In 2010, Eric O'Grey's doctor told him to start looking for a funeral plot because he'd need one within five years. O'Grey, then 51, weighed 330 pounds, had type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure that was "through the roof." He was on some 15 medications for these ailments, including insulin, Metforim and another drug for his diabetes.
O'Grey had tried every diet, including Atkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, and over and over, O'Grey would lose—and then regain—weight, and then some. Two Domino's extra-large pizzas at one sitting was not uncommon. "I felt uncomfortable around other people," he says, "and stopped living."
Not long after the dire warning of his doctor, O'Grey was on a flight home to San Jose, California, from a business trip in August, 2010. After locating his seat, O'Grey sat down and wedged his body into the chair, but had to request a seat belt extender to buckle in over his 52-inch waist, which spilled over into the seat next to him. The flight attendant informed him that they had run out of extensions and the airplane wouldn't be able to take off until one was found. The man seated next to O'Grey looked at him and said, "I'm going to miss my connection because you're too fat.""I came home from that experience at my low point," says O'Grey.
The next day, O'Grey happened to catch CNN's Wolf Blitzer interviewing President Bill Clinton about his whole foods, plant-based diet, and and how it helped him control his heart disease. He heard for the first time about The China Study by Dr. Colin Campbell, and the research and dietary advice of Drs. Caldwell Esselstyn and Dean Ornish.
O'Grey did research on this way of eating, and found naturopathic doctor Preeti Kulkarni, who is also a nutritionist and a plant-based eater herself.
"She told me something really interesting I hadn’t heard before from a doctor," O'Grey recalls. "She said she didn’t just want to cure the symptoms, she wanted to treat the underlying cause.
"And she explained it, you have a faucet and it’s open and pouring water all over the floor and you can mop the floor until the end of time, or you can turn off the faucet," he continues. "Turning off the faucet will solve the problem."
O'Grey says unlike his typical doctor's office visits which lasted five to 10 minutes, Dr. Preeti spent two whole hours with him.
Kulkarni told O'Grey to throw out everything in his pantry and showed him how to cook from plants: vegetables of all sorts, beans, grains, fruits. He was not to eat any meat, fish, eggs, dairy, processed food, oils or added sugars.
She also told him to adopt a shelter dog, which would force O'Grey to get out and walk and add a social connection to his isolated life.
O'Grey went to the Humane Society of Silicon Valley, wanting a small, quiet, middle-aged dog with a good attitude. "I was thinking a poodle or an eight-pound golden retriever that doesn’t exist," he says.
An adoption specialist brought O'Grey a seven-year-old black and white dog named Peety, who was 25 pounds overweight and had a skin condition.
"He didn't look like he was doing well, he was a large mess," says O'Grey. "The woman at the humane society said to me 'How could you possibly have more in common with another creature?' I agreed with her."
Peety went home with O'Grey. For the first few days, Peety wanted little to do with O'Grey. He stayed on one side of a room, O'Grey on the other. The third night, Peety hopped on the bed with O'Grey. "After that we were totally inseparable," O'Grey says, "and best friends."
O'Grey followed his plant-based diet and walked with Peety twice a day, for at least 30 minutes at a stretch. "I was losing 5 pounds a week at the beginning, then it dropped to 4, 3, 2, 1 as I approached my goal weight and it amazed me," he says. "This was the first thing that ever worked for me."
O'Grey credits Peety with this incredible transformation.
"I wanted to be the person who he believed that I was," O'Grey says.
After losing the weight, O'Grey discovered a love for running in early 2012. By May of that year, he ran his first marathon, which is 26.2 miles. It is a passion he's continued, running 40 to 50 miles a week. O'Grey has finished 25 marathons; he is now training for the Seattle Marathon on Nov. 27.
He trains in the moring, a daily ritual that leaves O'Grey feeling good, and with a sense of accomplishment, for the rest of the day. "It's like buying self respect for the entire day," he says.
In 2014, Eric and Peety moved to Spokane, Washington for O'Grey's job in regional sales for Whirlpool. But in March of the following year, Peety stopped eating. A veterinarian found a huge mass on his abdomen.
"They said they couldn’t do anything for him," O'Grey recalls. "I laid with him for a couple of days and he couldn’t eat or drink. I held a wet washcloth to his mouth so he could get some moisture and he died in my arms a couple days later."
That was on March 11, 2015, "the worst day of my life," O'Grey says.
Devastated, O'Grey stopped running for several months. "I started to backslide," he says. At a doctor's appointment, he saw a photo on the receptionist's desk that looked alot like Peety. The receptionist told him that 'soon, another dog will start looking for you and you will know it," O'Grey recalls.
A few months later, in June, 2015, O'Grey felt a pull to Seattle Humane. "I knew the dog I was looking for I would immediately bond with and I would know it," he says.
An athletic and sleek black Labrador mix had arrived just four minutes earlier. "He looked at me like ‘Let’s get out of here,'" O'Grey recalls.
O'Grey adopted him on the spot, and Jake not only healed O'Grey's heart but became his running companion, on runs up to up 18 miles at a clip.
“He’ll sit in front of me and bark until I take him outside to run in the morning," O'Grey says. "He doesn’t let me slack at all. He’s the best training partner for that, he insists that we get out."
The Humane Society Silicon Valley, where O'Grey had adopted Peety, learned of O'Grey's incredible transformation. As part of its Mutual Rescue initiative, the organization produced a moving 8-minute documentary on Eric and Peety and Jake that was released this past February. It's gotten 75 million views and changed O'Grey's life.
"I got tens of thousands of emails," O'Grey says, "a couple marriage proposals, it was nuts." It also led to a book deal with a September 2017 publication date, an appearance on Rachael Ray, and public speaking events.
In May, O'Grey launched the weekly podcast “Saving Shmulik” with Shmulik Schwartz, an Israeli who weighed 332 pounds and was scheduled for bariatric surgery.
"He had all the symptoms that I had," O'Grey says.
With O'Grey's coaching that's caputured on the inspiring podcast, Shmulik jettisons the surgery plans, follows a whole-foods, plant-based, no-oil diet, and starts walking and running. Shmulik has already lost 80 pounds. The pair plan on running the Jerusalem marathon on March 17, 2017.
O'Grey advises readers to follow the podcast from its start to learn how to transform their own lives, with the OK of a medical professional. He also recommends watching these documentaries on Netflix: Forks Over Knives, Plantpure Nation and Cowspiracy. Also, read "How Not To Die" by Michael Greger, M.D., and buy the "Forks Over Knives" cookbook.
"Learn the truth about what animal agriculture is doing to your body and the world," says O'Grey. "My experience is going from 330 pounds to 175 pounds. How did I do that? I went on a whole foods, plant-based, no added oil or sugar diet. That’s it."
"And anyone who does that can achieve the same results and reverse type 2 diabetes and get off insulin. It’s not magic."