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.

Happy Plantsgiving!

ABC#00841This is my third Thanksgiving being powered by plants and so far, the most fun I have had and dinner hasn’t even been served. I have been planning a menu for the past few week, knowing that if I left it to my mother-in-law and wife, it would be a traditional type dinner, one in which I would pass on most of the food that was prepared. That says nothing about how good the food is, as we have spent many Thanksgiving at the in laws house and she is an amazing cook.

Since changing my way of eating, choosing to be plant powered, I hadn’t looked forward to many of the foods served during Thanksgiving. In the past I got by on stuffing (which probably wasn’t oil free) or mashed potatoes (which weren’t dairy free). Thankfully there was corn, how can you screw that up? Oh that’s right, slather it in butter. This year I wanted my meal to be different and if others who were invited to dinner wanted to sample my offerings, great!

It was great to see plant powered chefs like Chef AJ, Dreena Burton, Julie Marie Christensen and Susan Voisin offering up their suggestions of what to serve. I had a long list of foods, which I know I had to cut down if I wanted to put together a small, yet bountiful meal. I knew what I wanted to eat; lentil loaf, stuffing and either green beans or creamed corn. I nearly changed my main dish to a quinoa and red lentil cutlet, after making this dish on Monday, but felt a lentil loaf had a much deeper flavor and went better with the side dishes I wanted to serve.

I was reading about the different lentil loaf recipes, some with nuts, others with apples and raisins or sweet potatoes. I decided to use Dreena’s No-fu Love Loaf, a loaf I have prepared before and thoroughly enjoy. It goes together fairly quickly after softening up the lentils and bulgur wheat. It’s a heart loaf that is loaded with flavor and even better the next day. Cold!

I am so very happy to have found Protective Diet, run by Julie Marie Christensen. It’s described as “The Oil, Sugar & Nut Free Plant based Plan,” all of which can limit our success when we are trying to get healthy or lose weight. Her Stuff Yourself Stuffing is outstanding. Made without the butter and unnecessary sodium found in many recipes. This is the third time I have made this stuffing and the prior two times I have eaten the entire pan. It’s the combination of spices that make this dish so good.

I had also hoped to use the Green Bean Casserole recipe from Protective Diet, but I failed to register for her PD-ed and missed out on using it. That meant I was back on the Internet looking for other options, which led me back to Susan Voisin and her Vegan Green Bean Casserole. What I didn’t like about the recipe was the use of French’s Fried Onion, even at 3 oz, it’s still unnecessary fat, not to mention processed. Yet, with that one exception I still decided to use this recipe. I did omit the vegan margarine and didn’t use any added sodium. Looking forward to this!

Finally, I needed a dessert. Not a big fan of baking, but I have started to bake more. I was considering some Pumpkin Pie Squares from Cathy Stewart’s Straight Up Food, as these went over very well the first time I made them. I wanted to skip out on pies, since my MIL was going to make a few. I did however stumble across Pumpkin Pie Bites from the Fat Free Vegan Kitchen. I read through the recipe and it looked a bit more involved than I wanted, but a look in the pantry revealed I had all the ingredients. This was the only dish I cooked last night and I thought 45 minutes was a long time in the oven. The crust seemed to be a bit too chewy, but that could have been because it was just out of the oven and was still cooling. Hopefully these had a chance to set up better overnight.

I don’t expect many of the guests we have invited to try my food. It will be out and available to everyone and I know my aunt will partake. She is bringing vegan tamales. Guess she was worried about what I was cooking. LOL! No matter what happens I am going to have a happy plant-strong Thanksgiving, as I have much to be thankful for. Happy Plantsgiving!

Body Fat vs Lean Muscle Mass: Part 4

bmiIt’s been an amazing journey on the road to health, not only based on what I see in the mirror, but the numbers that confirm a plant-based, whole foods diet has been the most beneficial part of this equation. I have gone through number blood tests that reflected an improvement in numbers such as total cholesterol, HDL, LDL and triglycerides. Change, in the case was a good thing, as I felt better having more energy, clothes I had not worn in years were suddenly fitting!

In conjunction with taking control of my diet and introducing a plant-based diet in October, 2011 I added exercise at the start of 2012 (with Power 90) followed by a home work out routine on our Bowflex Revolution. It wasn’t long after I got bored with Tony and his kids that I cut this out of my of my routine, replacing it with walking while at work. In May, I joined the local gym, Diamond Hills Sports Club in Oakley and started with a split routine. A few months later I teamed up with a co-worker who introduced more split routines to me. Unfortunately at his passing I was left without a workout partner.

Enter Stronglifts 5×5 where I have been since beginning this program in October, 2012. To date, it’s been 12 weeks of lifting weights on this program and I have been very impressed with the results. While looking in the mirror I haven’t been able to see much of a physical change, my lifting log tells a different story. All the lifts I perform have seen an increase in weight.

On Thursday I went for another body composition test, a test I had undergone 2 previous times (results from the first test) beginning June, 2012. This provided me a realistic baseline of lean body mass vs body fat. The first test was revealing and I was pleased when my body fat was 15.6%, which was just a bit on the high side of the healthy range. Four months later, I had dropped 5 more pounds from 179 to 174 and decreased my body fat to 13.8%. Unfortunately I also saw a 1.1 pound decrease in lean body mass (from 151.1 to 150).

It was just 5 days later I would start Stronglifts (read New Approach: Stronglifts) and 12 weeks later I would see positive results. I continued to follow a plant strong diet and even though my weight has increased by 8 pounds (182 lbs on the day of the test) my clothes are still fitting comfortably and I feel good about how I look. I gained 5 lbs of lean body mass (now 85.15%), which is hopefully attributed to muscle with the lifting program I have been following. That was exciting to hear and the results I have logged while lifting weights seem to back up this number. I also picked up 3 pounds of fat (body fat now 14.9%), which could be attributed to eating more calories in order to replace what I burn through out the day and when I am exercising.

What’s next? Reevaluating my weight lifting goals in order to achieve improved results in the next 4 months when the body composition tests returns to our gym. These numbers will be part of what I hope to achieve in a 12 month period of weight lifting. With a 4 week and a 1 week break during this 12 week program, I have not met the goals I originally set. Still, I saw positive results in the body composition test.

Man Doesn’t Need Meat

eatveggiesI have a friend I have known for about 4 years, who’s married with two beautiful daughters. Unfortunately he isn’t the healthy guy I have ever met. He is overweight (probably borderline obese on charts), has diabetes, high blood pressure, most likely high cholesterol (although I have not asked, just know his eating habits) and he is a smoker. As I wrote about him before, he would be a prime candidate for Dr. McDougall’s 12-day program as he reminded me of Sam Waterman, who saw outstanding results in just 12 days eating a plant-based, whole foods diet.

I probably got a bit pushy and preachy at times when it came to the success I was having by following Dr. McDougall and his ideas. Still not sure why it took 41 years to finally figure out where good nutrition begins, but it wasn’t with meat and dairy products as we have been lied to since early childhood. How could I not share the secret to my success when I was in the midst of dropping 44 pounds and improving my total cholesterol to 130? These results equate to nothing short of amazing for me! I am still surprised at how I have gone from poor health with headaches, foot and abdominal pains to where am I now, relying on no medication and the healthiest I have ever been.

It takes that “ah ha moment” when something clicks and you finally comes to that realization. For me, it was a combination of identifying my state of health when I went for a routine check up at the dentist and I could not remember all the medications I was prescribed. Thankfully I have a co-worker who follows a plant-based diet and she recommended the documentary, Forks Over Knives. It was that documentary that got me interested in nutrition and taking control of my health.

Last year my overweight and “sick” friend commented to me during a family barbeque, “man needs meat! as he stood over his grill that was full of chicken and beef. For him, it was seeing the changes I had gone through, losing the weight, improving my blood numbers and cooking foods that are both healthy for you and good to eat. He wasn’t convinced, as he continued his eating habits, which was not governed by portion control. If he continued down this road, early death was a distinct possibility.

About 2 weeks ago he and his wife watched Food Matters and Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead with Joe Cross. Her husband could have easily pass for Phil Staples, the truck drive Joe Cross meets in the documentary. While not as obese as Phil, he needed to make drastic changes in order to take control of his health. These two documentaries have opened his eyes in a way I have never seen. The guy who once subscribed to “man needs meat” has been plant-based for just over 2 weeks and has dropped about 20 pounds! He told me last night over Chef AJ’s Disappearing Lasagna (I also made him a doggy bag for lunch) that he was feeling ribs he had not felt in years! Talk about a positive change, this was such great news!

I see much jubilation and excitement in his step and the way he talks. His wife is quite excited over the changes he has made recently, as she too is now following this way of eating. He currently belongs to the same gym as I and has been going on a regular basis, using some of the machines and walking on the treadmill. This in itself is progress. Who knows, maybe in the coming weeks/months I can get him on my weight lifting routine. It thrills me to see a good friend take control of his health and make such positive changes.

I Cheated!

cheaterI’ll be the first to admit it. I cheated from late December until this past Sunday on my health. I knew better, but for the sake of convenience I made a poor decisions. It was a very challenging month, as it usually is with the holidays. This year more so than year’s past because my wife went into surgery on December 26 and was hospitalized for another 5 days due to complications from surgery. If that wasn’t enough to deal with, we moved into a new home, which put further stress on my life to try and get as much accomplished before my wife arrived to her new home in order to rest and recuperate.

I got into the “I’ll do it tomorrow” mindset when it came to the gym. Time being valuable, I had to make he most of it in order to get the old house cleared out and all the belongings into the new house. By the time 3 or 4 pm rolled around, the last thing I wanted to do was work out. Time probably could have been made, but I chose not to go.

Before I knew it the weeks started to roll by and it was just about 1 month before I got back into my routine and started back at the gym this past Monday. In the confusion of moving and the stress of my wife’s surgery/recovery eating because quick and convenient. I began to frequent Chipotle and their veggie burrito offering knowing full well it was NOT a healthy option. Using the Chipotle Fan nutritional calculator my veggie burrito (brown rice, black beans, hot salsa, corn, guacamole and lettuce tipped the nutritional scale at 805 calories, of which 260 (or 29 g) were fat calories! To make matters worse, the sodium content was pushing 2200mg!

As I posted on the McDougall Group on Facebook, I also took to the bottle, making Stella (Artois) my best friend. Again, not the smart decision, but it was a difficult time, still it was nothing more than an excuse on my part to start drinking beer.

Until now I had been very good when it comes to watching what I ate. I was faithfully tracking my food daily, as well as weighing myself in the morning. It was part of my daily routine. I stopped all that completely the past 31 days because of everything going on. What surprised me even more was when I finally did weigh myself this past Monday I was 174.7 pounds, which was about 4 pounds down from where I last weighed myself in December.

Today was my first day back to work after 31 days off, one which was a vacation week and the other 3 weeks were covered by FMLA to care for my wife after back surgery. I resolved to stop frequenting Chipotle as regularly as I was (nearly daily!) and I tipped my last 2 Stellas yesterday. While it was not tough making the decision to get back to the gym, I have been twice this week with some pain in returning after such a layoff, but it’s a good pain.

With the setback in December and to start the year I will have to review the 8 week gym plan I had. There is no possible way I will make up the shortcoming on what I had planned to do. Not really a problem as I will just make adjustments to my plan. In fact I will start looking towards the end of my first year working out in the gym, which happens at the end of October. Those goals are more important than these short, 8 weeks goals that helped get me started.

February is also quickly approaching and that means it will be another 4 month interval since my last body fat test (hydrostatic testing). While I would like to go get a DXA Scan in San Jose, CA, not sure I am ready to part with the price tag to get it done. Keeping it consistent, I will probably pay the $39 for a retest in about 4 weeks and see where I am when it comes to body composition. I had made great strides forward in the past 8 weeks. Hopefully the December setback hasn’t derailed my attempt to a point that I take a step back.

So the moral of my story, many may fail or cheat at some point with this way of eating, much like I did. Some might fail worse than others or for longer periods. Just remember tomorrow is a good day to start and no time is it every too late to make a change in your health.