All Jake Castonia wanted to do was buy a life insurance policy, but he ended up changing his life instead.

As a husband and father of three, Castonia knew he needed to protect his family’s future should something happen to him. But when the quote came back from the life insurance company, he learned that in order to qualify, he’d have to purchase a rider to provide additional coverage, because he was overweight and had high blood pressure and cholesterol.

“Basically, what they were saying to me is, they’re planning on me having some kind of cardiac event,” said Castonia, who was 31 when he attempted to buy the policy.

“It was a big wake-up call for me. It scared my wife too, and not long after that, she came home with Meg Wolff’s book, ‘Becoming Whole.’ “

Wolff, of Cape Elizabeth, is a two-time cancer survivor. In her book, she writes about how she turned to a plant-based, macrobiotic diet to bring her body back into balance and keep it cancer-free when her doctors told her she didn’t have much hope.

“I was just amazed by her story and what she was able to do with whole foods and a plant-based diet,” Castonia said.

He soon started reading other books about the healing power of plants, and realized he needed to move away from a diet he describes as “meat and cheese and coffee, and that was it.”

Castonia decided to say good-bye to the standard American diet and instead fill his dinner plate with plants. At the same time he made the switch to vegan foods, he began exercising regularly.

At first, he could barely make it through 10 minutes on an elliptical machine. But he stuck with it, and by the time he could exercise for a full hour straight, he had shed 50 pounds.

Castonia also kept up his new eating plan, and soon decided he needed a bigger challenge. He found it in the 2009 Maine Marathon. After that, he ran the Boston Marathon and then completed three triathlons.

He’s now lost 120 pounds and is down to a very fit 160. His LDL cholesterol level plummeted from 220 to 111, and his HDL (good cholesterol) level rose.

Along the way, he discovered vegan triathlete Brendan Braizer and his “Thrive” books, which advocate for a whole foods, plant-based diet.

“The Thrive diet is something I’d recommend to everyone,” said Castonia, who is now 36. “It’s good for endurance athletes, since it emphasizes high net-gain foods.”

Braizer defines high net-gain foods as foods that take little energy to digest but give back a big boost of energy. These nutrient-dense foods tend to be raw, gluten-free and whole.

On a typical day, Castonia starts off with oatmeal topped with homemade almond milk. He follows this with a green smoothie for lunch and an apple, and a handful of almonds for a snack. Dinner might consist of baked sweet potato fries with homemade raw ketchup and a big kale salad with avocado, nuts or hemp seeds.

“When you eat processed food, the body doesn’t recognize it as food,” said Castonia, who is about to complete a degree in holistic health counseling from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City. “It recognizes it as an invader, and your immune system goes on red alert. But when you start giving it whole foods, everything comes into balance.”

Castonia has already started working with clients who want to make lifestyle changes. His practice focuses on plant-based nutrition, weight loss, endurance athletes and parents who want to address their children’s digestive and behavioral issues with food rather than drugs.

Like most new vegetarians, Castonia fields frequent questions about where he gets his protein and calcium (answer: the same way cows do, from plants). Castonia is happy to answer these questions and educate friends and family about nutrition.

He’s also excited that his new style of eating provides the needed stamina to train for endurance events.

“Before, I would get winded walking up the stairs,” Castonia said. “Now I have this energy that doesn’t go away.”

He hopes to use this boundless energy to shave more than a half-hour off his previous time of 5 hours, 36 minutes in this fall’s Pumpkinman Triathlon in South Berwick.

“I feel my diet is the reason I’m able to do the things I do,” Castonia said, “and have success doing it.”

 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

 


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