Live to Eat or Eat to Live?

ETL_FlatLately I have been eating a lot. I have been living to eat. I have been over indulging in soy ice cream, vegan lasagna, and chips. Fortunately I haven’t seemed to gain any weight (probably due to regular exercise), but I feel crappy. I wake up with headaches and stiff muscles a lot. What I should be doing is nourishing myself with fresh fruits and vegetables. Surely I would feel better then.

I am always trying to eat healthier but I definitely go through phases where I fall off the wagon — vacation time especially. The past two weeks are a prime example. I have eaten just about every vegan processed food on the market. For example, I’ve thought, I’m in the mood for some chips. I’ll just walk over to CVS and pick some up. Or, hey, after I pick up some cat food, I’ll stop by the grocery to buy some spinach and peanut butter zigzag soy ice cream (only because they’ve been out of Chocolate Obsession). Gee, that’s smart. Spinach and ice cream. What have I been thinking! I blame this partly on being on vacation this week but my vacation-style eating began a week before my time off. Go figure.

Some might wonder why I care so much about healthy eating and it may seem like I am obsessed with my weight. Admittedly I am a little obsessed — more so for practical reasons than vanity. Here’s how I see it. I weigh about 10 pounds more than I did 10 years ago, so how much will I weigh in 2019 when I’m 50? If I keep gaining 10 pounds then I’m in trouble. It’s not easy for most adults in this culture, but it just makes sense for long-term health to pay attention to my weight and overall well-being.

Also, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I strived for anything less. When I know better — which I do because I read about maintaining good health regularly — I feel intense guilt when I don’t do better. Over the years my diet has improved tremendously. Fifteen years ago I use to eat french fries at least 3-4 times a week for lunch and drink at least five Diet Cokes a day. I thought water was for showering and swimming — not a beverage! Although I have somewhat enjoyed over indulging these past couple of weeks, I really haven’t. It feels like living under a heavy, cloudy sky. So you see at this point in my life, it’s just better for me to eat healthy. I have often wished I was one of those people who just didn’t care, but I’m not.

A guy I dated years ago once said, “You wish you were perfect, don’t you?” OMG. He was right, I thought. So I do tend to lean toward perfectionism, but I also realize that’s never going to happen. It doesn’t mean I should eat like crap either. Indulging now and then is fine. I take personal responsibility for my health. Just because heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s runs in my family, does not mean I am destined for any of them. I believe if I take good care of myself, then I will be less likely to meet with any of those fates.

You may be wondering where I am going with all this. Recently I read two books by Dr. Joel Fuhrman:

  1. Eat to Live: The Revolutionary Formula for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss
  2. Eat for Health: Lose Weight, Keep It Off, Look Younger, Live Longer

 E4H_bookcover_1_web     E4H_bookcover_2_web

Dr. Fuhrman is a practicing physician and gives many examples of how people have saved their own lives by healthy eating. He writes from practical experience, not just research. He has treated successfully thousands of patients over the years for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and so on.

Eat to Live is not a new book. Dr. Fuhrman wrote it in 2003. I heard about it a few years ago and finally got around to reading it this Summer after my personal trainer recommended it. (How cool is it that my PT has gone vegan!) Both books are about weight loss but also about healthy eating in general. I don’t mean healthy eating like having a salad now and then or eating a few veggies with dinner. Eat to Live is not for the faint of heart. It’s hardcore. I mean radically healthy eating — consuming pounds of vegetables and fruits daily. An extreme change from the standard American diet (SAD). (Personally I would recommend anyone interested in reading either of these books, go with Eat for Health, a more moderate, phased-in approach to healthy eating then Eat to Live.)

Most people eating the SAD way would give up on this plan before they even got started, unfortunately. For example, Dr. Fuhrman recommends no salt, no caffeine, no sugar, and no white flour. He suggests eating an entirely plant-based, whole foods diet — no processed foods whatsoever and no animal products. If the food comes in a package and has more than one ingredient on the label, forget about it! He does allow for limited amounts of fish on his Life Plan (but not his six week plan as described below), but I didn’t get the feeling he encouraged it. Dr. Fuhrman promotes a nutritionally-dense diet. He calls himself a “nutritarian.”

Since reading his books (but minus the past two weeks), my diet has improved. I started adding kale or spinach to my breakfast smoothies which used to be made with just fruit. I don’t mean adding just a couple of green leaves but stuffing the bottom 1/3 of the blender’s canister with fresh greens. Amazingly, it tastes good. For many years I have eaten salads for lunch Monday-Friday, but now I find myself eating them on the weekends too. My dinners during the week have also changed. I eat more cooked veggies with beans or tofu, or I buy a SoulVeg kale salad from New Leaf Natural Foods on my way home from work. I doctor the kale salad up with tomatoes, white beans, pine nuts, and more nutritional yeast and gobble it up for dinner. Prepared well, raw kale is delicious and one of the most nutritious foods on th planet according to Dr. Fuhrman and many other nutritional experts.

As you can see, I have already made some positive dietary changes. I would like to lose those 10 pounds and end these headaches, so I have decided to experiment with Dr. Fuhrman’s six-week eating plan. Dr. Fuhrman says:

“Get ready for the most exciting six weeks of your adult life.”

Hmmm. Really. I have a feeling it won’t be the most exciting six weeks of my adult life, but it could be the most healthy. Consider his six-week plan a cleanse. After the six weeks, you can move to the Life Plan which allows for indulgences now and then. The six-week plan is very strict. So what will I be eating?

  • Unlimited amounts daily of raw vegetables, including raw carrots; cooked green vegetables; fresh fruit; beans, legumes, bean sprouts, and tofu; eggplant, mushrooms, peppers, onions, and tomatoes
  • Limited amounts daily of starchy vegetables or whole grains (1 cup); avocado (2 oz.); nuts and seeds (1 oz.); ground flax-seed (1 tablespoon)
  • No animal products (easy for me!)
  • No between meal snacks (Excellent! I’m not a snacker.)
  • No fruit juice or dried fruit

I want to test this out because he claims this will work for everyone (which is a big claim!), and by eating this way, you automatically find your naturally perfect weight. As anyone who needs to lose 5 or 10 pounds know, these are the hardest pounds to lose. The last few. In my opinion, it’s easy to lose the first 5 pounds when you have a lot to lose — I know, I lost 25 pounds once — but the last 5-10 are ridiculously difficult. I’m willing to give this a try.

More important to me then the possible weight loss is Dr. Fuhrman’s suggestion that this eating plan could rid me of allergies and headaches. Lately I get frequent headaches — almost to the point where I need to check the “chronic headaches” box on medical forms. I also wake up every morning feeling stiff, stuffy in the head, groggy, and lethargic after 8 hours of sound sleep. I have been living to eat so maybe food is the problem. Typically I blame my headaches on my stressful job. But, I’m on vacation this week, so my stress level is low yet I woke up with a headache and stuffy head each morning until finally I turned on the a/c. Must be allergies and allergy medicine doesn’t work for me anymore. Apparently, this eating plan can change all that. Ultimately the purpose of this experiment is to feel better. Weight loss would be a secondary benefit.

Monday is the big day. A couple of days left to indulge. Yep, today I stopped by New Leaf after my personal training session and picked up kale salad (good!) and tortilla chips (bad!). This morning I had my PT do my measurements and there was a tad bit of improvement since we started about five months ago. I was pleased since I haven’t really put much focus on my diet and have been over indulging lately. My weight was about the same too.  Plus I have developed more muscle over the past five months from strength training, and muscle weighs more than fat. I’ll be curious to see my measurements in six weeks after I complete this project.

Two caveats to the plan: I will not give up coffee yet although I’m not completely opposed to it if I start waking up feeling more energetic and clear-headed. Also, if I want cake and/or ice cream on my birthday, I will have it. It only comes around once a year! Otherwise, I will adhere to the plan to the best of my ability.

With a glass of green smoothie in hand, here’s to eating to live. Cheers!