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Former UFC fighter shares plant-based diet benefits with 509th Medical Group

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Consistently over the years, eating healthier has been one of the top New Year’s resolutions in the United States. This year, the 509th Medical Group is working to spread the importance of nutritional awareness, and they started with an advance showing of “The Game Changers” documentary at the Whiteman Air Force Base Theater.

“The 509th MDG is responsible for providing evidence-based care to help service members remain fit to fight,” said Lt. Col. Mary Anne Kiel, the 509th MDG chief of medical staff. “‘The Game Changers’ offers an engaging and inspiring look at another tool that our staff can use for ourselves and our patients to achieve their health goals.”

Approximately 70 active-duty members and their guests attended the advanced showing on Jan. 31, 2019. The documentary follows James Wilks, a former UFC mixed martial artist who currently serves as a combative trainer for government agencies, as he explores the benefits of a plant-based diet.

“As a combatives instructor for the U.S. military, I see the human body as a powerful machine with the potential for excellence in many areas, including strength, speed, stamina, and recovery,” Wilks stated. “Until I got badly injured in 2011, I never thought this potential had much to do with food, which I saw as mainly just calories and protein.”

Six months after his UFC fight injury, he began researching diets that would optimize recovery. He found an Austrian study about Roman Gladiators, which indicated that they ate little to no meat. This prompted Wilks to set out on a five-year quest for the truth in nutrition.

“It is in our culture that we need to eat meat to be big and strong,” Wilks said during an In The Can interview at Sundance Film Festival in 2018. However, after meeting with elite athletes, special ops soldiers, visionary scientists and cultural icons, Wilks found this not to be completely true.

His research showed that a plant-based diet consisting of primarily fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes and beans can significantly improve physical and mental performance over meat-based diets. According to a Harvard Medical School article, “What is a plant-based diet and why should you try it?”, plant-based diets offer all the necessary protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals for optimal health, and are often higher in fiber and phytonutrients.

“It is important to note that although many individuals who follow the plant-based diet may never eat meat or dairy, this doesn’t mean that everyone will choose to do so. They may simply choose to consume significantly more foods from plant sources,” Kiel said.

“I thought the film took an unbiased approach in regards to a way of life outside of nutrition,” said Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Becker, a 509th MDG mental health flight chief who attended the advanced showing. After the film, Wilks opened the floor to questions. “He did not want individuals to go all in right away, but simply look at his quest, and what can have a healthier impact on someone’s life.”

The 509th MDG is working to collaborate with multiple services on base throughout the year to offer educational opportunities for military members and their families over ways to improve health. Other health benefits of this diet include preventing and reversing a number of chronic diseases like obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

“I am also currently researching health benefits of a plant-based diet on how it can be implemented for weight loss and reducing fatigue,” said Capt. Jacob Shepherd, a 509th MDG family medicine physician.

Those who are interested in learning more about whole food plant-based nutrition should contact their primary care providers or find links to resources on the AFMS – Whiteman – 509th Medical Group Facebook page. The official release date of “The Game Changers” is still to be announced.

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