Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Trading Butter for All the Broccoli in China: Getting Healthy Takes Practice

Making her CHG debut, please welcome today's guest blogger, Amy Dickenson. Amy is an actor, writer, producer, and mom to the cutest baby girl in the five boroughs.

Forty. Forty is the new 30, right? Well, in my house, 40 is starting to look like the new 60. My gorgeous husband and I have recently been diagnosed with high blood pressure and high cholesterol—hypertension and hypercholesterolemia, to be fancy, like certain cheeses which I love and will never be able to eat again.

Photo: Jami Dwyer via Flickr
Let’s jump in the Crisco Time Machine. It all started 18 years ago when our courtship took a decided slant toward biscuits slathered in butter and jam. Have you ever tasted butter? It’s like a miracle married to a unicorn wrapped in a rainbow. Much like its cousin, bacon, which is a miracle married to a unicorn dipped in chocolate, butter’s not so good for your arteries. But it was the early ‘90s and we didn’t know about cholesterol and vegetables back then. Did we?

Back in the time machine to August 2010. My cholesterol is 254. WHAT? I am not a high-falutin’, pin-stripe-wearin’ banker chugging scotch, smoking stogies, eating aged porterhouse steaks with my big wig partners, guffawing over “that deal” that made “lots of money” while flashing my newly laminated AARP card. I am a working mom. I eat veggies. I make sure my family gets a salad at least once a day. So, what gives? And why is my husband’s blood pressure 180/2 million?

My husband (let’s call him Adam) and I do not agree all the time (shocking) but we do agree on one thing: We want to be around for our baby daughter’s graduation from college. And her wedding. And her babies. And their graduations from college. Even if she doesn’t get married or go to college, we want to be around to lament those things.

She is worth all the broccoli in China. And I know they have tons, because, let’s face it, nobody ever eats that side of bright green buried under the General Tsao’s chicken. I imagine the Great Wall as an agricultural implement built to contain the cruciferous invaders from the steppes of central Asia. They must love it as much as I do.

Photo: La Grande Farmers' Market via flickr
Our daughter, however, loves broccoli (a secret point of pride), and for now, she needs us to make it for her. Time to act.

Adam’s doctor put him on the First Line Therapy diet. Mine gave me a prescription cholesterol reducer, a pharmaceutical of the most common side effects reported are headache, muscle pain, abdominal pain...variety.

One of the scariest side effects I read about is birth defects. Since Adam and I are “not not trying” to have another baby, the meds are sitting on my desk, looking forlorn while I debate whether to take it. Or I could give this First Line Therapy diet a try too.

Adam and I are fly-by-the-seat of our pantsers, not planners. I love to cook, but I have been known to open the freezer at 5 pm and stare blankly for three minutes before I reach directly above it for the takeout menus. (OK, the restaurant numbers are in my cell phone.)

How do two nonplanners plan to be healthy, live longer, and learn about nutrition on a diet that requires grocery shopping in advance of the moment we might need said ingredients?
I started by reading the cute little binder Adam got from his doctor. It has menus, recipes, and tips like pretty much every other diet book. I thought, “Hmmm. This looks really great.” And I said to Adam, “Babe, this is really great.” And then I put down the book and we ordered chicken ceasar wraps with feta from Zorba’s. Because you can have fat-free feta on this diet. (Zorba’s doesn’t have fat-free anything.)

Oh I needed a PLAN. I gave myself a goal of meal planning for three days. My mind can grapple with Sunday, Monday and Tuesday just fine. I didn’t want to get too ambitious and hope for a week.

First Line Therapy (FLT) is basically the reduced-carb, high-veggie, lean protein, healthy fat diet that we have all read about, tried, and maybe succeeded at. It’s similar to the South Beach approach or the Mediterranean diet…or Weight Watchers if you do it right.

You aim for a set number of calories per day within a certain set of food groups. For instance, Adam can eat 2000 calories a day, and this is how they break it down:

Servings per Day
3–4 “Category 1” veggies (the green leafies, the zucchinies, the tomatoes, the peppers, etc.)
2 legumes
1 dairy
3 concentrated proteins
2 fruits
4 healthy oils
1 nut
1 grain
1 “Category 2” veggie (the yummy orange ones)

You can read more about FLT here, where people are dangerously perched on two-wheels or here, where they weigh giraffes. I prefer the giraffes.

Among the many challenges of embracing FLT is that it’s kinda pricey. They recommend you eat what they call “medical food,” which includes Ultra Meal 360 Plus shakes with delicious "Selective Kinase Response Modulators,” twice a day and take a variety of supplements. You can indulge in medical chalklate, medical chalkberry or medical chalknilla flavored shakes, which you mix with cold water. Or you can get purse-friendly bars in flavors approximating fudge or apple cinnamon. (We have yet to try the apple cinnamon bars or strawberry shake flavors.) If there is a cookie variety, they are holding out on us.

“Medical food,” in combination with the cost of fresh produce, was looking a little forbidding until we looked at our daily Starbucks intake—$10 easy for both of us, which adds up to over $3600 a year. If we cut that out, along with our takeout habit, we could maybe swing this thing.

I comparison shopped at our local grocery store vs. the health food store vs. the farmer’s market. A head of lettuce at our grocery store costs around $3. I never used to buy a head of lettuce that I’d have to cut up and WASH and spin and hang to dry. It’s like doing laundry. Especially when have these cute little plastic boxes of cut up, triple-washed lettuce. But, they’re $4.99 a box. And, if truth be told, we usually throw away about 1/3 of it when the purple leafy things get all slimy. Hmmm… I see savings in my salad spinner.

The farmer’s market had locally grown lettuce for (drum roll please) $2! And it doesn’t come in those plastic shells which I always feel guilty about buying and tossing. So, not only am I supporting local growers, I can get my green on too? I’m sold. Or least sold on Wednesdays. Because that’s the only day the farmers market comes to my area.

To fill out the week, I decided to go for Romaine hearts at my grocery store, saving roughly $4 a week. Over a year, that’s $200. Which means I can buy those fancy Omega-3s FLT recommends we take. Or the “Medical food,” which is $50 a canister for 14 servings. OUCH, but remember the lettuce. Remember the lettuce!

Here is my 3-day plan:
Breakfast: a medical food shake, plus 2 eggs – anyway you like ‘em
Snack: fruit with a nut butter (Almond butter is pricey, but a little goes a loooong way. Plus, you can only have 1 tbsp.)
Lunch: here’s where the planning kicks in…yesterday’s dinner leftovers
Snack: another fruit
Dinner: a recipe from Adam’s cute binder and a salad
Snack: another medical food (This stuff is pricey.)*

Sunday’s dinner was turkey chili from the book (surprisingly delicious); Monday’s dinner was salad with grilled chicken breast; and Tuesday’s dinner was turkey and bulgur with peas (also yummy).

Not only did we have plenty of chili for lunch, I actually froze two servings for another day. The bulgur recipe looks like it might be another loaves and fishes story. I have never cooked bulgur, which I had to get at my health food store, but it was only $4 for a bag that will last me until the Buffalo Bills win a superbowl.**

Now I have to take a deep breath because today is Wednesday. And I have to plan again. But I did it THREE DAYS in a row. And I think I can, I think I can, I think I can… I talked to my doctor about Adam’s FLT diet, and he asked how it was going. “Well, it’s challenging, figuring out how to cook and plan and get all the food groups in.” He said, “That’s what it is. It’s practice.”

Hmmm... Practice. I can do that.

*According to the American Heart Association, in 1995, the last yearly figures they publish, there were 1,460,000 angiograms performed at an average cost of $10,880 per procedure. This resulted in 573,000 bypass surgeries at an average cost of $44,820, and 419,000 percutaneous transluminal (balloon) coronary angioplasties (PTCAs) at an average of $20,370 each. The total bill in 1995 was $50 billion, or $137 million per day―$5.7 million per hour. The total annual cost of cardiovascular disease in the United States, including medications and disability, is approximately $274 billion per year. And that was in 1995. When we were slathering butter on our biscuits. Good grief.

**Adam and I proudly hail from Buffalo, NY.

If you dug this article, you may also dig:
How to Lose Weight and Keep It Off: 10 Rules to Live By
Weekly Meal Planning for Singles, Couples and Working People
Why Weight Maintenance Is Harder Than Weight Loss, and How to Help It Along

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