You Are What You Eat - Aren't You?
I recently wrote a blog entitled, The Diet Dance, discussing the facts and myths regarding what you should (or should not) be eating after a cancer diagnosis. I reflected on poor choices I had made and how I moved forward and made some lifestyle changes after my first diagnosis. I opined about what was working for me now as a two-time survivor, becoming an uncompassionate vegan, and why I had made such a radical decision. This the follow-up to that article...
In The Diet Dance I stated that I opted for a plant based diet because being a tamoxi-babe (me) is damn hard. I complained to my oncologist that thanks to the tamoxi-bitch (the medicine I take – renamed) I now suffer from a plague of achy joints and fatigued muscles. I feel like a ninety-year-old crone. Everything hurts and the hot flashes are both crippling and embarrassing.
My doctor hit me with two facts:
1. The hot flashes mean the tamoxifen is working.
2. Animal proteins can cause inflammation and by going to an 80% plant based diet I might be less achy and fatigued.
I don't do anything halfway. 80%? Pssh! I went 100% back in August. I felt a difference immediately and continued my regimen knowing that when I went on a planned trip to Italy in October all bets would be off. I am a true pleasure shark and Italy without cheese, gelato, and prosciutto would not be worth the trip. So I braced myself for animal protein-induced malaise that would surely accompany my indulgences.
Ummm - no.
I ate with reckless abandon. Spaghetti Carbonara in Florence for lunch? Si! Two scoops of gelato midday by the Pantheon? You won't have to twist my arm! A smokey, paper-thin slice of cured prosciutto on a toasted, garlic rubbed crostini in Tuscany? Yes please!
Eating all of this delicious, rich, creamy, meaty, olive oil laced food and washing it down liberally with wine, prosecco, and vin santo while walking more than 12,000 steps a day should have put me in the fetal position. I should have been staggering down the cobblestone streets, knees, hips, and ankles screaming in pain. There should have been rivers of sweat soaking through every outfit like I was performing a perpetual ice-bucket challenge...but no, I felt fine. I slept great every night. I had energy. I felt nourished and for the first time in a long time, peaceful and significantly less anxious.
And then Pizzagate happened.
The night we landed back in the states it was just easy to grab a pizza from our local pizza parlor on the way home for a quick dinner; a place I've eaten a well-done cheese pizza from hundreds of times over the past decade. I sat down with my family, ate a couple slices and then went to unpack all the goodies I picked up in my travels. I began to feel a little warm. Then the sweat started to bead up on my forehead. I ignored it and continued pulling trinkets out of my bag reliving my trip. I showered, changed my clothes and climbed into my bed...and then for the first time in months I was up all night with the sweats. I was both jet-lagged and sleep deprived as I rolled into the office the next morning. Here’s my BIG question …
WHAT THE HELL IS IN OUR FOOD?
Seriously, how did this happen? How did WE allow this to happen? The American Diet. Monsanto. GMO's (genetically modified organisms). Imitation Flavoring. Convenience foods. High Fructose Corn Syrup. Partially Hydrogenated Oil. Antibiotics. Hormones. Frankenfoods. We've been asleep at the wheel for a generation and now we are paying the price. Obesity, diabetes, and cancer diagnoses have exploded. Are we living longer? Yes, but does the quantity of years go hand in hand with quality of years?
We have absolutely no long term data on what putting GMO's into our body will do to us over time. People are finally beginning to question our food supply thanks to social media, change.org, and the Food Babe Army. As I write this I am watching a Monsanto food propaganda commercial on ABC TV during prime time viewing hours. Are they feeling the heat? Perhaps. An hour earlier I saw one for Whole Foods. Which one felt better? I don't think I need to tell you but I will say the filming and message is nearly indistinguishable. If you're not paying attention you might think Monsanto is promoting healthy eating. I don't want this to turn into rage blogging (been there/done that) but I feel cheated. I feel let down. I love food and now even that's been corrupted by our government and greed.
Do we really know how a human body metabolizes these foods? What do these added sugars, antibiotics, and hormones do to a person? Moreover, what do they do to someone who has been diagnosed with cancer? And what do these additives do to someone whose cancer is hormone driven? When chemo breaks down every last defense within your body how does nourishment derived from these Frankenfoods effect a compromised immune system?
Think about it - if the hot flashes prove that tamoxifen is working and tamoxifen is given to block the hormone receptors in the tumor (and thusly within your body) then wouldn't it make sense that if a cancer patient on a tamoxifen regimen that is continually ingesting hormone-filled foods will constantly be at the mercy of the drugs side effects? By a cancer patient eating hormone-filled food will the drugs have to continually work harder? Why am I the one figuring this out? Why aren't oncologists telling patients with hormone receptor positive cancer to either eliminate animal proteins for the duration of treatment or eat strictly organic and hormone-free? And don't even get me started on the sugar. A sweet treat now and then is fine. Life is all about balance. Who doesn't love a nice piece of dark chocolate or a chewy, buttery square of sea-salted caramel ... but why in the world is high fructose corn syrup in bread? Bread is the simplest most basic food on the planet. Flour, yeast, salt, and water. That's it. So why, when I pick up a loaf of sandwich bread at my local Shop-Rite, does it have a list of some twenty-odd ingredients, most of which I have never heard of nor can I pronounce? We all know that cancer feeds on sugar and we all know that fructose is another word for sugar. Is nothing sacred? Get the sugar out of my bread!
I know you are reading this and thinking yeah ... great ... but this chick is nuts. I cannot afford to eat organically on my budget when I have all these medical bills to pay. But I implore you to read these next few sentences carefully...
If you cannot afford to eat organically then maybe you should try to eliminate some of these items from your diet as I did (I too am on a very tight budget compromised by lingering medical bills and now a hefty college tuition bill for my oldest son - I can't afford to buy all organic, so I'm opting to go without meat and dairy supplementing with fresh vegetables, beans, and whole grains). See how you feel. Maybe you only indulge on the weekends. Maybe only at restaurants or parties. Be flexible. See if it works and most importantly, talk to your doctors.
And while, eating certified organic foods might be more expensive organics do, in fact, last a bit longer. For example, I just purchased organic milk (for my son) at the supermarket for 85 cents more per gallon than regular milk, but the expiration date is January 10, 2015. JANUARY! So while I might toss out the cheaper milk once it sours in a week or so, the organic milk will outlast it causing less waste of food and money.
The last thing I want to be is a dining dictator. I'm just trying to give you a little food for thought based on what I've learned from my own body and how it reacts to a typical American diet and how I felt eating in a European country frequently referred to as God's pantry.
Find the balance. Listen to your body. Experiment. Eat healthfully. Read labels. Make the best choice you can afford to make. You are what you eat after all.