Many of us are still in the recovery phase – recovery from all those holiday calories.

“I call it the season of gluttony,” said Dr. Terry Mason, Chicago’s public health commissioner, of the five-week food binge that closes one year and opens another. “The season of gluttony because people eat too much, drink too much and treat themselves more than they should.”

A urologist by trade, Mason is also a former Cook County commissioner of health. In 2002 he decided to promote black health and healthy living through something called the Restart Program.

“We ask people – since we know we can’t get, especially African-Americans, to not do the traditional things on Jan. 1 – to start on Jan. 2 to give your body a chance to restart itself for the New Year,” he said.

Mason stressed the importance of changing lifestyle. African-Americans are targeted because of where he advertises his weekly radio show, “A Doctor in the House” Sunday mornings on WVON – but anyone is welcome.

“Why the African-American community? Because our community is plagued with more diabetes, more cancer, more high blood pressure, more heart disease, with more of everything. And most of it is because of lifestyle,” he said.

The best way to cleanse your body and feel great is not through over-the-counter colon cleansing products, but by allowing your body to do it naturally, Mason said. Naturally means refraining from eating meat. Mason’s program asks people to give up meat and eat a plant-based diet for 30 days.

It isn’t about weight loss; it’s about overall health. The program aims to help people realize that meals don’t have to be centered around meat.

“This is not an anti-meat campaign, this is a pro-vegetable campaign,” Mason said.

The group meets once a week on Wednesdays for the rest of the month. Mason offers to continue to meet with those who wish to pursue the vegetarian diet past the four-week pledge. Often people take part through June.

“The most important part of controlling high blood pressure, diabetes and hypertension is food and exercise,” Mason said.

Roy Walker, an exercise physiologist, is athletic director and program director for health and fitness science for Malcolm X College. He joined Mason’s mission at the end of 2003, adding the healthy living portion of the project. In the second week of the program, Walker teaches participants simple exercises they can do at home on their own to keep themselves active.

“What we’re doing here is showing people that there is an easy way to incorporate exercise into their lifestyle,” he said. “You don’t have to have a membership at a gym. All you really need to do is have a chair, have some legs and really most importantly have the desire and motivation to do so.”

Walker took the group through a session including a 10-lap Indian walk warm-up, various stretches and full body strength training.

At 85, Yvonne Zeringue is one of the oldest members of the group. She’s a retired home economics teacher who has attended every event, rain or shine, since Mason started the program in 2002. Zeringue has always been interested in treatment through nutrition versus medication.

“I have cured myself of quite a few diseases and well, problems, by eating the proper food,” she said. “I know when you eat meat that your stomach is a graveyard for dead animals.”