Reversing Chronic Health Issues4 min read

Some people think it started back in February of 2015 when my brother, Larry, died very suddenly. He was only 53 years old and, from all outer appearances, was in very good physical shape. He exercised, worked hard, and ate what he thought was a healthy diet. Sadly, lurking beneath the healthy outer surface was a blocked artery that proved to be fatal. He left a wife, three daughters, a grandson and eight brothers and sisters. Our family received some comfort knowing he was an organ donor and several people were helped as a result. We were also comforted when the doctor told us my brother probably never realized what was happening in the moment he died. It was that sudden.

But it didn’t start there. The “it” to which I refer is my transition from the Standard American Diet to a diet that no longer includes any animal protein, dairy, oils, or any processed foods. I know what you are thinking: “It sure sounds like a vegan to me.”  I know, it sounds like that to me too. But please, don’t call me that. I and my wife (and our three children) are eating a whole foods, plant-based diet.

The label “vegan” tends to be associated with a more environmental approach. Believe me, I have no designs on saving the planet. And the only tree I have ever hugged is the one I was climbing to get into my tree stand.

It is my family history and the reality of what may be lurking beneath my surface that gave me the nudge toward this dramatic life change.


I was introduced to this way of eating back in Ohio where I served a congregation in suburban Cleveland. A pastor friend, knowing my family history of diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure, told me about a surgeon from the famed Cleveland Clinic who wanted to know if food, without the addition of any medicine, could promote healing. The results were dramatic, bordering on the miraculous. This was not some TV promotion you had to buy. It was not a celebrity-endorsed weight loss program. This was pure medical research that has been documented and repeated over and over in subsequent trials. What had been discovered–or better stated, uncovered–is the fact that many diseases and chronic medical conditions once thought to be not only genetic but irreversible are being slowed, reversed, and even cured simply by changing what one eats.

I didn’t start this change back in Ohio. I was very skeptical and also very reluctant to give up the foods I loved. But after my brother died, and when my doctor told me that all my numbers were heading in the wrong direction and that I was now officially a type 2 diabetic, I knew something had to change. As a pastor, I have seen what diabetes can do to the human body and I was genuinely scared. When I made the commitment and started eating this way, people made their jokes and witty comments at my expense.

This came from people in my own family and my own congregation. That’s fine. I can take it. But tell a person with adult onset diabetes or heart disease, or dangerous high blood pressure that there is hope beyond the pill and the needle and the scalpel, and watch a tear form in their eye. As it did in mine when my doctor told me that all my numbers that were once heading into dangerous territory were now normal and healthy, and that reducing or even eliminating medicine was a real possibility. In fact, during the few days it took to write this article, my doctor has taken me off of my diabetes medicine. I am no longer a diabetic and I intend to stay that way. Praise God!

What Have You Got to Lose?

If your ears have perked up because you too have a similar family history as I have, I encourage you to look into this further. What have you got to lose? (I lost 35 lbs. and five of the medicines I was taking.) My doctor, who is a dedicated Christian man, has been such an encouragement to me. How I loved hearing him say, “Whatever you are doing, keep it up.” The fact is that medical research continues to confirm over and over that those who choose to eat a whole foods, plant-based diet live their lives free from many of the aches, pains, ailments, and medicines of those who continue with the Standard American Diet.

The bottom line for me was one of stewardship. A pastor’s life can be, at times, chaotic and exhausting. If God calls me to do something, I want to have the energy and the physical ability to do it. Continuing to eat the way I had been eating would not allow me to do that. Eating a whole foods, plant-based diet has given me everything my body needs, including lots of great-tasting, satisfying foods. This approach has worked for me and has worked for others. Maybe it is an option for your life?

There is so much more that I could share–including recipes and websites–with those whose interest has been piqued. At the beginning of this New Year, I pray the blessings of almighty God be with you all!

Photo (c) marilyna/iStock

Subscribe to Blog Button

About the Author

Rev. Michael Geml serves as pastor of Redeemer, Jackson. In his younger years, he was a culinary arts student. He enjoys sports, has been a successful hunter, and slightly less successful fisherman. Rev. Geml and his wife, Ruth, have three grown children.

More by This Author