Who is Ian Cramer?
Updated: Sep 6, 2019
Despite telling this story before, I've never written it out in detail. I hope that this inspires others to start getting healthier.
My story begins in rural upstate New York. I've always been very active, playing soccer, basketball and baseball since forever, and earning 9 varsity letters in high school. I broke my leg when I was 5 years old, and I can distinctly remember sitting in my wheelchair in the backyard, hitting wiffle balls with a bongo bat. I classify growing up as 'typical'. High school was filled with sports and extra curricular activities. Our high school was soccer dominated. I played because I was athletic, because playing was an excuse to get in shape for basketball season and because I wanted to stay well rounded. It just so happened that we won the New York state championship for Class C schools in the Fall of 2005, and I was very proud to be an integral part of that team.
Circa November 2005. We went into half time down 1-0 in this playoff game. Then we scored 7 unanswered goals in the second half to win. We knew we were playing some of our best soccer, at just the right time.
I came from a family that I would say, compared to the average American family, was relatively health conscious. We didn't buy a gallon of ice cream, or hot dogs or Oreo's weekly, maybe monthly. Foods were categorized as 'essential staples' or 'treats', and the treats although present, were few and far between. Essential staples included deli meats, whole wheat bread, granola, yogurt, fruits and vegetables like grapes, oranges, bananas, carrots, potatoes and broccoli. My parents were key in shaping who I am today. My mom made most meals from scratch. She was a very good cook and rarely was a meal pre-packaged or ordered out. Dishes usually contained copious amounts of wholesome ingredients without many preservatives or refined foods and lots of plants. It also helped that we had a large garden, tended neatly by my father. We harvested vegetables from April to October and beyond.
August 2006-May 2010: In undergrad at Alfred University, I earned a Bachelors degree in Athletic Training. While there, health and nutrition took a back seat. I tried to stay as active as I could as a busy college student, but it was hard. To give you some perspective, I gained 30+ pounds the FIRST SEMESTER! Why? I was putting lots of eggs in the 'studying' basket, and none in the 'exercise' basket and was also eating typical college comfort foods. Weight gain just happened. Because of this, I am certainly sympathetic to college students and the ease at which the pounds appear. For those living on or off campus who only have access to dining halls, they don't have a ton of healthy options. Colleges are certainly moving in the right direction with offering more healthy options, but pizza, burgers, hot dogs and fries are still universal staples that college kids gravitate towards. But college is also, in the scheme of your whole life, a blip on the radar. Even if you put your health on the back burner while concentrating on your studies, it's not the end of the world. But it can also be a time when personal habits are formed that stick with you for a lifetime. Habits like alcohol consumption, eating junk food and sleeping in until noon.
Me, in Undergrad, circa Spring 2010. A little chunkier than I am today. Around 210lbs?
August 2010-May 2012: After undergrad, I went on to graduate school at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where I earned a Masters of Science in Kinesiology and Health. It was in this chapter of my life that I got into competitive cycling and went plant-based. When I was home for Christmas break in December 2010, I received the movie Forks Over Knives as a Christmas present. Without this movie, I would probably be a much different person than I am today; it changed the course of my life. I watched it twice in a row because I was in disbelief and in awe at such a radical yet simple idea. The idea that food causes chronic diseases and can even reverse our most pressing health issues was exciting! The movie espouses a whole foods, plant-based lifestyle, and mainly covers the impact food has on our health. In the movie, watching MMA fighter Mac Danzig compete at a high level on a plant-based diet motivated me to try it myself. I was always looking to gain a competitive edge, always looking to become a faster cyclist and was always open minded to try new things. Unlike in undergrad, in graduate school, I was buying all of my own groceries, therefore, I could control exactly what I was eating. At the time, in terms of animal products, I was eating quite a bit of greek yogurt, a gallon of milk a week and some meat every once in a while. So I evaluated my situation and felt motivated and determined to take on the challenge of eliminating these foods from my diet and integrate more plant foods.
Graduate School at Miami of Ohio, circa Spring 2012. Fun fact, my left collar bone is fractured in this picture. I had just crashed on my bike, as evidence by the road rash on my left elbow, and fractured my collar bone in the process for the second time in 2 years. Not fun.
May 2012-May 2014: On from Ohio, I lived in Atlanta, Georgia for 2 years. It was in this chapter that I really started to experiment with what particular 'flavor' of plant-based nutrition worked for me. I tried raw for a time, but couldn't seem to satisfy my appetite. I tried a more fruit heavy diet of bananas and oranges, I tried more white rice and starches and settled into a mix of both. A plant-based lifestyle is like a house. The fundamentals of 4 walls and a roof are all the same, but the insides vary from person to person based on their tastes, physiology and genes. People need to tweak the 'house' to fit their individual needs much like they need to tweak their diet to include more starches, more fruit, more vegetables, or some more plant-based fats. A plant-based lifestyle is 95-100% vegan and is made up of 70-90% whole plant foods. It's up to you to choose what those whole foods are and how you want to tailor the lifestyle to fit you.
Life in Atlanta, GA.
Since going plant-based in January 2011, I am 15 pounds lighter than I was when I graduated high school. I have been training competitively for road cycling and triathlons without ever having an overuse injury. My energy levels have remained high with very quick turn arounds and recoveries from workouts. In June 2015, I rode my bike across the country, along with 3 teammates, in the Race Across America. Check out this Playlist, this Movie and this Movie for detailed summaries of our adventure. The 6 months of training for that race, which included roughly 2000 miles in both April and in May, were all powered by a 99% vegan, plant-based diet. I would be riding for 5+ hours, be burning 5000 calories a day and get up the next day and do it all over again. During the race, I averaged 125 miles per day for 7 days straight. As I've said before, there's more to recovery than protein and plants are not only 'adequate', the vitamins, minerals, phytochemical and antioxidants they provide are essential for optimal recovery.
Racing in Buffalo, NY. Photo Curtesy Ron Grucela. RonGrucela.com
I'd like to end by discussing several points I've learned and developed over the years:
1. I'm not unique. I know everyone who wants to be 'known' in this world, and particularly in this plant-based community, wants to stand out in some way. Everyone seems to have a unique story; losing 100 pounds, dropping medications or reversing a chronic disease or doing some great feat of athletic strength. Perhaps I am being supremely humble, but in my opinion, that never happened to me. Does that make my word or my plant-based message any less important or impactful? I hope not. I hope that it makes me more human, more relatable. You can do exactly what I have done, and more. I'm not a special snow flake, and frankly, neither are you. The science and evidence is there. This lifestyle will work for you, I guarantee it.
2. Keep an open mind. Be open to trying new things. If something comes along that challenges your philosophies, think about it, don't immediately dismiss it. I watched Forks Over Knives and was blown away, in a good way, and rather than dismissing the idea of never eating meat or dairy again, I considered it. With the evidence I was presented with, there was a possibility that it was healthier, that what we had heard all along wasn't entirely truthful and that I could benefit from ditching certain food groups and increasing others. I tried it, and found tremendous benefits both personally and professionally. This skill set is needed today more than ever. Remaining entrenched in a philosophy or ideology doesn't foster growth or progress and may be holding you and society back.
3. Experiment: I don't want this to be an open invitation for people to try fad diets that teach good things about bad habits. If you're reading this, you're probably already leaning towards a more plant-centered lifestyle anyways. But with that, I would encourage people to experiment within a plant-based lifestyle and see what foods and macronutrient ratios work with them. As I explained above, view a plant-based lifestyle like a house. They all share the same basic characteristics, but the details are different from person to person or from house to house. Fit the lifestyle or the house to your unique needs.
4. Think Longterm: If you're unhealthy, overweight or suffering from one or more chronic ailments or diseases, understand that you didn't become unhealthy overnight. Therefore, you can't expect to get healthier overnight or with a quick fix fad diet. Odds are, one aspect of your life did not impact your health, rather it's been your whole lifestyle. To change your health in a dramatic way, you have to totally change the way you live. This is why this is called a 'Lifestyle' change. If your current weekly lifestyle is eating out at fast food, buying a case of soda (or beer) and walking to the mailbox for exercise, that lifestyle needs to change if you want to see your 60th birthday or your grandkids. And just know that there's time. You don't have to change tomorrow, but change is necessary to avoid chronic ailments. So what I encourage people to do is identify the problem, make a game plan with a time line and implement it. I hope the various resources I have on my website, including various blog articles and podcasts, help with your health journey. On the other hand, if you're relatively healthy, of a normal weight, exercise regularly and eat relatively well, it's also not a bad idea to reform your diet. It will not only pay dividends with your athletic endeavors, but it will also ensure you have the lowest chronic disease risk. Even if you're genetically predisposed to be thin, if you eat a poor diet, you could still be unhealthy on the inside.
In my opinion, the greatest gift in life is your health. You can only put it off for so long until it will come back to bite you. My hope is that this blog, this website and all of the content I put out on my Facebook page or Podcast will help motivate and educate people on how they can become just a little bit healthier, every day.