Tuesday, January 31, 2012

31 Days to Better Health - Day 31

Happy last day of January and Tuesday everyone!  How has your week started out?  Monday was very busy for me, and Tuesday isn’t looking much better. However the remainder of my week appears to be good and for that I am very thankful.  I am looking forward to getting some of the backlog of tasks crossed off my to-do list.  I will feel much better when my life is more “under control”.  Some people do their best work under pressure, but I am not of them any longer.   At this point in my life I find it hard to believe I ever thrived in a high pressure environment, it must have been “smoke and mirrors” is I can say.  ;-)

We have covered a lot of topics this month.  When I looked at the list today even I was shocked how many different things we have talked about in just a month.  To remind everyone of what we have accomplished so far here is a recap of the first 30 days of January:

Day 1 – Defined Success and What is/was Holding Us Back
Day 2 – Determined our Purpose and Looked at Passion
Day 3 – Listed Our Goals for January
Day 4 – Listed the Things We Have Needed to Work on for a While
Day 5 – Looked at Optimism vs. Pessimism and Fear vs. Intuition
Day 6 – Practiced Conscious Eating
Day 7 – Hara Hachi Bu
Day 8 – Taking the Stress Out of Meal Time
Day 9 – Acknowledgments
Day 10 – No Excuses, Do it Anyway
Day 11 – Is it True?
Day 12 – Have You Really Connected With Someone Today?
Day 13 – Motivation is a Decision
Day 14 - Successfully Navigating Dinner at an Unfamiliar Restaurant
Day 15 - What Do You Want, Have You Asked?
Day 16 – Treating Others as You Wish to be Treated
Day 17 – Food as a Budget
Day 18 – Silence Your Inner Critic
Day 19 – Replace I Have to With I Want to
Day 20 – Identifying Your Rituals
Day 21 – Face Your Fears
Day 22 – Give Up the Diet Mentality
Day 23 – The Meaning and/or Purpose of Food
Day 24 – Trigger Foods/Situations/People
Day 25 – Words Have Meaning
Day 26 – Lose All-Or-Nothing Thinking
Day 27 -  Decide to live as if ……
Day 28 – Two-Bite Test
Day 29 - Vision Board
Day 30 – Are You Hiding Behind Excuses

What did you think of the last topic regarding hiding behind excuses?  When I wrote that one I knew it was a tough topic emotionally which is why I left it for the end of the month.  Very few of us like to consider that there are things we could be doing but we aren’t.  However being open to the idea that there is something that we could do or change is the key to moving forward. I hope something that I wrote leads you to consider changes that you have otherwise been unwilling to seriously consider.  If there is anything that you would like to me explain differently about this or anything else just let me know.

It is Just My Life:

Do you know what I mean by “it is just my life"?  I am hoping that after reading the posts this month many of you will realize that what matters isn’t a specific diet, or a particular workout routine.  What matters is every little decision that you make each moment of your life.  Your health is nothing more than the accumulation of the last few thousand decisions you have made.  Here is a list of the type of things I am talking about:

·         Do you routinely get adequate sleep?
·         Are the vast majority of your meals healthy?
·         Is your weight in a healthy range or steadily moving in that direction?
·         Do you make it a point to be active most days and preferably every day?
·         Have you learned to manage your stress?
·         Do you spend time cultivating your relationships?

Being healthy is not as complicated as people make it sound.  However it does take consistently good decisions.  You can’t expect that eating occasion healthy meals or working out on weekend is enough to stay or get healthy.   Being healthy requires consistently healthy behavior which becomes how you live your life, not something temporary like a diet.

Another important thing to remember is that you need to remain open to change.  Something that has worked for you in the past won’t necessarily work for you now.  Remember my friend who lost 50 pounds practicing moderation but then the weight stopped coming off?  That is a perfect example of this concept.  We all need to be open to change because things that have worked for you in the past may stop working. 

When Dan was in the hospital earlier this month I was open to improving our diet. After talking to the dietitian and the doctors I quickly realized that we actually couldn’t improve our diet, but I asked a lot of specific questions and I was open to the idea.  This is exactly the sort of attitude I am talking about.  It is critical to look at your health dispassionately and determine if there is something that needs improvement for example do you know your:

·         Weight (based on height)
·         BMI (<24.9 = normal)
·         Body fat percentage/muscle mass (there are different numbers based on age and sex)
·         Blood Pressure (115/75 or less)
·         Blood Sugar(<99, 100-119 = prediabetic, 120 = diabetic)
·         Cholesterol (<150 is ideal)

In order to determine if any of these need improvement you need to know what your numbers are, and what they should be.  I am going to go back to the example of my friend whose weight loss has stalled at 50 pounds.  When moderation was working to reduce weight it might have appeared that the concept was working.  However at the same time the weight was dropping lab results showed that fasting blood glucose was 105.  I knew this was pre-diabetic but my friend was in denial and was convinced it was fine. This why it is important not only to know your numbers but to also know how to interpret the numbers once you have them.  Do your homework and educate yourself about what should be your health targets.

When we first embarked on a mission to improve our health I had a lot to learn.  Like many of you I had gotten most of my health information from the mass media and I was misinformed.  I was fortunate that I knew enough about health research to start at PubMed reading scholarly information on health.  These articles gave me an abrupt wake-up call about what we should be eating and formed much of the basis of our diet as it is today. There are few popular books that have accurate information but they are definitely in the minority.  Many people email me asking about specific popular books which I haven’t read, and there is a reason for that.  Many of the books that are written for the general public that I have gotten from the library have had a definite bias and haven’t been based on the totality of good science.  One caution I would give you is to be careful if you are tempted to read the latest “health book du jour” as it may cause more harm than good.

Authors of popular books definitely seem to have a bias and that is important to know when you read their books.  I am suggesting that the author is writing biased books intentionally but it is difficult to look at food from a completely scientific perspective.  Most people look at food and nutrition through their own personal bias (often emotional) and that alters the studies they are willing to read and therefore the recommendations they ultimately make.  However when you look at the totality of science there are many facts which are undeniable. Sadly you wouldn’t know this based on the popular books on health.

The question I get all the time is “what should I do to improve my health”?  The obvious answer to make sure you are doing all those things I bulleted above. However if your question is about specifically what to eat, or not eat here are my suggestions.

Items to include in unlimited amounts in your diet:

·         Fresh vegetables, concentrating on leafy greens (at least half raw)

·         Fresh whole fruit (fresh fruit juice should only be drank occasionally since it can elevate your blood sugar)

·         A variety of beans (including soy but the less processed the better like edamame, tempeh and then tofu)

·         Mushrooms are extremely healthy and make a wonderful meat substitute (be sure to generally cook them as mushrooms contain low levels of natural toxins which are probably fine in small amounts but certain not in the quantities I think mushrooms should be consumed)

·         Green and white tea (unsweetened of course, but be sure to add some citrus to increase your absorption of the EGCG)

·         Water (most Americans are chronically dehydrated be sure you aren’t one of them)

Items to include but not in unlimited amounts:

·         Whole unprocessed grains, like quinoa not things made from whole grain flour (these are only on this list for two reason, they are higher in calories and tend to crowd out the more nutritious food like vegetables, fruit and beans)

·         Raw seeds and nuts (I listed seeds first because they tend to be more nutritious, they are only this list because they are very calorie dense and can lead to weight gain

·         Avocados (included here only because they are calorie dense meaning if your weight is good this isn't an issue)

Items to restrict or better yet eliminate from your diet:

·         Animal flesh (this includes red meat, pork, chicken and seafood and I recommend eliminating it because of it elevates IGF-1, is calorie dense crowding our healthier foods, increases calcium loss and adds saturated fat to your diet.  However if you won’t eliminate it than eat it like the Asians an ounce or so at a time and not every day)

·         Animal products (dairy and butter and yes I am including skim milk and non-fat yogurt here for the same reasons that I listed for meat.  Diary and butter are more harmful than meat due to the concentration of saturated fat some cheeses getting 70% of their calories from fat.  I think this is very important to eliminate these.)

·         Soy protein isolates (should be eliminated for the same reason as meat and meat-by-product, it elevates IGF-1)

·         Processed food (things with more than 5 ingredients are suspect)

·         Sugar (it adds empty calories and increases your blood sugar levels which isn’t healthy)

·         Oil (included here because it is empty calories and also adds saturated fat, yes even olive oil)

·         Salt (increases  your risk of stroke as well as increasing your blood pressure)

·         Chemical additives like:  artificial flavors and colors, pesticides and chemical fertilizer residue, BPA and parabens (chemicals have been associated with everything from cancer to autism and I do my best to keep our exposure to a minimum without driving myself nuts)

When you read this list is seems restrictive, and to some extent it is. However I hope that you have seen enough about how we eat to realize that you can follow a diet like this and still eat food a wide variety of food which tastes great and is good for you.  It really comes down to what you demand from your food.  Are you more interested in your health or do you want the flavors that you grew up with?  Believe me if I had known years ago that we could have possibly avoided cancer by changing our diet I would have made these same changes a long time ago.  I have often read that people don’t appreciate things until they are gone, like their health, and I agree.  Once you are faced with a devastating disease (like cancer or heart disease) there is nothing that tastes as good as having your health feels. I hope that a few of you will make the difficult decision to change your diet now and possibly avoid cancer.  Remember, cancer is no longer a rare occurrence. Today in America 1 out of 2 men and 1 out of 3 women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. The odds are high that you or your family will have to face cancer directly.  However the changes you make now can improve your odds.  I think of this way, would I rather have steak and cancer or a long healthy life?  Trust me, take the long healthy life  because the pleasure of eating unhealthy food only lasts a few moments, the pain, anxiety and side effects from cancer last the rest of your life.

Sorry to be such a downer at the end but I think that most of us don’t want to think about the ramifications of our decisions.  Food can have powerful effects on how your body operates. When you feed your body a highly nutritious diet you are giving it the tools to repair itself and fight disease. However the inverse is also true. When you put things into your body that aren’t nutritious (see the list of things to reduce or eliminate above) you aren’t helping your body to do its job.  I think of food as one of the tools that I use to stay well and I hope you start to look at food that way too.    When you are making food decisions I want you to think about what is the healthiest thing that you want to eat, because your health depends on it.

Of everything that I wrote this month here is the most important thing to remember:  You have the power to change your health.  Every decision that you make, no matter how small impacts your health. Once you develop the habit of making good decisions you are on your way to your best possible health no matter what your current age or physical decision.  Please go back and look at the life you described in your journal as part of the day 27 exercises and start to put those ideas into practice. 

Now that we have finished this January series I would love to know what you think. Did you have a favorite topic?  Would you like me to expand on any of the topics from this month?  Is there a topic that you had wanted to see here that wasn’t included?  Should I include one of these “health” posts once a week or once a month?  Please let me know what you think.  Thanks!

Today’s Exercise:

1.       Pick one item to change in your diet from the dietary habits listed above.  I would suggest you pick a big one as it will make the most impact.  However you should also pick one that you know you can stick to. Many people find that giving up dairy has a huge impact.  I have heard from many people that they didn’t realize they were lactose intolerant until they gave up dairy and then had some later and the familiar symptoms of mucus and stuffed sinuses came back almost instantly.  Given how prevalent lactose intolerance is you may want to start with dairy. I find that being able to feel the difference helps people stick with dietary changes.  There is a very good chance you will also see an improvement in your weight and cholesterol as a result of this dietary modification.

2.       Keep track in your journal of the results of making this change. Did you feel better, lose weight, and need less OTC medication? Just be sure to record your experiences. I would also suggest that you try adding a little of whatever you have eliminated back in a few weeks so that you can feel the difference. You might be surprised by the difference that you can feel in your body.  Maybe people have told me that they feel things first by the change in their GI system and that know immediately when their transit time is increasing since they start to feel bloated and uncomfortable.  However you won’t usually know this unless you take something away for a while and then add it back as a test. This is the same principle they use with a formal elimination diet. 

Progress on my goals:

1.       Newsletters – Monday was another busy day which meant the newsletters didn’t get worked on.  This will definitely move up on my February list now.

2.       Body Bugg – I continue to wear my bugg and I have gotten back into using it the way I had intended when I purchased it.  Go me!  J

3.       Date with Dan – No date on Monday, but we ran errands together Tuesday evening.  I guess that doesn’t count for most people but we have fun whenever we are together even running errands.

4.        Measuring calorie dense food – I am making progress adding nuts and seeds to our food. I

5.       Working on my business – My schedule got in the way of working on the business today. Once January is over and I have more free time I will jump on this again.  I remember that I promised you the link to my second website on February 10th and I really, really don’t want to miss that deadline.  *eek*  Nothing like self imposed pressure.  ;-)

How are you feeling about your progress so far?  I hope you feel like you have made a few lasting changes this month.  J

Random Thoughts:

As much as I have loved writing this series I am burned out now.  When I decided to do this I had no idea how much time it would take. Since these are things that I can talk about anytime I thought the writing would just flow and I was wrong.  If I do this again next year I am definitely going to pre-write much of the series.  I hope that you found something to apply to your life from what I wrote.

My schedule is very busy right now and I don’t have as much time to write as I used to.  I would like to hear what you would like to read about going forward.   Here are the options I came up with:

·         Recipes (which won’t be that frequent since I don’t have much time to measure and document)
·         Our daily food choices and why we made the choices that we did
·         The log of our day which would include the food
·         Links to articles on health and nutrition
·         The mental/emotional issues related to making changes to improve your health
·         Nutrition specifics about individual foods (for example the benefits of hempseeds or kale)

Do any of these ideas appeal to you or would you like to see something different?  Please let me know what you think, I really do want to know.


Have you made any progress writing acknowledgements?  I hope you are working on this exercise and enjoying it. I find that it helps me stay positive and recognize the things that I do every day.  Here are my acknowledgements:

·         The 2012 - 31 days to Better Health series is finished!  *woo hoo*  I hope that it meant as much to you as it did to me and that you found some ideas to apply to your life and health.  It was definitely a labor of love for me. 

·         I received a $1,000 scholarship from IIN today to award.  I have offered it to the first reader who contacted me about the program.  However if she doesn’t want it I am going to offer it to anyone who is ready to sign up in a few days. The scholarship would require signing up for the program between Wednesday and Friday of this week. If you are interested send me an email at veganepicurean@gmail.com and let me know.  If now isn’t a good time no worries, there will be future scholarships and I will keep you all in the loop by posting the information here.

·         My fur children were very appreciative of the Blue Buffalo cat kibble that we picked up for them this evening. I love to see the little ones get excited about things like this.  They are such sweet little babies it is nice to make them happy with something like a special food.  Normally they get prescription cat food but occasionally we treat them to something different, like tonight.

·         Dan and I were talking this evening and we are going to try to step up our diet a little.  In our case that means more beans, and raw veggies.  We are also going to start shifting our sleeping schedule so that we can get back to 6am workouts at the gym before work. Wish us luck on this one since neither of us are morning people.  ;-)

Since I spend half of the day on Tuesday running around I have literally blanked on what I did on Monday. That is a sure sign of burn out.  LOL

Breakfast was a quick green smoothie like you see us have often.  I love getting raw kale into us at breakfast.

There was a grapefruit snack and some Brazil nuts and seaweed that weren’t photographed.

I also had a small bowl of curried red lentil and tomato soup which I also neglected to photograph so I used an old photo.

Dinner was a huge arugula salad with the spinach and artichoke dressing (cold leftover soup from a few days ago), baked tofu which I glazed with fermented black bean sauce and finished with sesame seeds.

Happy thoughts:

Have you gotten into the habit of writing your happy thoughts?  I find it helpful to remind myself how often things go well and that I shouldn’t take these things for granted.   As always there are so many things to be thankful for that I almost don’t know where to start. Here are my happy thoughts:

·         We had the most amazing weather on Tuesday; it was literally 68 degrees here on the last day on January.  It does not feel like this is Maryland in the winter time but I am not complaining.

·         Our refrigerator is stuffed full of fresh produce again which means that I feel much better. We had an appointment to take care of this afternoon and decided to stop for food while we were out.  Life is definitely better with produce.  ;-)

·         We picked up a bag of Blue Buffalo cat kibble for the little ones and you would have thought we brought home drugs. They dove at the bag and opened it with their teeth while I put away the produce. Okay so they were a little uncivilized but they are felines so I cut them some slack.  It was nice to see them so happy about different flavor of kibble.

·         There was the cutest little bird at the pet store all by himself that I was talking too. Dan had to practically pull me away from him.  I am sure my fur children would not have appreciated a bird in the house but he was darned cute.

·         Dinner was raw veggies and hummus this evening and I loved it. That is such a simple dinner but one that I never grow tired of, I could eat it every day I think.

Signing Out:

I am looking forward to some time to myself tomorrow. I was just telling Dan that I am going to start the day by getting outside and I may do 4 miles before breakfast.  I bought some nice pears and cucumbers so there might be a nice fresh juice in the future, not sure yet.  If the weather is as nice as it supposed to be I might even work in my garden.  There is also laundry that is calling my name, homework to be done, the other website to work on, and lots of house cleaning but those may just need to wait until Thursday since that is when they are predicting rain.

Whatever you have planned of the next few days please take some time to relax and enjoy yourself.  Life is too short not to take some “me time” to relax and regenerate.  Talk with you again in a few days once my battery has recharged.  Ciao for now.


  1. Get plenty of R&R! I loved the series and found myself nodding in agreement to many of the things you wrote. Also I took away some cool ideas and discussion material from it too.
    For future blogging, I like your list - I certainly enjoy the food logs with pictures. I also love your nutrition research and information "sessions".

    1. Hi Possum (N),

      Thanks for letting me know that you enjoyed this. I am so happy that I could give you some ideas. :-)

      I had planned on resting but later this afternoon I am writing a post about green smoothies. Long story but after 20+ emails I thought it was necessary. So much for my day off. ;-)


  2. Congratulations on finishing the series and finishing it strong! This was an excellent post that summed it all up: our health depends on our everyday decisions surrounding food, excercise, friendship, etc.... one decision at a time, we strive to choose the healthiest path. It's not always easy, but we do the best we can and try not to make excuses.

    I know you'll be taking a break, but hopefully you'll be back to share more of your nutrition knowledge, research links, book reviews, and cooking methods (measurements probably aren't necessary). General health and fitness topics are always welcome too. Thanks for all you do!

    1. Thanks Laura,

      I agree with you completely on the little everyday decisions and doing our best, which is all any of us can hope for. Certainly none of us, me included, are perfect and that isn't even necessary. When most of our decisions are healthy things will take care of themselves.

      I was going to take a break, but you might want to the post I have planned for tonight defending and supporting why green smoothies are good for us. I got so many emails asking what was up with green smoothies being bad I knew I had to write it this afternoon for tonight.

      I hope you are having a great day with the same gorgeous weather we are having here. It definitely feels like spring.


  3. I'm not sure if you ever read the blog Happy Herbivore, but I'm curious what your reaction is to her post from yesterday: http://happyherbivore.com/2012/01/why-i-stopped-drinking-green-smoothies/
    I know that you have a lot of green smoothies, as do I (heavy on the greens), so this really made me pause.

    1. Sarah,

      I did not read that post nor do I read that blog, but my phone and email lit up over it. I will be writing a rebuttal to that later today. Dan and I both had big glasses of green smoothie this morning if that tells you what I think.

      Thanks for making sure I knew,

    2. I was commenting to leave the same link! I hate that she not only closed but hid the comments. I really wanted to read the discussion, having gotten to the post late.

    3. Congrats on getting through the month, Ali! I've loved reading even if I don't always comment. It's something I may revisit later in the year, too.

    4. Brigid,

      Thanks for making sure that I had heard about the controversy. That is very telling that she closed and hid the comments in my opinion.

      I appreciate you letting me know that you enjoyed the series this month. It was definitely a labor of love but one that was harder than I realized when I signed up for it. I am very glad to hear that you found it useful.

      talk with you later,

  4. Ali,

    I also loved this series!! Just wondering where eggs fall on the "Why this os not good for you scale?" I appreciate all your hard work on the blog. Also looking forward to the posts on "why we ate this" and "the nutritional benefits of food!"

    1. Susan,

      Sorry for my delay in responding. I read your comment and posted it from my phone and then forgot to come back and response. Senior moment? LOL

      We don't eat eggs for the same reason that we don't eat animal flesh or dairy. The protein in the egg white also elevates IGF-1. Additionally all animal products increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, suppress immune function, slow down the bodies ability to detoxify and increase oxidation. If you still want to consume eggs knowing that I would say only buy the omega-3 enriched eggs and don't have them often. I hope that helps.

      thanks for letting me know you enjoyed the series,


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