I often get questions about the lifestyle changes I’ve made since being diagnosed with breast cancer. For those who want to know what I’m doing I’ve decided to write a series of posts addressing all the diet, supplement, exercise, psychological and environmental changes I’ve made.
Diet was the first thing I changed. I remember going for a consult at Memorial Sloan Kettering in NYC and being told that what I ate didn’t really matter. I countered with, “Oh, so I can just go out and eat fast food every day?” The doctor smiled and said, “Well, no. But just eat ‘healthy'” Ok. Eat healthy. What the hell does that mean?
And so began my never ending quest to figure out the healthiest anti-cancer, immune boosting diet. To this day, I am still reading, learning, researching, and revising my diet.
I do not follow one particular diet “plan” per se. Most of the time I’m vegan (meaning no animal products of any kind – ie. no meat, chicken, fish, or dairy). But I am not rigid about this. I will not turn down something with an egg in it. I sometimes have goat cheese smeared on my roasted beets. And I do eat fish pretty regularly. But I’ve always loved my veggies and preferred them over meat. So this wasn’t a big leap for me. And the more I read, the more it became clear that a whole foods plant based diet was the way to go (for more details including research studies on why this diet works see my recommended reads at the bottom of this post).
If you’re looking for a blog with great healthy vegan recipes check out Carrie on Vegan. She even has an app you can download for your iPhone called Vegan Delish. My favorite vegan cookbooks are by Dreena Burton. Her blog Plant Powered Kitchen is pretty awesome too.
The other piece of my diet puzzle revolves around boosting the alkalinity of my body. Turns out cancer (and most disease) thrives in an acidic environment. Acidic foods include meat, dairy, alcohol, refined grains, and processed foods, among others. Kris Carr has a great chart in her book Crazy Sexy Diet which I photocopied and taped to my fridge breaking down what is acidic and what is alkaline. Anyone know if I’m legally allowed to post a copy of the chart on my blog? Not sure of the legalities with that… The Alkaline Sisters blog also goes into more detail on this way of eating and has yummy recipes too! Otherwise, you can just Google search “alkaline diet” and you’ll get a ton of info.
The other big thing for anti-cancer diets is cutting out sugar and anything that your body converts into sugar (like alcohol, fruit juice, simple carbs, white rice, pasta, even fresh and dried fruit). This has been the hardest one for me! But I’m discovering lots of healthy sweet treat options made without sugar that taste great (I swear!) and seem to do the trick for curbing my sweet tooth. I promise to share some of my favorite recipes in a future post.
I guess if I had to sum up the core of my eating plan it would go something like this…
(1) Eat LOTS & LOTS of veggies. All different kinds. All different ways. All different colors. All day long. Every day. At least half of your plate at lunch & dinner should be veggies.
(2) Make sure your food is as non-toxic and pesticide free as possible. If you can, buy organic and from local sources & farms and avoid genetically modified foods (GMO’s). Of course, if you cannot afford or find such items just eat regular fruits & veggies anyway. They’re still good for you. For a list of the most pesticide laden produce see this summary on the Environmental Working Group’s website: EWG’s 2012 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. And check out the rest of their website while you’re there. They have lots of great info on the hidden toxins in our every day lives.
(3) Avoid all packaged and processed foods. That means no breakfast cereal, no crackers, & no cookies (unless you make them yourself).
(4) Eat healthy fats with every meal (avocado, olive oil, flax seed oil, raw unsalted & not roasted nuts, seeds) and try to eliminate the bad ones (fried food, hydrogenated oil, standard vegetable cooking oils, butter, margarine).
(4) Cut out as much sugar as you can. And if you must indulge, choose healthier sources like Stevia (the best option – but to me it has a bit of a quirky taste I can’t get over), Agave (which is ok in moderation but can damage the liver in large amounts), brown rice syrup, real maple syrup, (local) raw organic honey, or coconut sugar (my favorite choice for morning tea/coffee). For desserts try using 100% apple sauce or dates to sweeten.
(4) Eat everything else in moderation.
In the end, you have to make only the changes you can live with long term. This isn’t a “diet”. This is a lifestyle change. I will eat this way for the rest of my life now. Which is why I live by the motto “everything in moderation”. Generally, I try to eat 80-90% healthy and the rest of the time I indulge. I’ll tell you, it sure makes those indulgences a beautiful and much appreciated sensory experience!!
You also have to monitor how you feel. I feel great on a vegan diet but not everyone does. Listen to your body.
Of course, making these changes is hard enough for one person. But when you’re a mom & wife like me, there is the added drama of incorporating the changes into the family routine & eating habits too. I’m still searching for healthy dinner meals the whole family will eat. In the meantime, I often cook different meals on alternate nights. One day I’ll cook food for hubby, then the next night I make something for me and he eats leftovers from the day before. Other nights I’ll cook up a big batch of kamut or whole grain pasta and separate it into two meals: veggies, garlic, & olive oil for me… chicken, veggies, & cream sauce for hubby. Miss M is usually pretty easy going (thank god!) and eats whatever I put in front of her.
Even if your family is unwilling to get completely on board with your new eating habits, you can still make small changes to the every day routine… Choose free range, organic meat and eggs and eat them in moderation… Offer unsweetened almond, soy, or rice milk instead of cow milk (I give Miss M the choice every day. Half the time she chooses almond over cow)… Start eating more veggies… Buy a juicer (and use it! :-)… Switch from regular white pasta and rice to whole grain and ancient grain alternatives (my new thing is black rice – apparently it’s better for you than brown rice – And my whole family loves it)…
This topic is endless. Books are a plenty. Check them out if you want more info.
I truly believe that healthy eating, what you put in your body, makes a world of difference in your overall health. And I really wish that the medical establishment would talk about it more with cancer patients. Even if only to say, “Here’s a name of a nutritionist. Make an appointment.”
What you eat is important.
If you have specific questions feel free to post a comment or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll try to point you in the right direction.
Peace. – T
- Crazy Sexy Diet – by Kris Carr
- The China Study – by T. Colin Campbell, PhD & Thomas M. Campbell II, MD
- Anticancer: A New Way of Life – by David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD
- Super Immunity – by Joel Fuhrman, MD
- Natural Strategies for Cancer Patients – by Russell L Blaylock, MD
If you’d rather watch than read, check out these videos: