Engine 2 Diet gets Mayor Emanuel's endorsement

January 11, 2013 (CHICAGO)

The hot new diet popular among Chicago firefighters has a new champion: Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Emanuel is encouraging city firefighters to embrace the principles of the Engine 2 Diet, a meat and dairy-free approach to eating that he says is delicious.

At Chicago's Engine 18, on the Near South Side, Rip Esselstyn holds court in the heart of any firehouse, the kitchen. He's showcasing the ingredients going into his Engine 2 Pizza: vegetables of all sorts, amply spiced with garlic and cayenne peppers -- but there is no cheese and no meat in these pies.

It's a dish typical of the fare curated in Esselstyn's book, The Engine 2 Diet, a vegetarian bestseller written by the Austin, Texas, firefighter and triathlete who wanted to get his colleagues healthy.

Esselstyn says heart attacks account for 50 percent of firefighter deaths.

"Within 28 days of challenging these guys at the fire station to eat this way, these guys morph from medical time bombs to healthy public super heroes," said Esselstyn.

Firefighter Mo Tirado used to weigh 300 pounds before committing to the Engine 2 Diet.

"You see the change," said Tirado, who has slimmed down to 220 pounds. "You jump on the scale after two weeks and you see you have lost 10, 15 pounds, so you have incentive. And, on top of that, you start feeling better."

Such results grabbed the attention of Mayor Emanuel, a champion of healthy-eating initiatives whose administration has addressed Chicago's food deserts, replaced junk food with wholesome snacks in city schools and facilities, and is paying city employees to change bad habits.

"The third biggest item on the city budget is healthcare costs," Emanuel said Friday. "Just because we are doing a better job managing doesn't mean an individual shouldn't do a better job managing it as well."

The famously fitness-focused mayor says, adopting the diet has helped him improve his triathlon times, even if he still indulges in red meat about twice a month.

"I am a firm believer in personal responsibility," said Emanuel. "I want the incentives in there so you do the right thing. I am not telling you what to do, but there are choices that you make that have consequences to your health and your health care costs."

The mayor says health care costs are expected to total around $480 million this year for the city, about a 20 percent savings over last year. He thinks that encouraging healthy eating could further cut that number -- maybe in half.

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