When I first met historian, sculptor and retired social worker Jon Pontzius, I figured he was in his 50s.
Turns out he’s 72. Pontzius attributes his energy and good health to a dietary regimen based on Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book, Eat to Live.
Pontzius, who lives on a Whitley County farm that’s been in his family since 1835, has written three family history books available in the genealogy department of the Allen County Public Library. He’s currently preparing to self publish four more books, including an updated version of Sons of Thorncreek, Five Generations on a Farm in Whitley County, Indiana, and a collection of poems and essays. (One of his poems is included at the end of this interview).
Q. I just assumed you were a naturally thin guy who didn’t need to worry much about his diet, so I was surprised to hear that you actually follow what strikes me as a fairly strict (but very sensible and healthful) diet. What led you to try the Eat to Live approach?
A. I first heard of Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book Eat To Live from a 50 year old dentist friend who was raving about how wonderful it is. There are those conflicting theories on diets that confuse matters with clever marketing; but he’s the smartest guy I know so I bought the book and immediately recognized it as the most scientifically sound diet I’d ever heard of. (website: www. diseaseproof.com)
The dentist eventually gave up on it because he loves meat and is now on the paleo diet. As the recipes in Fuhrman’s book show, however, a mostly vegetarian diet can be truly delicious and satisfying. (In busy lives it often takes too much extra effort and thinking to correctly change long established habits.) And I eat as much as I like on his diet without gaining weight. After on it for a few months, the usual meat and potato meals went clunk my tummy.
I think the emphasis of “Eat To Live” on high fiber content and getting the most nutrition per calorie such as in kale, spinach and Romaine lettuce is a huge factor, whereas sugar, a basic part of the common American diet, is nothing but calories. And what most people find hard to believe is that you can get enough protein without eating meat. It’s just more complicated to accomplish.
Q. Did you have trouble sticking with it early on? If so, how did you persevere?
A. I’d been interested for many years before in the importance of eating for health rather than following the usual cultural norms. It was easier for me because there’s no food I couldn’t do without. And I always ate anything put in front of me. So if I don’t care all that much what I eat, I figured I might as well eat what will keep me alive and well the longest. And when you’re single, experimenting with different diets is not so complicated. I just gradually got in the habit of choosing food more for nutrition than for taste; knowing that I am doing something truly good for myself becomes enjoyable itself.
I concluded that eating is one important factor in a life full of unpredictable circumstances that I can control; forfeiting that privilege is begging for trouble. I thought of all the people I’ve known who have suffered tragically from heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc, etc. and knew for most it didn’t have to be. With help from some exercise and stress reduction, making the effort to eat smart clearly pays off big time in future good health and longevity.
The best advice I’ve ever heard about how to live is a variation on a simple theme: learn to like what’s good for you. I didn’t think I really needed to make sudden drastic changes in my diet, however. Just always keep in mind what’s most important and start with what’s easiest. Take advantage of any little opportunity to eliminate foods that will hurt me the most. A good example is to not keep cookies and candy around the house to tempt me but always have something like apples readily available for a snack.
When I’m invited out to eat, sometimes there’s no good choice but I don’t make a big issue of it – what counts is what you do on a consistent basis at home. Once a week I eat breakfast with ten guys at a church and we take turns cooking. If there are sausage links, I do eat one but focus more on other stuff such as the eggs and fruit. I’m well aware that the little things I do daily add up to enormous effect over a lifetime.
Q. Could you give me some idea of how your health has improved since following this program?
A. Except for lower blood pressure and losing several pounds, I didn’t notice any great or sudden improvement in health, probably because I kind of eased into the better diet little by little. I’m happy about how I look and feel at age 72 and I believe the Eat To Live diet is my best chance to continue that way. About six months ago the dentist also started taking a dietary supplement called Cardio For Life which includes L-Arginine and a variety of other nutrients. He immediately started running four or five miles a day and was also swimming 2000 yards too! Four months ago I began taking it and also noticed a significant increase in energy and stamina. There may be other dietary supplements worth checking out.
Q. What are your favorite things to eat now, as opposed to before you started eating this way?
A. I like mixtures such as vegetable casseroles, soups and salads, sometimes with a scattering of chicken or fish. Herbs and spices make them even more interesting and nutritious. I grow my own herbs and vegetables but need to learn more about preserving them for winter use. The big change for me with the new diet was being more careful about avoiding meat, processed foods and rich desserts.
Q. What do you typically eat for breakfast?
A. For breakfast I alternate Fiber One and one minute oatmeal both with blueberries that I pick in summer and freeze or a banana, plus seeds, nuts and whole ground flax seed meal, all soaked in almond milk.
Q. What’s your favorite meal at your favorite restaurant?
A. It does take more serious thought in most restaurants to figure out what’s the best combination of stuff to order that fits my diet. Every Sunday after church I head over to One World Café at the health food Co-op Grocery on Sherman Street and load up on mixed veggie casseroles, some with tofu or a little chicken or fish. A few are a little weird but I do look forward to all the interesting combinations.
Q. You mentioned that you swim. Is that your primary form of exercise?
A. I jogged for years but my knees got sore. So I went to the YMCA to try swimming. That was a major challenge. It took me eight months to be able to swim 12 laps (600 yards) which I still do three times a week. On other days I sometimes do some weight lifting at home and walk on my treadmill. I like going to the Y and being around friendly people.
Q. I often ask people what they would eat if they knew it was the last meal of their life — what they’d order up as their “final request” if they were on Death Row. What would you ask for?
A. I think if I were on my final day on Death Row I would probably be occupied with other things more important than my last meal, although I might be tempted to choose something I have been mostly avoiding such as butterscotch ice cream sundaes.
Q. What’s the No. 1 tip or advice you would give someone who’s trying to lose weight?
A. Emily Boller of Roanoke lost 100 pounds on the Eat to Live diet. She looks great. Beautiful, actually. Sometimes a support group helps. It’s not easy keeping focused on a healthy diet when you’re around people who love French fries, cheeseburgers, donuts and fancy desserts.
Q. Anything you’d care to add?
A. As with life in general, I feel I still have a lot to learn about what exactly is best for me (and others) and continue to experiment with foods and how to prepare them. I do keep an open mind about possible refinements in my current diet and realize there could be an even better one out there, at least in some ways.
ODE TO MY SOUL EVOLVING
By Jon Pontzius
in my younger days
I was my idea
of an ideal idealist
in all reality
I was really
but time passed
more of an
which is really
the ideal ideal
for a real realist