were literally in the red for cholesterol and sugar, and my blood pressure was so out of control that they wouldn’t let me exercise the way I normally would. When I left, every number was back in the green. My cholesterol and sugar are in normal ranges, my blood pressure is as low as it has been since I was a teenager. I’m not looking forward to a real life-medically alternating event, but to many more years of adventure.
We just got back from a week of cycling in Spain, and took on some really big mountains. My friends that we cycle with all the time were amazed at the increase in my abilities in stamina and strength that I made in just two months!
How do you manage to live the Pritikin lifestyle at home?
CH: When you’re at Pritikin, and you really stay on campus and live the program, it’s pretty easy. But in the real world, it’s hard to do the right thing. But I’ve seen the results from the lab work and am committed.
We have a term in our house called environmental engineering. We can’t count on others to prepare the food we need, and so we cook a lot. I’m bringing lunch every day to work, not counting on the local sandwich shop. When we go out, like the trip to Spain, we let them know about our dietary restrictions and desires and they tried as best as the could, but you just make the best choices that you can. Those things that aren’t good for you are suddenly not appealing at all, like the sausages and cured meat. I grew up in cow country and to give up beef was unthinkable. But I don’t have any desire anymore; I still can’t quite believe it.
If you had to give someone in your pre-Pritikin shoes a piece of advice, what would it be?
CH: My advice would be, try it. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose. The promise is real. At Pritikin, they’re not bashful about making promises. I took a chance and am just grateful I did. I have a spring back in my step that I haven’t had in 15 years.