From Our Hearts to Yours

February is American Heart Month. A few years ago, that meant next to nothing to me. Sure, I knew heart health was important but like most folks, I thought heart disease was a largely unavoidable fact of life, something that came with age or was caused by genetics. My grandfather died from a heart attack. Every single person in my family over the age of 40 has high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and many are diabetic. In my mind, these conditions were something that I would also have to deal with at some time or another in my life.

A few years ago, I watched the documentary Forks Over Knives and my perspective on health and nutrition shifted dramatically. It was as if the dots were connected for the first time in my life – what you eat doesn’t just contribute to good health, it is your health. For months, I consumed every bit of knowledge I could find on food and nutrition. I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, watched more documentaries than I can list, and even delved into medical journals. It seems so simple now – good food equals good health – but being raised on the standard American diet in a culture of convenience, I had become programmed to think of vegetables as side dishes, supersizing as a good value, and anything with the word “diet” in it as bad.

But…despite the information being extremely fascinating to me, it still took a little time and effort to deprogram myself.

In early 2018, Angie and I decided to have our cholesterol tested at Sam’s Club. We had been eating fewer meats and more plants, trying to eliminate fast foods and processed foods, and going for more walks. We thought we were doing well – and I suppose in a lot of ways, we were – but the test results were an eye-opener (for me at least). My first healthy heart screening showed that my total cholesterol was 251. My triglycerides were 387. My LDL was 135 and my HDL was virtually non-existent. (Angie fared a lot better on her first test – 183 total cholesterol, 112 triglycerides, and 118 LDL.)

If I had been sitting in a doctor’s office instead of Sam’s Club that day, I would probably have received a prescription for a statin medication. My mom’s total cholesterol was only 208 when her doctor put her on statins. Now let me preface this next statement by saying that if you need medication, by all means, please take the medication. If it helps you, it helps you. Personally, I do not want to be on medications, especially for conditions that are mostly within my power to affect.

But, I assure it it wasn’t as easy as just making that decision.

I watched dozens of success stories in documentaries like What the Health? and The Engine 2 Kitchen Rescue and I still wasn’t jumping up and down shouting “I can do that too!” Improving my heart health was important but so were things like staying on budget with groceries and not offending my mom by shunning her meatloaf. Needless to say, it took some time plus trial and error to come to something that works for us. All these baby steps led us to what I like to call our 90/10 eating plan. We eat 90% whole plant-based foods. We eat fish and occasionally farm raised eggs and cheese (but no other dairy). We eat meat only when my mom invites us to dinner and we try to make sure that meat is local and organic (when possible).

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Me and Angie at Rip Esselstyn’s Book Signing in Lexington, KY (2019)

This month, our local Kroger store is offering a free Healthy Heart Screening. Angie and I were originally going to do it on Valentine’s Day but I was in the ER with my mom that day, so we went on Tuesday instead. We’ve had several screenings since the first one and each successive one has been better than the last, but none of mine have been normal, until this one. My total cholesterol was 168. My LDL was 101. My triglycerides were still above normal at 221 and my HDL low but at least I know that what we’re doing is working.┬áThis time, I was the one jumping up and down in excitement.

I’m not a doctor and this is not medical advice. It’s just a snapshot of my journey toward better health. I’m 47 years old. I take no medications. I don’t have all the answers when it comes to what to eat and how to live, but I do know that eating well is important to me and it seems to be producing the results that I’m seeking, so I’m going to keep doing it.

(If you’re wondering about Angie’s latest results – she’s still rocking it out with 155 total cholesterol, 102 triglycerides, and 89 LDL.)

What has your experience been with eating well (or not eating well) as it relates to your health? Do you follow a particular diet plan? What is your favorite food documentary or book? We’d love to hear from you!

Calling it Quits?

2019 was the year of quitting. And while that might sound like a bad thing, we have zero regrets. This year, we quit:

  • My favorite “new” sweatshirt. Cost = 18 cents!

    Shopping for new clothes (with the exception of socks and undies). I don’t think we actually ever made the conscious decision to enact a no-shopping ban. It more or less, just happened that way. In the spring, we started a new Saturday routine of getting up extra early and having a bagel at Panera before browsing the Farmer’s Market and any garage sales along the way. I think once we realized that the very things we liked to wear (jeans, tees, sweats, and hoodies) were the most abundant items sold at garage sales, we just started shopping that way. I’m almost certain that our entire fall/winter wardrobe cost a total of maybe $20, and that includes my rain jacket and two black Land’s End polo shirts that I wear for one of my side hustles.

  • Buying meat (from the grocery store). As a facts and figures person, the science behind the health benefits of a plant-based diet speaks to me, so we’ve been eating mostly vegetarian for a few years now. On occasion we would purchase fish or chicken, and if you’ve been around this blog awhile, you know we also have a rule to “eat what we are served” at my mom’s house – even if it includes beef. Mid-year, we started watching homesteading channels on YouTube and started rethinking our position on a meat-free diet. There’s also some good science behind eating pasture raised livestock, so we bought a chicken and some pork from a local farmer friend. The crazy thing about that though – I didn’t enjoy the pasture raised pork or chicken like I thought I would. I wanted my salad, my sweet potato, and my veggie soup instead. But…in the end, we agreed…while we prefer plants, if we do buy meat, we’ll be buying it from a farmer.
  • Grocery store hopping. While we’re on the subject of groceries, we also stopped driving all over town to shop for the “best deals” this year. In our younger days, it was fun to store hop to find bargains but since we stopped eating processed foods, there’s not that much difference in prices among the major stores when it comes to pantry items. Next year, we’re thinking about trying a bulk service for these purchases. I’ve heard good things about Azure Market but we’re not completely sold on the idea yet. Has anyone used them before? Or do you have another bulk store recommendation?
  • The not so fun part of our housing survey side hustle – paperwork!

    Worrying about “job security”. Job security is a myth anyway. No employer ever has their employee’s best interest at heart (no matter what they say). Profit is king, even in a non-profit environment, and employees are replaceable cogs in the wheel of progress. You can work 20 years for the same employer and the day after you leave, it’s as if you were never there. Someone new has taken your place to carry on the money-making mission. It has been 3 months since I jumped off that wheel. Right now, we have no idea how much money we’ll make from week to week, but I do know that the only “bottom line” we have to be concerned about is our own. As my own employer, I do have my best interest at heart. My mission is to provide myself with challenging and fun jobs that earn enough money to pay the bills and give me enough time off to enjoy the one and only life I’ll ever get to live.

  • Obsessing over cleanliness. Right now, there’s a dead ladybug on our windowsill. I can see it from where I’m sitting but I’m in no hurry to cross the carpet that’s in need of a good deep cleaning to get it. I will, eventually, do both – get the bug and clean the carpet – but not today. I’m not procrastinating, nor do we live in filth. Our home is tidy and as clean as a lived-in home gets in the middle of the week, and that’s okay by me. We do some chores daily, like make the bed and wash the dishes, but other things get taken care of weekly (or monthly). There are simply more important things to do than worry about keeping a home “showroom clean”. Better Homes and Gardens may not want to use our living room in it’s January centerfold, but our little niece sure loves playing in it.
  • Thinking we always need a plan. Sometimes we put so much effort into the planning of something that one of two things happens: 1) we never actually execute the plan or 2) the reality of what was planned turns out so different and we are disappointed (or overjoyed). From big events to small tasks, plans can be great but they can also be limiting. For the past few years, we’ve spent the month of December planning out what we want the coming year to look like. We’ve outlined yearlong projects for this blog and then midway through, we’ve gotten interested in something else. Next year, we’re going without a plan. We have some goals and things we want to do, which we’ll discuss in January, but we won’t be doing a yearlong project in 2020. We want to leave room for new ideas, new interests, and new adventures.

Have you called it quits on anything this year? We’d love to hear about your experience!