Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Change your lifestyle, change your life.

I just got back from my doctor's office where we reviewed my labs from last week (I had gone in to have my cholesterol rechecked after going off Pravastatin a few months ago) and the news was really, really great.

My LDL (or "bad" cholesterol) is now LOWER than it was when I was on 40 mg of Pravastatin! I am in the healthy range and don't have to consider my self a person with high cholesterol anymore.

I am so excited, I can't stand it!

Ever since my mom dragged me to a health fair at age 14, I've known I had high cholesterol. While I'm not exactly sure how high is high, I do know this: my life insurance is more expensive than it would be for a "healthy" person, my old doctor put me on a cholesterol lowering statin the very first time she met me, and no one clinical has ever suggested my diet could do much at all to turn it around.

It appeared I was one of the lucky ones who had high cholesterol because of my genetics. I mean, it's not like I was sitting around drinking Cokes and eating fast food every day. I was practically doing everything right! Sure I ate more pasta and pizza than I probably should have and marked the end of most days with a drink (or 3). But how bad could that be? In the grand scheme of things, I knew I ate healthier than most people. So if I still had high cholesterol, it had to be my genes. Right?

That's what my previous doctor said and why I went along with the prescription drugs for a while. But recently it started to feel like a slippery slope. If high cholesterol could be passed down to me from my mom, then so could Alzheimer's. I know that could be true, but really don't want to believe that it's possible for me. That might sound crazy, but I honestly believe a good deal of what happens to us is what we believe will happen to us. Wrong or not, I see no harm in envisioning myself healthy and happy long into the future.

I wanted to prove to myself that genes are just one piece of the puzzle. That what scientists are saying about epigenetics holds more weight than what we've always heard about genetics. Perhaps my particular genes would make me have to try harder than someone who didn't inherit a predisposition for high cholesterol but I could handle that. As long as I'm in the drivers seat, I'm happy to drive.

Since the key to almost every disease you can imagine is inflammation, the goal was to get as anti-inflammatory as I could. Things that cause inflammation include:
  • Poor diet (sugar, refined flour, processed foods, trans fats and saturated fats)
  • Lack of exercise
  • Stress
I knew I could exercise more but I felt pretty good about my diet and how I handled stress. Since my doctor wasn't impressed with the C-reactive protein test that checks for inflammation (the results can be skewed if you have a sore throat or a hang nail or really, anything at all that could be causing inflammation), he suggested I simply "try harder."

I decided to tackle my diet first because, honestly, it seemed like the easiest step. My doctor suggested cutting out wheat, dairy, sugar and corn because they tend to cause the most problems in most people. After doing that for a few weeks, Bill and I decided to try the Clean Program cleanse. It was a 21 day elimination diet (we had to cut out caffeine, alcohol, nightshades, tofu, etc in addition to the big four we already stopped). We drank protein shakes for breakfast and dinner, ate a healthy lunch, fasted 12 or more hours each night and took lots of supplements. 

It might sound like a nightmare but it was actually pretty great. Well, after the first four days of caffeine withdrawal. Have you ever experienced that? It's brutal. I honestly thought I was stroking out at one point because my head hurt SO bad. But once it was over, everything else was fine. I guess it's easy to eat well when the food tastes so good.

Rice, quinoa, black beans, avocado, mango, kale, green salsa

Roasted cauliflower with a side of hummus.

Morning juice

Kale salad with pears and pecans

We even managed to (mostly) stay clean in Mexico! 

After the 21 days were over, we were supposed to slowly reintroduce foods into our diet to see what bothered us and what didn't but we kind of took our own approach. I call it extreme moderation. Most of the time (like when we're cooking or at home) we stick to the 21 day plan. Mostly. More or less... And then occasionally, in moderation, we eat or drink whatever we want.

I'm pretty sure it all balances out.

For instance, if I drink a smoothie for breakfast every day (kale, blueberries, half a banana, coconut oil, almond butter, rice protein and a scoop of super greens) and eat a salad or soup or healthy leftovers for lunch and make a whole foods plant based dinner almost every single night, you better believe I'm eating pizza the next time someone offers.

Which, oh my gosh, I just remembered - I ate pizza the night before my labs! It was Easter weekend so all bets were pretty much off. I drank margaritas and wine, ate chips and salsa and birthday cake and cheese, and had more than a few of my kids' Reese's eggs. I was afraid it might mess up my results (and I'm sure it did have an impact, actually), but I still came out A-OK!

I now have no prescription drugs in my life. I'm just like a normal human being! I'm definitely not against them (when you need them, they are a miracle), but it feels really good to know that what I eat and how I live can affect my health just as much (if not more) than a bottle of pills. It makes me feel like I have a lot more control over my destiny than I perhaps believed. Which, when your parents have ailments you'd rather not inherit, is a really, really good feeling.


jen scaffidi said...

Nice work! Amy and I just did the 30-day green smoothie challenge at They have a 21-day cleanse that we're gonna try as soon as we're done with Chicago. Looks awfully similar to what you're doing. Real food is good! Way to heal yourself!

No Mommy Brain said...

Thanks, Jen! Sounds like you guys are on the same path. Feels good, right?!