NAVIGATING THE DIET MELANGE

NAVIGATING THE DIET MELANGE

This is the time of year when diet companies and weight loss plans, make promises to transform you — producing a better, fitter, and more amazing you.  Many suggest these remarkable changes will occur almost overnight, with little or no effort.  As with anything in life, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  I decided to do some research.  Every year U.S. News & World Reports puts out a list of the best diets.  I checked out those top rated.  Here is a link to the article:  https://health.usnews.com/best-diet/best-diets-overall.

The left-hand column of the article provides ways you can customize a diet.  There are rankings (kinds of programs), or you can modify the type of regime, as well as specific preferences you desire.

When I started on my weight loss journey, I had 2 objectives:  1) Lose weight and 2) Not ever have another heart attack.  To be honest, there is no guarantee of the second goal. The reality is I have cardiovascular disease (CVD).  After my myocardial infarction (MI), stents were inserted, and it resolved an immediate problem.  It did not take away the CVD.  For me, this is a good-news, bad-news scenario.  The bad news is I could experience (and almost did) another cardiac event, the good news is I have learned and continue to learn how to listen to my body and take better care of it.

The top 3 diets overall, at U.S. News were:  1) The Mediterranean Diet, 2) The Dash Diet, 3) The Flexitarian Diet.  In all 3 plans, you do the shopping at your local market  — there are no premade meals to buy.  While they all recommend fresh fruits and vegetables, you might consider frozen vegetables, which are generally harvested in their prime and quick-frozen.  Be sure you get the veggies without sauces, butter, etc.  Plant-based proteins are advocated (legumes, beans, nuts), but you don’t have to give up lean meat.  There are hundreds of recipes available online and cookbooks dedicated to all 3.

I was listening to Dr. Jen Ashton, the Chief Health and Medical Editor, and Chief Medical Correspondent for ABC News and Good Morning America, discuss the finding from U.S. News.  In addition to being a physician, Dr. Ashton received a Master’s Degree in Nutrition from Columbia University in 2016.  Credentials in nutrition are a rarity among physicians.  One thing Dr. Ashton emphasized is that any diet has to be “sustainable.”  If any program is not easy to follow you will likely give up.  All 3 of these diets are easy to follow.

Since a primary reason for researching diets was because of my concern over heart health, I feel compelled to mention the Ornish Diet, which tied for #1 with the Mediterranean Diet in the Heart Healthy category.  A preeminent difference between this and the Mediterranean Diet is that it is incredibly restrictive with the use of oils (even unsaturated), foods containing cholesterol, animal products, etc.  The plan emphasizes stress management and exercise in addition to diet.  Both are essential to maintaining a healthy heart.

While I don’t follow it flawlessly, my diet most resembles the Mediterranean Diet.  Hell, I am Italian after all.  Of course, if you look at the European portion of the Mediterranean Sea, it encompasses Greece, Italy, France, Turkey, and Croatia — all with different kinds of cuisine.  Yet they all share a similar pyramid.  All meals include the base (this is where most of your food will come from) encompassing fruits, grains, vegetables, beans, nuts, legumes, seeds, along with herbs and spices.  Next up on the pyramid is fish and seafood.  These you have at least 2 times per week.  Next up is poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt which you have in moderate portions daily to weekly.  The tip of the pyramid contains meats and sweets — these foods, of course, are in limited quantities.

There is one other thing we must consider when discussing the Mediterranean Diet.  People from that region, do not hop in the car to go to the mall or market.  They walk just about everywhere or ride bikes (how un-American).  In other words, they are not couch-potatoes, they are active.  Don’t expect to lose weight, if you aren’t moving.  Think at least 30 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous exercise.  If you’ve been inactive, start off incorporating physical activity 3 days a week, increasing your workout as you can.

So there you have it.  The top diets, according to U.S. News.  There are more.  Under best weight loss diets, you can find Weight Watchers, Volumetrics Diet; Best Fast Weight Loss Diets gives us HMR Diet, Atkins Program and Keto Diet; Best Commercial Diets include Jenny Craig and Nutritarian.  OMG, it goes on and on.

There are additional charges to join many of the Weight Loss and Commercial Diet Plans, plus monthly fees.  Some have group meetings, meetings with counselors (or a combination of both) and some are available online You need to choose what works for you.  Prepared food can be purchased directly from the company or at your local market, reducing preparation time for the user.  Just remember Dr. Ashton’s advice, whatever you select, IT MUST BE SUSTAINABLE.

Early on I tried Weight Watchers and dropped it because while it offered portion control and a pretty healthy approach, I didn’t know how many macro and micronutrients I was getting per meal or per day.  Was I getting too many carbs, too much fat?  It simply didn’t follow the lifestyle of a control freak.  However, others swear by it and if it’s working for you, stick with it.

Finally, I judge my diet results, not on a number on the scale, nor a dress size.  I look at my waist size (more on this in a future post) and most importantly on lab results, and maintaining healthy blood pressure.

Our obsession with diet has created a multi-million dollar industry, which is difficult to navigate.  We need to have a “buyer beware,” sign out there as we evaluate what’s in our best interests.

What do you do?  How do you measure your success?  There was a lot to this post.  I hope I didn’t discourage you.  Let me know your thoughts.

 

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Taking the Die Out of Diet!

Taking the Die Out of Diet!

“Hey, I’m depraved on account I’m deprived.” Dear Officer Krupke, West Side Story

You’ve decided it’s time.  You’ve literally eaten your way through Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year’s.  If that wasn’t enough — you consumed enormous quantities of calories attending all those holiday parties.  You are left with a widening waistline, little or no energy, and quite often a dip in your self-esteem.

When you think of the word “diet,” what comes to mind?  How about:

  1. Low fat (or no fat)
  2. No pasta, no bread, no sweets –NO CARBS
  3. Limited calories
  4. No Alcohol
  5. Salads, salads, salads (OMG, I hate green food)
  6. Gluten-free foods — What the hell is gluten?
  7. Starvation

If you can say “Yes” to one or more of the above, you are in deprivation mode.  Trust me, that inevitably leads to becoming depraved.  An example of this kind of depravity is simple.  I do not like coconut.  I’m not fond of the aroma, the taste, or the texture of those shavings placed on top of desserts.  If I am told I cannot have coconut, I will begin to crave it.  In anticipation of expected deprivation, I become depraved!

Like many of you, I’ve tried so many weight loss plans and had little or no success.  Maybe I lost some pounds, but stop the diet, and they would miraculously reappear.  In surrender, I’d thrown my arms in the air figuring, I’d never win in the diet arena.  As I stated in my previous blog post, what finally got my attention was a heart attack.  This weight problem was no longer a vague idea of looking better, my life was on the line.

My life is so often serendipitous.  It took 2 years to find my primary physician.  Incredibly, she is board certified in obesity medicine and has more than a nodding acquaintance with nutrition.  She provides seminars for her patients which include professional dietitians, psychologists, and physical therapists.  She started me on the path of my weight loss journey.  To date, I’ve said goodbye to 35 pounds.

In addition, I’ve taken on-line nutrition courses through edtogo.com.  This does not make me an expert, but I’ve found some things that have worked for me — and that may work for you.  Perhaps you can share some of your experiences that will help other readers.

There is no “one size fits all” diet out there.  Wish there was — bet you do too.  However, sharing what’s worked and what hasn’t might give someone else a “leg-up.”

The “Food for Thought” section of my blog will include suggestions, ideas, recipes (if from another source, there will be links to them).  I hope you are as excited about this section in my blog, as I.  Let me hear from you.

 

Remembering Cari

Remembering Cari

I was attending my first WomenHeart meeting two years ago.  The meeting was starting, and I quickly found a seat, sitting next to Caridad (Cari).  There were maybe 25 – 30 women present and I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Sometimes, the meetings have speakers or activities, but this evening was dedicated to sharing.  I was to learn that taking the time to listen and learn from other heart patients, is an invaluable tool for all.  As it came time for Cari to share, she started to tear up.  In addition to heart disease, Cari had several other serious health issues.  Having an opportunity to express her problems was difficult, yet she did so with profound dignity.

She told us about her Vision Board. It had words of encouragement, pictures of loved ones, and a photograph of the beach – a place she associated with peace and serenity. The first thing every morning she would look at it.  It would lighten her load and help her start her day with feelings of thankfulness.  At the end of the meeting, I spoke with her and our group leader, Annie, about having a Vision Board party for our WomanHeart group.

In January 2017, we had our VB party.  What a great time.  After working on our boards,  we shared our completed projects with everyone.  Here is Cari with her Vision Board along with Annie de Velasco, Andee Weiner and me.  What a happy moment.

As I look at Cari’s Vision Board, I see pictures of her family and of course her beautiful beach.  Most prominently we find the word, GRATITUDE, something integral to her well-being.

Cari passed away early last week.  In the song, Seasons of Love, from the musical, Rent, we are asked, “How do you measure the life of a woman or man?”  The answer is, “Measure your life in love.”  Cari exuded love.  I am so grateful I had the opportunity to know her, if only for a brief time.

The Quality of Bending Easily Without Breaking!

The Quality of Bending Easily Without Breaking!

A quote by Maynard Webb caught my eye some time ago.  He stated, “Flexibility has become a modern-day value.  But flexibility comes with a cost.”  

It brought me back to a time when a friend and I attended yoga classes.  Rosalie and I were thirty-something, and our instructor was perhaps in her 60’s.  She was amazing!  Just watching the spring in her step, her agility and “stretchiness.” Is that a word?  Whatever!  She had stretchiness!  Watching her was inspiring.  

While I’m not an expert on kinesiology, it’s known that as we age our joints stiffen, and that lovely suppleness of youth is but a memory.  I was experiencing this.

I’m not Elizabeth Gilbert, and it’s unlikely that I will go to an ashram as she wrote about in her book, ‘Eat, Pray, Love.’  But thinking again of my former instructor, it occurred to me going to a yoga class was an excellent idea.  I googled Yoga and found a Hatha Yoga school not too far from my house.  And surprise, a beginners’ class was scheduled to start in one week!

On day one, I found myself with some ladies ranging in age from twenty to perhaps 60 or 70.  We were told some movements tend to be effortless, while others are arduous.  We were assured that if we’d stick with it, we would see improvement.

The first thing we were asked to do was sit cross-legged, while maintaining good posture, with knees bent and opened wide like a book. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?  I watched the others in the class.  Their knees were not only opened wide but almost touching the floor.  Mine were up to my ears.  It was suggested that I sit on some towels, elevating my bum, so my knees appeared to be closer to the floor.  Somehow that seemed like cheating, but at least my “pose” looked more similar to everyone else’s.  Of course, I appeared to be a foot taller than everyone else in the room as well.

We proceeded with several poses.  Funny, I had no recollection of pain during my earlier classes.  Our instructor explained that most of us had spent many years sitting, standing and walking incorrectly.  “As a result, some of these poses may be difficult. But don’t worry, just stick with it.”  Good grief!  I had so many years of lousy sitting, standing and walking to make up for!

And the poses continued:  the mountain, the chair, the triangle, downward facing dog — some more difficult than others.  I don’t recall perspiration dripping down my face in past classes, but I was beginning to feel it now. Thinking back on my earlier experience, we glided almost ballet-like from one position to another.  There was nothing rhythmic in my movements now.   Then we were on the floor again —  I in an un-lotus like pose.  I panicked thinking, “Oh my God, my hips are locking, where is the exit?” 

Perhaps, the instructor saw the look of terror on my face, because she asked us to rise again and that’s when it happened.  When you’re as stiff as I was, getting up can be a challenge.  I didn’t fall, because I was able to catch myself by jamming the second toe of my right foot into the floor.  There was PAIN!  Just as I was about to let out a gasping cry, I saw the sign:

“NO WHINING PLEASE”

“What?  No whining, please?  This place must be run by sadists!

I looked around for an escape.

Our instructor, however, was on to another pose — the ‘Warrior Pose.’  She tried to assist this now wounded warrior by moving my left foot, putting more pressure on the toe on my right foot.  She didn’t understand that I couldn’t do that and breathe at the same time.

The hour was almost over.  The instructor said,“It’s time for the ‘Corpse Pose.’”  CORPSE POSE?  They actually have a designated pose for a dead person?  I figured they were going to put me out of my misery.   Lying on my back, my toe throbbing, I awaited my fate.  Fortunately, the Corpse Pose is a time for meditation.  I would have enjoyed it but was in so much pain, I couldn’t think of anything else.  Then I heard a soft voice say, “Namaste.”  The class had ended.

I hoped my ‘corpse toe’ could be revived.  Too bad there was no video of me leaving the studio.  Limping and appearing to be wearing some kind of body armor, I was the personification of rigidity.

Good old Maynard Webb.  He was right.  Achieving flexibility does come with a cost.  Of course, he was talking about working in the age of the internet.  For me, well it came with a broken toe.  

For my next act, I think I’ll take up Tai Chi.  

Editor’s Note:  You may recall this story from back in 2014.  Last Wednesday, I was asked to fill in as a speaker at Toastmasters.   So reworked the original article to a speech format.  Hope you enjoyed this version.

DO AS I SAY…

DO AS I SAY…

Editor’s Note:  Following is a speech given at Miracle Mile Toastmasters, February 8, 2018

WomanHeart is The National Coalition of Women WITH Heart Disease.  If someone had asked me 5 or 10 years ago, if I would be active in an organization that had as a criterion for membership having a disease, I would have said, “Not me.”  Yet here I am.  Every WomenHeart Champion has heart disease, and each of us has a story.

Let’s get personal.  On January 18, 2016, I awoke with the most horrible pain in my jaw.  I couldn’t believe it.  It felt as if I needed a root canal.  I looked at the clock, it was 12:30 am.  I went into the kitchen to get some water.  As I walked, the pain began to subside.  I was exhausted and thought, “Did I imagine that?  I must have.”  I went back to bed.

About 4 hours later, it happened again.  I woke up with severe pain in my jaw.  I’m smart enough to know that root canal pain does not come and then go on its own.  What to do?  Have you heard of Google?  Yep, that’s what I did, I googled angina.  What I read said it could be a heart attack, but then again, it might not.  Being the outstanding diagnostician that I am, I deduced it was not.  My doctor would be in the office in a couple of hours.  I decided to wait (yet again) and call her.  She said, “Go directly to the ER, do not pass go, do not collect $200.”

Ten and a half hours after the first pain, I was diagnosed.  I’d had a heart attack.

Fast forward 1 year.  I was at Cardiac Rehab exercising.  I was pushing up the speed on a treadmill.  I noticed some pressure in my jaw.  No pain – just pressure.  I stopped and had someone check my blood pressure.  It was okay.  I continued with my routine and only as I was leaving did I mention the mild discomfort I’d felt.  The nurse looked at me as if I had 2 heads.  “Why didn’t you tell me?  You need to see your doctor right away.”  I called my internist and explained what had happened.  The next thing I knew I was in her office where the staff told me several times all would be OK.  Oddly enough I wasn’t alarmed until the third, “you’ll be OK.”  The next day I was at the cardiologist’s office, the next week in the cath lab.  I didn’t have a heart attack.  However, my Left Anterior Descending Artery (aka the Widowmaker) was 95% occluded, making it far more dangerous than the attack I’d had a year earlier.

What can you learn from my experience?  You know the old saying, “Do as I say, not as I do.”  What were my actions? I ignored symptoms, waited far too long to get help, even worse I diagnosed myself!

Considering that heart disease is the number 1 killer of men and women in the United States, here is what you should do:

Know your risks (some over which you have no control):  If you are African-American, Hispanic or Native American, or if you have a family history, you are at higher risk for developing heart disease.

Know your risks Part 2 (you can change these):  If you’re a diabetic, if you are overweight or if exercise is lacking in your day — make changes to your routine, and diet.  And for heaven’s sake STOP SMOKING!

Know your numbers:  Is your cholesterol too high?  What about your HDL and LDL?  How are your triglycerides?  Do you have hypertension?  Remember the guidelines have changed.

All of these risks and numbers apply to everyone in this room.  You may ask, “But, what is WomenHeart?  Why is there a need for an organization just for women with heart disease?”

Let’s look at some facts and statistics.  While 1 in 31 American women die of breast cancer (which is far too many) 1 in 3 dies of heart disease.  Since 1984, more women than men have died from heart disease.  Let’s say a woman goes to the best cardiologist on the planet.  And that cardiologist gives the VERY BEST advice available.  The reality is that “best advice” may not be the best at all.  Doctors recommendations are often tied to the results of clinical trials.  Today, women comprise less than 27% of the participants in cardiac trials.  Women are not little men.  Their biology is different.

Women’s symptoms during a heart attack are different as well.  Yes, they may have chest pain, but they are likely to present with various indicators such as nausea, feeling light-headed, having extreme fatigue, pain or discomfort in the arm or shoulder, neck or back — and don’t forget my symptoms — pain in the jaw.  With my second event there was NO PAIN — merely pressure in my jaw.  Is it any wonder that women are often misdiagnosed?

The most important thing to do if you have any symptoms of a heart attack is to go the emergency room.  Time is of the essence.  Call 911 or have someone take you.  Do not drive yourself.

Many of you work for companies in this area or belong to organizations that meet locally.  WomenHeart has a program called WomenHeart@Work.  We can design a power point meeting for members of your group, giving each participant facts about taking charge of their heart health.  I have some of our “Bags of Courage”  with information on protecting your heart health as well as my WomenHeart Business Card.  Call me, and we will schedule a presentation, which will be a gift to your company, its employees or members of your organization.

I implore you to “do as I say.”  Education can save the life of a colleague, friend, teammate or partner.  Take this life-saving opportunity.

 

Remembering the 2017 WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium – Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN

Remembering the 2017 WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium – Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”  Nora Ephron

“Attending the symposium will be life-changing, and you’ll be surprised at how the stories of other women will impact you.  In the end you will feel empowered.”  So were the words of Ann de Velasco when she described what I might expect when attending the WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium.  So, what did I learn?

Women are more likely to be misdiagnosed in an ER.  Women are more likely to have a second heart attack within 1 year of the first.  The symptoms of a heart attack are often far different in women than in men.  While there has been significant research and trials for heart disease, participants tend to be men.  As Dr. Sharonne Hayes said at the symposium, “Women are not little men.”  We have different hormones, women give birth to children.  Our genetics are different from men.  As a result, the best advice from a doctor is not necessarily the best advice.  That advice is based on research that simply is not women inclusive.

WomenHeart is the National Coalition of Women with Heart Disease.  A non-profit organization, we support other women through programs like SisterMatch, and HeartScarves.  We let newly diagnosed women know they are not alone.  WomenHeart educates women through local Support Networks and programs like Women at Work as well as presentations at Health Fairs.  As survivors of the number 1 killer of Americans, we advocate on public policy and health care reform.

Fifty-eight women from all over the United States attended the symposium.  All of us have heart disease — some of us have had heart attacks, others required valve replacement or repair.  A few have arrhythmias — a malfunction of the heart’s electrical system.  Some even required heart transplants.  Our specific problems may be different, but upon completion of the symposium we became WomenHeart Champions, prepared to support other women with or at risk of getting heart disease.

To accomplish this, we addressed our ability to tell “our stories.”  That turned out to be much more involved than we imagined.  We had to make our stories short, captivating, and engaging — not an easy task.

Before I attended the symposium, I had a picture in my mind of what the face of a woman with heart disease would be.  I figured it would be a face much like mine.  So imagine my surprise when I met my “roomie,” Amy,  a young woman in her 30’s.  Nor did I expect to meet several other young women, who in the prime of their lives experienced SCAD (spontaneous coronary artery dissection).  Heart disease does not discriminate when it comes to age or ethnicity.

Almost 2 months have passed since graduation.  I was touched by the stories of my fellow graduates.  For me the symposium was  transformative.  As mentioned above WomenHeart has 3 prongs — support, educate and advocate.  So often you hear a phrase that begins with “We advocate for…”  Too often the next word is “victims.”  The women in my graduating class and previous classes are not victims — but survivors!  Meet the class of 2017.

 

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO…..

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO…..

It’s Oscar time.  Do you recall some of those acceptance speeches?   Winners, I’ve heard,  aren’t supposed to speak more than 45 seconds.

I thought about this due to a recent “win” of my own.  In my case there were so many people working in the background to assure my victory, I figured the music would start playing before I’d get through half the names on my list.

My award is for a little drama entitled, “The Road to Recovery.”  Hillary once said, when it comes to rearing children, ”It takes a village.”  The same could be said of all those who help you recover from a traumatic health event.  I rarely got last names of the many I encountered, so for my “recovery acceptance speech,” I’ll just use first names. That being said, here is Sharon’s acceptance speech:

“Oh my God, I can’t believe this.  I won!  There are so many people to thank.  First of all, I have to thank my directors.  Yep, most people have 1 director, I had 2. Dr. Rosa Garcia and Dr. Ramon Quesada, without whom recovery might not have been possible.  Then there is my Emergency Room RN,  Johanna.   She assured me that while the diagnosis was not what I wanted to hear,  recovery was more than likely.

“Thank you to Lauren an RN, who replaced Johanna as shifts changed in the ER.  While readying me for a trip to the Cath Lab, Lauren continued to give me assurance.  It was about this time I met Samuel, a Cardiac transport worker.  What can I say about Samuel?  I was clearly distressed so he started a conversation.  ‘Who is your cardiologist?’  When I said it was Dr. Quesada, he said, ‘Wow, you’re lucky, he’s outstanding.’

“In the Cath Lab, thank you to Peggy, an RN whose sense of humor and uplifting personality were so helpful.  Thank you to Patty an RN, who explained that while I would be awake for the procedure, all would be OK.  Then she gave me an intravenous ‘cocktail.’  There were so many others in the lab busy preparing for the cath.  Someone introduced me to a ‘pizza board’ (well that’s what they called it) and soon the procedure was over.

“Thank you to Juan an RN who found extra blankets — I was freezing.  He and Samuel took me to my room.  More relaxed, I heard Samuel saying, ‘See, I told you everything would be OK.’

(music starts playing)

“OK, OK.  Let me finish.  I didn’t think directors would visit you early in the morning, but there was Dr. Garcia the next morning.

“For the next couple of days, I was surrounded by so many caring people.   Brittney my RN, who put up with my incessant questions  (what can I say, I’m a Type A personality and a control freak as well).   Monica,  Ashley,  Fernando, Abigail and Cachaundra all monitored my blood pressure and  EKG, every few hours.  An especial shout out to Abigail, who I scared half to death when she came to take blood in the middle of the night.  I awoke with such a start, I almost hit her.  Thanks also to Tammy from Housekeeping who was so cheerful and genuinely happy at my improvement

“Thank you to David and Lina from Cardiac Rehab who took me for short strolls around the floor and explained just what Cardiac Rehab was, and what to expect once enrolled in the program.

(music gets a little louder)

“Wait a minute guys.  Don’t you realize I might not be here if it weren’t for these folks?

“Thanks to Mike who brought me food (which actually tasted good) and thanks to the unseen folks who prepared it as well.  Thank you to the people in the various labs that I never saw, but monitored my health constantly.

“Finally to the Producers, Baptist Hospital.   I have no idea how you acquired such a fantastic team —  each had a combination of professionalism and empathy that was to say the least, outstanding.   Somehow you did.  I’m sure I’m forgetting some names, so please forgive my lack of memory.  Thank you all.”