Plants fuel faster, stronger field artillery general

Lynn and Brig. Gen. Steve Smith, Field Artillery School commandant and chief of FA, sit down to one of their power bowls of plants they have for lunch in the general's office. The couple have eaten a plant-based diet for five years now with the general noting an improvement in strength and conditioning. (Photo Credit: James Brabenec)

FORT SILL, Okla. Nov. 6, 2019 — “I’m the lightest I’ve ever been, the fastest I’ve ever been, and the strongest I’ve ever been in 28 years of service,” said Brig. Gen. Steve Smith, Field Artillery School commandant and chief of FA.

He attributed that performance change to adopting a plant-based diet, something he and his wife, Lynn, have followed for five years.

Brig. Gen. Smith emphasized that this way of eating works for him and that he’s not telling others what to do. However, he does see it as a complement to the vision Maj. Gen. Wilson A. Shoffner, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general, has about healthy eating.

“General Shoffner’s initiative reminds people to make healthy choices and for healthy choices to be available to everyone on post,” said Steve Smith. “And while you can’t direct a way of eating, you can provide Soldiers and family members with healthy options at the gas station or the dining facilities to help establish a culture of being healthy.”

Capt. Rachel Ayala, chief of Nutrition Care at Reynolds Army Health Clinic, clarified that healthy culture.

“The five food groups each have different nutrient profiles and health benefits when consumed in the correct portions. It is not recommended to cut out a food group unless there is a medical reason or personal value necessitating it. However, a good rule of thumb is: Make three quarters of your daily food volume unprocessed, or minimally processed, plant foods,” she said.

Though he now carries 160 pounds on his 5-feet, 11-inch frame, Brig. Gen. Smith talked of his Southern upbringing that included the standard American diet supplemented with fried chicken, bacon, country ham, and a lot of casseroles heavy on cheese.

Throughout his career his weight held steady, but at a level only a few pounds from being a screening weight.

“I was a battalion commander in Alaska about nine years ago and came out of that command at 200 pounds and asked myself why I was that heavy,” he said. He recalled during that time he missed a significant milestone. “I couldn’t believe I didn’t max my physical training score for the first time in my life.”

So, the Smiths started making some changes to their diet as red meat, cheese, and processed foods such as tortilla chips were no longer featured on the grocery list.

The couple then received additional motivation during a visit from their daughter, who stated she intended to become a vegetarian.

Brig. Gen. Smith claimed when he heard this his gut reaction tended toward, “you’ll eat what I put on your plate,” though he never uttered those words.

Instead, he hit the books to learn what facts he could share with his daughter on why being a vegetarian or vegan wouldn’t be good for her. Though he read much on the subject, he failed to find this proof, but did find authors who supported plant-based eating.

“We researched together and studied the works of (Dr. Caldwell) Esselstyn, and (Dr. T. Colin) Campbell,” said Lynn Smith. “Steve read ‘The China Study’ and briefed me on parts, and we also watched videos online by Drs. Esselstyn, Campbell, and Michael Greger.”

Armed with this information on the merits of eating more plants, he decided to join his daughter.

Brig. Gen. Smith said he’s always enjoyed running and isn’t shy about putting on the mileage. Recently, he noted improved times for 1, 3, 6, and 10-mile routes he ran all in the same week. As for specifics, he dropped 30-40 seconds on his mile time, can complete a two-mile run in under 14 minutes, and sustain a 7:30 pace for 10 miles.

“By no means am I a nutritionist or health professional — I’m just an artilleryman. But, since I’ve started a plant-based diet, I feel stronger now than I was in my 20s or 30s,” he said. “It’s almost exhilarating to be able to do physical things with much less effort.”

For Lynn Smith, the decision to eat plant based stems from a family history of heart disease and diabetes.

“I was also gestational diabetic, which means you have a 60-percent greater chance of developing diabetes. So, I wanted to fight this and live as healthy as I possibly could,” she said.

While Brig. Gen. Smith said he hasn’t missed meat, his wife added she believes her success is due in part to not restricting her dietary choices. On occasion, she may allow herself a piece of cheese at a social function or a dessert that may contain dairy or eggs.

Lynn Smith said she does most of the cooking with her husband helping out several days a week, especially when she’s working. When their schedules permit, they enjoy working together in the kitchen to prepare a meal. And, she said a plant-based diet doesn’t have to cost a lot as she will often simple fare such as overnight oats for breakfast or a quinoa bowl for lunch.

Brig. Gen. Smith concluded his thoughts saying he sleeps better, isn’t lethargic after eating, and rarely gets sick. But, he’s not pushing anyone into this.

“Sometimes I feel like telling Lynn, ‘I found the answer to feeling healthy — a plant-based diet — for me,'” he said.

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