I have been thinking about and working on this post for a while now. I honestly consider this to be one of my most important posts yet, and hopefully the beginning of a series of posts discussing my current lifestyle. I will warn you now, this will be long!
Most of you probably know that I now eat a vegan (plant-based) diet. This means that I choose not to eat meat, dairy, or eggs. Now I won't lie, I do allow myself some indulgences every once in a while, but they have become quite infrequent.
Before I was diagnosed I felt that my diet was fairly healthy, but overall I was eating the standard American diet. Once I was diagnosed I decided I wanted to eat healthier and more specifically, I wanted to eat a low fat diet. There are several studies that have shown that breast cancer survivors eating a low fat diet have a decreased risk of recurrence.
One year ago today I watched the movie Forks Over Knives. You can find it on Netflix. I have actually watched it a few times now. This movie was so incredibly powerful that once I finished it I decided that I needed to start eating a plant-based diet immediately, and starting with dinner that night I did.
I don't suggest trying such a drastic diet change during chemo. It probably wasn't the smartest thing I have ever done.
I get several questions when people find out I eat a plant-based diet:
1. How do you get enough protein?
3. How do you get enough protein?
4. How do you get enough calcium?
5. How do you get enough protein?
6. Isn't it expensive?
7. How do you get enough protein?
Can you tell which question I get the most?
I want to begin by saying that like with any major lifestyle change, switching to a plant based diet was hard at first. Giving up meat was not a big deal to me, but giving up cheese was HARD! I used to add it to everything! Just like with any other addiction, the longer I went without it the easier it became. I honestly don't consider this way of eating difficult anymore, and I actually have come to love it. With the exception of B12 it is still possible to get all of the nutrients my body needs without having to take supplements. I still get enough protein and calcium (and my blood tests prove it). It can be easy to be so-called "junk-food vegan" because you can still eat french fries, Oreo's and potato chips all day long. There are also a lot of vegan substitute products like cheese, butter, cream cheese and "meats". I ate a few of these products to help me in the transition but I avoid them now. I believe in eating whole foods instead of processed foods loaded with chemicals.
There are so many reasons why I believe in eating a plant-based diet, but the main one can be summed up by watching this short video clip. It shows that the blood from someone eating a vegan diet suppresses cancer cell growth nearly 8 times better than the blood of someone eating a standard american diet.
Animal protein has been shown to increase levels of something called IGF-1 in the blood, which has now been proven to be a significant cancer promoter (something that feeds the growth of cancer cells). Plant protein does not increase IGF-1 levels.
If after treatment with surgery, chemotherapy, and Herceptin there still happen to be a few cancer cells left in my body, I want to create an environment that is incredibly healthy for me and inhospitable for them. A whole foods, plant-based diet seems to be the best way to do that. I am not naive enough to think that eating this way will be a guarantee that I will never experience a recurrence, but if that happens I want to be able to say that I did everything I could.
If you have the time I HIGHLY recommend watching this video as well. It is about 55 minutes and discusses the leading causes of death and how most of them can be prevented with a plant-based diet.
This is also a great study that was published earlier this year discussing the link between increased fruit and vegetable intake and decreased risk of breast cancer. You can also check out this video about breast cancer and meat consumption. If you have time take a look at some of the other videos on this website. I find them all fascinating.
While I would absolutely love it if all of you switched to eating a plant-based diet, I know it won't happen. I have Derek eating plant-based at home with me during the week, but he won't give up his meat and cheese for good. What I do hope is that a few of you will consider it, and that even more will consider at least decreasing the amount of meat and dairy in your diet.
If cancer and heart disease prevention don't motivate you, I'm hoping this might; I average 17-18 pounds less than I was when I was first diagnosed. Some of the weight lost was muscle that I had put on right before diagnosis and some was from stress, but the vast majority has been related to changing my diet. I am the smallest I have ever been and am down 2 pant sizes. I no longer count calories, carbs, or fat grams (although I still pay attention to the fat). I eat a lot of food. GOOD food. I have never had an easier time losing weight or maintaining the weight loss. I sleep better than ever before. My skin is much clearer. I feel fantastic. My relationship with food has completely changed. I used to see food and instantly think about how many calories I would be consuming. Now I look at food and think of all the nutrients and health benefits I will be gaining. I keep a quote from Hippocrates on my desk that states "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food".
As a side note I have also been eating gluten-free since October when I discovered I have a gluten sensitivity. For the past several months I have also been trying to eat very low sugar (other than fruit).
If you ever have questions PLEASE feel free to ask me. Nutrition and plant-based diets have become a passion of mine and I could speak about them for hours. I do try to never get preachy about it. You don't have to feel bad if you eat a cheeseburger in front of me. My goal is to educate and hopefully inspire.