Tony Confer, 48, loves being the coach for his town’s high-school football team, After years of living an unhealthy life, worried he would not be around to enjoy such rewards, these days he couldn’t feel happier or healthier, and more thankful for the life-changing decision he made three years ago to give up his meat-centric diet and opt for a eat plant-based one instead.
Then, he weighed a heart-stopping 307 pounds, had high blood pressure and sky-high cholesterol, and dealt with a life of chronic pain in his hips and knees. One afternoon in 2017, Tony went to see his primary care doctor and was told he was pre-diabetic and facing a lifetime of health problems if he didn’t make some drastic changes. That Thursday the doctor said: Go plant-based. It is going to be the thing that changes everything for you. Tony knew this was a reckoning. He thought about his twelve-year-old son and said, “I want to be around longer.”
Feeling desperate and eager to make the changes that would save his life, Tony decided to try ditching meat and dairy. “I’ had never heard of a plant-based diet before that day, but as soon as I left the doctor’s office, I sat in the car researching it, and setting myself a goal that starting on Monday I would try eating vegan.” Tony’s wife was on board. She insisted that they both eat whole food plant-based together, and jumped into it to support him. That weekend they went shopping and bought everything they needed to start plant-based eating on Monday. They re-organized the fridge and the pantry, tossed all the meat, dairy, and chicken and everything that contained animal products, and instead stocked up on vegetables, fruit, legumes, beans, and tofu, so they would be prepared to begin their new diet that week.
Just two weeks later, after eating a whole food plant-based diet and not “cheating” on his new life plan, Tony felt the difference in his joints already. “My hip and joint pain felt better, by a lot. It was mostly all gone. I also had been dealing with chronic heartburn and indigestion, which also went away. I was never diagnosed with sleep apnea, but I had several incidents where I would wake up scared to death because I couldn’t breathe. That cleared up too.”
After three months of eating a strict whole food plant-based diet, Tony had his bloodwork done again, and his doctor couldn’t be more shocked. She told Tony he admired his determination to stick with it and to keep up the plant-based approach since it was working. Tony was no longer pre-diabetic, his cholesterol had dropped to the point where he could go off his meds, and his blood pressure medicine was lowered from 40 mg to 20 mg. Most shocking: In three months he had lost 42 pounds.
Three years later, Tony has dropped a total of 80 pounds and is now able to run out onto the field with the players when they made it into the regional playoffs. These days he is completely off all his previous medication and tells The Beet “I have a new outlook on life and love that my wife and son have joined me on this journey.”
The Beet chatted with Tony over Zoom to get the full details on his journey, including his biggest challenges, his moments of success, and his advice for anyone who wants to eat plant-based to be healthier. “I tell people just to try eating plant-based for two weeks, and if you still don’t notice any difference in how you feel, I won’t bring it up ever again. But if you do it for two weeks and see the same differences I did, you’ll be sold.”
Read the full interview with Tony and The Beet and learn how you can make a major health change in your life, and help support the people who want to get healthier around you.
The Beet: Why did you go vegan?
Tony Confer: I went to see a new doctor after my wife and I changed insurance providers. At that point, I was at my heaviest, which was in the range of 305 to 307 pounds. I had been on blood pressure and cholesterol medicine for twelve years at that point. I told my wife that with my weight where it was, enough was enough. I was hopeful that a new doctor would have a new outlook on things.
I wanted to talk to her about getting off my medication. The day I went to see her, at the end of the appointment, I asked her what I would need to do to get off my meds. She chuckled and said, “lose 50 pounds, and we’ll talk.” Besides the obvious–more exercise and watching what I ate–I asked her if she had any suggestions. She said, “you probably won’t do it, but I would recommend you go on a plant-based diet.”
TB: Were you diagnosed with anything at the time?
TC: I had cholesterol and high blood pressure issues. The blood work from that appointment indicated I was pre-diabetic.
TB: What did you first think after your doctor recommended a plant-based?
TC: I had never heard of it. I asked her to explain, and she told me to do some research to gather the information I need and go from there. I got into the car and called my wife immediately to explain everything to her. She told me she’d try the diet too because she wanted to support me. That weekend, we cleaned out everything that was meat-related or processed from our pantry, freezer, refrigerator, and cupboards. That was December of 2017, and we’ve eaten that way ever since.
TB: What was the first step to making the switch to a plant-based diet? What we’re some of your go-to meals at first?
TC: For the first year, we ate very simply. We’d roast potatoes and veggies. We cut out all bread, all pasta. Later on, we introduced some vegan pasta back. We just bought a bunch of fresh fruit, fresh veggies that we tried to buy seasonally. We would roast veggies, potatoes. We had a ton of potatoes that first year. About three months into our new lifestyle, we started doing interment fasting along with it. We cut out breakfast because before going plant-based, breakfast was my favorite meal of the day: bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, homefries, all that stuff. I’m not a big cereal or oatmeal person, so cutting out breakfast just made sense. Intermittent fasting definitely sped up our weight loss.
TB: When did you start feeling results?
TC: I felt better within the first two weeks. I tell people all the time, and they laugh because they don’t believe it’s possible to feel so much better so quickly. At that point, I was working in sporting goods, so I had to spend a ton of time traveling in the car. I was on the road a lot, so I ate fast food and drank a large-sized Pepsi for lunch every day. My health was at the point where I had such bad pain in my hip joints that I had a hard time getting in and out of the car without severe pain.
Within the first two weeks of going plant-based, my hip and joint pain were mostly all gone. I also had issues with chronic heartburn and indigestion, which also went away within that same period. I was never diagnosed with sleep apnea, but I had several incidents sleeping at night, where I would wake up scared to death because I couldn’t breathe. I only told my wife after the fact. I used to have to prop myself up on two or three pillows, but six months into the diet, I had no issues. My wife even noticed my snoring got significantly better.
TB: Did your wife’s health improve after going plant-based?
TC: She suffers from chronic migraines, and they were so severe, we would have to go to the hospital about every six to eight weeks. Her migraines got so bad that her entire right side would go numb. We haven’t had to go to the hospital since. She still has migraines, but they’re much less severe. There’s no numbness anymore. She also suffers from IBS, and that also got significantly better throughout the process.
TB: What were your numbers like at your next doctor’s visit?
TC: About three months after I’d started. I had bloodwork done, and it was numbers I hadn’t seen in the last twelve years. I was no longer pre-diabetic; I’d gotten my cholesterol down to the point that I could go off my medication. My blood pressure medicine got reduced from 40 mg to 20 mg, just to make sure I stayed healthy long term. My weight was down 42 pounds.
TB: How did your doctor react?
TC: I remember walking in, and the nurse that checked me hadn’t ever seen me before. The nurse asked why I was there, and I explained my story to her and told her how much weight I’d lost. She was so excited and ran to get my doctor, and when she came in, she had such a surprised look on her face. I asked her why she was so surprised, and she told me she probably recommends a plant-based diet one hundred times a week. She was so amazed I had stuck to it.
TB: What did you weigh at your heaviest, and what do you weigh now?
TC: I was 307 pounds at my heaviest, and at my lowest, I weighed 227. I lost about 80 pounds. At this point, I’ve put a few pounds back on from when I was at my lowest. Honestly, it’s not from straying away from the eating style. It’s because of being stuck at home during the quarantine for a while and eating more of the good stuff than I should have. Whenever you’re eating more calories and not doing as much, you’re going to gain weight. I also coach high school football, and I’m in the midst of football season. It’s always a challenging part of my year because I’m on the road a lot, working in the day and then going to practice.
TB: Did you see a difference as a coach after becoming healthier?
TC: Obviously, after losing weight, I feel better and have more energy. My lifestyle was starting to wear me out before I made the change. I’d be exhausted after working a full day, practicing late, and then having meetings. Losing the weight after I began eating the way I eat now has just allowed me to feel so much better. I have so much more energy to help me be more productive and efficient as a coach.
TB: Do you have any advice on making the transition for someone eating the way you used to eat who needs to make changes?
TC: For me, I’d think about my son, who was twelve years old at the time, and my wife. Knowing my family history, I wanted to be around for a while longer, and I knew continuing eating the way I was would catch up to me. The number one factor that made it easier for me was putting wife and son in front of me, knowing I needed to make changes if I wanted to be around for them. Honestly, once I started, it wasn’t that hard. The cheese was the hardest thing to give up.
TB: What’s your biggest challenge going from being a meat-eater to being plant-based?
TC: Cheese was the hardest thing to get rid of for my wife and me. My wife wasn’t a huge meat eater, but I definitely was, but honestly, I didn’t find it that difficult to stop eating. Now, when I’m out with coaching buddies, and they’re ordering things like wings and burgers, I’ll sometimes miss eating meat. I just make my own wings from cauliflower or tofu at home, and that’s been a good replacement for me. I don’t miss meat, per se, but when you’re out and smell what your buddies are eating, it’s easy to think back to when you ate that kind of thing. Friends of mine will tell me that they have health issues, like heartburn, indigestion, hip pain, and feel like crap all the time but don’t feel like they can give meat or dairy up. My advice is always just to try eating plant-based for two weeks, and if you still don’t notice any difference in how you feel, I won’t bring it up ever again. If you can do it for two weeks and see the same difference I did, you’ll be sold on it.
TB: Are any of the athletes you coach open to trying a plant-based diet?
TC: I do have conversations with them about my diet. The kids that I’ve coached since before going plant-based noticed the weight loss. A few of the players have asked me honest questions about being vegan, which is good because it gets them thinking. As a teenager, especially playing a sport like football, it’s all about being bigger and stronger than everyone else. I try to explain that just because you eat plant-based or vegan, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll lose weight. As long as you’re eating the right amount of nutrients, getting enough calories, and lifting weights, you’ll still be able to gain strength and put on muscle. In fact, I’m actually preparing vegan pancakes for them right now. We have a playoff game tonight, and last year before our playoffs, I made vegan pancakes for our offensive lineman. I coach the offensive lineman, so they’re big boys. I made the pancakes for them last year, and they absolutely loved them. I brought them in but didn’t tell them they were vegan. Before I told them, they’d told me how they tasted great and asked if we could have them again. They couldn’t believe it once I told them, because they tasted just like regular pancakes. So I’m making vegan pancakes also today for the pregame meal.
TB: What’s the most significant way veganism has impacted your life?
TC: If I look back to the beginning, I’d say it was how my wife decided to make the change with me and support me through it because it brought the two of us closer together. Now, my son has slowly been transitioning to a plant-based diet. He has some texture issues with food, but we’ve been able to find some sources of plant-based protein he will eat. The whole journey has been enlightening for our family unit as a whole. It’s helping our family come closer together and become healthier, moving forward.
Author: Hailey Welch