Seeking more health improvements through plants

Most people who have known me for a while know that I’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs when it comes to general health (not any specific ailment). After my divorce I put on a lot of weight (I wasn’t terribly healthy before either), and found myself in a place I didn’t want to be. Back in 2010 I made some hard choices and overhauled how much food I was eating, and took up running. The difference was amazing. I lost around 40 pounds in 6 months and was running a half marathon by the end of the year.

Since that time I’ve kept the running going, added in biking, and generally managed to maintain a mostly healthy lifestyle. But despite all of that a few of my numbers haven’t ever been that good. In particular, my cholesterol tests has consistently shown me in the elevated range (over 200), or just right below it. After some issues earlier this year, I was sent in for a CT Angiogram. In this test they put you in a CT scanner and inject you with radioactive dye to get a clear mapping of your arteries and heart.

When I got the results back, I was told that I had a calcium score of 11. Now on a scale of 1-300 that’s not bad. However, with years of high cholesterol tests, it put me solidly in the “mild” category, and the with it came the recommendation to start a low dose statin. Not the words I wanted to hear.

Don’t get me wrong, I know statins have worked well for many people, but I really don’t want to start a drug that is basically considered a lifetime drug. I decided that it was time for some radical shifts in diet, to see if this is something that I can get under my control. I opted not to start the statin, and instead have embarked on the journey of a plant-based whole-food diet.

We picked up a subscription to Forks over Knives meal planner (review coming in the future), and for the last few weeks I have cut out meat and dairy almost completely. The meal planner made this a lot easier than doing it alone, but it’s certainly been a big shift in our eating habits. I went from a pretty big meat eater, to a 99% vegan.

However, the one thing I can’t complain about are the results. When I started this diet I started tracking my blood pressure and weight every day, as well as journaled a few thoughts on how it’s been going. One other marker that had been inching a lot higher in recent years was my blood pressure level, so I was hoping this might have a positive effect on it as well.

When I started this my blood pressure was averaging around 125/76. Not bad, but the American Heart Association considers this “elevated”. In the most recent 15 days I’ve dropped that to 110/72, which is solidly in the normal range. In addition I started this journey at 177 lbs, and this morning weighed in at 165. That’s a HUGE result just over 20 days in.

On top of it all, I’m enjoying the food we’re eating. Some recipes have been flops, but we’ve found so many that are really solid, that I haven’t missed my old eating habits as much as I thought I would. In fact, what I pine for most often is “convenience”. I miss the idea of just opening a tasty bag of chips and scarfing that down, instead of doing the work of making something that is just as filling, but healthier. This certainly takes more work, but along the way we’re finding lots of things that bring back some of that ease.

The real test will be in August when I go back for a cholesterol test. If I am not showing any signs of improvement on that test, then I’m probably headed for a statin. However, if it looks like I’m making solid progress, then I’m going to keep going, and keep getting my lipids tested every three months for the next year, possibly going in to get another CT Angiogram at the end.

It’s full steam ahead on a change that is hopefully what my body has been asking for. And don’t worry, I’m not turning into an evangelist. I’m just looking for what works right for me, and right now, this seems to be what’s getting me results.

More equals more

I’ve had a weight loss journey before when in 2010 I lost ~40 lbs. One of the things that I discovered back then, and it’s still true today, is that portion sizes are very out of whack for my body size. Once I started eating less I found myself getting to the point where I couldn’t even finish off a regular sized portion at many restaurants.

My wife today shared an article that echo’d this sentiment, and in particular the new diet fad of eating more fat. The point being that if we want to gain less weight, we need to eat less calories. But because of our social construct of never wasting food, we often eat whatever we’re given. This means that we consume whatever is on the plate in front of us, despite the fact that it might consist of 50% of our daily calories.

I’ve found myself turning to kids sized portions at various chain restaurants in a way to combat this as I try once again to shed a couple pounds. I’m not trying to give out diet advice, but simply reducing the size of the portion of food you put on your plate is a good way to start to get control over how many calories you put in your body.