High Cholesterol – The China Study Diet & Fitness Challenge

Borderline High Cholesterol

At the start of our China Study Diet and Fitness challenge, I mentioned that my cholesterol numbers hadn’t come in yet. Well, thankfully they arrived a few weeks ago and sadly, the results weren’t very surprising.

Despite playing sports for a majority of my life and eating relatively healthy over the past year, I have borderline high cholesterol levels.

Hi, my name is Jason. I’m 6’4″, 191 pounds and I love food, calories, sugar, and fat. Sorry, I feel like I’m at an AA meeting or something.

The news on the high cholesterol wasn’t anything I didn’t already know. A few months back my wife and I got some tests run when she was having issues with high blood pressure, and that’s when I found out the shocking news. How in the world do I have high cholesterol??

What was actually shocking is that the CDC estimates that 17% of Americans have high cholesterol. And that doesn’t include those with borderline levels such as myself!

What Causes High Cholesterol?

The primary culprit: animal products. Foods with high levels of saturated fat and trans fat are the primary cause of high cholesterol. Saturated fat and trans fat are most commonly found (in high levels) in meat, milk, eggs, butter, and cheese. Our biggest problem is definitely ice cream. My favorite, Peanut Butter Panic, has 30% of my daily saturated fat in 1/2 cup!! Who the heck only eats 1/2 cup? 😮

Other causes of high cholesterol are:

  • Being overweight
  • Smoking
  • Low activity levels
  • Genetics and family history

Effects of High Cholesterol

To put it simply: an early death.

It’s well noted that high cholesterol is a preventable condition and can be controlled by diet and/or medication. So, those that sport high cholesterol (like myself) can expect the following conditions down the road:

1. Angina – chest pain caused by a blockage from a cholesterol buildup in the arteries which restricts blood flow to the heart muscles.

2. Coronary Artery Disease

3. Heart Attack

4. Stroke

5. Cancer

I know these outlooks are rosy, so, if you sport high cholesterol I suggest you do as most people do: nothing. I often don’t understand when I hear people say, “well, everybody is going to die eventually” as their justification for being unhealthy and killing themselves. I know a lot of people feel this way, so I may actually be in the minority of those that don’t understand people who think like that.

It’s like the people that they think they should spend all of their money NOW just in case they die tomorrow. How stupid can you be?

What are Normal Cholesterol Levels?

While there are different types of cholesterol (“good” and “bad”), I’m going to avoid getting into that. I think some things get way overdone and too much information often paralyzes people. I see this a lot in my financial planning business: I’m all for educating and having knowledge, but the more voices you have talking in your head the harder it is for a clear decision to be made.

Knowing that, let’s just keep it simple. The ranges of TOTAL Cholesterol are as followed:

  • IDEAL = less than 200
  • Borderline High = 200-239
  • High = 240+
  • What’s mine you ask? 204. Just a little high. I think I was at 217 back in April when I initially found out I had high cholesterol. So, it has come down a bit!

    The China Study Diet & Fitness Challenge Update #1

    Our biggest problems over the last 3-4 weeks was traveling and people. We had a weekend trip to Omaha for a wedding and a day trip to visit my grandparents in Eastern Missouri. We’ll eventually have to figure this out, but I’m not sure how we’ll ever be able to NOT eat meat when visiting people.

    Most people don’t share our views and eat rather unhealthy, so I’m not sure how we can win in those scenarios unless we blatantly say we’re not going to eat their food and will just cook our own. I really don’t want to be THOSE people though. For now, we’re just trying to focus on moderation in these settings. This was also the reason I allowed us to have 1 “meat” meal per week.

    The other major hurdle was ourselves and our lack of discipline. Remember, I. LOVE. FOOD. and so does my wife. While most of our vegan/vegetarian recipes have been delicious, they’re often not very filling. So, we did eat out 4 times over the last month. (1) A fast food stop on our trip out East, (2) a Mexican joint for our friend’s birthday after church last weekend, (3) another Mexican joint because we were HUNGRY (and lazy), and (4) Pizza Hut because it sounded AMAZING.

    While there were some downs, there were a lot of good days/weeks. Other than the 2nd week of the program (due to a bad hip), we’ve worked out at least 4 times each week! Each week we’ve ran 3 times (typically (2) 2-mile routes, and (1) 3-mile route), done 1 Yoga lesson that emphasizes stretching, and 1 night with a Yoga “Meltdown” lesson by Jillian Michaels. Can I just say that workout is HARD. I dare anybody out there to give it a try. You’ll be sorry.

    Here were some of our Challenge goals:

    1. Eat meat only once a weekFAILED in 3 weeks, PASSED in 1

    2. Limit portion sizesPASSED

    3. Avoid animal-based productsFAILED

    4. Eat mostly plant-based foodPASSED

    5. Work out morePASSED

    For those of you that are interested, some of our meals have included Sophie’s Chopped Salad (coming soon), a vegetarian Bolognese (coming soon), Strawberry Mango Salad, Spinach Pesto Pasta, BBQ Cheddar Chickpea Burgers (terrible), Vegetable Enchiladas (no turkey this time), and a Kale Salad with Strawberries and Kalamata Olives (coming soon).

    Our lunches have consisted of a few different things: fruits (strawberries, peaches, watermelon, kiwi), vegetables (carrots or celery), applesauce or a parfait (organic yogurt, blueberries, strawberries, and granola), and then the main dish: Hummus Vegetable Wrap (coming soon), Detox Salad, and Southwest Quinoa Salad.

    Updated Measurements


    • Weight – 183 lbs
    • Waist – 37 1/2″
    • Blood Pressure – 99/60*
    • Pulse – 73*
    • Cholesterol – 204*

    *will not be updated until the end of the challenge

    Since the start of the challenge a little over 4 weeks ago I have dropped 8 pounds (despite adding on some muscle) and lost 1.5″ in my waist! Yay!!

    To add to that, Toots has lost 3 pounds and trimmed .5″ off of the waist! All-in-all I’ve been pleased with our progress. Of course we could be doing better but then we wouldn’t be human. Our progress and increased energy levels are helping the motivation and I expect we’ll do a little better at sticking to the diet over the next few weeks.

    Do you know what your cholesterol levels are?

About the Author

By , on Aug 10, 2012
Andy Tenton
Andy is a 30-something New Yorker who turned his financial life around. He took charge of his finances, got out of debt, and is now working his way toward financial success. He is the publisher of WorkSaveLive.com.

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  1. Thanks for sharing this Andy. Yes, I know my cholesterol levels (borderline high). They have been that way for over a decade. Doesn’t matter if I do eat meat or don’t, if I exercise or don’t, if I do drink prolific amounts of green tea (or teas naturally high in niacin).

    I think it is just who I am…how God made me. But I do exercise, and I am focusing on things that make me healthier that are fully in my control.

    Lately I have been reading an excellent book by Gary Taubes called “Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It”. It is causing a total rethink. I highly recommend it.

  2. Glad to see the progress you are making! Last time I had my reading I was at 199. Good luck with cutting back on the peanut butter…..I’m in the 1/2 cup club with ya! I’ve even joked with my girlfriend that if we have a kid with peanut allergies, we are going to have to get rid of the kid because I need my peanut butter hahaha!!

  3. Any food with Panic in the title probably tastes wonderful but can’t be good for you! 204 isn’t that bad if you have a high HDL and low LDL. If you try to get any sort of life insurance, though, they only look at the total number so under 200 is ideal. We have found that eating 5 servings of fruits and veggies every day does work. Also if you end up needing meds, try taking red yeast rice supplements first. Good luck!

  4. Eddie says:

    Great update on your challenge.
    What’s interesting is your waist size – I’m 190lb and dropped 10lb in 3 weeks, and dropped my self down to waist size 32 from a 34. I guess you’re taller, I’m 6’0.

  5. I don’t think I have ever had my cholesterol tested before… ssounds like something to add to the list! Congrats on the weight loss! Do you have a target weight you are shooting for?

    • Andy says:

      Thanks Lance! I’m not really concerned about the weight loss. More-so the cholesterol levels and waist size. Frankly, this is the lightest I’ve been since high school. Playing football in college and working out after I quit, I’ve always been in the high 190s and low 200s due to the amount of muscle I carried. At this point in my life, and considering I have no interest in being as “big” as I used to be, I’m not sure what a good weight is. I don’t think I want to lose anymore weight those. Just lose fat and replace w/ muscle.

  6. Don’t look at the Pizza Hut ads! You will not be able to resist!

    For real, though, congrats on getting a game plan in place and resolving to stick to this diet. It’ll be tough, but I bet you’ll feel better and have more evergy. I hear you on the “loving food” part. It’s so much worse when you have to stick to a strict diet as well, because that’s when you start getting cravings for everything you SHOULDN’T be having!

    • Andy says:

      You can say that again. It’s sooooooooooo hard to talk about eating Chipotle or some other food that we love (pizza, ice cream, etc). It’s been going better this week and I have a feeling that we’ll establish a new normal eventually. This whole process is like when I first started budgeting: it was tough to do at first but then just became a habit.

  7. I used to be one of those people. Why not enjoy today? I’d rather die early and have lived happy than die really old and have been eating gross, healthy food the whole time.

    My thinking has of course changed now. I have daughters. i want to see them grow up and be there for them. It’s not all about me anymore. And also, my sister clued me into this one… she says that I should think about “future TB”. If I take the trash out today then Future TB won’t have to tomorrow and will be able to sleep in a few extra minutes. I like that idea. Making Future TB happy. ANd when I do things like that to help myself out, sometimes I even think to myself, “Thanks, Past TB, for making this easy for me.” Haha 🙂 It’s ridiculous, but it woudl work for healthy eatting too!

    • Andy says:

      Great point future TB! We often think about the long-term effects and that’s what ultimately led us to this challenge and lifestyle change. As will most things, it won’t be difficult but we’re going to keep at it!

  8. I had a similar scare a couple years back when I got my results. Cholesterol was high at 195 but I also found out I was pre-diabetic. I too had played sports my whole life and didn’t think I ate too poorly. I guess my laziness in during college was catching up with me.

    Those results were enough for me to make some changes. Now I’m a proud P90X and Insanity graduate with my cholesterol and glucose levels in check. I wish someone in my family would have told me I was…bigger, so I didn’t have to wait until I tripped all the health test sensors before I made the changes.

    Congratulations on the weight loss and health gains!

    • Andy says:

      I haven’t gone to the P90X yet but I’ve heard A LOT about it. I’m just not down to work out 1.5 hours at a time. I’m fine with a 30 minute run and on other days doing an intense 30 minute workout.

      That’s awesome you’ve been able to commit yourself to that though. I have to look more into the Insanity stuff…what is that?

      • P90X was a pretty big time commitment. If it wasn’t for working from home and not having kids, there is no way we could have done it.

        Insanity is another program by Beach Body. It focuses more on the cardio and less on the weight training. You don’t use any equipment and the workouts are a little shorter than P90X.

  9. Mackenzie says:

    Andy, congrats on your progress so far!

    There will always be a few setbacks when changing your lifestyle. You are doing better than most. Many would have given up and said “It’s too hard”. But you are pushing on and that’s what counts.

    Keep up the good work 🙂

    • Andy says:

      There has really only been one time in my life where I “gave up” and that was quitting college football. Other than that, it’s never been something I’m good with. I’m too stubborn. 🙂

  10. I am also borderline high and I have my family genes to thank for that.

    • Andy says:

      Sean, I think mine may come down to genes as well, but I’m going to see if I can control it with the diet first. If it’s high here next time we check the blood results then I will probably go see a doctor about medication.

  11. AverageJoe says:

    My cholesterol goes up when I LOOK at ice cream (I’m a Blue Bell Great Divide fan, myself, thank you). Mine was 205. The doctor asked if I wanted to control it with medication or by changing my diet. I said, “Diet.” I’m at 190, but always aware that pills might be around the corner. I don’t want that, so Great Divide and I aren’t on speaking terms at the moment.

    • Andy says:

      Dude, Peanut Butter Panic is killing me. That along with cheese…it’s INSANE the amount of saturated fat in that stuff. What are people supposed to eat???

  12. Andy, congrats on your progress and commitment to a healthy diet! You might enjoy a book I’ve recently read: “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease” by Dr. Caldwell B. Esselsytn. I’m following the diet described, which some would describe as extreme, but Dr. Esselstyn’s seen some incredible results in his patients. The diet’s basically vegetarian minus dairy products, all oils (including “heart healthy” ones), and nuts. You’d have to read the book to become convinced the sacrifices are worth the benefits. Many of your recipes meet the diet’s criteria, so thank you!

    • Andy says:

      Thanks, Kurt! I’m going to have to check that out. After reading the China Study book I have no doubt that what Dr. Esselstyn’s says is true. The facts behind a healthy, plant-based diet are hard to argue and overlook. Hopefully our recipes will keep meeting the demands. We have a few good ones coming up!

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