Death. The Other Option.

extremeAt the risk of sounding like a nag, when the hell are people going to wake up and realize the food they eat to sustain their life is the same food that is causing disease, obesity and sickness? Moderation is a myth, oil still isn’t “heart healthy” and the fork could potentially be as lethal as a weapon. The statistics prove Americans moderate the wrong foods. Even the saying from the American Dietetic Association, “All foods fit,” has been taken out of context. The original saying is not “all foods fit,”  but, “All foods can fit into a healthful diet ‘if’ consumed in moderation with appropriate portion size and combined with regular physical activity.”

Change. It doesn’t come easy, if at all. People are resistant to change in favor of the status quo. Reasons vary including:

  • when the status quo is satisfactory
  • when the purpose of change is not clearly understood
  • when those affected lack courage or self confidence
  • personal fear of failure to master new skills
  • fear of personal loss of ego, status, power or resources
  • when implementation appears to be rigid and inflexible

Each of these reasons “excuses” could be applied to why people don’t take their health more serious and make changes that they would benefit from. I admitted to myself for 42 years that “I was fine.” This when dining on fast foods, fried foods, dairy and meat while not enjoy veggies and limiting starchy foods. I knew I had a problem, but I wasn’t strong enough to face the fears associated with making change.

Then something amazing happened, so unexpected it was exhilarating as I looked towards the future, seeing a happy, healthy life ahead. I accepted the change and challenged myself to accept a new, plant based lifestyle leaving behind the foods that were the cause of all my health related problems.

I know this sounds like fiction and many won’t think twice about it or consider change in their life, continuing to follow their “healthy” lifestyle that includes meat and dairy. I don’t care if you are gluten free, buy only organic, believe grass fed beef is somehow healthier or still hold on to the belief that fancy cooking oils are beneficial. The fact of the matter remains, your decisions on foods are the key to your health and many Americans continue to make the wrong decisions.

As the saying goes, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Change doesn’t come without dedication, effort and a bit of struggle. I know this as well as anyone when making the decision to get healthy, which I did in October, 2011. Yet 3 years later people continue to find excuses not to take establishment to keep them healthy.

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Left: The “SAD” days. Right: Powered by plants!

If literature and words are not enough to convince the majority to reconsider, how about leading by example. That is what I am, living proof you can take control of your health, forget about doctors and medicine and heal yourself. The transformation has been nothing short of amazing! Gone are all the maladies I once struggled with; my weight, aches and pains, including consistent migraines, foot problems (plantar fasciitis), stomach issues and lethargy.

People willing to try could be rewarded in as little as 12 days at no cost to them thanks to Dr. John McDougall and his free McDougall Program. The Internet is chocked full of beneficial information, programs and recipes to assist individuals in their quest for health. Julie Marie Christensen at Protective Diet promotes “a diet rich in whole plant foods, free of all animal products, saturated fats, oils, nuts, sugar, artificial sweeteners and food additives.” It takes 30 days to “eliminate the physical addiction… then our taste bud receptors are not searching for the missing oils and fats any longer.” Why not start now?

Unfortunately many consider a plant based lifestyle “extreme” by making the decision to remove meat, dairy and for some, oil. Open heart surgery is far too common, as the 6th most expensive surgery in the U.S. at $324,000*. “Part of the high cost of open heart surgery is because it’s often an urgent medical procedure that is usually followed by complications. Longer care and follow-up needed after surgery add to the price tag.

Conversely I hear many complain about just how expensive it is to eat a plant based diet. According to the IRS, the average person in America spends $301 on food, and the average family of four spends $765. According to the US department of Labor, a typical family of four eating “moderately” at home in 2011 spent $664. But that’s eating many processed foods (source).

I’m not saying to spend $1.50 a day on food as Darshana Thacker did on Forks Over Knives, but by following some simple rules you can save money following a plant based lifestyle.

  • Buy in bulk: beans, grains, pastas, flours, herbs, spices and nutritional yeast are staples in my pantry.
  • Make a list: write down what you want to buy and go into the store with a purpose, this will help limit food and ingredients you don’t need.
  • Comparison shop and coupons: visit a few different grocers to see which store has weekly deals or sales going on. Watch Sunday papers for coupons, which could allow you to save additional money.
  • Buy frozen and canned food: some veggies and fruits are season, so you might need to find another option. Frozen veggies are inexpensive and can be used in a variety of ways. In a pinch, canned ingredients (BPA free) can be used if something is not in season or unavailable from the bulk bins. In the past I have primarily used beans and tomatoes.
  • Menu planning: create a menu for the week, figuring in the amount of leftovers that could be used for additional meals during the week. Meal planning will allow you to create a more accurate shopping list.

Some of these suggestions are good practice in general regardless of the foods you eat. Initially stocking your pantry could require a bit larger of a cost, but in the long run removing the pricey cuts of meat, dairy such as cheese and processed foods will result in substantial savings over time.

The argument from many usually includes, “I’m going to die anyways, so I am going to eat whatever I want.” By all means do what makes you happy, but expect the possible consequences that come with eating a diet high in red meat, sugary drinks and desserts, high-fat foods, high-fat dairy products, and refined grains. The cost could be your life. You might suffer a heart attack and be diagnosed with coronary heart disease (CHD) requiring open heart surgery. Both of those options sound extreme to me. A plant based lifestyle offers results, but only if you WANT to take control of your health.

Health After Heart Surgery?

openheartThe last 10 days have been a real mental struggle for me, as it has me questioning the steps I have taken the past 2 years when it comes to lifestyle and how I maintain my health. The steps I have taken could be considered “extreme” and many find excuses not to improve their health or think they are healthy based on what they eat or the fact they exercise. But my way of eating is not perfect, I think anyone would be hard pressed to find any way of eating that is “perfect” for everyone.

It took me quite awhile to realize that how I eat can’t be pushed on other individuals. While I didn’t want this to happen, my convictions were quite strong and my good intentions probably came over a bit brash. No longer do I “push” a plant-based lifestyle, it works for me but that might not be the case for others.

My sister and I received an e-mail from our mom telling us that dad had suffered what appeared to be a minor heart attack. Needless to say, I became angered and frustrated with many of the words I had been preaching to my parents for the better part of 2 years. My dad was overweight, had high BP and was on cholesterol medication. His exercise consisted of playing golf, but usually that meant rolling up to the ball in a cart and not walking. A few years prior he had a stent implanted to improve blood flow through weakened arteries. This would hopefully would help the circulation in his legs, which was becoming a problem.

Last Thursday we received a text message saying she took him to the hospital as he “didn’t feel right” as a precaution. It probably turned out as a life saving move, as it was the onset of another heart attack. Since his admittance I have been very hard on myself; confused, angered, frustrated and questioning. Fairly or not I probably took it out on my wife and sister unintentionally. Thankfully I have an online support group who understands the life threatening situation and provided me some good information. That’s not to say my wife and sister didn’t, but the online support is a plant-based group on Facebook following the Dr. John McDougall way of eating.

I was questioning how and why this was happening and my fingers were pointing to my mom as the reason my dad was in this position. In reality that wasn’t the case, but all the years of living the lifestyle he did and the decisions he made led him to a hospital bed and days later a triple bypass heart surgery. After the first heart attack I sent my parents a copy of Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn’s Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. Hopefully this first visit to the hospital would be an event best not repeated. I don’t believe either of them took this seriously and based on some of the answers my mom gave me, they didn’t bother reading the book.

I will agree with my sister, eating a sweet potato won’t clean your arteries overnight, but continuing the same poor eating habits won’t strengthen your chances on not having a second heart attack. Open heart surgery isn’t the answer to someone who has years of build up and plaque in their arteries. While the success rate of open heart surgery exceeds 95%, you need to look at your lifestyle and how you are going to eat. Continuing with the same standard American diet will cause the same damage to the endothelial cells and potential blockages that will lead to further heart attacks or worse, death.

I have said before Americans don’t know moderation. They can’t moderate what they eat and when they do, the data shows they moderate the incorrect foods. Jeff Novick from the Myth of Moderation, “Moderation is no longer an option in regard to calories, or in regard to the foods we know can be harmful, or in regard to the foods we know to be beneficial.  We are so far from what constitutes healthy in America, that we have much work to do to get back to where we could once again discuss moderation.  Rationalizing the over consumption of harmful foods, or the minimal consumption of beneficial foods, with a saying that does not apply to our situation, will not help us.

While I don’t believe my parents will change their lifestyle after nearly 70 years, they need to make further changes to their post open heart surgery way of eating. Meats (yes mom, even white meats like chicken and pork) as well as oil (yes mom, even that small tablespoon) need to be limited. Meat should no longer be the focal-point of a meal, it should after as a side dish. She is amazing with grains and vegetables, so I don’t doubt she could put together some excellent meals. Will she? Probably not. I don’t care if the meat you buy is grass fed beef or the chickens are free range. It also doesn’t matter if that oil you bought is coconut, truffle or any other fancy type.

I do agree with many individuals that fats are needed in any diet, even if you are attempting to lose weight. Natural fatty foods, such as avocados, olives and nuts are just a small sampling of foods you can eat without having to dip into processed oils for cooking. While I don’t expect my parents to make the same radical changes in their lifestyle, I do hope this is that “ah ha moment” in which they look at what they eat and make changes.

It’s my hope I can see my dad drop 10-15 pounds, decrease his total cholesterol and start walking daily. This would also require the support of mom to cook “cleaner” foods that promote health. I have offered to give her countless recipes that my wife, who is rather finicky, when it comes to how I eat, enjoys on a regular basis. It requires more than just an effort, you need to make a change in your conscience to understand the steps you are taking to improve your overall health. This also means to stop drinking scotch and wine as regular as they do. My sister and I comment on the drinking regularly. Alcohol has been one of the toughest items for me to remove from my diet the past 2 years. No longer and I drinking nightly or even weekly. To be honest, I don’t miss it.

While I don’t want to single out my mom or place all the responsibility on her, hopefully they will take the words of wisdom I speak to heart when they look at life after open heart surgery. Changes can be made, even now to improve their lifestyle and health. The choice, is theirs. I can only provide information, support and most of all love.