|Born||February 16, 1963|
Upstate New York, U.S.
|Occupation||Health activist, food writer|
|Alma mater||University of Texas, Austin|
|Subject||Low-fat diets, whole-food diets, plant-based diets|
|Relatives||Caldwell Esselstyn (father)|
George Crile, Jr. (grandfather)
George Washington Crile (great-grandfather)
George Crile III (uncle)
Rip Esselstyn (born February 16, 1963) is an American health activist, food writer, and former firefighter and triathlete. He is known as an advocate of low-fat, whole-food, plant-based diet that excludes all animal products and processed foods. He calls it a "plant strong" diet, a term he has trademarked. He has appeared in two documentaries about plant-based nutrition: Forks Over Knives (2011) and The Game Changers (2018). He is the author of The Engine 2 Diet (2009), My Beef With Meat (2013), Plant-Strong (2016), and The Engine 2 Seven-Day Rescue Diet (2017).
Esselstyn was born in Upstate New York on February 16, 1963, the son of Ann and surgeon Caldwell Esselstyn. He was named after Rip Van Winkle. He is the grandson of surgeon George Crile, Jr. and the great-grandson of surgeon George Washington Crile. His father is a former Olympic rowing champion who was one of the early advocates of a whole-food, plant-based diet in the prevention and reversal of heart disease. He has a sister named Jane and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. He graduated from the Mercersburg Academy in 1981 and attended the University of Texas, Austin on a swimming scholarship from 1982 to 1986. During that time, he became an All-American swimmer. After college, he became a triathlete and competed for approximately ten years. In 1997, he retired as a triathlete and turned his attention towards becoming a firefighter and emergency medical technician, joining Engine 2 of the Austin Fire Department. He retired from firefighting to focus on becoming an advocate for plant-based nutrition.
Whilst he grew up eating the standard American diet, Esselstyn switched to a whole-foods plant-based diet in 1987, cutting out meat, fish, eggs and dairy. He was also inspired by Dave Scott, who was a vegetarian. Esselstyn describes his approach as "plant-strong" and has trademarked the term. He says he avoids the word "vegan" in case it discourages people, and believes that "plant strong" sounds healthier and more inclusive.
In 2003, when a co-worker at the Engine 2 fire department discovered that his cholesterol was very high, Esselstyn encouraged the Engine 2 team to switch to a whole foods, plant-based diet to help their colleague. This experience eventually led him to write The Engine 2 Diet, which begins with a foreword by T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study (2005). The Engine 2 Diet appeared on The New York Times Best Seller List and was endorsed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who made a public appearance with Esselstyn in January 2013. In 2010, Whole Foods Market included The Engine 2 Diet as a "Healthy Eating Partner".
In 2013, Esselstyn released another book, My Beef With Meat. It was a New York Times best seller ("Advice, How-To, & Miscellaneous List") that reached the #1 spot for the week of June 2, 2013.
Esselstyn appeared, along with his father and T. Colin Campbell, in the 2011 American documentary on whole foods, plant-based eating, Forks Over Knives. He later developed and starred in the follow-up documentary, Forks Over Knives Presents: The Engine 2 Kitchen Rescue with Rip Esselstyn.
Esselstyn is married to Jill Kolasinski, with whom he has three children.