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The McGough Family Health Journey

The Daniel Plan transformed the McGough family, who once used decadent treats and comfort foods to ease the pain of family health challenges. Soon, their weight escalated and they had to find help. They found it with The Daniel Plan.

Answers Written By Julie McGough


Describe your habits, and physical, emotional (and spiritual) condition prior to The Daniel Plan. How did it get out of control?

Six years ago (2005), my husband, Bob, was diagnosed with severe, rapidly progressing Multiple Sclerosis. As he struggled with vision loss and difficulty walking, he was queasy all the time. It was very easy to turn to fast food often because the fried food and burgers seemed to settle his stomach and were our comfort foods. For me, it was easier to buy food out than to cook while I was juggling doctor visits with working full-time as a teacher, being a mom, and home-schooling my two kids. When I did cook, I tended to make more decadent foods as "treats" because I felt like we needed to find some reasons to celebrate in the midst of all the difficulties we were experiencing.

Looking back, I can see how this "coping" mechanism actually made it harder for us to cope. We rarely ate dinner at the table together and vegetables became something we added to dinner if I still had energy left. My husband and I both gained weight – he put on 80 pounds, peaking at 296, and I gained 38 pounds. The extra weight made it harder for him to walk and I began to worry about how I could take care of him in the future. He was so tired that he would fall asleep mid-conversation and started medication to help him wake up each day. I was never seen without my caffeine fix – a giant glass of Diet Mountain Dew which went with me everywhere.

I was also concerned about what my kids were learning from my habits. We were consuming as many as 10 2-liter bottles of soda a week and when we bought treats like ice cream, they would disappear overnight, with everyone blaming someone else for eating all of them. My high school son had gained a lot of weight and I could see the impact on his self-esteem.

When did it become apparent that change had to occur? How did that happen?

We made resolution after resolution to eat healthier, eat out less, and get some exercise, but I didn't have the energy or the motivation to make it happen – and I was missing a key component for success: the right information. I had set a goal to lose weight in 2010, but I hadn't lost any weight at all. My husband had begun skipping meals as his weight loss plan; he had lost weight, but was showing signs of being malnourished. When Saddleback said they were going to offer The Daniel Plan, I knew that this was the time for our family to make a real change.

Sitting in the kick off seminar along with my small group, I listened intently to Dr. Daniel Amen and, when he showed the SPECT brain images, I knew we needed to do this. I called home and begged my son to take my laptop into the bedroom where my exhausted husband was still in bed and log into the online simulcast so that he could hear the information along with me. At the book table after the seminar, I asked Dr. Amen what he might recommend for MS patients. I confess, the idea of cooking without sugar, wheat, milk products, and hydrogenated oils was completely overwhelming, but I had found my motivation -- my husband's health.


Why did your family decide to start The Daniel Plan and what kind of commitment did each of you make?

The Daniel Plan offered me the first convincing evidence I had ever seen that diet could make a difference in everyday health and functioning for my husband's condition. We decided to start right away and give it 100%. A lot of people thought I should phase it in with my kids, but I knew that if the "old" food was still there, we would eat it. So we cleaned out every item in our pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. My children, Sean, 15, and Siobhan, 9, learned how to read labels. They didn't love seeing some of their favorite foods disappear, but they were willing to give it a try for their dad's health.

I also made a genuine commitment to take better care of myself. As a caregiver, I found it hard to find time to read the Bible regularly and get exercise. Having turned 40 this year, I decided that this was the perfect year to read through the Bible and start a walking routine.

What have been the most life-changing learnings from The Daniel Plan? How have you adopted these new concepts into your lives?

We have learned so much from The Daniel Plan. When we first started eating together at the table, my children groaned and moaned every time -- and yet each meal together ended with shared stories and laughter. I have also learned that foods don't have to be smothered in extra sauces and sugars to be delicious – we are genuinely enjoying many foods without any butter or sauces. I have also learned that exposure really does equal preference. Foods my daughter once rejected she now said are "OK."

What have been the results? (weight loss, new habits, enhanced family)

The results of The Daniel Plan in my family have been life-changing. We have lost a lot of weight – more than I thought we could. Bob has lost 52 pounds, Sean has lost 44, and I have lost 26 for a total of 120 pounds! That's more than twice the weight of my daughter, Siobhan! I've lost 7 ½ inches off of my waist and I can fit in my old clothes again.

More than that, I am delighted to say that my children are choosing healthy foods, learning to cook healthy meals alongside me in the kitchen, and are stealing vegetables off of my dinner plate! I believe that we started this change in lifestyle just in time for my kids. My 15 year old son has chosen to eat healthy, even when his friends are going out for fast food. He feels so much better about himself! I've even noticed that he is less hesitant to join in group activities. He has really owned the Daniel Plan for himself and I believe he will continue on this healthy path as an adult. My 9 year old was a little less enthusiastic, since she didn't need to lose any weight. However, she has adapted and is our champion fruit and vegetable eater!

Best of all, my husband's doctors want to know what we're doing because the improvements in his health are so dramatic! He is more alert and his cholesterol dropped 50 points in the first two months. Since he started The Daniel Plan, he has been able to reduce or eliminate three of his medications. He can participate in family activities for a longer time without the severe fatigue. It feels like I have my husband back!


What tips, or encouragement, would you give everyone on the plan?

I encourage you to do the Daniel Plan with a friend or your small group. Not only can you encourage each other and keep one another accountable, but you can also help each other with recipes and new ideas. Several women in my workplace small group have enjoyed sharing their new recipes around the table in the lunchroom.

I also recommend going for it 100% -- clean out your pantry, print out a few new recipes, and stock up on all those new foods you've never heard of. If you don't have the ingredients available to cook with, you'll never try them. Also, give yourself permission to eat a more limited menu for a little while as you learn new recipes. We made a repeating menu that we could eat every week. My family loves it that every Friday night is Spelt English muffin pizza night. Once I got a regular menu, it was easier to try to add one new item every week or two, usually by modifying an old recipe to make it Daniel Plan friendly. (Last week, I decided to make a Daniel Plan version of the new McDonald's frozen strawberry lemonades! They were a hit at my husband's birthday party.)

Most of all, my advice to you is don't give up! It takes a great deal of time and effort to learn new habits, but it's worth it! Galatians 6:9 says, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."

What's next for the McGough family?

Our next step as a family is to get more exercise. The kids and I are scheduling local hikes throughout the summer and my husband, Bob, is focusing on stretching exercises and walking short distances to build up endurance.

The Daniel Plan has also helped me find a renewed sense of mission at work. I believe that part of God's mission for me as a 4th and 5th grade school teacher in Azusa is to inspire my students to make healthy choices. This year, I founded our school's first family hiking club, and I am working with other teachers to sponsor incentives for students to eat healthy and get more exercise.

How are you connected to Saddleback Church?

Saddleback has been an important part of our family for a long time. In fact, Bob and I had our first date at Saddleback back when we were meeting in tents. Pastor Glen performed our wedding ceremony and, after we were married, we were part of a purpose driven church plant in our area. When Bob got MS six years ago, he was no longer able to lead worship and preach, and we knew we wanted to return to Saddleback, in spite of the long drive from Glendora. Now Bob participates in Saddleback services online while the kids and I attend and serve at the Corona campus. We are so grateful to be members of Saddleback Church and for the many resources Saddleback offers our family to help us grow.