From Diabetes Diagnosis to Radical Transformation: How Eric Adams, Brooklyn Borough President, Turned His Health Around
When Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams learned he had Type 2 diabetes, doctors told him he’d be on medication for life. Adams remembered how his mother and father’s lives had been taken over when they had been so dependent on medications to manage their chronic illnesses. He decided to take charge of his health with a radical lifestyle change instead. “I just refused to go down that road,” he says. “That’s what inspired me.”
Overcoming Food Addiction
But, Adams says, change didn’t come easily at first. “Everyone talks about opioid abuse — they need to be talking about fried chicken abuse,” he says. “Food is like crack, heroin, cocaine. I was dreaming about chicken that first week. You don’t just go from doing something for 50-plus years and change it overnight without side effects. You go through withdrawals.”
But within a few weeks, he found that he was adjusting to the change, and no longer had cravings. He learned to reach for a date instead of a piece of candy when he had a sweet tooth, or that a lentil burger could satisfy his urge for something meaty. “I was coming from eating things that were super sweet, super salty, super oily,” he says. “Once I reprogrammed my tongue, it was amazing how it adjusted. I was able to not have everything ‘super.’”
It helped that he experimented, tried new foods, and learned new ways of preparing his meals. “In the beginning I didn’t know what I was doing. I was on a health mission, so I was willing to make all the sacrifices I needed to be healthy,” he says. “I had some awful meals. I didn’t even grind up my flax seeds, I was just eating the flax seeds — it was brutal. Then I began reading and experimenting more, and I evolved to making meals enjoyable.”
"Don’t worry about failing. You’re doing a lifestyle change, so it’s about blowing it a couple of times."
“A Beautiful Experience”
Having to figure it out on his own helped him talk to others about what he was going through, and show them they could do it too. “If I was affluent enough to have a chef come and make my meals, the experience wouldn’t be the same,” he says. “It was a learning experience, but it was a beautiful experience.”
One of his biggest revelations? Spices. “I can’t believe how dumb I was about spices,” he says. In his old life, the only seasoning he used on food was salt and pepper. Now Adams started exploring ginger, turmeric, cumin and cajun spice. He also enjoyed trying new vegetables like kale and bok choy, and learning about how each one supported better health.
“Now when I finish a meal, I feel excited,” he says. “In the past, when I finished, I felt guilty.”
Today, a go-to meal is black lentil soup, which he prepares with onions, garlic, lemon and vinegar, and lots of seasonings. “I’ll blend it all and put it in the bowl with mushrooms and some noodles, then I throw in a handful of kale, a handful of carrots, a handful of celery, a handful of red cabbage and it’s a nice full meal.”
Freedom to Fail
To people just starting out on a plant-based transformation, he says: take things one day at a time, and be forgiving with yourself. “Don’t worry about failing. You’re doing a lifestyle change, so it’s about blowing it a couple of times,” he says. “There’s days you’re going to fall off the wagon, and days you’re going to ride the wagon all the way through. The goal is not perfection, it’s motivation.”
Learn about the food you’re eating, try different foods, and browse new recipes in cookbooks and online, he says. Adams suggests a weekly “experiment day” to try new foods and recipes — his is Sunday. “I’ve cooked some meals and said, ‘I’m not eating that crap,’” he says with a laugh, “then sometimes I cook some meals and say, ‘wow, that’s a home run!’”
Most important, Adams says, is to keep motivated. Put up a picture of your child, spouse, or another loved one, to remind yourself of who you want to stick around for. “Every time you feel vulnerable or weak, say to yourself, ‘This is why I’m doing it,’” he says. “Don’t be discouraged — be encouraged.”
For Adams, going plant-based didn’t just change his body, it also changed the way he approaches his job as borough president. He’s supported health initiatives to promote plant-based eating in the Brooklyn community, including offering resources and raising awareness about plant-based diets, and promoting changes like “Meatless Monday” in New York City hospitals.
“I am a different human being,” he says. “It allowed me to see the possibilities in everything — how you can think differently, how you can embrace new cultures and people, how you can push the envelope on who and what we can become, not who and what we are. There’s always room for evolution. I’m excited every day, because every day I’m coming into contact with people who are showing me how to be better as a human being.”