Well trumpets please, today is an important day!
It marks the 5-year anniversary of Bill’s “event.” He prefers “event” to heart attack, and says it was the whack upside the head he needed to realize it was time to up his game.
Five Years Ago Today …
Chugging along back then, Bill was overweight, struggling with uncontrolled blood pressure (though recently on BP medication), his cholesterol was somewhat elevated along with his LDL and triglycerides. Even though we thought we ate pretty good, and even though we exercised 2-3 times a week, his heart attack fired the warning shot. We had work to do!
We are SO fortunate to have been in the ER checking out the chest pain we hoped was heartburn because he had the heart attack right then and there! Blessfully resulting in no permanent damage to his heart. I’ve told this whole story here in: “The Beginning.”
So today.. reflection time.. on how much we’ve changed and how much we’ve learned these last five years. At the outset, as soon the shock began to wear off, we desperately wanted to know “Can this be fixed? How?” Three cardiologists later, a friend led us to Dr. Chauncey Crandall and his book “Fix It”– we were on the road to reversing Bill’s heart disease with the goal to get him off all medication … target 1 year!
Reversing Heart Disease ~ the Road Back
Learning is fun! And exploring new ways to eat healthy is happily a never ending fountain of discovery. I’ve collected hundreds of new recipes still waiting for me to play with them! I really have to stop buying plant based cookbooks but I love looking at them and planning something new to make. Our dietary/nutritional path continues to evolve as we learn about new foods, spices and methods. We’ve been fortunate that this phase of our lives has coincided with an amazing interest in plant-based nutrition in this country. There are a multitude of books, documentaries, blogs, websites and social media pages all about how to eat healthy for your heart and as a way of life. (A new post is in the works with a list of some of these resources!)
Dr. Crandall’s “Fix It” prescription had him clean up his system and eliminate all animal protein, except egg whites and fat free dairy. Also sugar and all added fats–off the menu. Replacing those foods with an abundance of vegetables, fruits, beans and legumes really changed things. Weight fell off, cravings went away and we were on the road. We felt empowered to reverse his heart disease!
It’s very difficult to find any bread that doesn’t contain sugar, but when I finally did we soon learned wheat is not Bill’s friend. Every time he had bread, his cravings came back and he was hungrier for the rest of the day. Okay so we stopped eating wheat–another step forward on the road. Wheat bread was out, homemade cornbread was in… YUM!
Weeks fell away and as we turned the pages on the calendar I could see and feel the steady improvement–I’d joined in 100%, and we were both looking, feeling and getting better. Dr. Crandall looked up from Bill’s file at the end of that first year wearing a big smile. Bill had achieved his goal.. no more medication!!!
Dr. Crandall offered that he could now adopt a more Mediterranean style diet, but by then we were both perfectly happy with the way we’d been eating for the most part. Delighted, Dr. Crandall said by all means continue on. We did for a time go back to eating some whole eggs at breakfast (a practice we’ve since quit), and eating a little seafood in the form of sardines and crab on occasional, which we rarely do now. It seems odd even to us at this point, but we really don’t care for meat or poultry anymore, not even the smell. I know, shocking right? It surprises me too. And so now feeling like the “clean machines” we were becoming, we stopped eating dairy almost completely, in part because the casein in dairy is a known carcinogen. And if we do have a little social gathering cheese treat, we go for the goat cheese.
Bill was never a heavy drinker but a bit of stenosis in his back causing a lot of pain had turned him into a two stiff drinks a day guy. After his “event,” alcohol was no longer on the menu. But after the first year Dr. Crandall said it was fine for him to have a glass of red wine if he wanted, he just hasn’t had the desire. Losing the excess belly weight pulling on his spine, plus daily exercise and core training got rid of most of his pain anyway. So now when good friends gather and glasses are clinking glasses, Bill’s is typically filled with pomegranate juice. Bonus points, it’s delicious and good for his heart.
Exercise still holds a top priority spot. That first year Cardiac Rehab was offered as an option, and we wondered if he really needed it.. after all, we exercised frequently, right? Well wrong. Cardiac Rehab rocks! They hooked him up to monitoring devices and put him on various cardio machines and we learned right away his heart was not as strong as we thought. Clearly our 2 or 3 days a week of cardio was not frequent enough or long enough.
Bill took Rehab to heart and after 3 months of it he felt like a new man. (I could tell you a story another time about the head nurse calling him the “over achiever.”) When he graduated from Rehab we both chose to join the hospital Wellness Center gym.
Two years of gym work, we were ready for a change. The beach is only a mile away, we decided to go back to a routine we had a decade ago–early morning exercise at the beach (but we’re skipping the traditional eggs and pancakes afterwards). It was a great choice because it’s beautiful, we love it, and it gets us out into nature. Walking and running in the sand really gets your heart rate up!
Stress sucks. It ages us and affects our health in so many ways, and not just our heart’s health. It can get more difficult to manage as we age, which is definitely true for Bill. We’ve mentioned stress last, but it’s certainly not the least of the risk factors for heart disease.
We’ve learned it’s about the big three: Diet, Exercise and Stress–they work together–you can’t just pick one or two and succeed. Pre heart attack Bill seemed wound up nearly all the time with anxiety and stress due to personal issues in his life. Among them, the lingering illness and loss of his parents, and finding ourselves among the grief-stricken club of estrangement whose membership is bursting at the seams these days. (Never thought it could happen and it’s the absolute worst.) Like everyone else, we still experience stress over things, but now we actively work at managing it–you’ve just got to–that’s how important it is! And because it’s not an all the time thing now, when he has a flare we can see it, he can feel it, and we do what we need to settle it back down.
No… we are not on the “perfect people” poster. And yes, we have times when we’re not as diligent with exercise. Travel and other obligations tend to disrupt our routine and it always takes a little while to get back on track. And I’m always thinking we can do better with the way we eat–you know.. always noodling how to maximize our nutrition and variety. But still a cheat for us is not fast food or junk food, more like having a little movie popcorn once in a while, or crab cakes sauteed in a bit of coconut oil.
So can I brag just a little 🙂 .. and say Bill’s latest checkup with Dr. Crandall went really well? His labs were good plus, the results of his carotid ultrasound were good, and as Dr. Crandall was leaving the exam room he paused and said over his shoulder, “Bill, on a scale of one to ten you’re a ten plus! Keep doing what you’re doing.”
“Be in love with your life, every minute of it.”
Size 42 pants are now size 35. Cheeseburgers have turned into tempeh burgers. Wine is now cranberry or pomegranate juice. Shepherd’s Pie is now Lentil Shepherd’s Pie (recipe coming!). So looking back on the road back, we feel good about this Anniversary. We’re happy to continue this lifestyle, to continue to learn new things, find new recipes and new ways to prepare old favorites, explore new ways to exercise (Bill is just sticking his toe into trying yoga!).
We’re taking deep breaths when needed and remembering to feel grateful each and every day. Gratefulness is great medicine! And we want to say thank you to all who have been so loving and supportive and joined us on this journey (and started their own).
Speaking of love, I love this blog and I’m sorry I’ve had to be away from it so much in the last year, but that’s changed. I’m working on redesigning the site a little and plan to be more active with sharing updates, tips, book reviews and recipes. Stay tuned!