I remember the exact moment when I lost my sense of immortality. I was sitting in my doctor’s office after experiencing my TIA and he was looking over my test results. His bedside manner sucked and he very nonchalantly told me that my cholesterol was off the charts and that I likely experienced a small piece of plaque that came loose and travelled to my brain, causing a mini-stroke.
I should have known better. My family history is fraught with heart attack, stroke and cancer. My grandmother had three strokes, open heart surgery and a major back operation all while I was young – she was also the most important person in my life growing up. I remember sitting there in the office, watching the doctor’s mouth moving and thinking, “I am 41 years old, this can’t be happening.”
For three months after having a TIA, your chances of having a full blown stroke increase by more than 40% and your chances remain just slightly lower for the next year. One day driving to work (my commute is very long) I was coming over the hill into the city and my vision started to blur a bit. This is it, this is the big one, I thought. I am going to have a stroke, lose control of this car and take out a bunch of people on the way. I managed to get to the side of the road, rubbed my eyes and burst into tears. I didn’t want to die. I was terrified and the fear I was experiencing was causing more stress, exactly what I didn’t need.
The little tomboy that used to jump fifteen feet out of the loft of our barn with a homemade parachute was gone. I was afraid, overwhelmed and sick. I threw my cigarettes and lighter out onto the highway and drove to work, I was going to make changes.
The solution should be simple right? Quit smoking, exercise, eat healthy and reduce your stress – no problem. By the end of the day I had purchased another pack of smokes and wanted to scuttle into my bed and wake up in about two years. Don’t get me up, I’ll crawl out when things get better. Then I tried to convince myself that all the medication my doctor had prescribed would save me. Baby aspirin, Crestor and Micardis Plus were my new buddies – they would protect me, save me. But grinding away in the back of my head I knew that if I didn’t fundamentally change the way I was living, I would succumb to this aging body of mine. After all, I had seen my Grandma take her medication and then justify how she could still do and eat what she wanted because the pills would protect her. We have all witnessed people have a major health crisis and then rely on the doctors and medical technology to keep them alive.
I believe that most of my health is directly related to what I put into my body. It’s why I have adopted a plant-based diet. You’re body is a vessel that reacts to the fuel it receives. Try putting diesel fuel into a gas vehicle – that engine won’t run. The rest is related to exercise, and while this is important, getting a handle on your diet is essential.
This takes us to the whole subject of change.
“And that is how change happens. One gesture. One person. One moment at a time.” ― Libba Bray
“Stepping onto a brand-new path is difficult, but not more difficult than remaining in a situation, which is not nurturing to the whole woman.” ― Maya Angelou
Cleaning up your diet can be daunting. Let’s face it, food is an emotional thing for a lot of us. The whole foodie revolution has taught us that eating should become an ‘experience’. Experiences usually come with a lot of emotion. They are supposed to bring us happiness, new adventures and excitement – why else do we spend thousands of dollars on vacations?
Successful change happens in minuscule, gradual steps. Keep it modest. Here are three things to get you started:
- Start small – While following a meal plan is definitely the way to go –You eliminate surprises and it helps you stay on track until good habits are formed, it can be a bit daunting at first. As a start, try to brainstorm simple things that you can add, take away or replace in your diet. I started by taking one sugar away from my morning coffee. Then I replaced the milk (I never did use cream) with soy milk. The taste was weird at first, but I gradually got used to it, then I liked it, now I expect it. Commit to eating breakfast every day. I don’t care if it’s a piece of fruit, just shove it in there and get used to having food in your stomach in the morning. Then try taking the time to actually sit down before you barrel out the door for work and having a bowl of cereal. Have a small handful of almonds in the afternoon instead of a chocolate bar. Buy a bag and keep them at your desk or wherever your work station is.
- Write it down, keep a food diary – You will never know how far you’ve come unless you know where you have been. A food diary was easy for me. I never ate. I would go all day on coffee and cigarettes and then have a huge supper and snack too much in the evening as my body tried to make up for lost calories. The weekends used to be a free-for-all with too much alcohol and quick to prepare convenience foods as we were always on the go. While hotdogs are quick, they are not a friend to your system. If you record what you eat, you will have a better idea of where you can start making changes.
- Be kind to yourself – I’m not saying you shouldn’t make yourself accountable to change, but don’t beat yourself if you slip up either. When we take on a label (vegan, vegetarian etc.) it tends to come with a lot of rules. I once told one of my co-workers that I was ‘going vegan’ and then one day when we were all out for a team lunch, I found myself in a situation (poor planning on my part) where there were no vegan options on the menu and I was too shy to ask for something different. I decided to go with the flow and guess who was the first person to pipe up and say in front of the whole group, “Hey I thought you said you were a vegan now?” As I’ve said before, it’s not about being perfect, it’s about doing better for you and only you.
I hope this inspires you to start thinking about changes you can make. If you have tips that have worked for you, let me know in the comments. I would love to hear from you – here’s to fueling your engine…