Superbowl Weekend I went plant-based. My brother had visited on Friday to say he enjoyed a plant-based January in preparation for his annual physical, and it paid off. His tests showed his blood pressure, cholesterol and uric acid were like he was twenty. He felt great and was loving it.
My brother told me to watch Gamechanger on Netflix. I Googled it. Wiki said it was unscientific. I watched anyway, but with jaded goggles. As I listened about the Gladiators, a shaft of light lit up my mind, and my truth meter hummed a melodious tune. Gladiators were called barley men because they ate beans and barley? It was like the universe whispered in my ear, ‘Beans and barley are good for you.’ Who could ignore a song like that? I was in. I have been plant based for 3 weeks.
When I say in, I mean I am really in. This is a deep dive. I have felt overweight for most of my adult life. In August of 2019, I saw Dr Jessica Inwood at Tobey Hospital. Based on one meeting with her, I modified my diet and effortlessly lost 50 pounds. I ate foods I loved, in all the quantities I wanted. I enjoyed every meal.
I wish I could recite exactly how it happened. I remember that by Thanksgiving of 2019, I had lost a noticeable amount of weight, and was able to enjoy a holiday meal, again eating everything I wanted. Dressing up was fun again. The best part about this diet is that I was no longer a food addict. Before seeing Dr Inwood, I was a compulsive eater. Now I eat for pleasure and health.
Before Dr Inwood, (and people say, Oh Keto, dismissively, like naming it takes away the power I experienced ) before I met her, I overate at every meal. Everyday I felt bloated and tired for overeating. Every night I fell asleep promising myself tomorrow would be different. Every morning I felt confident I could avoid crazed eating. And then, the afternoon would come, and I would be rolled over by an eating frenzy I could not understand.
And to all the people who think a little discipline is all I ever needed need, I can only say…. seriously, take off your cruel shoes. If you are lucky enough to be blessed with a digestive process that functions in a balanced way, enjoy it. But do not look at the afflicted and say something stupid about pushing away from the table a little hungry, or portion control, or any other sadistic suggestion.
Food. I love it. I need it. It makes me sick. It makes me well. It cost a lot of money. I get it for free. People lie to me about food all the time. People tell me truth about food I cannot understand or believe. The darkest truth is that food provokes compelling emotions.
I Googled beans and barley. NPR covered the story. They said, and I paraphrase, ‘Scientists now know gladiators were roly-poly fat boys. For centuries, we believed gladiators were the strongest of men because art and literature of their time indicated they were exceptional athletes. Now scientists can see they existed on a diet of beans and barley, so we know they were weak, fat and fed a poor man’s diet as was fitting of the prisoners they were.’ You have to love NPR, able to organize all new information within the context of their contemporary story.
I am on the hunt for a plant based diet that is satisfying, nutritious, and doable. My early efforts are way better than I could have imagined. A ladle of tender beans mixed with a ladle of chewy barley makes a smooth saucy gravy rich in aromatics, garlic, caramelized onion, cumin, cayenne, and thyme. Its warm and easy on the stomach. Best, it is filling and lasts a long time. One bowl took me to Nirvana.
I have been food focused all my life. One early memory is of asking my dad what a Slim Jim was, and then tasting it, chewing it, and talking about it. Both my parents loved flavor. I can see my Mom seasoning a great iron skillet of spaghetti sauce. My Grandmother was food focused on the science of cooking, making meals for a crowd, and balancing nutrition. She looked to pies and cakes for flavor. She was cooking in the age of Ritz with cheese wiz and Cool Whip.
My early days of marriage, I cooked what I thought was good food. I lived what I thought was a good life. If I could go back in time, there are one million things I would pay attention to… maybe. I have always paid attention, and I have always done the best I could. My favorite wisdom is credited to Oprah, who said, ‘Do the best you can. When you know, better do better.’
Anyway, the first time I really paid attention to nutrition in a meaningful way was 1990 something, I was married with two little kids and my husband we very, very sick. He could not sleep, but thrashed around all night with restless legs and feet that drove him crazy. He had a constant headache. His left shoulder was painfully disintegrating. He had a mysterious rash on his forehead. He could barely rise out of bed in the morning. After a shower, and some breakfast, he could get a good couple of hours out of each day. He had a job that did not require him to be present for more than that, so we limped along like this for a couple of years. We did not talk about it. When you are sick and do not know why, you keep it to yourself. It was bad. Really bad.
He saw the best doctors. They had all gone to Harvard. At first they thought Lyme disease. Then Epstein Barr. Maybe MS. Then Chronic fatigue. One day he came home, looking triumphant. He said they had finally figured out what he had. He had Lupus. What’s that, I asked. When I finally took in what he was saying, I was shaking.
Anyway, a dear, much loved family friend approached us and gently asked if we had tried a food elimination diet. Because we were desperate, and because we loved her, we tried it. Just as promised, within two weeks, ninety percent of his symptoms abated.
I have spent all the days since trying to make sense of that. How could he be so very sick, for so very long, and then be healed by a simple but restricted diet of meat and veggies, without any diary, wheat, corn, sugar or food coloring?
What I know about food-
1. Humans have survived and can survive eating just about anything.
2. Food can make you sick. Something about eating wheat, corn and milk provoked a debilitating autoimmune disease in my husband. We know this because when he stopped consuming those foods, his suffering was abated by about 90% within two weeks.
3. Food can make you crazy. I was a compulsive eater. I could not make choices about what to eat. I had to eat whatever I could get my hands on, immediately. I ate as fast as I could. I could not stop eating, even if I felt full and bloated. Oftentimes, I could not move comfortably at the end of a meal, and would need to lie back in a chair, and maybe take a nap. I hid my compulsion from others. I hated myself for it, and made promises to myself to stop. At the time, I believed that everyone hungered as I did, but I lacked discipline to control myself. Keto broke this compulsivity. The mad hunger stopped on day one. I could enjoy choosing foods and eating moderately. Looking great in clothes is nice – I lost 50 pounds, but freedom from addiction is the best part of Keto.
4. Calories consumed minus calories burned is what defines fat storage- False! And what a freaking sadistic thing to say. With Keto, I ate all the food I wanted and never counted calories. Fat melted away.
5. Quantity of food does not produce a full feeling of satisfaction. Fat makes you feel full.
6. A Buddha bowl is a good quantity for any meal. Oftentimes, I wonder how much I should eat, and I like being guided by a Buddha bowl, which I first saw at Kripalu.
That is all I know. But I have to venture further, into the land of intuition, because I want more. I do not just want to survive, I want to thrive. I want to fight against the aging process.
For a very long time now, I have suffered pain in my knees, hips, back, collar bone, neck, lower back and ribs. The pain is mostly okay during the day, but nights can be agony. Morning comes and I get out of bed as soon as possible, most mornings getting up at 5:30 just to end the suffering. So what is going on? My doctor says it is the aging process. My ‘markers’ show slightly elevated levels of inflammation. It’s the onset of arthritis. So… I am deep denial about that, and intend to wage war against it.
My chiropractor says it is lifting grandchildren, and he sees it all the time. Actually, I know this is true, but I will not stop.
I saw a physical therapist about my knees, which were killing me as I climbed stairs. We talked at length about my activities, yada, yada, beach cottage stair case. Then she showed me how the mechanics worked when I climbed stairs with a load out in front of me (grandkid wrapped in towel), and pointed to exactly which muscles were strained and how my body tried to compensate for weakness. Then she gave me exercises to build my inner thigh muscles, and Wella!, my knees got better.
But its one step forward, two backward. Yes, I should work out more often. I do see my Chiropractor, who is a gifted healer. I adore him. I asked what he thought about a vegan diet, and he rolled his eyes. ‘First off, vegans are the angriest people I know.’ That was unexpected, but true, as far as I could tell. Vegans I knew did lack a certain humanity in an angry, self-righteous way. ‘People need meat. You can go vegan for a while. It will take pressure off your liver, and you might feel better temporarily. The best diet is a varied diet, like the Mediterranean Diet,’ said my chiropractor, and I am sure he is correct.
Still, I have a problem with inflammation. I hear that a vegan diet is needed to beat arthritis, so I am going to see if vegan can lower my inflammation. I am also doing yoga with Peloton. Peloton has the best yoga programs, ever. I built a nice space in a shed to do it. And I keep lifting up my grandchildren. The other day, I had such a stabbing pain in my ribs, I wondered if I was having a heart attack. Then I remembered repeatedly straightening my beloved three year old grand on a sled. I am not giving that up. I am just going to find a way to get in condition.
February 7, 2021 I went Plant-Based
So, What am I eating? I aim at high protein, high fat and let the carbs fall where they fall. I care about flavor, texture and satisfaction.
Breakfast- needs development. First is the question- do you go old school, and eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper because calories consumed early in the day are burned faster than calories eaten late in the day? Or, do you go with the mini-fast, intermittent fasting, and eat inside an 8 hour window, because it takes pressure off your liver and causes you to burn fat early in the day? Hmmm. Everyone (my chiropractor, my doctor and my sister) is on the mini-fast train, but intuitively, it sets off my ‘fad’ meter. It feels more like a ploy to skip breakfast. I equivocate over coffee. I love good coffee.
For breakfast, I intend to eat quinoa with crushed seeds. chopped nuts and fresh berries. I am uneasy with unfamiliar foods, and require time to work up to them. I have never made quinoa for breakfast, but I was served it once aboard a Concordia yacht in Northeast Harbor. It was glorious. I have several bags of quinoa in my larder, and hope to consume them before they pass their expiration date.
This morning, I am eating my last portion of granola oats, roasted in olive oil and almond butter with flax seeds, cashews and blueberries, soaked in homemade almond milk. It is good, but I am realizing oats may not have the maximum protein. Still, it is delicious. Every bite is like a party in my mouth.
Quinoa is likely an upgrade. I do not like to have to think about breakfast in the morning, so I will have to sort out my plan sometime today. Or I could go with Ezekiel toast and almond butter. Or I could go ‘intermittent fast’. If I get too many options, I spin my wheels.
Lunch and dinner have been so good. In my fridge, I have a big batch of beans and barley. I also have a container of bean liquid and a bowl of chickpeas. The counter overflows with avacados. With those basics, I have prepared really delicious, satisfying meals, on the fly- because I am always on the fly. For snacks, I like pistachios, and crackers with humous or nut butter. For snacks, I look for fat content. If it doesn’t have fat, it’s going to leave you wanting more.
Next time, I will write about recipes, cookbooks and what to keep in the fridge. I want to see how far I can get with this.