Living the Healthy Life
You could ask a hundred people what their idea of living a healthy life means, and you’ll (at least initially) get a similar answer- eat healthy, exercise and get enough sleep. Ta-da! Seems simple enough, doesn’t it?! But now, if you ask each of those one hundred people to break it down- What foods are healthy? How much exercise, and what kind of exercise is best? How much is “enough sleep”? Well, here’s where it gets crazy. It seems that for as many people there are in the world, there’s an equal amount of theories on what is “the best” way to live a healthy lifestyle. So, with all of the choices out there, and conflicting information (such as “Eat a whole grain diet for optimal heart health!!!” vs. “Stay away from wheat and grains!!”) what do you do?! How do you decide what’s best for you, when everyone has assured you that they are the ones who have the right answers, not the other guy!
My Very Important Disclaimer
I can’t lie to you. I’ve never had a weight problem. With the exception of carrying nearly 50lbs of extra weight during two pregnancies (what can I say, I ate a lot, and they were big babies), I’ve been in the range of 108lbs (my lowest, which was too low for me) and 136lbs (which was too high for me) throughout my adult life. Call it good genes, call it high metabolism… call it luck. However, I’d be remiss to call it good eating or lifestyle habits prior to December of 2013. Not to say I was terrible- I’d probably say I was somewhat typical. The worst choice was smoking. By the time I’d quit (14 years ago, and proudly counting) I was at a pack a day, and only increasing to more as time went on. I spent every day smoking carelessly, while each night, as a lay down to sleep, I thought about my potential for lung cancer- is it growing right now, and I don’t even know it- and the fact that I was too young to hear a wheeze in my chest when I breathed, or feel out of breath when I went up the stairs. The final nudge was watching my 3 year old pretend to “be me” by taking a puff off of an imaginary cigarette, then grinding it out on the ground. It mortifies me to this day to recall that image. Quitting was hard initially, as any smoker can tell you, and there’s no way around that. What kept me on track, more than even the desire to be a better role model for my kids, what the thought that kept running through my mind every time I felt like giving up and giving in to the urge, and that was this, ” Never again will I allow anyone or anything control, or dictate to me how I live” Because that’s what happens when you’re a smoker- the need, the addiction controls you. It tells you where you’ll park so that you have enough time for a smoke, it decides how long you stay somewhere, if you can’t smoke there. It tells you that you can’t drink your coffee, or start your car, until you’ve lit one up. It’s the boss of you, and it’s inanimate.
So, aside from the smoking, I was a “good eater”, meaning, I ate fruits, vegetables, meats… but I also ate anything else I wanted to. Junk food, processed food, ice cream… everything. My logic was simple: I can eat what I want because I’m thin. I disregarded the fact that I had ever increasing acid reflux and was prone to skin issues ranging from mild eczema to cystic acne, mood swings and irritability to name a few. All of those things cold be reasoned away- everyone gets moody, the acne is from PMS, too much spicy food. When it’s your “normal” you accept it as being just the way things are. Until you decide you’ve had enough, and want answers, and with those answers, you want change. And on December 15th, 2013 that’s where I was at.
I had reached a point where my chronic reflux now required prescription strength medication to alleviate the constant burn in my chest and throat. I was 42 and still having episodes of cystic acne. Lastly, and worst for me to accept, was that I had slowly packed on an a very sneaky 20lbs. On me that translated to 136lbs. Now, before the eye rolling begins, and the snide “aw, poor you” from my heavier friends starts up: whether or not that scale number is good or bad to you, to me, it was bad. My clothes were too tight, or didn’t fit at all, I felt sluggish and simply miserable, and my (undiagnosed) ADD was like having a full time fireball in my body. I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror, or how I felt on the inside. I was sick of being told, “Oh, stop- you look fine!” and “Well, welcome to your 40’s! That’s the way it goes!” You know what I thought of that? Bullshit. Bull-effing-shit, that I’ll accept feeling this dissatisfied with myself. And neither should you, ever. Don’t buy it, because anyone who says that has chosen to cop out on ownership of their life and their body, and they want you to quit, too, so they can justify it. And I don’t mean they do it maliciously, because they don’t. It’s the old “misery loves company” adage. So, what to do?
My Second, Even More Important Disclaimer
Ok, folks. This really is important. I AM NOT A PROFESSIONAL… anything. I’m not a professional anything. I have no degree or license saying that I’m an expert. What I have to offer, is what works for me. I’m my own advertisement, and all I can guarantee, is that so far, the lifestyle I’ve chosen works for me. Who cares, right? You want to know if it’ll work for you, I’d guess. My opinion? Yes, yes I think from a very logical standpoint, this can and will work for you. But, since I’m not a professional, no promises. What I will promise is to include links to the real experts; doctors,nutritionists, and scientists who back up their claims with a wealth of research and knowledge and those fancy papers that prove it.. I highly recommend each of their sites, as they can give in depth explanations to things I can only be passingly informative about.
Here We Go
Alright, so as I’ve stated (twice, at least) my critical moment came on December 15th, 2013. I’d failed, once again, at zipping up a favorite pair of pants. I’d changed for the fourth time, hating everything on sight (on me) and I’d stepped on the dreaded scale to see just what the fuuuu… was up. 136lbs. That’s what was up. The night before, while laying in bed with a bowl of ice cream and my iPad, I’d come across a FB post from a friend (actually, it was a re-post from a blog) about the Paleo (also known as the ‘Caveman” ) Diet. I’d been hearing the phrase ‘Paleo’ a lot over the past year, but had blown it off as just another ridiculous fad diet. That night, though, I’d been curious enough jus to see what the fuss was all about, especially after seeing an acquaintance- who I hadn’t seen in a couple months- that had recently lost about 15lbs doing this strangely named diet.
In a nutshell: Paleo is shortened from Paleolithic , as in Paleolithic Age..as in early Stone Age, hence Caveman. The idea is that the diet eaten by our predecessors was one more suited to our particular species, and that our health problems, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer did not even exist in this time frame. (Click here for a true and thorough explanation). Only when we became settlers, and agriculture began, did we see a decline in health. Therefore, this lifestyle (it’s not a ‘diet’) encourage a hunter/gatherer type of primary diet. Grass fed meats, vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts, to be exact. There are varying degrees of implementation of the Paleo Diet, that can be adjusted to ones personal needs. For example, if you have a nut allergy, it’s logical (and probably lifesaving) for you to eliminate nuts. There is, however, a list of accepted and non accepted foods to use as reference, click here for that. The obvious no-no’s are: processed foods, sugar, wheat/grains (which came with settling and agriculture), soda, most dairy, and GMO foods.
Now, if you do your research you’ll find arguments against Paleo, usually with the premise that Cavemen did not have long life spans, so how can that be a good diet?! The simple answer is that cavemen did not have the resources that we do, such access to medical care. That’s kind of a biggie, there. Without medical care, a broken bone- a cut, for that matter- could’ve led to sepsis, and death. Given this, a shortened life span was more likely due to these factors, rather than diet. I’m sure there’s other arguments, compelling ones perhaps, but I like simple logic. Logic to me, is: fresh, real food, zero to minimal chemicals (additives and preservatives) and nothing from a box/package. see? Simple, isn’t it?
So, the first week was relatively easy. Easy, in that I’d hit the point of hyper focused determination to get myself straightened out. So hyper focused that I wasn’t daunted by the prospect of changing every thing I did, food wise, and believe me- it can be not only daunting, but downright discouraging (I will address that more later). I absorbed every bit of knowledge I could find, including downloading quick access info apps like this. Then, I warned everyone (everyone being my husband) not to fu** with my new plan, or tempt me to make bad food choices. Penalty: Death.
Having said that…. the first week was hard. Hard, in that I changed all of my eating habits in an instant, as in cold turkey. No pasta (I freaking LOVE pasta) no dairy (Oh my God, I love dairy!) no sugar (Please, it’s my crack) no…everything I love to eat. Fortunately, I’d come at this prepared, both mentally and with my grocery list. I can’t stress this enough: You absolutely cannot do this without A) having a food plan/menu or B) prepare food in advance, and expect success. Not in the world we live in, with it’s infinite ready made temptations for our consumption.
Back to mental preparedness. The obvious is that you start off motivated, determined, and even excited. This is how to give yourself the best chance at success. If you start off feeling as though you are “missing out” or “giving up” food you love, you’ve already convinced yourself that you’re doing something negative, rather than making the most positive life changing decision ever. Again, let’s stick with our friend Logic. Logic tells us that, if we have a positive and optimistic attitude, we can succeed, but if we consume ourselves with negative thoughts, we will likely fail. So, attitude & outlook are paramount, and parallel with preparedness. Remember, you are not “punishing” yourself by walking away from the OREOS, you are gaining ownership of your body. If you take my manta from when I quit smoking, “Never again will I allow anyone or anything control, or dictate to me how I live” and apply it here, it will serve as a reminder to yourself that a healthy lifestyle is not punishment, it’s a rewarding.
So, I was well armed, well educated, and ready. I knew, from my research, that it was not only possible to experience some genuine withdrawal symptoms, it was quite likely. Drinking extra water is recommended, as well as these tips. I didn’t get off scot free, however, my symptoms were mild. Within two weeks I realized that my chronic heartburn/reflux was gone, no more prescription medication. I was down a few pounds, and I felt less scattered, more focused. By the fourth week I was no longer seeing the cystic acne breakouts that had plagued me more than half of my life. By the tenth week, I’d lost 14 lbs. And by the 20 week I’d lost 18lbs. I’d not only achieved a weigh loss goal, going from 136lbs down to 118lbs, I’d erased health issues that I’d believed to be life long issues.
I’m closing in on the one year mark of this dramatic lifestyle change. Occasionally I “slip” and eat the bad stuff, though I really pick carefully when I allow for that to happen. It’s important to me to be in control of the decision, rather than hunger dictate a choice. Usually, it’s when we are guests somewhere that doesn’t offer food choices that are part of my eating habits. When this happens, I usually eat something prior to leaving the house so as not to be starving when it comes time to eat. Also, while I’d eliminated dairy in the first four months, I’ve reintroduced it in moderation with no adverse affect. By continuing my reading and research, I’ve found that a hybrid of Paleo, Wheat Belly Diet, and Clean Eating (although, they encourage whole grains, so I pick and choose what I incorporate) works best for me, and for my husband (he’s on board now too, as long as I do all the work, which is fine by me!). All three apply simple…yup, you guessed it: Logic.
The core concept for all three consists of eating whole, unaltered foods. By unaltered, I mean no preservatives, no additives, no artificial ingredients, no (or minimal) processing. Organic and grass fed are big wins, but expensive, so learn your dirty dozen, and utilize your local farmers markets. Stay away from things that require a label, especially if that label has more than five ingredients (and those five should only be things you recognize to be actual food!) and if you must “buy the boxed stuff” learn about ways harmful/unhealthy ingredients get hidden by deceptive labeling. Wheat, for example is in both Twizzlers licorice and bottled salad dressing (and you’d be shocked at how much sugar is in salad dressing, never mind the candy!) Gluten/Gluten free is a huge topic, with professionals weighing in on both sides, however, for my purposes, I don’t make any distinctions. Meaning, simply, I am not “gluten free”, I am wheat/grain free. Please read what Dr. William Davis has to say about wheat and grains.
Is This For YOU?
I honestly don’t know. But, my unprofessional opinion? Yes, it’s for everyone (modified if necessary to fit you personal health needs, such as nut allergies). Here’s what sucks, and makes me down right furious. Fact: It’s costly. Your grocery bill will be higher, and you will seemingly come home with less, to boot. Yes, irony of ironies, it costs more to buy fresh, real ingredients that haven’t been altered in any way, that it does to buy packaged, boxed and chemically laced foods. We, as a society, can not possibly be more screwed up when it comes to priorities. Counter Fact: when you weigh your grocery bill against to potential (or existing) medical bills incurred from poor health, it becomes a no brainer.
We are addicted to these unhealthy foods, and that’s the way they (the food industry) likes it. We crave those highly processed foods the way, well, the way an drug addict craves drugs. Once you break the cycle, you rarely feel tempted, and in fact get repulsed by the smells of those once appetizing foods. I almost always have a reaction of some sort whenever I consume those “trigger” foods- ranging from a return of heartburn symptoms, acne flare up, and/or stomach upset.
The Three Questions I’m Most Often Asked
So, when people ask me, “Hey, How’s your diet going?” I bristle. This is a lifestyle, not a diet, folks. You’re not counting calories, or cleansing, or using a point system. We’re not going to psychoanalyze why you eat, or when. You’re just going to put good food in your body when you feel like eating, and not put bad food in your body. Boom, that’s it. And I’m not trying to be a jerk about it, or seem smug & self righteous, it just really is that simple.
Another common question I’d like to answer here, ‘Ohh, you can’t eat this (‘this’ being typically a dessert, or something fried/breaded), can you?” No, silly I can eat whatever I want, I choose not to eat things that are a detriment to my health. You have the power to make that choice as well, no matter how hard you think it might be to “give up” those foods you think you love, compare to all you gain and it’ll take away their power over you. I’ve had several people tell me, upon hearing about my lifestyle, “Oh, well, I don’t have a problem with grains, so I don’t need to do that.” Rather than go on a long and pointless explanation that they’re totally not interested in, I simply say, “Read Wheat Belly“. Dr. Davis can explain the effects of wheat and grains far better than I could even hope to. Then, the ball is in their court.
The third question I get from friends and family is, ” Oh my God. I don’t even have the time or energy to figure all that out, can’t you just make me menus and I’ll just follow that?!” My answer is: Yes! But, it’s a conditional yes. If I’m going to take the time and energy to create this for you, then I have to believe that you are both serious and ready to make the change. sometimes they’re on board, and sometimes they’re just not ‘there’ yet. It’s all about timing, when you’re ready, you know.
Uh-Oh, Here Comes A Sales Pitch
Now, now, don’t be like that! Truth? I’m not a salesperson (as my ten second stint as a Nordstrom employee proved). I’m not going to bombard you with offers, specials and deals. My “pitch” is simple: At my last “consultation” it dawned on me that perhaps others would be interested in this lifestyle, but feel too overwhelmed by the prospect of researching and then planning menus, all while juggling work, family, home life, and social lives. So, if there’s an interest, I’ll work with you to make a plan. In the follow up blog, I’ll tell you more about how I do it.
You absolutely can do this, with or without my help. (see, told you I can’t sell). However, if you go it on your own, you need to do your research, consult with your doctor, and don’t stop medications without doing so. Knowledge is truly empowering, and controlling what you can in your environment (like the food you eat) will help maintain your willpower. The links I’ve included are some of my favorites, and I encourage you to reference them often. Feel free to comment below, and if you have any questions about my health journey, I’ll be happy to share what I’ve learned.
Good luck, and thanks for reading!