Speaking frankly about the virtues of living well

By Nici Wickes

Almost a victim of his own overindulgence, Frank Ferrante extols the virtues of living and eating well.

A wish to fall in love one more time was a realisation that changed Frank Ferrante's outlook on life. Photo / Thinkstock
A wish to fall in love one more time was a realisation that changed Frank Ferrante's outlook on life. Photo / Thinkstock

It's Saturday afternoon and I'm booked in to speak on the phone with Frank Ferrante, star of the extraordinary award-winning documentary May I be Frank, which follows his journey of transformation from an overweight, drug-addicted, depressed, 54-year-old man, who was "happened upon" by three young men who took it on themselves to help turn Frank's life around in 42 days, introducing him to the redemptive power of eating and living intelligently.

When Frank answers my call and I look down at my notepad, where I've scribbled some questions I want to ask him, I'm horrified. The first one reads "Do you still have regular colonics?" Now, there are certain questions designed to build rapport in an interview and I'm pretty sure that this one doesn't qualify.

Here's the next thing: we're on a skype call with the video on so there's nowhere to hide. I needn't have worried. Frank is perfectly at ease and roars with a laugh that is so insanely infectious, before I know it we're both chuckling so hard it's impossible not to feel like I've known this man forever.

I suspect however that Frank may not have known himself that well, at least not "consciously", five years ago, when he turned up at Cafe Gratitude - a raw, organic and vegan cafe in San Francisco. By his own admission he was a wreck, physically, and as he explains it "I was drinking alcoholically, eating the wrong things, taking drugs, treating myself and others badly."

When he stumbled into the cafe all those years ago and was asked by one of the cafe managers, a young man with a big heart, Ryland Engelhart: "What is one thing you want to do before you die?" Frank's response was immediate: "I want to fall in love one more time. But no one will love me looking the way I do."

Ryland rose to the challenge and with two of his 20-something buddies got Frank to agree to give them 42 days, in which they would coach him physically, emotionally and spiritually to, hopefully, finding a better way to live. Frank was to eat only raw food, practice gratitude, visit local holistic practitioners and ... get a weekly colonic.

After his booming laughter dies down he explains: "Listen Nici, I was dying. I was listless, had no energy, was studying and would barely be able to stay awake until the afternoon. One night, I got up to go to the toilet at 2am and collapsed. When I came around I didn't wake anyone else in the house, instead I drove myself to the hospital and got checked out in ED. They looked frightened as they took my blood pressure. I was bleeding inside, and had lost so much blood that my heart barely had enough to pump. I knew I was in trouble."

When he shares his story at the Healthy Living Show in Auckland this week, he wants to relate to those who wouldn't usually feel comfortable exploring alternative ways to eat, think or be, because that was him. "I want this to be about the people for whom adding in five more salads a week will mean a radical shift in their lives. I try not to use categories to describe myself, like 'vegan' or 'raw foodist' as this puts others off, especially the people I want to reach the most."

The whole time I'm speaking with him, he literally shines down the line with life and an energetic demeanour that is enviable. In his photo, he looks just like a "regular guy", albeit a young, slender (he lost more than 45kg), healthy one.

"I admit, I was an unlikely character for this to happen to. I really didn't believe all that stuff but now I do. Magical things just keep happening now that I live an intentionally clean life.

"I want to be clear that this is not a story of having reached some final perfect solution to life; that's what drugs and drinking were meant to be for me, but actually they were just a place where I'd run to. I still struggle some days, I get moody, that's normal. This journey is an ongoing one."

Frank tells me it's hard to say what the most important aspect of his transformation was but changing the way he ate played a huge part in enabling him to gain some clarity, be able to take deliberate action and make better decisions.

With so much pressure on us by way of glib cliches like "You are what you eat" and "your body is your temple", it is remarkably refreshing to listen to Frank speak of his struggle to gain his life, and love, back and how happy he is that he has stuck with it. "It's about making better decisions, doing things that are in your best interest and not at the expense of others - that second bit is very important. I want to show others that so much of what you want is possible."

When I hang up from my phone call with Frank, I make myself a green juice, prepare a healthy dinner and I find I smile a little bit more for the rest of the weekend.

I have yet to book in for a colonic.

* Ferrante and one of his "saviours", Ryland Engelhart (co-founder of Cafe Gratitude), Dr Libby Weaver and a host of other local and international guests, join the line-up for the Healthy Living Show this weekend. Get along and get inspired. Nov 2-4, Viaduct Events Centre, Westhaven. For tickets and more information, go to healthylivingshow.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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