I'm a nutrition editor at media mogul Meredith Corporation in Des Moines. As a self-described "small gear in a mega machine factory", I sometimes feel controlled by a big brother corporation that knows far more about me than I'd like to believe. For example, they know about my day to day communications, how often I work out, my state of financial well-being, if I smoke or drink, how much my husband makes, what my boss and co-workers think of me, and my blood tests. So I guess you could say that I have, literally, given my blood, sweat, and tears to my employer.
But, for this, on this day, I am also thankful. If it were not for the annual blood and lipid test results that my company provides, it would be a little harder and more expensive to track what's going on inside this body of mine.
Now, let's back up to May 2012...
Eight months ago I made some alterations to the Shafer household diet. I am nothing if not experimental, so I enthusiastically dove into what would be our fourth go at what is informally called a "detox" and what in reality is more like a hybrid of several known diets with my own spin.
ALLOWED: We would eat any form (other than sweetened) and type of fruits, vegetables, and legumes - lots of them! We would eat rice products and products made from rice flour. We would eat all kinds of nuts and nut butters. We would use olive oil and salt, and season with any type of fresh or dried herbs and spices. We would drink a lot of water. We would eat lean protein 1-2x per week (emphasis on seafood and chicken, with no red meat). We would drink alcohol only on Friday or Saturday, and limited to 2 drinks per day.
NOT ALLOWED: We would not consume added sugars. We would not eat or drink dairy. We would not eat red meat. We would not eat wheat or wheat products. We would not consume alcohol Sunday through Thursday.
EXCEPTIONS: When invited to other households or events, on date night, or when on vacation, we would not abide by these rules. Also, due to my occupation, these rules would not apply when I attend taste panels at work. Therefore, we broke from the plan about 25% of the time, and abided by the plan about 75% of the time.
We followed this way of life for the true majority of six months, with the exception of adding low-fat dairy back into the mix (because I needed it). You certainly could tell a difference in our energy levels, healthy skin, and well fitting clothes. Our protein splurge every week was Pho Ga, a Vietnamese chicken rice noodle soup that we've grown to love and crave. I dropped 8-10 pounds and Chris dropped nearly 20 in this time. But it's not even the pounds that mattered. I'd say we hit our peak of health in early October. Admittedly, since then, small amounts of wheat products and sweet treats worked their way back into our lives (such is the holidays).
Speed it back up to present time...
What I'm truly excited about - and why I'm thankful to my big brother corporation - is the fact that I have proof that those changes in our diet truly impacted our INSIDES over this last year. Because of the blood lipid test taken at Meredith, I could compare my 2011 results to my 2012 results. And because our level of fitness remained steady prior to and during this time, I honestly attribute most of the changes to our food choices.
This is what nutrition is all about people! This is why food is our best medicine. THIS is it. And the best part: we lived life during this time and had fun doing it. No feelings of restriction because we always allowed ourselves those exceptions (which I believe are so important) and because we could feel the positive change.
I analyze a lot of health and food data, and I recently came across a stunning stat:
"8 out of 10 US adults describe themselves as 'extremely' or 'very' healthy," despite the fact that two thirds of Americans are overweight or obese and just 20% eat a very healthy diet. - Data according to a new report by NPD Group.
This had me wondering how I would describe myself, if someone were to ask. So I'm asking you...
And if you like data as much as I do, check out the results of some of my past reader polls:
- Do you exercise so you can eat more, or eat so you can exercise better?
- When it comes to food, what is your #1 health concern?
- How do you feel about calories?
- What is your main objective when picking a new recipe to try.
On a recent shadowing experience at an assisted living facility in central Iowa, I was struck by how I felt after an exchange I had with a 93-year-old woman. The white board referred to her as an “NA-CVA”, meaning she was a new admit and had recently suffered a stroke. Since I had never performed a complete counseling session with a real patient before, I read every word in her medical chart to prepare, noting her history of high blood pressure and cholesterol, likely a cause for her stroke. I read about her physical therapy and how she went from being able to walk two steps unassisted to walking six steps unassisted before being transferred from the hospital to the long-term care facility. I noted several references to her being active at church. In fact, it was her pastor and friend who called the ambulance when this woman didn’t show up for a daily meeting. But what stood out to me was that this woman had two masters degrees, one in English and one in education. She had been a teacher and education administrator in four states. When I went into the room, the patient, let’s call her Rose, asked me to sign her guestbook. She wanted to remember every visitor. She was ferociously writing notes in a little book, and would not be bothered with me until she finished her train of thought. I stood and waited, noting how her tiny handwriting crossed the page. It was straight and organized on the left side of the page, but crooked, large, and loopy as her sentences fell into the book’s spine. She closed her book and told me she had to make notes because she was going to pass the test so she could go home again. I started by introducing myself and letting Rose know we were going to talk about food. I asked her about her typical diet, about the foods she likes and doesn’t like, and about when she eats. My dietetics red flag rose when I realized her diet was extremely high in sodium and I offered a suggestion that, when she does go home, she try to find some soups, crackers, and salad dressings that are lower in sodium. She agreed that she would look for those and that she knew it was important to reduce her blood pressure, but I also thought she seemed sad. Perhaps underwhelmed by our talk about food because, frankly, I was feeling the same. Just as I started to stand (my legs were cramping from the low squat I had been holding so I could talk to Rose face-to-face), I lowered myself back down. “Rose, I know you are a very smart woman. I saw you have two masters degrees and you’ve probably had hundreds of students.” Rose’s eyes lit up in a way I can’t describe but can feel in my heart. We talked for another 20 minutes about some of her students and some of the funnier moments in her career. When I left she asked me my name again. “Is your name Elizabeth? One of my favorite students was named Elizabeth.”
I recently came across a blog post by Caren over at Happy Momentum. Five years ago Caren went from being a victim of depression—taking antidepressants and resigning herself to a lifetime of doing so—to being free of medication. She did this by stepping onto a yoga mat for the first time.
I think I understand that power—the power of physical movement and mind centering to free myself from sadness and shock. I've literally felt sadness drip and drain off my body when taking a morning run or pedaling my bike on a silent trail.
I thought Caren's post on How to Recover From Life's Most Dangerous Emotion was profoundly moving and honest.
For the fall issue of Diabetic Living magazine, I produce a story on the town of New Ulm, Minnesota. The story of New Ulm is awesome. The town leaders and residents have pledged to eliminate heart attacks in 10 years. The awesome part is - it's working!
Here is a video I produced about the story. I shot the footage on a handheld Kodak digital flip camcorder, I edited the video using iMovie on my Mac at home, and the music was a free download. Total video cost: $0. Pretty cool, eh?
And you can click here to check out a web slideshow about this story I produced for our website.