The Vashon Island Diet

Why hundreds of local residents have gotten on board—and dropped hundreds of pounds.
FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

MOST PEOPLE AGREE THAT dieting is easier when you do it with a buddy. If you live on Vashon Island, diet buddies are everywhere. That’s because a new diet plan—called the “TQI Diet” (“to quiet inflammation”)—has become so popular on the island that an estimated 15 percent of the adults there have signed up for diet classes. Several restaurants offer TQI Diet–based dishes on their menus, and grocery stores stock special shelves with TQI Diet–friendly items.

The diet—created by Vashon resident Kathy Abascal and based on the idea that certain foods cause inflammation in the body—has been gaining fame and followers because, apparently, it really works. “It’s pretty much saved my life,” says Rex Morris, a 64-year-old Vashon Islander. “And it’s unbelievably easy to stay on it. I never feel deprived, I never feel hungry. If I want something, I have it, but I balance it out. The longer I’m on it, the better I feel.”

Until last year, Morris struggled with numerous health challenges: obesity, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and a serious lung disease. He couldn’t walk more than five minutes without feeling winded. Then he discovered the TQI Diet. In the year since he’s adopted the plan, he’s slimmed down 70 pounds from his original 300, kicked his insulin, and seen his cholesterol plunge and his lung capacity expand. He now routinely works outside four hours at a stretch and has energy to burn. His previously frozen shoulders now move much more easily.

The diet is based on the principle that certain groups of food can cause inflammation within the body, causing or worsening everything from arthritis to migraines, while other foods, mostly of the whole, unadulterated variety, can reduce or halt that inflammation, lessening all kinds of aches, pains and maladies, and boosting energy.

The most important thing to understand, Morris says, is that the plan isn’t a diet per se; something you endure for a while until you’ve lost weight. Rather, it’s a way of life that embraces whole foods eaten in abundance, with a heavy emphasis on vegetables and fruits.

Plenty of other diets are based on this premise, but few also make a claim to helping with so many medical issues. Proponents say the diet certainly helps adherents lose weight or maintain healthy weights, but it also helps them ease all kinds of joint pains and problems by eating foods rich in anti-inflammatory properties.

Morris’ wife, who has lived with type 1 diabetes since childhood, says she’s been able to cut her insulin by a third since starting the diet.

The TQI Diet is the brainchild of Kathy Abascal, a former lawyer turned herbalist who also holds a degree in neurobiology. She says the crux of the plan is quite simple: Make sure meals are roughly divided into two-thirds fruits and vegetables and one-third protein and carbohydrates.

Pure, unprocessed foods are emphasized, while refined sugar and grains are out. Artificial sweeteners, partially hydrogenated oils, preservatives and additives likewise get the boot. Calories or portions aren’t counted. Healthy fats? Bring them on, in the form of avocados, nuts and nut butters. Eggs are OK, too, as is alcohol, in moderation, after the first phase of the diet.

In many respects, it’s similar to the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle, which nutrition experts often cite as one of the healthiest ways to eat and live.

It’s naturally safe for children and the elderly, Abascal says, though anyone with health concerns should always first check with their physician.

Abascal does not subscribe to the notion that there are no “bad” foods; there certainly are bad foods, and everyone knows it, she says.

French fries, pastries, refined and processed foods, candy and anything with high fructose corn syrup should be strictly avoided, according to Abascal, who says that such foods encourage inflammation within the body, making joints hurt and encouraging diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

That idea has never been proven, but a number of prominent voices in the health world do recommend just such a diet, including celebrity prevention guru Dr. Andrew Weil. Athletes, too, are adopting anti-inflammation diets; the chef for the 2011 French Tour de France cycling team declared recently in Bon Appétit magazine that he tries to follow the principle.

Abascal crafted her version of an anti-inflammatory diet in 2007 after she began piling up health complaints and feeling the effects of aging. Her ankles had stiffened up, making her hobble first thing in the morning; she had a frozen shoulder, had thrown out her back, and she simply couldn’t find a comfortable position in which to sleep.

“I went to my health clinic for pain relief, and I finally had to confront how much I weighed,” she says. “My blood pressure was in the hypertensive range. I left the health clinic feeling down, but motivated to make a change.” In the past, she’d tried slimming down through programs like Weight Watchers, but found counting calories or points just didn’t work for her.

“I absolutely focused on quieting joint inflammation,” she says, and revamped her eating habits. The result? “My ankle pain went away, and I actually began to lose weight, even though I was eating a lot of foods like avocados. I did it for six months. By then, I’d lost 30 pounds, 8 inches off my waist, and my frozen shoulder was gone. My blood pressure was 120/70. I got wildly excited and began teaching classes at the health food store on the island. I didn’t advertise—it spread by word of mouth” as people began to both feel better and lose weight in a synergistic cycle.

Abascal now also teaches at the Highline Medical Center and at a Whole Foods store in Seattle, as well as online. She has a website devoted to the topic (toquietinflammation.com) and a book is in the works.

Abascal estimates that 1,500 people on Vashon have taken her class on the diet, and she says Morris’ results aren’t unique. “Some of the results are just simply amazing,” Abascal says. “It’s what keeps me excited and going, how quickly people can turn things around in their lives.”

The diet’s success isn’t limited to the island. Fife resident Marcia Damoiseaux and her husband, Lee—both in their 60s—have both lost weight and improved their cholesterol and other markers of good health on the plan. “We have more energy and reduced aches and pains. That’s huge,” she says. “Both of us have cut triglycerides in half.”

Lest you think it’s all about apples and sprouts, take a look at the menu of one Vashon restaurant. Express Cuisine on Vashon Highway offers an entire page of TQI Diet-approved cuisine, with seasonally changing dishes such as roasted duck breast with cherry and port demi-glace; Thai Lime Ricky prawn salad; and crab cakes.

Jim Riggsbee, a partner in the restaurant, says the menu is quite popular. “There was such demand here, with so many people getting involved in the diet and having such success with it. They wanted to extend it to eating in restaurants,” Riggsbee says. “What made it real easy for us is that [the food] is not that out of the norm.”

Abascal says that’s key. “Most people find it very easy” to follow the TQI Diet, she says. “I just love teaching this.”

The TQI Diet at a Glance

IN:

• Whole, unprocessed foods

• Copious amounts of fruits and veggies, preferably organic

• Modest amounts of proteins

• Modest amounts of carbs, preferably of the whole grain variety

• Healthy fats, such as nuts, nut butters and avocados

• Eggs

OUT:

• Processed foods

• Excessive sodium

• Refined carbohydrates

• Foods with additives, coloring, preservatives

• Refined sugar, corn syrup

• Foods that certain individuals may react to, such as those containing gluten (on a case-by-case basis)

• Alcohol, for the first phase of the diet

 

Are High-Rise Wood Buildings in Seattle's Future?

Are High-Rise Wood Buildings in Seattle's Future?

Is Seattle ready for high-rises built of wood after 80 years of concrete-and-steel buildings?
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

When architect Joe Mayo walks into his office, he’s steeped in Seattle history. Mahlum Architects is located in Pioneer Square’s 1910 Polson Building, which served as a warehouse for gold mining equipment during the Klondike Gold Rush. Over the past 100 years, the building has also housed offices and artists’ lofts, and survived two arson fires. So it’s remarkable to see the original old-growth Douglas fir columns still rising from the floor and spanning the ceilings. “It creates a pretty amazing environment,” says Mayo.

Large buildings framed with wood from big trees were commonplace in Seattle and in other parts of the country in the early 1900s. But changing building codes and diminishing availability of large timber put an end to this style. Today, wood buildings are usually one- or two-story houses, while our apartments, hotels and office buildings are nearly all built from concrete and steel. The six-story Bullitt Center on Capitol Hill, which opened in 2013, is the first mid-rise building in Seattle constructed of wood in the past 80 years.

With the advent of a new wood building material called cross-laminated timber (CLT), it might one day become one of many such structures. Proponents say the benefits of building with CLT could be significant. CLT can be used to create buildings that are as tall as 30 stories (and beyond, some architects say) that are better for the environment and aesthetically pleasing, and can be quickly built, help create jobs in economically depressed regional timber towns and are as long-lasting as other buildings. Some research even suggests that wooden buildings offer health benefits for occupants.

Mayo says the material makes sense for our region. “Architecture should feel like it’s a part of a place,” he says. “We’re in the great Northwest, with some of the tallest trees in the world and the best timber in the country, and we have a long history of building with wood.”

But while building codes in Europe and in some other countries have changed to embrace the new material, and CLT buildings as tall as 10 stories are in use in Australia and London, U.S. building codes lag behind. Seattle recently became the first city to allow the use of CLT in construction, but that use is currently limited to five stories for residential buildings and six stories for office buildings.

“The City is open to proposals on larger buildings, but we do have to verify that fire safety and seismic issues have been addressed in the designs,” says Bryan Stevens, spokesperson for the City of Seattle’s Department of Construction and Inspections. That’s because, while these issues have been resolved for buildings in other parts of the world, the U.S. requires domestic testing if building codes are to change.

Washington State University is one participant in a multi-institutional program with the National Science Foundation and the Network of Earthquake Engineering Simulation that is testing how mass timber systems like CLT fare in earthquakes. Hans-Erik Blomgren, a structural engineer in the Seattle offices of the international engineering firm Arup who is a participant in the research program, believes engineers can solve this puzzle. “There’s no technical reason we shouldn’t be designing a building with this material,” he says.

U.S. fire codes have also long prevented the use of combustible materials such as wood in mid- and high-rise buildings, but engineers say code changes to allow for the use of CLT are also achievable. To understand how resistant to fire large pieces of wood can be, proponents suggest thinking of how hard it is to start a bonfire with really big pieces of wood. Not only are such pieces hard to light, but they burn slowly.

In theory, developers could propose larger CLT buildings before codes are changed, but they would have to invest time, money and coordination to get this new building type through Seattle’s Department of Construction and Inspections, with no guarantee that their designs would be approved. “It takes a very special project and specific client and certainly a very ambitious design team to take it on,” says Mayo.

Unless that client steps forward, builders will be waiting for the International Code Council (ICC) to work through the fire and earthquake issues and develop the necessary code changes before mid-rise and higher CLT buildings spring up in the city. 

“We know there’s been a lot of interest in this construction type,” says Stevens, “so we’re trying to be responsive to the demand without giving up safety.”

As with so many innovations, another problem for developers is that material costs for CLT can be high because there are so few North American CLT manufacturers. Developers wait for the price to go down, but manufacturers need more demand for a product. To alleviate this problem, some businesses and legislators are working to help bring CLT mills to Washington state. An Oregon lumber company, D.R. Johnson Lumber, in Riddle, Oregon, recently became the first certified manufacturer of CLT for construction material in the U.S.

Clt was developed in the 1990s by researchers in Austria and Germany who were looking for a use for pieces of surplus wood. The material is created by layering smaller pieces of wood together into a kind of sandwich that offers the strength and insulation found in the massive timbers of the past, and that can be used for the walls, floors, roof beams and posts that make up a building. 

One of the most touted aspects of this material is its role in fighting carbon emissions. Trees absorb carbon and use energy from the sun to grow, which makes them a lower carbon choice than concrete or steel, which not only don’t absorb carbon, but require much more carbon-emitting energy to manufacture. Trees are also a renewable resource, as long as they are harvested from a sustainably managed forest. And CLT can be made from otherwise underused or damaged woods, such as the vast forests of domestic pine that have been killed by mountain pine beetles.

Another selling point, particularly in urban areas, is that CLT panels are prefabricated—bring them to the building site, and your building goes up quickly, with less noise, pollution and traffic delays than with other materials. The eight CLT stories of London’s nine-story Murray Grove apartment building went up in nine weeks.

But building with CLT is not all about practical considerations, says Susan Jones, who owns the Seattle architecture firm Atelierjones and designed her family’s home as the first (and so far only) CLT home in Seattle’s Madison Valley in 2015. The material itself—in the case of her house, CLT primarily from white pine and left unpainted—is a sensual pleasure, from the quality and patina of the wood to the subtle pine smell in the house.

“It’s been incredibly satisfying to live with it,” Jones says. “That’s what architects are asked to do—we create beautiful spaces for people. What’s better than to immerse yourself into this incredibly rich natural environment of wood?”

Here in Washington, there’s enough raw material to immerse us all in that environment. But only a handful of projects in the state have used the material so far—for example, in Jones’ CLT house, in the walls of the Bellevue First Congregational Church sanctuary designed by Atelierjones and on a building project at Washington State University in Pullman. In Oregon, Joe Mayo recently worked on the design for what is to be the first use of U.S.-made CLT on a two-story building project, using panels manufactured by Oregon’s D.R. Johnson.

There are a few other regional CLT building projects in the design process now. In June, Washington state granted design-build contracts to several architects, including Susan Jones of Atelierjones and Joe Mayo of Mahlum, for 900-square-foot classrooms at several elementary schools in western Washington, to be constructed by the end of 2017. 

Another building, Framework, a 12-story building with retail, offices, and housing in Portland, Oregon, is currently in the design process, after a team, which includes Blomgren as its fire and earthquake CLT engineering specialist, won a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) tall wood building competition created to encourage innovation with the material. Winners for 2015, including the Portland team and a team in New York City, each received $1.5 million for the research and development phase of creating buildings using CLT and other engineered wood materials.

At the University of Washington, associate professor of architecture Kate Simonen is leading another USDA-funded study to determine the relative environmental impact of using mass timber in commercial office buildings in Seattle, which follows on other studies indicating that this kind of building will have a lower carbon footprint than other building materials. 

While she’s cautious about reaching premature conclusions in her study, Simonen thinks it might not be a bad idea to start working now to get the structures built in our region. 

“We don’t have all the answers now, but in order to get those answers we need to help lead innovation,” she says. “It makes sense to take some risks in our region to advance a building material that supports our region.”