Monday, October 28, 2013

One Year

October 28, 2012 was the day we began our 1-month trial of a whole food, plant-based diet. We had watched Forks Over Knives in September 2012 and were greatly impressed with the massive amounts of scientific research and clinical studies that were presented in the movie. They were not approaching their dietary recommendations from an animal welfare point-of-view - it was based on the pursuit of health. It was eye-opening to learn that many of America's "Top Killers" (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity/overweight) are largely PREVENTABLE and even REVERSABLE through diet.

It really clicked with us: what you choose to put in your mouth 3+ times per day can have a profound impact on your health. Even more of an effect than family history or genetics. The food you consume can determine which genes are expressed and which are suppressed. Given the diseases and ailments that run rampant in both sides of our families, we were easily convicted to at least give this diet a try. We committed to trying this diet for one month, after which we would evaluate whether or not to continue.

You see, we were always interested in improving our health.

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Before Pictures

Michael, My Husband
Michael grew up loving to work out and play sports. He's always been very active, and fortunately had a fast metabolism to keep up with his energy. But little did he know, he was slowly killing himself from the inside out. At the age of 24, his cholesterol was 218 and his blood pressure was high. His doctor was already starting to mention medication. Michael, always against taking lifelong medication, refused. He asked for ways to help with these conditions besides medication, but was not given helpful or effective advice. He received the usual advice: fish oil supplements, eat healthier by eating "lean meats" and "low fat" foods, and exercise regularly.  

But this is useless advice.

Exercise alone cannot help prevent heart disease and strokes. Not when you are still consuming unhealthy foods 3+ times a day.

In addition to high cholesterol and blood pressure, Michael had a lifelong skin condition called keratosis pilaris, which are small red bumps on his upper arms and thighs and his stomach. He even saw a dermatologist about this condition and was told that there is no cure for it. He was told there is a prescription medication for it, but he didn't recommend it because it can cause liver damage. So Michael accepted that there was nothing more he could do about it.

He also had a constant fungal infection on his toenails, and periodic recurring fungal infections on his feet (athlete's foot). He was told by his doctor that these are inevitable conditions that all men will eventually develop, and that unfortunately for some men, they develop it earlier in life. So Michael accepted that there was nothing more he could do about it.

And like any average American, he took his multivitamin every day.

Michael also lived with some fears about his future health. His father died in his 40s from melanoma (skin cancer). His mother had breast cancer and polyps removed from her colon when she was in her late 40s. His uncle had died suddenly from pancreatic cancer. Overweight/obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure all ran in his family. Like his family, Michael LOVED to eat. The fattier and richer the food, the better. Remember our first post about how Michael ate 2 lbs of steak and side dishes the night he met my family for the first time? Trust me, this boy loved his meat, dairy, and fatty foods.

But when he was told that his cholesterol was high, he was eager to lower it naturally, without taking prescription medication. We tried to cook more at home, choose chicken over beef when possible, select low-fat or non-fat dairy products, and eat everything in moderation. We made the best choices in what food to eat based on the information we knew at the time.

But it didn't work. His cholesterol in August 2012, just before starting a whole food, plant-based diet was 208 - still considered high. His blood pressure was still high. He still feared that one day he might develop cancer like both of his parents had.

Well guess what?

After one year of eating a whole food, plant-based diet, here are the changes that took place in Michael's health:
  • Cholesterol is 146
  • Blood pressure is normal
  • Eliminated his keratosis polaris
  • Eliminated his recurring fungal infections on his toenails and feet
  • Off all prescription and over the counter medications/vitamins/supplements
  • No longer fears a future of heart disease or cancer
  • He's leaner and fitter than ever

Christine, Yours Truly
I grew up in a home where vegetables were what came from a can. I had no idea what herbs and seasonings were, because my family and I didn't care for much flavor. The only fresh fruit we would have on occasion were bananas, apples, and grapes. I learned how to "cook" at a young age - heating taquitos in the oven, cooking canned soups and packaged Ramen noodles on the stove, and making boxed mac-and-cheese. A meal in our home was always a large meat item with two side dishes. But we ate out often, either at fast food or sit-down restaurants.

I had a big sweet tooth. My typical dessert each night was a 16-oz glass full of Blue Bell ice cream. I would be ecstatic when my mom would purchase boxes of candy bars for me from Sams. Candy, cookies, ice cream, brownies...pretty much any sweet was my favorite.

By my senior year in high school, I was overweight. I began exercising sporadically and trying to restrict portion sizes and count calories to lose weight. My metabolism picked up as I became more active in college and I was able to maintain a fairly skinny body without worrying too much about it. But after I married, my weight would yo-yo in the same fashion as I would focus on restricting portions/calories versus not. I still indulged in a plethora of sweets each day. It made me so irritated how my husband could eat as much fatty food as he wished and not gain a pound, while I felt like I was eating a handful of food and still overweight.

I also had struggled most of my life with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It "ran in my family" (something I no longer believe...I think poor eating habits ran in my family, not this irritable bowel syndrome), so I accepted it as something I would have to live with the rest of my life. And let me tell you, this was sad news to me. My IBS was a serious hindrance to my life. The way it affected me was that I would eat something (and I could never discern a pattern of what triggered it) and within 30 minutes, I would NEED a restroom, pronto! The intestinal cramping was awful and debilitating, leaving me feeling dehydrated and weak after each episode. Not to mention, it was simply embarrassing for me. I would live in fear of eating out of my home if I knew I would not have safe access to a restroom soon afterwards. Sometimes I would have episodes in the middle of the night, multiple ones, that would cause me to feel exhausted the next day from the lack of sleep. And on average, I would have an episode 2-3 times per month. It was definitely a big part of my life. We even made up a code name for it so I could tell Michael and he would know that it's time to leave and find a restroom immediately.

I also had acne through my teenage years...and well into my 20s. I felt embarrassed that as a 28 year old, I still had acne. I mean, shouldn't that go away after you're done with puberty?? I certainly know of friends who had worse acne than me, but I'm sure if you've ever had acne, you can relate to how embarrassed you felt with even one pimple. My entire forehead would be covered with small pimples. I was very self-conscious about this and tried a variety of treatments over the years. I used Retin-A Micro (topical gel) most recently, but stopped when my husband and I decided to try getting pregnant because that cream can cause birth defects.  So my acne returned as we tried to conceive.

And about trying to conceive, my hormones were totally out of whack. I had a history of 7-8 day long periods, heavy bleeding, and painful menstrual cramps. I took the birth control pill for about the first 2 years of our marriage, but it caused me to be depressed, have no sex drive, and have symptoms similar to pregnancy (nausea, tender breasts, fatigue). Later in marriage, when we started trying, we were having difficulty conceiving, so I had various tests done on myself to find an answer. My progesterone (female hormone, works in conjunction with estrogen through a woman's cycle) was low, so my doctor prescribed me a topical progesterone cream to rub into my forearm every night. He never told me WHY my progesterone was low in the first place, and I never thought to ask.

Desperately wanting to get pregnant, I was willing to do anything. I took dozens of over the counter pills, vitamins, and supplements. But my cycles were still out of whack and irregular.

I then began developing recurring urinary tract infections (UTIs). If you've ever had one, you know how much of a nuisance they can be. I saw a urologist to try to figure out what the deal was because I was doing everything hygienically to prevent them. Her answer was simply that some women are more prone to them, and it's inevitable. Again, it was something I feared I would have to accept for the rest of my life.

I also feared developing cancer someday. My family history was riddled with disease. My paternal grandfather died of stomach cancer when I was too young to really remember him. My paternal grandmother is my only living grandparent to this day, and she unfortunately has had several falls, hip replacements, broken wrists, and is losing hearing and eyesight. Though she's lived to 93, she's not been physically able to enjoy all aspects of life due to her frail and delicate state. My maternal grandmother had breast cancer, emphysema, high blood pressure, was obese, and died of a stroke in her 70s. My maternal grandfather had high blood pressure, type II diabetes, and died of heart disease in his 80s. I did not want this to be my fate, but feared it was inevitable.

But guess what?

After one year of eating a whole food, plant-based diet, here are the changes that took place in my health:
  • Lost 40 lbs
  • I'm in the best shape of my life (lean and toned)
  • Cholesterol is 112
  • Eliminated lifelong battle with IBS
  • Eliminated recurring UTIs
  • Complexion is much clearer
  • Shorter periods (5-6 days)
  • Lighter bleeding
  • Eliminated menstrual cramps
  • Progesterone is back to normal level WITHOUT any medication/creams
  • Off all prescription and over the counter medications/vitamins/supplements
  • No longer fear a future of cancer, stroke, or heart disease
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After Pictures

For us, what started as a one month trial of a whole food, plant-based diet quickly showed us that we discovered something incredible and undeniable. We had found the key, the true answer, to unlocking the door to better health. And it wasn't as difficult as we feared it would be.

We love the food we get to eat. There was certainly an adjustment the first couple of weeks, but our taste buds have changed. We do not get bored with the food we eat because nature in its divine creation has all the variety we could ever need. When you remove all the fat, sugar, and highly processed flavors that mask many standard American foods, you learn to appreciate the taste of a simple potato. You can distinguish the difference in flavor between a russet and a Yukon gold potato. Dino kale versus regular kale. Gala apples versus golden delicious.

And the biggest part for us is the freedom that comes in knowing that we (human beings) have so much more control over our health than what many people believe. You are NOT a victim of your family history and genetics. But you can be a victim of your poor eating habits, even if you've been told they are wise habits (low-fat, lean meats, heart-healthy oils, etc.) We too thought we were making good choices and were frustrated that we would have to accept certain ailments in our health, but now we know better. We know that what we choose to put in our mouths day in and day out can have a huge impact on our health. And we are so thankful to God that He gave us the open heart and mind to give this diet a try. It has forever changed our lives!