If you were to look at my lifestyle now, you would never believe the gluttony I lived in only ten years ago. I was addicted to sugar, drinking a six pack of pop daily. I also consumed a large cherry pie weekly – although it didn’t always take a week to eat the pie!
On the day I went for a check-up by a cardiologist, my kitchen was crowded with a three foot tall pile of large pizza boxes, and I had crammed a flat of empty pop cans onto the pile that now touched the ceiling.
Something tweaked in me as I squeezed that last flat of cans on the top of the pile; I put on my shoes and headed out the door. As I drove through Vancouver traffic, I pondered the many forms of heart disease I had come across in the hospital. What would the cardiologist say?
I was going to a cardiologist because my education as a respiratory therapist had made me a bit of a hypochondriac. After working in the hospital for a year, my family history convinced me I had symptoms of heart disease
If I truly did have this serious heart disease the pop, cherry pie and pizza would have to go. I would have to cut back on fast food and eat more vegetables. Getting some exercise would probably be a good idea too. These were all things I was sure my cardiologist would say if he found I had heart disease.
I have a crazy high metabolism that lets me eat whatever I want without gaining weight, but the truth is that skinny guys get heart disease too. Most of the heart disease I see in the hospital has a strong correlation to lifestyle. There was no doubt that the lifestyle I was living put me in a very high risk category. I felt a sudden plunge in my emotion. How did I let my life get this way? What if I had already given myself heart disease?
I made a pact with myself on the spot. Regardless of what the doctor had to say, I was going to change the way I was living my life. I knew what I had to do.
But, it took me another five years to do it.
I started by quitting Pepsi. It was my longest standing addiction originating so many years back that I cannot remember. Several times I had tried to quit, only to find myself driving away from the gas station with a bottle in my hand. At that point, I experienced the occasional pain of sensitive teeth, then the pain increased to the point that I used special toothpaste daily just in order chew my food.
At first, I limited my fast food to road trips and special occasions. That is until I saw Supersize Me, the movie about a guy who eats nothing but McDonald’s: breakfast, lunch and dinner. His plan was to eat McDonald’s for a month, but after a few weeks his doctor told him to stop because he was going into liver failure. I realized I was better to go hungry than eat fast food, and have been on a boycott ever since.
The key to a good diet is to add lots of good food, so you have less room for the bad. Fill your fridge with fruits and vegetables. Less processed is the key – processing removes fibre and key nutrients. Try shopping the outer perimeter of the grocery store and avoiding the center aisles where all the processed food is kept. Finally, before hitting the check out, scan your cart’s contents and put junk food back with a last minute surge of willpower. I’ve found that if I can control myself at the grocery store, it is easier to control myself at the cupboard.
I give myself lots of healthy options. I started by filling the fridge with fresh vegetables. At first, lots of them spoiled, until I started planning my meals around the vegetables.
Growing up, Mom would choose the meat, plan a starch to go with it, and then boil some vegetables – the classic “Meat and Potatoes diet”. My new strategy was to open the fridge each evening and choose whichever vegetable was going to go bad next. I would then start cutting it up and decide what I could make with it. Meat was added, along with a potato, pasta, beans, or rice.
One night, I forgot to add the meat to the stir-fry and neither my wife nor I noticed until we were cleaning up dinner. Meat had become less important to our diet – we have not become vegetarians but we now limit our meat to a few nights a week, and also with reduced portion sizes.
The shift to a healthy diet has been steady and gradual. Last summer, we made a conscious effort to buy as much food as we could at the local Farmer’s Market. We also managed to store enough to feed ourselves late into the winter.
Now the days are lengthening and I look forward to the Market opening again in the spring. From fast food to farmer’s market, it has taken me ten years to change the way I eat. But I have changed, and I am happy to say my heart has never been healthier.
Chris Semrick, B.Sc, RRT, CRE is a Registered Respiratory Therapist, Certified Respiratory Educator and a Smoking Cessation Counselor.