This post discusses my diet before the asthma diagnosis and before my health really took a turn for the worse. The following covers what I believe I did that caused my health problems.
I was never a big fan of meat, even as a child. I remember one night at the dinner table when I chewed up whatever meat was being served, stored it in my cheeks like a chipmunk, and hoped to excuse myself to the bathroom so I could spit it out. I wasn’t smart enough to realize how obvious my brilliant plan was. My mother immediately dismissed me to the bathroom with orders to stare at myself in the mirror to see how ridiculous I looked.
Plan #2: Chew the meat but spit it in the napkin as I wiped my mouth. This plan also failed as I wasn’t smart enough to volunteer cleaning up after dinner, thus leaving my mother to find a huge wad of chewed up pork chop stuffed in my napkin.
Plan #3: Chew the meat and stealthily feed it to the cat under the dinner table. This worked for a while until mom caught on to that trick as well.
Ditch the Meat Part I
Fast forward to college. Free at last! I can finally choose my own food and rid myself of that pesky meat! So I promptly substituted it with a massive salad consisting of iceberg lettuce, a few tomato wedges, cucumber, whatever the pasta salad de jour was, and about 2 pounds of shredded cheese topped with a cup of creamy dressing. That would be followed by chocolate chip cookies and self-serve ice cream for dessert. All of these items clearly qualified as “vegetarian”. I had solved my meat problem!
I did not gain the “freshman ten” that I was so amply warned about. I gained 40 pounds instead! Let’s just say I discovered the wonders of sweat pants with drawstring waistbands which became my daily uniform until I went home the next summer.
Luckily I dropped the weight faster than I put it on – the beauty of being 19. But I was back at my parents’ house for the summer and meat was on the menu again. I was able to stick to a mostly vegetarian menu. I cut back on the cheese, salad dressing, cookies and ice cream, replacing them with flavored yogurts, eggs, oatmeal, whole grain breads, cereals and crackers, and milk – lots of milk! Like almost a gallon a day.
Ditch the Meat Part II
Fast forward to law school (yes, I’m one of those). I decided to go full-on vegan my third year. This decision was driven equally by animal welfare and environmental issues as well as health concerns. There were enough instances of clogged arteries and high blood pressure in the family history to drive my effort to avoid the same fate.
So I dropped the eggs, yogurt, and much beloved milk in favor of lots of egg-less pasta and rice, peanuts, soups (mostly canned), oatmeal, cereals, and tons of fruit like raisins, dates, bananas, cantaloupe and apples, as well as a return of the iceberg lettuce salad (sans cheese and creamy dressing) with a healthy drenching of Italian dressing. I thought I was doing pretty darn good!
By the way, did anyone notice that this vegan diet, as well as the prior vegetarian one, was lacking a lot of, uh, vegetables?
I was a very bad vegan and vegetarian. I never did any research on the subject – or on nutrition in general for that matter. I didn’t eat a balanced diet by any stretch of the imagination. I was very carb/sugar/fat heavy and vitamin/mineral/fiber light.
I truly thought I was eating very well – much better than the “average” American I convinced myself, as I rarely ate fast food and limited processed food. I thought my “good health” was validated by the fact that I was not overweight, my blood pressure was low, and my cholesterol was normal. My doctor told me I was the picture of health.
But I didn’t feel that great. I had a low energy level, my allergies progressively became worse, and I was very susceptible to catching whatever flu or cold bug was going around. So much so that I couldn’t ride public transportation anymore as I seemed to pick up every germ on every surface. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was just beginning to feel the effects of eating an unbalanced diet most of my life.
Before & After
If I took a picture of the foods I used to eat as an uneducated vegan/vegetarian/general consumer of food, and compared it with a picture of the foods I eat today, the difference would be quite stark. One picture would look very beige and white, while the other would be full of vibrant colors. In fact, here they are (look for a future post analyzing the nutrient and calorie counts for both):
I clearly didn’t know what I was doing. You mean it’s not okay to base your diet on pasta, bread, crackers & cheese, french fries, mac-n-cheese, chips, bagels, pizza, muffins, twice-baked potatoes, and my husband’s favorite all-in-one meal – Guiness? I now know that to regularly consume any one of those items without a very healthy dose of dark, leafy greens to balance it out is asking for trouble.
So going back to this post, where I reported that my doctor said my asthma was likely caused by air pollution, stress, family history of allergies, etc., I must disagree. I believe those can be aggravating factors, but not likely causative ones. I still live in the big city with air pollution, I still have stress (who doesn’t!), and I still have a family history of allergies – nothing in that regard has changed. So if my old doctor was right that these are the cause, then I should still be on all the inhalers, pills and allergy shots, right?
I believe the majority of chronic health problems are caused by diet and lifestyle choices made over long periods of time. I think my allergies and asthma were caused by my over-consumption of inflammatory foods (eggs, dairy, cheese, bread, grains, meat) and under-consumption of anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense foods (leafy, green vegetables and lower carb and sugar fruits). Simply put:
I ate my way into my health problems, and I have since eaten my way back out.