Getting My Health in Order, Part V: Diet and Supplements
Yep, we’re still talking about my health, so you might find someone else to stand next to at the cocktail party for a while. Getting healthy is on my life list, so here’s Part I: Ow My Everything Hurts, and Part II: Acupuncture is Not Scary, Part III: Dentists Are Kind of Scary, and Part IV: I Should Get Off the Couch. Please join us for this installment of “Oh, My Aching Back,” where we give up doughnuts, french fries, and hope.
I was blessed with a mother who told me my body was gorgeous until I believed her, plus a nutzo metabolism that kept my weight in check until I was about 19. So when I say my diet was poor until I was 25, I mean potato chips for breakfast, Top Ramen for lunch, and a sensible shake (plus Bacon Cheddar Burger with fries) for dinner.
When my metabolism finally wised up and started storing fat when I used heavy cream on my cereal, I was at a loss. I had to re-learn how to cook, but I had no grasp of nutrition. My first bit of education came before I knew I had health issues, when I finally went on a diet.
Understanding Nutritional Value
I gained about 15 pounds in college, which was no big deal because I looked like a pre-pubescent boy before that, and it was nice to finally have boobs. After college, I gained another ten pounds, cringed when I saw my upper arms in a photo from a friend’s wedding, and decided it was time to apply the brakes.
I tell you all this because Weight Watchers Online was my first education in eating well. If you’re not familiar with the program, they assign a point value to every item of food based on a formula that involves fiber, nutritional value, and so on.
At the time I knew things like donuts were bad for me, but I had no concept of how bad. I mean, it’s not like they were dusted with rat poison. But a filling, healthy meal on Weight Watchers at the time was about five points. A Dunkin’ Donuts doughnut? Eight Points. Starbucks doughnut? Twelve. As I logged my food for the day, it was a passive nutritional education. I now have a basic understanding of what’s bad for me, and what’s reprehensible.
I still use Weight Watchers whenever I need to lose weight, which is often because I need to stay slim to avoid taxing my joints unnecessarily. Yet another reason to overhaul my diet.
After dieting, I had a basic idea of how food worked, but I didn’t apply that knowledge except when I was trying to lose weight. As I mentioned, when my health tanked, I realized how bad things were because I tried the Quantum Wellness cleanse and felt amazing. Because I found that diet too restrictive to maintain, I needed a simpler way to eat better.
Everything I know about how my body interacts with food is from Dr. Oz’s You on Diet, which has specific recommendations for how to adopt a healthier diet overall.
Key points that stuck with me:
-I try not to keep food in my house if I know it’s hurting my body. If I want some potato chips, I can put on my sneakers and walk to the damn store.
-I avoid foods with any of the following in the first five ingredients of the label: 1. simple sugars 2. syrups 3. white flours 4. saturated fats 5. trans fat. Friends, unless you’re shopping at a seriously hippie store, this pretty much eliminates packaged food, which I found shocking. I won’t buy anything at all with high fructose corn syrup or trans fats, but after about a year with brown rice pasta, I just found it too difficult to give up regular pasta. Still, I eat maybe a quarter of the packaged food I used to. I just do the best I can.
-Standardize one or more of my meals. I pick a healthy breakfast (smoothie) or lunch (salad, turkey sandwich) and eat the same thing every day. Bam! Half my day is healthy by default.
-Trans fats are terrible for you not only because they’re extremely caloric. Your system doesn’t actually register them as food. So no matter how much you eat, your body never releases the chemicals that tell you you’re full. Yikes.
-I keep water in front of me all day long, and have a small dishes of nuts around so I can eat a few about twenty minutes before a meal. It triggers your body to release satiety chemicals, and most nuts are crazy good for you.
If you want a starting point, here’s Dr. Oz’s Ultimate Diet, which closely mirrors the book’s tenets on healthful eating. (If weight is your main health challenge, you’ll find specific weight management tips here.)
Vitamins and Supplements
By the time I started acupuncture, I was already taking a enough supplements and vitamins to stock a co-op. I’d been reading Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Life site, and I adopted lots of her recommendations (which I can’t find anywhere now, grr). As symptoms pop up, my acupuncturist suggests foods and supplements that can help, and they do.
My general rule for supplements is that I want my body to recognize them as food. I try not to swallow anything synthetic that my immune system may try to attack, so I look for vitamins made of whole foods. They’re more expensive, but I think of it like filling prescriptions.
Every morning I take a:
Women’s One Multivitamin
B-Complex – to battle stress hormones and boost immune function
Grape seed extract – to build artery walls and help with bruising, which works
Algae – recommended by my acupuncturist to “build blood”
L-Lysine – to keep cold sores at bay, and it’s incredibly effective
Calcium – suck it, osteoperosis
Vitamin E – for the heart and skin
Glucosamine Chondroitin – to build cartilidge
I also take acupuncture herb capsules for chronic knee and ankle pain. I take three at a time, three times a day in conjunction with the Glucosamine for my joints.
The herbs and Glucosamine have really worked miracles for me when I take them correctly. You’re supposed to take Glucosamine three times a day with food, which seemed so arduous. Then a few weeks ago I was having trouble walking and worried I might need another knee surgery. So I set three alarms on my phone and put some pills in my purse so I always had them with me. Such an easy solution, I feel stupid for waiting so long to just do it, and after just a week of taking my supplements the way I’m supposed to, my joints are functional again.
Three or four mornings a week, I also make a smoothie and add Flax Seed Oil for heart and brain function, a little ground flax seed for the same thing, and sometimes a little Psyllium Husk for fiber.
If you’re wondering what you should be taking, Dr. Oz’s vitamins and supplements chart is a useful resource. It’s comprehensive, so don’t let it overwhelm you; put together a routine based on where your health needs boosting.
At first, I felt weird about taking so many “pills.” I’m the kind of person who resists taking a Tylenol when i have a headache. But I’ve come to think of vitamins as food in condensed form. I’d rather take a handful of condensed food than have kale at every meal.
I bruise less easily, get fewer cold sores, have more energy, don’t really have issues with eczema any more, and have had surprising healing in my joints.
That’s about it. I’ve also been drinking only decaf coffee and tea aside from green tea, and I’m considering cutting out wheat again to see if it would dramatically effect my energy, but I’m taking it slowly. I also bought Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, which I’ve been avoiding reading because of the moral quandry I know will ensue.
In general, I’m trying to give my body better building materials, and if you’ve read this far, you probably are too. So here’s what I want to know from you:
- How have you come by the knowledge you have about food? Reading suggestions?
- Would you consider making a non-temporary change in how you eat? Have you already?
- Do you take supplements or do they freak you out? Do you believe they work?
Oof. This has been a long haul, no? Thanks for sticking with me.