Living with Addison’s disease with a whole food plant-based lifestyle

I am a 59-year-old man with a lovely wife and 3 grown up children living in West Norfolk, UK, 7 miles from the coast. I feel blessed. Having got out off the corporate rat race some years ago, I now run a small handyman business primarily looking after the elderly and vulnerable.

Brought up from humble beginnings, I have been taught to finish whatever food was put in front of me. It was not just that it was human fuel and a necessary commodity to function every day, but whenever the opportunity arose, I would have second helpings of school puddings, ate as much as I wanted at family or social gatherings, and basically filled my boots.

I kept reasonably fit, played football regularly, and felt invincible thinking I could eat what I wanted as I could burn it off. Any time I noticed a paunch developing I would say to my Mum “I need to lose some weight”, but the response was “you’re a fine figure of a man (6’3”) and you can carry it off”. Very quickly I put on an additional 2 stone.

At this stage of my life, I got caught up in my own self-importance in my job in corporate life. I was travelling the country, working 70–80 hours a week, staying over at hotels, up late, waking early. I ate 3 course meals, full English breakfasts or missed breakfast all together when on the road at 5am. I ate ‘on the go’ at my steering wheel, and snacked on muffins, pastries, crisps and chocolate. I would binge eat, not to mention the excessive binge drinking. I regularly suffered from reflux.

Fast forward to when I was 35 years old and attending a business training event. I awoke in the early hours of the morning with severe abdominal pain. A local doctor advised me to go home because it was probably something I had eaten. Still feeling poorly, I urgently called my doctor as I felt terrible and had no means of getting to A&E. 10 hours later an emergency doctor visited me and told me I had a ruptured appendix.

I was rushed to hospital and into theatre, only to then be diagnosed with a life threatening condition, Addison’s disease (AD). I learned that I was a very lucky man to be alive and was told by my consultant, that having peritonitis could have saved my life as AD is one of the most difficult things to diagnose.

Addison’s disease is non-functioning of my adrenal glands (basically where a normal person produces their own adrenaline in a fight or flight scenario, mine runs on empty) hence, why I must take meds for the rest of my life. As a result of being pumped with steroids, I ballooned up to 18 stone and a size 40 waist. For the first year I was back and forth to hospital for test after test to try and fine tune my meds to a level where I could function normally. I attended the local gym 3 times a week and managed to lose some weight and get back some normality.

In my late forties I had a couple of touch and go moments suffering from food poisoning. Each time I was admitted to hospital, had to go on a drip and was kept in for 48 hours to be monitored. I decided I had to be more cautious about what I was eating. I generally felt tired and lethargic with little or no energy and not very motivated.

Some years back I joined a great organisation ADSHG (Addison’s Disease Self-Help Group). At my local group meeting I was stunned to see several people in wheelchairs or only walking with the aid of crutches. I was shocked also how many other health conditions these poor people had. This was a “light bulb” moment, and while driving home with my wife I decided that if I wanted to have my best chance in life I needed to change. I was already at risk of type 2 diabetes, my cholesterol was climbing, I was overweight, and had a family history of high blood pressure with heart issues.

Through speaking to one of my customers I was told I should contact Kate Dunbar. As a result of her remarkable story, I was truly inspired to change my life and habits. After all, as I learned in business, the definition of insanity is to do exactly what you did yesterday and expect a different result today.

I flipped the switch in November 2019, and quickly moved over to a whole food plant-based lifestyle. I watched the weight just fall off, shedding over 2 stone. The reflux subsided, my blood pressure and cholesterol dropped. My consultant even asked what I am doing as he was so impressed with my numbers which made me smile. I have not looked back, now having more energy and a zest for life, completing the couch to 5K run with my daughter which I never thought I could do. I feel fitter than I have in a long time. I meditate and try to shut down the mind from all the mental chatter that goes on and find great solace in that.

I pay more attention to what goes in my mouth now. I start the day with a bowl of porridge with mixed berries, banana, flaxseed, sunflower and chia seeds and a slice of homemade wholemeal bread and peanut butter. I cook and bake and do a lot of batch cooking of vegetable soups, chillies, curries, varied quinoa salads. There is a plethora of delicious recipes available at our fingertips, and to this day I have not eaten any meat, fish, milk, or cheese.

Heartfelt thanks to Kate, Shireen and all her colleagues in the Plant-Based Health Professionals for all your support, you are all doing a remarkable job!

I and many others are living proof that by changing to a whole food plant-based lifestyle it can transform your health and future.

John Mullin, member of Plant-Based Health Professionals UK