Here’s what happened: At age 70, and by chance, I watched two documentaries on Netflix, and the answer to a question which had bothered me for years became clear. I had noticed, through 47 years of medical practice, that diseases which were rare in medical school were gradually becoming more common. Back in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, we were told to be aware that men whose grandfathers had died in their 80’s, and whose fathers had died in their 70’s, were now dying in their 50’s, of heart attacks. Coronary bypass was a new operation. Also, irritable bowel syndrome, auto-immune diseases, and cancers that used to be rare, seemed to be more common in the later years of my practice. Why was this happening? Obviously, it was something in the environment, but what? Contamination in the air? Pesticides? Acid rain? All of the above? What could people do to protect themselves? I stayed in a state of mild confusion about what I should do for my family, changing things and trying different supplements as I read different articles.
Here’s what I was like way before the documentaries: In my younger years, I smoked cigarettes in college and the first two years of medical school, drank sugary or diet drinks and alcohol, and ate fast food as a convenience through my 50’s. I raised four children with the standard American diet including fruits and vegetables, but proud of myself for always having plenty of milk in the house. I did not see myself as having an unhealthy diet. At some level, I believed that if it was really bad for you, the government would not let it be sold.
Having become interested in the cause of the increase in cancer and heart disease, I had read a book, The Truth About Fiber in Your Food, and continued to watch for related information. I added wheat bran to our diet. I sort of followed the Mediterranean diet, and thought olive oil was heart-healthy. I bought organic food. I had always had vegetables at meals, but my early years were on a small dairy farm, so I thought organic milk and butter were healthy natural foods. Grandma had chickens, and eggs were natural food, so they must be good for you. Perhaps because my specialty was Radiology, I saw the complications of treatment more than the successes, and I was wary of interfering with the natural processes of the body.
Throughout this time, I tried to keep my weight within normal limits. In childhood, I was normal to thin, but food was adequate, and there was not money for snacks so I wasn’t overfed. My two brothers and I could not just drink all the milk we wanted. Grandma was a great cook, and we would eat dinner with her often, and I loved it. I don’t know how it happened, but I came to use food as a reward and a feeling-fixer. When I married Ed, giant bowls of ice cream entered my life. I’m five feet tall and for about ten years prior to finding Forks Over Knives, I weighed 140–150 lbs. I wore muu-muu dresses, and had not found a way to maintain a good weight. Nearing age 70, I was having trouble turning over in bed! In addition, I was finding out that I had a very high cholesterol, over 350 on at least one occasion.
Back to what happened: My husband Ed found the documentary Fed Up. We watched that, and then Netflix recommended Forks Over Knives, which we watched immediately. This was the answer to all my questions. My thinking about what foods were natural had not gone far enough back into evolution. I needed to go back before herding, back to hunter-gatherer times, and realize that gathering was the main activity which procured food in the vast expanse of time when bodies of mammals were evolving.
The documentaries watched and books read since then (see Bibliography) have only confirmed my opinion that messing with Mother Nature and unintended consequences are the root of the problem, and not only of the prevention and treatment of many diseases, but of the very real and incredibly serious problem of climate change.
After seeing Forks Over Knives, we decided to try it for a couple of months. Two weeks in, we were so happy with how good we felt, and how easily we got used to it, that we were committed to the change. After about a month, I noticed I was losing weight, and I began tracking my weight on Fridge Graph. The picture of my graph from about March 2015 to January 2016 shows a 40 lb weight loss from 150 lb to about 110 lb. (The black line was my hopeful projection of what I thought might be possible.) My only exercise was light housework, unchanged from what I had been doing. And I had not given up olive oil yet!
I should also tell you that my advancing age and persistently high cholesterol levels were beginning to concern me, and I did not like the idea of taking prescription drugs. I decided to pay for a cardiac CT scan to see if I had coronary calcification, which is an indicator of old atherosclerosis (new plaque is not calcified), but does not definitely indicate a significant blockage. I did have calcification in all of the three main coronary arteries. I don’t have any chest pain with exercise, and I had a normal nuclear medicine stress test. I therefore put myself in the category of trying to reverse the coronary artery disease that I have, as well as preventing the formation of new plaque.
What it’s like now: We eat a whole food plant based (WFPB) diet. We do not drink alcohol (we’ve had enough). We don’t eat added sugar, and we don’t use any oil. When we began, we agreed that if either of us got an obsessive craving for any “old” food we loved, we would just go to a restaurant and have it, or to a take-out place and get it. This did not happen often, and happened less over time. But it was a good option to giving up completely. After a while, we would get punishment from our own bodies for a big transgression. (I remember an episode of diarrhea after I forgot to say almond milk for a latte.)
And now, for the reason for this blog! The WFPB lifestyle takes some planning. It can be less expensive, and it is the most healthy eating plan, but many of the recipes you find online have many ingredients and lots of spices that you may not be used to. We’ve found that plain food, cooked simply, can be delicious and satisfying—and I have devised a plan which hopefully helps make the transition easier.
On this blog, I plan to share the things I do to keep healthy eating simple enough to be central but not all-consuming (no pun intended) in my life. After experimenting with different strategies, I have come to the following general principles:
- Keep it simple at first. You can fancy it up later when you feel like it.
- Make a list of staples that you always have on hand for a default meal.
- Have a major shopping day and a minor shopping day. Major is for an inventory of your non-perishables, and minor is to get more fresh greens and produce to last till the next major shopping trip.
- Batch cook or prepare what makes sense: rice, fresh greens like collards and kale, mushroom gravy, chopped raw onion, and hummus.
- Decide on what kind of greens and other vegetables your family likes. Make a list. Also list your favorite beans (canned or frozen), grains (like brown rice and oatmeal), and fruits.
In future posts, I will elaborate on these principles as I describe my general plan (which is for you to adapt as you like), and then I will get more specific. Please feel free to send questions and comments—I’ll be glad to give you my opinion on any question you have.