Going green…again…

Years and years ago when I first started blogging I used to pick an annual theme for my writing/life. It was much like I pick a word or a verse these days. Something to focus on for an entire year. One of the first years I did this the theme was “A year of going green.” Frank and I decided to dip our toes into a plant-based diet. That first year we were novice vegetarians.

At the end of year one, we felt pretty good and kept going. And we kept going — for five years. However, at t he end of five years we were mainly eating pasta out of convenience. By then we had young kids, work, church and a myriad of other responsibilities and it felt like a lot of work. So, in 2002 we became “recovering vegetarians”.

If you’ve followed along for any length of time, you know most of the rest of the story. Anything went once we “recovered”. We mostly ate an unbalanced, meat and dairy-heavy diet. Until my body started rejecting the proteins in dairy outright. A few more years later and I had ballooned to over 300 pounds and found myself on the operating table of a bariatric surgeon.

This month marks my 5-year surgical anniversary. Five years. Craziness. And I am down to the pound a successful statistic.

After 5-years I have maintained 93% of my weight loss. I have no co-morbidities to speak of. My resting heart rate varies from 48 – 56 bpm and my bp is somewhere around 118/70. I have no signs of the pre-diabetes that once plagued me. I have maintained and increased a good portion of muscle tone. I still have a muffin top, stretch marks, some loose skin (though not as bad as I thought it might have been) and I could be more consistent in the gym. But overall, no regrets, none.

When I had the surgery, I did that with an eye towards health and longevity. Not to be thin.

We don’t have long genes in my family. My dad passed when he was 63 from heart and kidney disease. My mom passed when she was 68 from pancreatic cancer. Both could have lived much longer if they had different lifestyles. No doubt about it.

My parents were life-long smokers. My father quit after his massive heart attack in 1985. Prior to his heart attack he ate an average of 3-4 poached eggs, sausage and/or bacon and coffee every working morning. That was just the start of his day. He ate better after the heart attack, but still leaned heavily on the meat and potatoes diet prevalent in the Midwest. Mom continued smoking long after her pancreatic cancer diagnosis and whipple procedure. She was in that small percentage of patients that got a second chance at life — they caught her cancer really early — just by chance — and removed the tumor before it had metastasized. But she couldn’t put down the smokes and she didn’t change her eating or movement habits. 20 months later, she was sick again and we lost her shortly after.

When I approached surgery, I consciously said that I wanted to do whatever I could to be here for the long haul. To see my children grow, move on, marry, have their kids, and participate in their families. And I lost the weight, for sure. But the last year or two I’ve been backsliding.

Small things — International Delight creamer in my coffee, desserts (cookies and ice cream on the regular), chips, high-fat meats and cheeses. Albeit in much smaller portions that in my former life, but they’re there none-the-less. I always say, “they may have removed most of my stomach, but they left my brain in tact.” Which is a fancy way of saying I still think about food the same way I always have. It is my drug of choice. I eat my emotions and when I’m under stress, be it from life or my job, I go to the kitchen.

It’s easy to continue the pattern. I just don’t think about it. I live on auto-pilot. I avoid the scale. I avoid the gym. And most days I feel like crap.

Enter my friend, Bea. How I adore her. I could do a whole post on this witty, smart, health-aware woman in my life. But for now, I’ll start with the gift she gave me. A book.

Bea reads a fair amount, and she shares what she reads with me often. We like similar things. Often they’re spiritually based. This one happened to be health-based. It’s called “Fiber Fueled,” and it’s written by a gastroenterologist and it focuses on gut health. I decided to pick up a copy because my husband Frank definitely has gut health issues.

Frank works really hard at his health. He works with a functional doctor and has radically changed his eating over the years. What I did surgically, Frank was able to do with diet modification and movement. It took him a decade, but he lost a good 70 pounds himself.

Anyway, I picked up the book thinking maybe I could glean some new information that would be useful to him. And then I found myself highlighting passages that relate to me. I went into the book thinking it wouldn’t apply to me. I don’t have bowel issues, stomach issues, reflux, etc. I can eat most anything without complication. But there are things, I’ve discovered that I do have that can be directly attributed to gut health.

I’m a poor sleeper, I tend to feel bloated, sometimes I notice my feet swell a bit, and not just because of the ridiculous humidity of the south. I get headaches and have trouble with focus. Who knew these could be attributed to leaky gut?

I started devouring the pages. And it didn’t take long before I decided something has to change. I want to make good on my intention to stick around for the long-haul. I believe a plant-based diet might just help.

But this time, I don’t want to approach it in a lazy way. I don’t want to bulk up on pasta. I want variety. As the doc says, I want to eat the rainbow. And so far so good.

I spent this week as a Vegan. Though I’ll confess, I did eat honey, and some Vegan’s would take issue with that — whatever. I ate “pasta” at only one meal, and it was chickpea pasta, not semolina-based pasta. So I’m not sure it even counts. My meals have been colorful and tasty. I’ve committed to trying one new food a week, be it a grain or vegetable or fruit. And I’ll tell you what? I feel like a million bucks. My calorie intake has been similar, but the variety and satiety has been so much better. No headaches, better sleep and I have looked forward to meals in a way I hadn’t been.

I just picked up the companion cookbook to the Fiber Fueled book and it’s fantastic. Hardly any pasta dishes to speak of. I am excited to dig in. Every page is colorful and the recipes are not overly complex to make. AND, for those of us who are competitive…the gut doctor assigned a point system to each recipe. “Plant Points”. The goal is 40 a day.

If any of this post resonated with you, I encourage you to grab the book. Some of the information is heady, but it’s not a difficult read, and it’s based on some pretty solid science. In addition, I recommend you watch the documentary “What the Health” on Netflix — that one’s an eye opener and has made me more committed to making changes in my diet.

I’ll pop on here from time to time for an update. Wish me luck, I head to Louisiana for work next week. That should be an experience in trying to maintain green eating. {Sigh}

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