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Health | Mary Biever | One Writing Mother
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Grocery Routines

First in a series of healthier routines.

When I went back to work full-time – instead of juggling multiple part-time jobs – I worried how I would keep up exercise and healthier eating. Four months into my new role, I’ve developed routines that help me keep my healthier lifestyle.  The key is planning and making routines to reduce the amount of work involved in eating lower fat, nutrient dense meals.

I grocery shop on Saturdays and meal prep on Sundays.

Meat – The Old Fashioned Butcher Shoppe is my friend. I love walking into their shop every week, where the staff greets me by name. They don’t inject their meat with chemicals or water, so I know I’m paying for meat instead of other stuff. They don’t freeze their chicken, and it’s hands down the best poultry product I can get in Evansville. Pork and beef roasts can be done a huge range of ways in a crock pot. I watch their sales and will add something else according to what they have on sale.

Each week, I buy a fryer, an order of boneless skinless chicken breasts, pork chops, and a pound of extra lean beef.  I don’t do lunch meat products, but my husband will happily eat a sandwich for lunch while I’m working, so I’ve started adding a few slices of something for him for lunches. On Sunday, I will stew the fryer for my own sandwiches and use the broth to cook with.

Bread - I go to a bread store outlet close to one of the offices I work in because they usually have low salt-whole grain English muffins I like for my breakfasts. While I’m there, I pick up loaves of bread from their whole grain natural line. If they have the flax added, I’ll buy that.

Groceries – 

Sam’s once a month: When I’m there, I always pick up a container of their organic baby kale mix. It can be used for salads. The perk with the kale is I can also use it to cook with. When that runs up, I pick up a smaller container of it at Schnuck’s until my next grocery run.

I do the rest of my shopping at Aldi’s and Schnuck’s. Aldi’s offers good prices on staples like milk, eggs, and produce. Schnuck’s gives me the best choice of healtheir options. An added feature is both Aldi’s locations in Evansville are relatively close to Schnuck’s. So I can go from one to the other. I watch sales and augment regular purchases with specials.

Weekly purchases:

  • Milk and eggs (if we have used up our eggs)
  • Yogurt – the lower fat options. I like the fruit flavors as well as vanilla
  • Greek Yogurt – the plain variety is a great substitute for sour cream
  • Fruit – bananas, blueberries, a melon, an avocado, and strawberries
  • Vegetables – green peppers, carrots, broccoli, and whatever is on sale
  • Kale – to make a batch of kale chips each week
  • Greens – to cook with for an easy green
  • Liquid egg whites – I use the 100% whites instead of the egg beaters
  • Hummus
  • Orange juice

Staples to keep on hand:

  • Low fat string cheese
  • Happy Farmer cheese wedges
  • Fat free cheeses slices (not for nutrition – merely to keep me from full fat slices when I really want them)
  • Low fat shredded cheese options – the white cheeses generally have less fat than yellow ones
  • Parmesan cheese
  • A margarine or butter option – I don’t want to get into the butter wars. There are some good butter blends that are more spreadable as well as Smart Balance choices.
  • Cranberry juice – I buy the 100% juice varieties and alternate with the new blends
  • Applesauce single serve – for my lunches
  • Oatmeal packs – the new high fiber varieties for my family for quick breakfasts I don’t have to fix
  • Bread crumbs
  • Tortillas
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Onions
  • Celery
  • Garlic
  • Apples
  • Dried cranberries
  • Brown rice – plan ahead and bake it the night before with chicken broth from the fryer
  • Couscous – the fastest carbohydrate dish you can fix
  • Salsa – green varieties often have less salt
  • No salt added canned tomato products
  • Cans of fat free refried beans
  • Cans of low salt beans – good in a hurry
  • Cans of fruit – trying to keep fruit easy and available for my son.
  • Pasta – I love the new high fiber or vegetables added varieties. They pack more nutrition while also having better flavor
  • Dried beans – the more varieties, the better
  • Chicken soup base – this has no nutritional value and merely adds flavor. I use in limited amounts.
  • Mrs. Dash varieties – the more, the better
  • Taco seasoning, spaghetti seasoning, and chili seasoning – no MSG low salt varieties when possible
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar and red wine vinegar, cider vinegar and plain vinegar
  • Hoisin sauce and soy sauce
  • Cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, flour, sugar, yeast, and brown sugar
  • Organic coconut oil
  • Steak seasoning
  • Non-stick spray
  • Almonds and other nuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Frozen edamame (shelled)
  • Frozen vegetable packs when I’m in a hurry
  • Frozen fish – in single servings
  • Frozen turkey breast – Aldi’s sells a boneless variety which can be baked for an easy meat entree for a crowd
  • Peanut butter
  • Honey
  • Dehydrated hash browns (I buy these in a huge container from GFS – no salt added and a super easy, fast addition for a bigger breakfast).
  • Coffee

Guilty Pleasures

  • Sprite
  • Pie filling
  • Fat free  coffee creamer
  • Canned pumpkin
  • Cake mixes
  • Corn muffin mixes
  • Pop Tarts (I have a teen-aged son)
  • Pie crusts
  • Canned biscuits

In future blogs, I’ll write about my cooking and scheduling strategies to stay on plan.


I Will Survive

Today’s the one year anniversary of surviving my heart attack.

It’s not like it’s a day when you go out for a big dinner to celebrate something.

My daughter begins college finals today. Last year, on the Sunday afternoon before her first college finals, I had my heart attack. So as she studied that evening, and I was being rapidly prepped for emergency surgery, I got to make one of those phone calls:

I love you. I will be fine. Don’t let this distract you from your studies, and don’t ever let me hold you back. Go for it and do your best.

Even if she had wanted to come in, it would have been a five hour drive round trip. So she studied, we all prayed, I survived, and she aced her finals the next morning.

So this year, on the Sunday before finals, she texted me that no heart attacks are allowed.

What strikes me most this year and this holiday season is how unhappy people are.  When I walk through public places – grocery stores, airports, or wherever, I see lots of people who look like they need to take an ex-law or they are as worried as the drones working in the Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter.

I just want to shake them up and tell them to seize these moments and find joy wherever possible.

So in that vein – I have survived another year. So have you. So let’s celebrate!

We will survive!


Please Offer Food Choices That Won’t Kill Me

I’m all for the free market system but have a request for those in food service.

On your menus, can you please offer a single food option that won’t kill me? I’m not asking you to revamp your entire menu. All I’m asking is for a single food that’s more whole food than processed, which isn’t smothered in cheese or broiled in fat or laden with salt.

I am living proof that coronary artery disease can in some instances reverse itself with medication, diet, and exercise. If I eat those comfort foods you are most comfortable serving, that you know will generate a profit, they. will. kill. me. Your profitmakers will clog my arteries and give me another heart attack. Next time, I might not be so lucky.

New studies actually show that indulging in a single fat-laden orgy of a meal can become the “last supper” before the big one. As in the final heart attack.

I am not alone. I have seen in my own food sales experiences that every single year, the demand for plain, whole food alternatives increases.

I’m not saying to get rid of the other choices on the fat junk food end of the spectrum. All I’m asking for is give health a chance…with at least a single food option I could choose while supporting your charity or festival.


Turn Back the Hands of Time One Bite at a Time

Waiting for My Test Results

Waiting for My Test Results

Seven months ago, I had a heart attack. Besides the stent they put in one artery, they discovered another artery with an almost-70% blockage in it. They opted not to operate at that time but to monitor the other artery to intervene as necessary.

After I was released from the hospital, I met with a dietitian friend and got a crash course in re-inventing our diet. The first day post op that I exercised, I started with walking around our home for 2 minutes and worked myself up, a minute a day, to riding an exercise bike for 45 minutes at a time. Spending two months in cardiac rehab, 3 afternoons a week, helped me work up with endurance and learn to exercise safely. Yes, I had to stay after rehab one time, like a kid after school, because I tried to push harder than they told me to, and I pushed my blood pressure too high.

I took the whole medication regime to decrease my chances of a heart attack and began to research what foods to eat. Some studies said that coronary artery disease was sometimes reversible. Others said they weren’t. So six months ago, on a visit to our cardiologist, I asked him if it would be possible to reverse the artery blockage.

He told me no. All we could do was delay its worsening, and the best thing I could do was lose weight. He told me I had to lose a minimum of 51 pounds.

Well, I’m 34 pounds down, 17 to go. For the past six months, besides exercising, I’ve worked to at least double the amount of fruits and vegetables in my diet. I didn’t give up meat or dairy, but I did reduce portions of them and also reduced portions of processed foods like bread. I researched lists of super foods and foods known to help heart disease, and I worked to include them regularly in my diet – foods like kale, salmon, avocados, nuts, berries, beans, spinach, and flaxseed.

Over time, I learned if a food got in my head and bothered me, it was better to eat a small sample of it and get it out of my head than it was to keep denying myself until I binged on it. Over time, my taste buds have also changed. Processed foods taste saltier. And my system is so used to lighter foods that if I eat something that is laden with fat, it tastes bad.

For the past six months, that artery blockage has loomed like an ax above me, about to swoop in and devastate me once again.

Two weeks ago, I was admitted to the hospital for chest pains which turned out not to be a second heart attack. After I took a second stress test, while waiting for the results, I was told that if they showed more blockage in that artery, it would mean surgery for another stent the next day. I was also told that the blockage was in a bad spot that would make fixing it difficult. We steeled for the worst and prayed for the best.

When the stress test results were in, I was released with no need for surgery. Yesterday, I was given the official stress test results. The blockage has decreased from almost 70% to less than 50%. In 6 months. Because it is less than 50% now, it is no longer considered at risk.

Thanks be to God! I feel more than lucky that in my case, I got to turn back the hands of time – with a combination of prayer, medication, diet and exercise.  Part of me wanted to go dancing up to the cardiologist who gave me the grim report 6 months ago so I could sing, “If You Could See Me Now…” However, I know this battle will require a lifetime of vigilance, or I will end up back where I was.

Not everyone who tried what I’ve done would have the same results. Nevertheless, I’m firmly convinced that a good diet and exercise are integral to my health plan now and for the rest of my life. Besides the test results, I have more energy and endurance than I have had in decades.

And I will continue to encourage others to make the changes before they have to go through what I did. Start with baby steps. But start today. And keep going.

Maintaining the Lifelong Low Fat Marathon – 6 Months After a Heart Attack


A breakfast sandwich compromise

It’s easy to embrace a lower fat lifestyle. The biggest challenge long term is keeping it.

It’s 6 months since my heart attack. I have lost 31 of the 51 pounds I need to lose, and find my biggest struggle is resisting temptation on a daily basis. Cardiac rehab is over, and I no longer have to weigh in with a nurse right there 3 times a week.

Add to that challenge I love food. I grew up loving fatty foods too. This week, I worked to meet some challenges.

One of my friends (thanks Nibby!) is very good when he sees me about to back slide to remind me, “Not on your plan, Mary.”

A reason I’ve gone public with my challenge to eat lighter is just so friends can help me stay on task – and also so I’m aware that people are watching to see if I practice what I post and write.

Yesterday was a challenging day. Just before my heart attack, I was elected President of our county’s 4-H Leaders. Yesterday was one of our fundraisers that helps purchase manuals for 700 kids in our county – we were selling concessions for breakfast and lunch at an event.

Breakfast was my gauntlet of biscuits, gravy, and bacon.  For a week, I had pondered our biscuits and gravy, which was one of my favorites.

I hadn’t touched gravy since my heart attack. I’ve eaten one biscuit. But I adored my standby feel-good breakfast. How would I resist temptation? All week, I thought about how good my former favorite breakfast was.

I decided not to volunteer until the tail end of breakfast to reduce my temptation time. The less I was around it, the less likely it would be I would fall off the wagon. Then I decided to take just a bit of our biscuits and gravy so it would get out of my system. When I arrived, I made a plate with a single biscuit, a small scoop of gravy that was half the amount I usually used, and a single sausage patty.

It didn’t taste as good as I remembered. After I ate it, I smelled the fat of the gravy and was repulsed.  I felt heavy and bloated.

The days of my adoring biscuits and gravy have ended. After 6 months, my taste buds have changed.

Then came the lunch shift. We serve fantastic grilled pork chops and chicken, with the meat purchased from a local butcher. It’s top quality product. Our side dishes included sweet and sour slaw, German potato salad, baked beans loaded with bacon, and desserts of Texas sheet cake and fruit crisp. We added healthier side choices last year of veggie packs, apples, bananas, and light yogurt. We saw a huge uptick in the interest in the lighter side items last year, and this year they got to help me.

I chose one of the pork chops, the slaw which has a vinegar-based dressing with no oil, and a yogurt. And I did indulge in a single piece of the chocolate cake. It still tasted fantastic. But I knew at one piece my quota had been met – once I ate it, it got out of my head.  When someone volunteering complimented me on staying on task with my food choices, it helped me resist temptation.

The final challenge comes with leftovers. I don’t waste food. We distributed some leftovers, but I came home with a few leftover sausage patties, egg squares, and biscuits. My family would enjoy some of those items. For my breakfast this morning, I worked to help go through the leftovers but stay on path.

I again compromised. Our local bakery thrift store sells wheat English muffins that are low sodium. I ate one of the sausage patties on that muffin, with an Egg Beater portion (measured), a whopping portion of organic spinach, and a slice of fat free cheese. Combined, it was like a McMuffin sandwich with a lot less fat. I could enjoy my new equivalent of the type of breakfasts I used to love.

Yes, it would be better if I only ate whole foods and avoided the fat free products made with chemicals. However, I know myself well enough to recognize if I try that, I will fall off the wagon completely, and it will be harder to resume the better choices.

Finding ways to make a few compromises is helping me stay on the lifetime lower fat lifestyle. They help me last the endurance test long term.


I Over-Ate My Way To a Heart Attack – And Why I Talk About It Now

For decades, I had gradually snacked my way into obesity. It was always  – just once. Just once, I would enjoy this snack, that dessert, and that fried chicken. Except the just once happened all the time. And my favorite foods included fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, and every kind of potato or corn chip known to man. Not to mention potatoes, pasta, breads, and all kinds of cheeses. And exercise was something I thought about and planned to start – later. If you gain 5 pounds a year, that adds up to 50 pounds in a decade.

Risk factors for health issues like heart attack are mixed – we’re born with some, and others we cultivate with our own bad habits. Well, I had plenty of them. And I reveled in the illusion that pursuing them was “living.”

However, I was wrong.

When I had my heart attack, I felt stupid because I knew better but failed to live a healthier lifestyle. Fortunately, I survived and got a second chance.

But the trick now is not to blow it. I talk about my heart attack, and what I have to do now for varied reasons:

  • Others can learn from my mistakes. Maybe what I have gone through can inspire someone to eat an extra vegetable or walk an extra 15 minutes. If so, it’s worth my being transparent. Too often, we live in a cloud of denial. I’m here to say that women in their 40’s CAN have heart attacks and artery disease. 
  • Going public keeps me accountable. After my heart attack, my cardiologist told me if I wanted to really recover and reduce my risk of future heart attacks, I had to eat better, exercise more, and lose a minimum of 51 pounds. Well, it’s almost 4 months since the heart attack, and so far I’ve lost 30 of those pounds. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve struggled over every ounce. Each day is a sequence of choices to healthier eating. By going public, I know that when I eat with others they can see what’s on my plate, going into my mouth, and if I walk what I talk. When you announce to thousands of people – through Facebook and your blog – that you’re working to lose that much weight, it gives an accountability I didn’t anticipate.
  • People see that when we make mistakes, we can learn from them and work to fix them. I can’t fix what I ate 6 months or 6 years ago. However, I can control what I eat today. I can drop bad habits and incorporate better ones into my daily routine.

Maybe if more people went public like me, we could all inspire others to do better.

Trust me. Which of the following two options sounds easier?

  • Eating a healthier diet, with appropriate portions and exercising daily.
  • Eating by whim, not exercising, and having a heart attack where they do emergency surgery to place a stent to correct the artery blockage. This involves a medical team putting a miniature tube (catheter) into your artery, threading it to the blockage, inflating a balloon to open the artery, and then inserting a stent to hold it in place. In my case, when I flinched when the cardiologist inserted the tube into the artery, he told me, “If you move like that again, you will die.” And then after the procedure and after they remove the catheter, first a nurse applies direct pressure to the artery for half an hour, followed by 4 hours of your not moving while a sand bag rests on the artery to reduce the risk of a fatal hemorrhage.

Somehow, we have to get to a point where more people choose the healthier diet and exercise to lower the number of people who need the medical intervention.

One of the reasons I survived is to encourage others to follow the advice we all know is good for us:

  • Eat right.
  • Exercise.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Drink your water.

An ounce of prevention really is easier than a pound of cure. Or in my case, 51 pounds of cure.

Cardiac Rehab as a Model for Reorganizing Health Care

Cardiac rehab is an effective model for helping people change lifestyles and improve their long term outcomes after a heart attack or other coronary incident. Why does it work? The dedicated staff who work in it do miracles:

  • They reach people where they are.
  • They find ways to help people increase their exercise.
  • They work to change the lifestyle habits that most likely got patients like me into cardiac arrest in the first place.

At each step of the rehab process, they set a small goal and when patients reach it, they set a higher goal. It’s a model of continuous, steady improvement.

Another key to its success is the careful monitoring of patients so immediate adjustments to rehab workouts can be made whenever needed.

This model works. Its secrets to success are how we need to focus more efforts, funding, and training towards: preventative healthcare.

Unfortunately, we work with a healthcare system which has not yet caught up with the rehab model. I have found that the system that did an excellent job of saving my life during my heart attack and then helping me change my lifestyle immediately afterwards still has a major learning curve.

I am a traditionalist and very much want to follow doctor’s orders.

But how does the healthcare system handle the patient who follows doctor’s orders? I’ve done that and more.

  • When they told me to drink more water and less of everything else, I quit drinking all soft drinks and iced tea. I cut my coffee habit from a minimum half pot daily to a single cup each morning, after I’ve already drunk 16 ounces of water.
  • When they told me to change my eating habits with more fruits and vegetables, I did it. I followed every guideline suggested to me: limiting beef to 2 times per week and limiting eggs to 2 per week. They said to add more fish and beans to my diet, and I did both.
  • When they told me to exercise more, I started gradually, built up my endurance during rehab and have now worked up to exercising 6 to 7 times weekly.
  • I’ve diligently taken every medication they prescribed on the schedule they recommended. My goal is to eliminate and/or reduce medication dosages as much as possible by end of this year.
Yes, I’ve had my stumbles – chocolate is one of them. Potato chips are a trigger food. But I’m working on it.

And lo and behold – guess what. When you completely change all the input of an equation, the output will change as well. When you lose 26 pounds in 15 weeks and add exercise, the way your body handles problems changes.

It’s one thing for a healthcare system to admonish us to eat better and exercise more. It’s another for it to be prepared to respond when a patient actually does it. With lifestyle changes as dramatic as I have made, maintaining the same medications and dosages they gave me four months ago can actually make me sick. Last night, my blood pressure was so low, I ate a single serving bag of baked potato chips because I craved them and also because I hoped the salt content would raise my blood pressure which had dropped so low I was sick.

They have cut one medication entirely and another one in half.

Today, as I waited to hear whether or not my prescription level for a pill was going to be cut, I delayed taking it. They changed another dosage instead of the one I’m convinced is too strong for me. I stared at the pill, gritted my teeth, and took it.

I have an appointment early next week, at which I’m going to push for lab tests to be run. My last labs were run over 2 months ago, and I sincerely hope my new lifestyle will be reflected in the results. And I’m praying with those results, I’ll be able to push to get more medications eliminated or reduced.

Maybe our healthcare system fails to respond in a timely manner to situations like mine because most people don’t change their whole lifestyle.

The pills that helped save my life and bought me time can become an albatross if I stay on them too long at former dosage levels. I wonder what would happen if our healthcare system were as proactive as my wonderful experience in cardiac rehab was.

And I think this is a system-wide problem and not a unique, individual issue.

A Heartfelt Good Friday Thank You

Good Friday is always a mixed bag.  This year, it’s doubly so. My Lent began on December 9, the day of my heart attack when my life changed. Since then, I’ve given up many of my old favorite meals and foods.

This is a poignant Good Friday because it’s also the day I end my time in cardiac rehabilitation. As I went through my exit evaluation, I nearly choked up as I left. The ladies who work here have helped me change my life and save it.

For two months, three afternoons a week, I’ve spent time with them. Cardiac rehab is a season of closely monitored exercise. Each session began with a weigh-in (talk about pressure) and then the strapping on of heart monitors. During cardiac exercise, they take your blood pressure and monitor your heart rate.

In my time there, I’ve seen them intervene when blood pressures raise too high and help a diabetic when glucose levels dropped too low. They’ve monitored weight changes in case someone shows weight gain as a symptom of congestive heart failure.

With me, when I had a “niaspan flush” – like a hot flash induced by medication – they helped me work through it. When I tried to bend the rules and push myself too hard, they had me slow down my exercise. As I built relationships with these remarkable heroines, they became very in tune with how we were doing. Last week, one day when my blood pressure was low, a nurse picked up on it and raised concerns that I looked tired; that evening, I realized I had taken the wrong medication that morning. She knew something was off before I did.

At each step, as I mastered one level, they encouraged me to raise my workouts up a notch. When they needed me to slow down, they did that too.

Besides the rehab, each session included a class on lifestyle changes. Some of them I knew – like how to fix healthier foods. Other ones – like the time they showed us a dissected human heart so we better understood what made us sick – were whole new territory for me.

And so now, on the day we remember the crucifixion, I feel a deep loss. The professionals who have worked so hard with me give the same effort to every patient, each hour of the day. They know us, nurture us, and prod us.

This week, after an especially strenuous workout, I wanted to leave to meet my next appointment. But my heart rate was elevated, and they don’t let us leave until our heart rates are in normal range. If you know me, and my Type A emphasis on schedules, you know I was like the stallion pawing to get out of the barn. But the nurse told me, “Sit down, get a drink of water, and relax. Pushing too hard will give you a heart attack.”

Oh yeah. She knew just what to say to slow me down.

But the really remarkable thing is she – and all those she work with – know that about every one of their patients in cardiac rehab.

So this Easter, as I celebrate the resurrection, I’ll celebrate my own second chance and say a special prayer of thanks to the healthcare heroes who helped me get here.


The Problem With Angry Dieters

As I recover from my heart attack and work to keep my lifestyle changes, I’ve found that “diet” can be a four-letter word.

It isn’t just because it’s hard to continue for a lifetime.

It is also because of the angry dieters.  Angry dieters can have great ideas on how to improve the western diet. But they become so enamored of their personal best plan that they grow angry when someone eats a “forbidden food” and talks about it.  In the process of venting their anger, they can demoralize and discourage regular people who are trying to make better food choices.

It goes like this:

I can post a menu item of something I made and get the following feedback:

  • I shouldn’t have used whole wheat flour to make a pizza because wheat has gluten and that’s the basis of all health ills in the civilized world. I shouldn’t use whole wheat but other whole grains instead. If I didn’t eat wheat, I would lose weight faster than the 24 pounds I’ve lost in the 15 weeks since my heart attack. The fact that I have a tabletop wheat grinder and grind my own wheat is irrelevant.
  • I shouldn’t have chosen corn tortillas for a Mexican dish because they were probably made of GMO corn. I should ignore the fact that I’m on a 1,500 milligram limit of salt per day and that corn tortillas have not only more fiber but only 20 mg of sodium, compared to the 200 mg of a single flour tortilla. A better choice would have been to skip the tortilla entirely and only eat the filling. Never mind that I’m cooking not just for me but for my husband and teen-aged son who miss their more traditional diet of last year.
  • It didn’t matter if I baked the brown rice because I shouldn’t have eaten rice to begin with. It’s not paleo. The fact that I’m not following a paleo diet is irrelevant.
  • I shouldn’t have used fat-free cheese as a topping on that pizza because automatically everything that is fat free puts in so many different chemicals that it will kill me. Ignore the fact that I’m severely limited on the amount of saturated fats and cholesterol I can eat each day, cheese was one of my favorite ingredients, and I miss it. And a little fat free cheese can help me miss it less so I stay on the low fat low sodium whole food wagon better.
  • God help me if I eat an egg. That can lead to a 3 day discussion on whether or not eating a single egg is good or bad for heart disease. And if I am busy and eat an egg beater instead of just doing the white myself, that can double the discussion length as we analyze the additives in the low-fat egg substitute I just ate.
  • I can’t discuss the store where I buy most of my produce because it’s not all organic. Ignore the budgetary differences between organic and non-organic produce. I’m buying real food, primarily grown in the United States, and I work to properly clean produce before we eat it. I know all-organic would be better. But if I did that, and added that much more money to our food budget which has already increased from our healthier options, it might stress me out and increase my blood pressure.
  • I should have substituted bacon grease for olive oil because olive oil is processed and bacon grease is a simple, real food. Ignore that I am fighting clogged arteries.
  • When I made a fish meal from flash frozen fish on sale, I should have instead spent more money and bought fresh fish. Never mind that I worked to get the fresh water varieties, have a busy schedule and bought fish when I had time to grocery shop.
  • If I cut all the dairy and meat from my diet, I wouldn’t have had a heart attack in the first place. And then someone else will argue that dairy is a hidden, unknown resource in battling weight loss.
The anger and criticism inspires those of us who are trying to make better lifestyle choices to hunker down, shut our mouths, and share our new lifestyle adventures with no one. It’s hard enough to recovery from surgery and major illness without having to justify every single menu choice every day.

And the whole time all those hair-splitting arguments are taking place about my food choices, another student in my cardiac rehab class is sharing his information on his lifestyle changes:

  • He’s eating healthier now because he buys his bologna from the deli instead of the package.
  • He eats white bread for his sandwiches because there’s no real difference in its nutrition content from the whole grain selections.
He has heard so many discussions like what’s described above that he no longer listens to any of them.

When all we do is argue and criticize other people’s food choices, we alienate them. Our anger can cause them to filter and ignore everything we say, much of which is beneficial.

Our bad behavior will not inspire other people to make better food choices.

A more pro-active approach is to talk about what we like with our food choices. What’s fun to eat? What’s affordable to buy? How can I incorporate better whole food choices into my menu family for my family, on busy days?

My first choice in this lifestyle change is to follow the suggestions given to me by my doctors and cardiac rehab team. First and foremost, it involves as many whole foods and as few processed foods as possible. Fats and salt are limited as much as possible, but when I do have fats, I try to substitute them for healthier choices. If we eat beef, it’s generally limited to 2 times per week. We work to eat 2 fish meals per week, as well as 2 bean-based meals per week. If I eat real eggs, they are limited to 2 eggs per week. I do eat eat grains and work to make sure they are whole grain.

And now a nugget that’s bound to anger somebody: I was a salt fiend. I loved to salt my food and no longer do. When I absolutely crave it, I now use a potassium-based salt substitute. It helps me resist the urge to salt my food when a sprinkle of Mrs. Dash doesn’t cut it. It doesn’t taste the same, but it adds enough zing for me to keep my salt down. As my taste buds have changed, I’ve used it less. But I also have low potassium, and I figure those dashes of salt substitute might just help.

The real diet war  I’m fighting isn’t with other people. It’s a war to prolong my life. I take it seriously and work to keep my focus on the long term view and not just today’s battle.

And I hope that as I talk about the changes I’ve made it inspires others to do the same.


My War Against Heart Disease

Getting over a heart attack is different from getting over the common cold.

Yes, I’m thankful that I won the first battle – surviving the heart attack. However, I see a common misconception that surviving that attack means that life resumes as it had before the heart attack.

Instead, it means I won Battle 1 against heart disease and will be at war against it the rest of my life. If I return to the habits that brought me to a heart attack before the age of 50, then I dramatically increase the likelihood of a second heart attack and more complications.

The small decisions I make each day play a huge part in whether I win the war against heart disease:

  • What I cook at each meal makes a difference.
  • What I order when we eat at restaurants matters. When you eat to live, instead of live to eat, your first purchasing decisions eating out are based on what’s the least harmful food on the menu and how can I make the most nutritious choices.
  • Whether I exercise and how I exercise impacts my future weight loss, triglyceride levels, and more.

Each time I make a bad choice “just this once,” I might as well be playing Russian Roulette with my health and lifespan.

Some make bad choices because they say they want to enjoy life.

I want to enjoy life too. What I didn’t anticipate during my heart attack recovery, as I totally flipped my lifestyle, was how much better I would feel. I have more energy than I’ve had in years, and that makes life more fun.

This is a battle I will wage every day for the rest of my life. I don’t know the outcome, but I do know I’ll do whatever is in my power to lower risk factors.

And I ask friends and family to help me in 2 different ways:

  • If you see me making bad choices, remind me of what I have to live for: more time with my friends and family.
  • The one advantage I have is that I know the battle I’m fighting. Many out there are losing the battle against coronary artery disease without realizing it until it’s too late. If you can make better choices for your own lifestyle, I challenge you to make them starting right now. Not in an hour. Not after dinner. Not tomorrow.

But here and now.

Aren’t the people we love worth doing what we can to win this war?

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