My Diet Regime

VeggiesI 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 (gracefulwomanwarrior@yahoo.com) and I’ll try to point you in the right direction.

Peace.  – T

RECOMMENDED READS:

If you’d rather watch than read, check out these videos:

What The Hell Does She Eat???

photo 1A lot of people wonder what the hell I eat.  I suppose for most folks my current diet is a wee bit hard to fathom.  But I truly believe that making these radical changes and focusing intensely on what I eat has made a world of difference in my health.  And I feel fantastic!  Lots of energy…  Clear skin…  No more bloated tummy or constipation…  Hopefully, no more cancer either!!!

So what exactly do I eat?

In general, I try to follow an alkaline diet.  I’ve read over & over again about how a highly acidic diet translates into disease.  The acid-alkaline balance is measured with pH on a scale of 0-14.  What we eat influences our body’s pH levels.  Optimally, you want to be a little alkaline, around 7.5.  Kris Carr is a big proponent of the alkaline diet.  She has a quick tutorial on how to make the transition to an alkaline diet on her blog.

The official name for my “diet” is pesca-vegan.  This means no animal meat (no chicken, no red meat, no turkey, etc.) and no dairy (including no milk, no butter, no cheese, no yogurt, & no eggs) but yes to the occasional serving of fish (but not other seafood).

I have also largely eliminated sugar (restricting my intake to 1 teaspoon of organic coconut sugar for my morning coffee and a few squares of organic dark chocolate each day), as well as eliminated all white carbs (potatoes, flour, pasta, bread, rice).  I’ve minimized my gluten intake (using spelt, almond, and oatmeal flours instead of wheat).  And severely limited pre-packaged or processed foods like crackers and cold cereal.

I also don’t eat much tofu or soy products (which is a common food/meat substitute for vegetarians and vegans).

I’ve also given up alcohol.  Gasp!!!  Yes, even red wine.  (Although as you saw from my last post, I do occasionally indulge).

Which brings me to my next point…  I do allow myself some breathing room within these “rules”.  On special occasions I’ll have a little piece of cake or a glass of wine.  If I end up eating something with an egg in it, that’s ok.  Rules are meant to be broken.  I don’t beat myself up over it.

After reading all this, you’re probably wondering what the hell I do eat.  Surprisingly, there are still quite a few options.

Most of what I put in my mouth involves vegetables (greens, root veggies, and cruciferous ones especially)…  nuts & seeds (everything from cashews & almonds to chia & hemp seeds and pumpkin & sunflower seeds… However, all nuts and seeds must be raw – no salted or roasted nuts.  And no peanuts)…  legumes (beans and lentils)…  fruits (everything under the sun)…   healthy fats (olive oil, avocados)…  And moderate amounts of ancient grains/complex carbs (buckwheat, quinoa, millet, sprouted breads, black rice).

photo 3

Miss M helping me grow sprouts!

I try to eat at least half of my foods raw because many nutrients are lost in the cooking process.  I’ve also started growing and eating sprouts.  I heard that eating 1/2 – 1 cup of fresh, raw sprouts each day keeps the cancer away.   And I do green juicing or smoothies 3-5 times/week.

I also drink around 2 liters of lemon water every day.  (The general consensus is that it’s best to drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day).

I make a lot of stuff from scratch and have become quite the healthy chef lately…  Making yummy sugar free chocolate cakes and lots of deliciously healthy meals.  Luckily I’ve found an abundance of amazing recipes online, in blogs, and in vegan cookbooks recommended by friends.

Here is a look at a typical day for me:

Upon waking:  8-16 ounces of water with lemon

Breakfast:  Cup of organic coffee with almond milk & a little organic coconut sugar.  One piece of sprouted grain bread with vegan Earth’s Balance buttery spread.

[Post Workout:  8-12 ounces of green juice/smoothie]

photoLunch:  My new chia porridge.  Made with 1 cup of unsweetened Almond Milk, Chia Seeds, unsweetened Coconut, Cinnamon, a dash of Vanilla, Sunflower Seeds, Goji Berries, Cacao Nibs, and fresh berries.

Afternoon Snack:  Apple slices with cashew butter… Or brown rice crackers & veggies with hummus.  Plus my 1-2 squares of organic dark chocolate (min 70% cacao solids).

photo 5Dinner:  A big salad and/or rice and beans with veggies.

Late Night Snack:  Fruit, or more chocolate, or a handful of nuts.

Overhauling my diet has been a major adjustment but now that I’ve gotten into the swing of things it’s become easier and easier.  My taste buds have changed.  I’m enjoying what I eat.  And I miss the old foods less and less.

Thank god, because I plan on eating this way for the rest of my life.

Even if it seems way overwhelming to make all these changes, I encourage you to try making just a few.  The single best thing you can do for your diet is to incorporate more fresh veggies and minimize junk food.  When I was diagnosed with early stage melanoma in 2008 these were the first changes I made…  Eating a big salad every day and cutting out foods with white flour, high fructose corn syrup, and hydrogenated oils.  Pretty simple.

Start slow.  Take baby steps.  Every little thing you do to live a healthier life truly makes a difference.

Peace.  -T

 

Healthy Livin’ Ain’t Easy

I am embarking on my new healthy livin’ plan to beat cancer and it ain’t easy.

Those of you who know me may think, “But she was already pretty healthy.”  Apparently, I can get even healthier.

Last week I finally met with a naturopath doctor in Columbus.  I found her online and oddly enough, when I called, she told me she was closing her practice here in Ohio because she was moving to – are you ready? – NYC.  But she did manage to squeeze me in.  And fortunately, I’m in NY a lot these days so we can continue to see each other there.

One of the main reasons i chose this naturopath is because she specializes in women’s health issues and seeks to balance hormones naturally rather than with pharmaceuticals.  This is big on my list because my breast cancer feeds on excessive estrogen.  But I’d rather not take Tamoxifen or Arimedex, or any of the other long-term hormone drugs.  So balancing my hormone levels has become a serious priority for me.

She is also an expert in botanical medicine, whole foods based supplementation, homeopathy, and hydrotherapy, and has advanced training in two European systems of medicine: gemmotherapy, which utilizes plant stem cells for their potent healing compounds and biotherapeutic drainage, which facilitates the body’s ability to eliminate toxins.

A few days ago I received her long list of recommendations based on our 2 hour long consult, and have to admit I was initially a wee bit overwhelmed.  But piece by piece I’m putting it all together.

First we need to do a bunch of testing to look at any estrogen metabolism issues and evaluate other female and adrenal hormones… Then she recommended dietary and supplement changes to stabilize blood sugar, insulin, and reduce my INSANE sugar cravings…  Along with, biotherapeutic drainage with UNDAs to restore homeostasis in the liver and breast tissue…  And finally she offered a homeopathic remedy to help me with stress, anxiety and as she put it, “letting go…”

One of her dietary pieces of the puzzle involves changing my breakfast routine (which up until now consisted of a piece of sprouted grain toast with vegan spread and a cup of organic coffee or chai tea).  Now I’m to consume a big glass of lemon water upon waking and hold off on eating until I’m actually hungry (even if that means I don’t eat breakfast till 11am).  For breakfast (and all meals actually) the focus is on protein, fiber, and healthy fats.  This is the combination that’ll keep ya going.  So now I’m scouring the web for healthy, protein rich, vegan breakfast recipes.  Yesterday I made the chia breakfast porridge pictured above.  I found on The Alkeline Sisters blog and it was actually pretty good.

Another person I’ve learned an amazing amount of information from is Andrea Nakayama.  She is a functional whole-foods nutritionist and certified holistic health counselor based out of Portland, Oregon.  I first found out about her in an article from Whole Living magazine.  Her husband was diagnosed with cancer when she was 7-weeks pregnant with their first child.  He was given 6 months to live.  Through her commitment to studying and implementing natural ways to boost his immunity they were able to extend his life for 2 years.

Her online course on sugar (Sweet Tooth, Bitter Truth) and her recent online class about naturally balancing hormones (EstroZen) taught me so much about how food and environment impacts every cell in our body.  And it also gave me hope that numerous ways exist to restore my health and hormone balance naturally.

In addition to all these changes, I am back on my regular exercise routine (albeit a modified version).  Doing my cardio for 20-30 mins every day on the elliptical.  And it’s got me feeling so much better!  For me, exercise is the starting point for everything else.  If i’m not exercising everything else always goes to shit.  So this is big for me.

Plus, I’m still juicing and blending.  Still trying to fit in meditation and visualization as often as possible.  Still going to my monthly support group and weekly psychotherapy.  Still reading and researching.  Still doing regular reiki sessions.  Still taking time in nature (despite the cold temps).  Still trying to love and live life to the fullest.

I understand now why so many people choose to just take a pill.  Going the natural route is extremely time consuming, sometimes complicated, costly, and a lot of hard work.  But for me, it’s worth it.  I’m healthier and more energetic than a lot of folks I know – Despite having stage 4 breast cancer.  And I truly believe this is the answer to keep my cancer from coming back.

Every day I’m also conscious of, and grateful for, the fact that I’m even able to follow this path.  That I have the support, the finances, the education, the organization skills, the time, and the ability to go the natural route.  As I said, healthy livin’ ain’t easy.  And I understand why taking the natural path may feel totally overwhelming or confusing for many folks.  Which is why I plan on doing what I can to help others in their journey.  To share the information that I’ve gathered.  To make suggestions and offer up resources.  To support others in their own cancer battles.

The other day, I was watching Oprah’s interview with  Joel Olsteen and he proffered the following statement:

What follows the two simple words, “I Am”, will come looking for you and determines what type of life you will have.

The words hit home with me.  How often do we think negative “I AM” statements…  “I am never going to succeed…  I am sick…  I am a failure…  I am all fucked up” (that’s a personal favorite of mine).  But how is that gonna help??  I believe one of the reasons i’m doing as well as I am is because I continue to believe anything is possible.

So today I choose to say something different.  I AM going to beat this cancer.  I AM strong.  I AM healthy.  I AM a fighter.  I AM an inspiration.

What are you saying to yourself?  Maybe it’s time to change your “I AM” statement too.

Peace.  – T