Monday, August 13, 2018

Saving Your Life

(*all lab results and personal information shared here has been with full permission of Mr. Wonderful)

Why are we posting this? Because we are not the only humans on the planet who are being given horribly mixed messages about food, lifestyle, activity and exercise, health and well-being. We're not the only people who have been sold a bill of goods around food "choices". We are not the only people told to just "eat everything in moderation and exercise more", and then felt the shame and disappointment when that doesn't work - AGAIN. We know that for us, this is working when nothing conventional thinking has offered us has - in fact even the fad things I have tried (Atkins! Zone!) have all been bullshit in the end. At it's core this is about truth and science and reality. For some of us, moderation isn't "enough". We need clear, bright lines to guide us and keep us safe. We need the freedom of fewer choices in a world that bombards us with half truths and untruths all day long. We need to obsess and think about food LESS, not MORE. The choice of what's on the menu today is already made. Follow the plan. Learn and grow as you go. And never forget to love yourself enough to trust your gut.

I had wanted to do this entry on Thursday last week, which represented the 60 day mark of the Bright Line Eating program to which we committed in June after our drive back from Massachusetts. I had been up there for three weeks. Before I left there had been some intense conversations with Mr. Wonderful about food and lifestyle choices. See, when we first got together, Mr. Wonderful was a single dad manorexic looking guy who drank screwdrivers, smoked too much, and appeared to subsist entirely on chocolate marshmallow ice cream topped with bananas and maple syrup, and a steady stream of road cycling. He was muscled from riding, but his lifestyle choices were not really in line with a long range potential for good health. When I moved in with him in December 1991, I brought with me two kids, three meals a day, and snacks. We both smoked. I quit in 1993, he struggled more than I did with nicotine. I dreamed of being a vegetarian. I tried being a vegetarian. I gained 30 pounds. We rarely used convenience food, but the balance wasn't all that great - meat was a big part of the day, we didn't eat enough vegetable and fruit, and we ate a ton of bread products. Compared to the "average American household" we were doing well. Except that...we weren't.

Meanwhile, my weight ranged on a kiddie coaster scale, and Mr. Wonderful steadily put weight on. He tried to quit smoking, which only added more pounds. Then he did quit smoking, finally, and that added even more.  He rode aggressively and was disappointed that riding didn't have more control over his weight and health - after all isn't that the cure? "JUST EXERCISE MORE! EVERYTHING IN MODERATION!" Then we added alcohol back in. And...more pounds. I ranged from "chubby" to "one point from obesity on the BMI chart". He did the same. I joined the YMCA and learned to swim, and swam daily until I swam a mile on weekdays and two miles on Saturday and Sunday. My laps were neatly recorded in an excel spread sheet. My weight didn't change. He rode his bike when he could. My blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol remained in check. His did not. Not even close. He found himself taking "old-man meds". This was depressing because it just didn't feel like HIM. We tried different things, different eating plans. I would make all his meals...but he is a grazer and would snack. I struggled with snacking myself. Neither of us was happy with our weight, and his blood pressure and blood sugar and cholesterol were alarmingly out of control even WITH medication. I saw myself becoming a widow before I was 60. I could see it coming, like a freight train with me tied to the tracks. In 2015, while living in Plymouth, I recommitted to being vegetarian. I told him I would no longer be cooking meat at home. This worked well, and I think we both had some benefits. We kept dairy in, however. We definitely ate better. We went to the health club 3-4 days a week. I walked every day, 3 miles a day, with the dogs. He joined us on weekends. But it still wasn't enough.

When I moved to NC I had lost a bunch of weight, but whether that was a result of grief, super low thyroid, or vegetarianism I do not know; I suspect all three. Disappointingly, meat sneaked back in - it had made a re-appearance when the young woman we brought with us to help us get settled expressed her need for meat. For her, we said, for her...and began to eat it. Gene continued to snack. He is particularly fond of sugar - candy, starchy vegetables, popcorn, alcohol. I am particularly fond of sugar as well, but in a different form - cocoa powder, potatoes, and wine. It just was not a pretty picture. Having lost weight, I watched myself snack it all back on. After all, I said, work was stressful. I stress-ate. He hit a high of 196#. I was almost back up to 120# - I prefer to be under 110#. The lifestyle was out of control, and I knew that for me it was unsustainable. But what about him? He seemed depressed about the situation and seemed unable to see choices. He talked about genetics, and said this 'was just the way things were'.

In the early spring of 2018 I bought into The Food Revolution Network's annual summit. I remember we were in the car and listening to a free live session when the offer to purchase came on. I just bought it. I figured that we could listen when on road trips, and maybe he could find some nugget of hope, some alternative to the depressing idea of out-of-control genetics killing him slowly. Anything to get him away from statements like "I'll probably turn 65, retire, and die." He had reason to be depressed, and good reason to see a bleak future. In April of 2018 his lab work looked like a cardiac event waiting to happen. His weight was at an all time high. His blood sugar was 127+ in the mornings ON Metformin. His blood pressure was around 150/90 WITH two meds. His cholesterol had hit an all time high as well - total was 208, triglycerides 336 ON A STATIN. In short, he was not kidding when he said he might just turn 65, retire, and die. Something had to change.

While I was in Massachusetts he ate no meat - as an experiment to see if he really missed it. The older he gets, the more ethical questions come up for him about eating animals. He isn't a cruel man, and sadly our meat comes with a dose of well-documented cruelty. He didn't tell me this until we were on the way home, listening to more Food Revolution Network stuff. The various presenters talked about the dangers of processed foods, expressed documented concerns about meat, looked at food as medicine; food as the way to health. They described genetics as latent potentials, not die-cast futures. They gave back control to the individual by presenting peer-reviewed nutritional science. Not Pollan's "eat food, mostly plants" ideology which never felt 100% right to me because it really avoids the blatant environmental issues around meat - never mind the cruelty issue for a second - but a more honest "eat whole food, plant based, no meat, no dairy" concept. This sort of eating plan is also well documented and supported in peer-reviewed science.

And then they brought on Susan Pierce Thompson, PhD, creator of Bright Line Eating. As we drove along listening she synopsized her beliefs and her program. Processed foods - flours, sugars, alcohols - are, for many of us, addictive. Whole foods are what we were genetically designed to eat. Flour and sugar are the legal food equivalent of heroin and cocaine. When we stopped for a potty break we discussed what she was saying. It felt very true. Yes, food is addictive. We joke about it culturally, but it isn't a joke at all - the science bears it out. The brain has been compromised. Damaged by the drugs hiding in our food. And most of us have been eating it since we were born.

"We could try it", I said. "I can get her book, and read it, and we can just...try it."

"I have to do something. I'll try it." he said. And in that moment I saw what I had been waiting for - the spark of survival drive that just might be enough to change our future.

Home we came, and I ordered the book. I read it and ordered a copy of The China Study. We discussed the plan. I wanted to make it whole food plant based, and if he really couldn't stand it, he could add in a piece of meat now and then. Three meals a day, portions weighed. Anything not on the list and not at the right time of day is "Not My Food", and therefore off limits. It isn't a choice any more. It's just the way it is. No snacking. No candy. No wine. No cocoa powder. The inner conversations are healthy. "I recognize that you want that, but it isn't yours. Why do you think that you want it? What is something else that would make you feel good that isn't food that's not yours?" Inner family work. Healing. Allowing our brains to recover from lifetimes of addictive foods - literally - and lifetimes of proteins unhealthy for humans to consume day in and day out, three meals a day. Learning food triggers. No blame, no shame, no guilt. Awareness, acceptance, and self-compassion. Being mindful of emotional or behavioral impulses to consume food that isn't "mine". Healing the gut, the heart, the mind. The whole thing.

We began on June 11, 2018. Fresh start. I bought tons of vegetables. I cleared the house of things like honey and maple syrup and gluten free flours. We had a "last binge" and work up shit. And we said good-bye to it all and stepped into a new normal.

At first it was hard, and I was deeply grateful that I hadn't picked up any work hours. The shifts I work are usually 8am-8pm. I leave home at 7am (no later than 7:09 am to be precise) and get back anywhere between 8:30 and 11pm, depending on the day. Being home meant I was free to focus on weighing, planning, and learning what worked. At first eating all of the food the plan demands was difficult. We literally could not finish meals, especially at night. Eventually we have found things that work, and only sometimes are too full at supper now. I will share a typical day at the end of this post. I learned to bite, lick, and taste less (I do taste occasionally, I have peace with that, because I am the cook and I need things to be palatable for a fairly picky man). I had a horrible feeling of shame when I returned from grocery shopping one day and popped a grape into my mouth without thinking. I sat down and thought about this - was that really the end of the world? Was I going to allow that one slip to destroy me inside? Or was I going to give myself an internal hug, and talk about how to avoid a similar misstep in the future, with lots of love and self-compassion? I did the latter. And we moved forward.

We talked about the hurdles. His afternoon habit of returning to the cafeteria at work for a snack and coffee was a hard one; so too the piles of food that seem to grow from the furniture in corporate offices. And the "leftovers" after meetings which he felt guilty about "wasting". I have worked a couple of days and felt myself mindlessly reaching for my Milky Way Midnight Mini "treat". I stop myself, redirect, and get a cup of tea or decaf instead.

Thompson talks about imagining yourself "wearing bunny slippers" during the weight loss phase of her program - take it easy on yourself, worry about exercise later. Losing weight is hard. You release stored up toxins from fat cells into your body. You may be tired. You may experience cravings as the brain tries to get it's drugs back. So reduce your decisions. Don't add in an exercise regimen until it feels right. We had already established personal routines - I walk, he walks and plays table tennis - and we kept those up, with occasional skips if it just didn't feel right. Self-compassion again. No obsessing about anything.

Last week he went to the doctor for a scheduled follow up. I knew he had lost weight, and I knew his blood pressure and blood sugar were down. I wasn't sure what the rest of his labs would show, and I was definitely not sure how his doctor would respond to this allegedly "restrictive" eating plan and lifestyle.

I didn't need to be concerned. After the weigh-in showed a nearly 30lb weight loss, and the blood pressure check revealed a normal BP, the conversation went something like this:

"Wow. I am amazed. What have you been doing?"

"My wife and I are on this plan. She thinks the food is killing us. We eat basically vegan, three meals a day, no snacks."

"Your wife is right. The food is killing us. But...I believe strongly in genetics, especially with cholesterol, so let's do some labs before we take you off all your meds."

I was chomping at the bit, but anxious. What if the doctor was right about the genetics? Would that just throw him back into that defeatist, depressed mindset where he was left feeling out of control of his own life, his own destiny? Would he give up? Head to the snack bar? Run to the store for dead animal parts? I worried. Then the labs came.

8/3/2018 labs show:
Total cholesterol - 145 (highest was 208, normal is under 200).
Triglycerides - 121 (highest was 336, normal is under 150).
Fasting blood glucose - 84 (highest was 134 while ON Metformin!! Normal is 65-99. He stopped taking Metformin in early July because his morning sugars were in the low 80's)

Weight this morning (8/13) - 166.2 (highest was 196). Blood pressure yesterday morning off of one med but still on the second - 127/70. Not perfect...but we are getting there. Blood sugar, which he checks once a week or occasionally after a meal was 107. I think this will come down too, and most days it is down to the mid-80's.

Me - well I've lost ten pounds. I feel really good. I love my food. My skin looks better, my sleep is better, and my tummy is very, very happy (I have IBS but... the symptoms are basically GONE). I don't feel deprived, and he says he doesn't either. I think twice in the last 60 days he's had beef cravings, and has had steak, measured portion of course. When we get closer to goal weight we will add back in things cautiously - for me that may be soon. He would say he misses popcorn. I mostly miss my cocoa powder. But...for me those foods are a slippery slope, gateway drug, danger, and my life is worth more than the fleeting pleasure. There's other things. Like, oh, living healthfully, having more energy, not destroying our bodies with food...all that.

The plan is now easy and feels right. If a thing calls to me I just have a little internal chat about what is and is not my food. It isn't perfect, or always easy - but then when were we promised a simple and easy life?? I think we spend way too much time rewarding ourselves, or making excuses for bad choices. The truth is we don't "deserve" food. Hunger is not an emergency, and there are things in life WAY more important than appeasing some stomping internal child who wants wine, or a candy bar or a piece of meat. Like being alive to see my grandchildren grow. Like not having a slow, lingering horrible death from a preventable disease, but living long enough to get hit by a truck or something. Like that. As Thompson says, this lifestyle isn't "extreme". Extreme is having your limbs cut off or losing your sight to diabetes. Extreme is a health care system that will collapse at some point under the revenue burden of failed "treatments" for preventable diseases. That's extreme. Eating a giant salad for supper...that's fucking simple.

I said I would share a typical day...I do a lot of prep when I have time, so the assembly of meals is much simpler now. We have a repertoire of things we like. We often mix and match proteins and vegetables from a core of liked flavor profiles. We weight nearly everything unless we are out, and then we read menus ahead and have a plan, or we bring food. I prepare the veg and protein separately. I find keeping them separate to be easier for me. This is an average day - I am not giving quantities, just know that we each consume the correct amount for our respective x and y chromosomes based on Bright Line Eating:


Soy yogurt (made in our instant pot with this starter from Amazon)
Oatmeal prepared with soy milk
Fresh fruit, usually a combination of berries, stone fruits, and banana
Flax seed and walnuts, ground.
Generous sprinkle of cinnamon or my breakfast blend of cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric and ginger

Lunch (really this is today's lunch for me!):

Roasted cauliflower from last night


Big (really, 8 ounces of salad is a lot!) mixed tossed salad.
Zoodles with homemade red cabbage and bell pepper pickle and Thai peanut sauce

There's always a bunch of vegetables prepped in the fridge, and usually two or three protein choices as well - tofu, tempeh (also made at home now), or bean salads with flavors that lean toward Mexican, Mediterranean, Thai, what have you. Sometimes the vegetables are cooked, sometimes they are raw. Fat is limited, more than Bright Line Eating recommends, based on Dr. Esselstyn's work around heart disease and fat intake. We do consume some fat, however. After reading his work and looking at Gene's labs and knowing his history...I am not kidding, he was a cardiac event waiting to happen!! Our fats are tiny amount of walnuts, maybe a teaspoon of oil in a pan to keep the tofu from sticking, or a little avocado. No big amounts; nothing more than teaspoons. Breakfast occasionally is tofu and a baked potato or brown rice with fruit.

Goodness, this has gotten long. I am SO very good at that. I will end with this...

 This is Gene in December of 2017. 

This is Gene last Thursday night at Barcelona Burger, waiting for his bean burger and salad.

If I had any more feelings in my heart about these images, I would burst. I am proud, happy, relieved. Even if we get hit by a bus and never see old God we tried our damndest to escape genetics and a faulty, flawed, disastrous, horrific food system. And so can you. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  You can be good to yourself. That doesn't need to involve food.The gratitude, it overwhelms me!

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