Clean Eating: Liberation Through Food

Yea, I know the title of this post is stretching two complementary but very different ideas and melding them into a coherent mess.  I’ve read about the whole idea of “clean eating” and that phrase is defined in so many ways.  Here is how I’m defining this idea: eating a plant-based diet with no oil, dairy, or meat products.  The “clean” part of clean eating is the fact that I’m consuming foods which help alter, reshape my body chemistry; in a sense cleansing my internal mechanisms.

I’ve read that the eating plan I am on, a plant-based diet, improves the function of endothelium, the cells lining arteries and veins.  The increase in NO production improves the flexibility and smooth, slick characteristics of the cell lining.  So, in a very real sense, the plant-based foods are transforming my circulatory system.

I created a series of foods this week that fits this approach and that tasted great (my test is my 11 year old child…will she eat it?).

Here are the examples for this week.

Hummus and Lentil Wraps. The images below show my homemade hummus using green peppers, curry powder, garlic, and garbanzo and cannelloni beans.  I added spinach and romaine lettuce, lentils, and Sriracha sauce for some spice.

These wraps hold together well and are made with whole grains.

Veggies and Whole Grain Pasta

Sauteed veggies (squash, mushrooms, onions, carrots, and garlic cloves).  Whole grain pasta and a no-oil tomato sauce with basil.

Veggie, No Cheese Pizza

Using my standard sauté technique with balsamic vinegar reduction, turmeric, cumin, and cayenne spice to taste.

The prepared pizza crust is from Rustic Crust.

This flatbread works very well as a pizza crust.

Hope you enjoy the ideas.  It’s been fun trying out new recipes.

The Path to Individual Liberation

I’m borrowing the title from Chogyam Trungpa’s book The Path Of Individual Liberation (Judith L. Lief editor, 2014) because the fact is to achieve any kind of state of awareness we have to understand and truly know where our foibles sit, lay, exist.  The book is a source of practice for me and, since reading it a couple of years ago, is one place I return to over and over again to gain clarity and focus on the path.9781611801040

I titled this blog The Path TO Individual Liberation because there are specific actions one can take to go in the direction of such a path.  In particular, the way TO liberation and awareness comes from some specific tasks one must take on to reach that state of being.  For this particular blog post, I’m focusing on my neurotic and crazy mind.

I’ve been in and out of meditation practice for years.  For the most part, my practice is stable, however, at times my crazy mind intrudes on my daily existence and things go sideways.  I think you understand what I mean: a comment from a colleague or friend or family member sends me reeling toward anger, resentment, sadness, or extreme happiness or joy.  I tend to think that the pendulum swing of emotions caused by these interactions are somehow natural or normal.  In fact, those swings in reaction are part of my problem.  Why have those wild swings when someone says something?  For me, it’s because of attachment.  I grab onto the statement, saying, phrase and chase it down….it makes me happy, sad, angry, etc.

Those reactions are, according to Trungpa, examples of the neurotic mind.  These emotional upheavals, kleshas, are part of the reason our minds are so reactive.  He says, “People have different emotional temperaments….They want to achieve something.  Therefore they express themselves in terms of three basic poisons of passion, aggression, and ignorance…” (135).  He encourages us to watch our state of mind as best we can.

I’ve experienced these reactions so often.  If I’m very aware of my mind, I can watch these reactions rise and fall within my daily life.  If not, I don’t understand my reaction until much later.  After becoming aware, I face the reactions of regret, anger at my own reaction and etc.

Stabilizing my mind, really coming to terms with what my mind is doing in any given moment, is one key to understanding and practice.  Thich Nhat Han offered that labeling thoughts is one way to become aware of what is happening in my head.

One very specific way I have come to understand my mind is through what Sogyal Rinpoche calls “Self-Tonglen”.  In the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Rinpoche says that we can imagine ourselves as two aspects; one that is loving and compassionate (A) and one that is fearful, hurt, and maybe resentful (B) “Now, as you breathe in, imagine that A opens his or her heart completely, and warmly and compassionately accepts and embraces all of B’s suffering and negativity and pain and hurt. Moved by this, B opens his or her heart and all pain and suffering melt away in this compassionate embrace.” (217).  Being compassionate and kind to yourself helps heal the break in your own mind, accepting what has happened and what you think as a fleeting experience or thought.  Really embracing yourself….I have experienced the healing practice.  It is valuable.Tibetan_Book_of_Living_and_Dying_cover

Further, once you have worked on those thoughts and emotions that torture you, extending your mind outward, realizing that everyone is experiencing those same troubles, allows you to extend that compassion you gave to yourself to those around you.    In Tonglen for Others, Rinpoche says,  “Now, just as in the practice of loving kindness, gradually widen the circle of your compassion to embrace first other people whom you also feel very close to, then those whom you feel indifferent about, then those you dislike or have difficulty with, then even those you feel are actively monstrous and cruel. Allow your compassion to become universal, and to fold in its embrace all sentient beings, all beings, in fact, without any exception…” (217).  That practice of Tonglen takes me out of my neurotic mind and into the world outside of me and mine.  This one simple approach can make a real difference in your life.

Having experienced serious health concerns and the very real daily experience of dealing with kids, students, colleagues, family, and friends, these paths forward have helped me understand my own mind and, to a great extent, release my attachment or grasping on these various neurotic thoughts and emotions.  I offer these thoughts as just one way to find some clarity.  Good luck, fellow human.



Weight Loss: Piecing it Together

I’ve always read with interest the conundrum behind weight loss.  Science says that it’s pretty straight forward: eat less, move more.  Burning more kcals than you consume is the so-called “simple math” of weight loss.   And yet.  Well you know the story: folks want to lose weight and cannot for a wide variety of reasons.  Personally, I’ve never subscribed to the whole diet as weight loss scheme simply because when I did use such a diet it was almost impossible to maintain.  I distinctly remember a diet that combined beets, hot dogs and the like…some kind of chemical reaction in your body produced weight loss.  The crazy thing was, that ridiculous diet worked!  Sure, but who wants to eat hot dogs and beets all the time?

I started an eating plan, the plant-based one, and folks told me I would never lose weight on that plan.

“Too many carbs; you cannot lose weight eating carbs”

“The only way to weight loss is by eating protein; lots of it”

“Low carb diets are the only guaranteed way to weight loss”

You have heard all of those phrases I am sure.  So,  like always, I went to the research.  The body of evidence that reveals the success of dieting on a variety of diets is extensive. You will find studies that support weight loss on almost any diet plan.  This article offers perspective on many eating plans.  Other articles offer quite biased perspectives.  For example, the Whole30 folks are committed to their program (a lifestyle program rather than a diet).  They claim dramatic physical and mental changes as a result of this eating plan.  By contrast, folks are equally adamant that a plant-based diet is the way forward.

Entering into the debate on this issue was an essay written by Nina Teicholz and response Dr. Dean Ornish.  Teicholz is a journalist, Ornish an M.D. who has administered a series of studies on diet.  The debate between the two is intense and filled with invective.  The article is a fascinating look at the debates between plant-based diets and low carb diets.  I’ll leave you to judge the outcome.

All of these studies, diet’s and plans can have very real consequences on human lives.  From my perspective, I cannot follow the advice of a journalist like Nina Teicholz when faced with science and research based analysis of what to eat.

Further, after a lot of research on these various plans, I chose the plant-based approach based on the research.  Then I tested my body; I AM a test subject on the plant-based diet. I follow the diet (eating plan) strictly.  Further, I increased exercise, moderately, from what I had done before.  Then I checked my blood work and used my body as evidence of the success (or not) of the plan.  Here’s what I have found: all markers for everything from glucose and insulin to calcium and etc are improved, dramatically.  Cholesterol (156 to 98) trigycerides (95 to 76) LDL (90 to 40), HDL (43) all excellent.  Blood pressure down dramatically (140/78 to 118/60)…weight loss a consistent 1.5/2 lbs per week.  The plant-based diet works in all of the ways that Ornish, Campbell, and Esselstyn have said.  Their data and my data match.

As I move forward on this plan, I’m very curious to see a change in stenosis or restenosis of the stent repaired artery.  Ornish et al claim that I can see significant improvement in stenosis over time.  If I can get some funding, my plan is to check stenosis directly using a heart cath procedure.  Those tests will come in a couple of years.  In the meantime, I feel good.

Finally, the weight loss question.  As I mentioned, I am losing weight, consistently.  I’m eating carbs; a lot of carbs compared to the other low-carb diet plans.  Based on descriptions from those practitioners, I should have NO luck losing weight; and yet, here I am, dropping pounds each week.  Does it come down to moving more, eating less?  The fact is, I’m eating a lot of food….veggies, fruit, grains, beans, lentils.  Good lord I’m eating a lot.  However, the food is low calorie, and I can eat vast amounts of these foods and still lose weight….especially as long as I avoid the processed foods.  So, I eat whole foods, like the Whole30 plan, but none of the artery clogging fat and meat.

Further, exercising consistently is one of the factors in this whole process.  For me, that means 45-65 minutes 5 to 6 days per week.  I workout at a facility and walk about 2 miles  3 nights a week.  My movement has increased (although not dramatically).  I track my workouts and the calories burned just as a way of measuring my progress….I burn about 2500 kcals per week in exercise.  Combined with the eating plan, my weight loss is 1.5 to 2 pounds each week.  I’ve found I can slow down or speed up weight loss simply by changing, slightly, my food intake….using this experiment, I dropped all grains for 5 days and saw weight loss increase that week to 3 pounds; I did the same with salads…dropped the salads and stuck just to grains and legumes with about the same 3 pound weight loss that week….SOOOOOOO, maybe the science is right: that eating less and burning more calories equals more weight loss!  Wow.  Science is cool.

Finally, here’s my question: what diet, what eating plan are you willing to bet your life on?  Seriously.  If, like me, you have faced the very real prospect of death, then which diet is the one that will, more than likely, improve your chances of survival?  Are you willing to bet your life on a diet filled with animal protein and saturated fat? Does such an eating plan jive with what the data tells us?  Does a plant-based diet make sense based on the science?  I’ve made my choice…..the proof will be in whether or not I’m able to survive into the future…..THAT is a story I’m interested in seeing through to the end.

Whew.  I’m kind of DONE with the whole diet thread.  I’m moving back into my philosophical discussions about practice and mind….those ideas are, it seems to me, more important, ultimately, than what I eat!

May you be happy, may you be well!

The Protein Illusion

“When we dump a load of protein in our body, our liver’s like, “Whoa, look at all this! What are we going to do with it all? We can’t just waste it, we’ve got to do something with it!” So our liver starts pumping out IGF-1 to tell all the cells in our body “It’s growin’ time! Be fruitful and multiply. Spare no expense, go crazy—look how much excess protein we got to work with!”

As I have mentioned, I have been on a plant-based diet for a few months now.  In that time, I have checked blood work and seen the positive results of the change in diet.  Combined with my exercise routine, the plan is working as proscribed by numerous M.D.s and Ph.D.s in the fields of nutrition and cardiology.

In the past week, I visited my primary care physician, a man who is very much a wholistic practitioner that includes scientific understanding of disease processes combined with an approach that treats the whole body and mind.  On my last visit, we talked extensively about my diet and his thoughts about what that diet can mean, in the longterm, for my health.

The Consultation

My doctor is convinced, based on research presented in peer-reviewed studies, that a low-carb, plant-based diet WITH animal protein is the best approach to dealing with most physical illnesses (combined with appropriate medications).  I questioned his approach by pointing out my particular success in applying plant-based eating.  Here is the gist of what we discussed: that glucose and insulin, he believes, has a stronger impact on the development of disease that we formerly thought.  By staying on a plant-based diet, he has seen spikes in glucose and insulin levels in patients.  That rise in insulin and glucose can lead to more problems with various inflammatory diseases and especially with Atherosclerosis.

AND…and my blood work indicates that my plant-based diet is not revealing any of the problems suggested by folks in support of low-carb, animal protein diets.  I discussed this discrepancy with my doctor and he said, “You cannot argue with success.  Your blood work flies in the face of some of the data presented by the science.”

So, I went to the research.  What information is out there that a low-carb, animal protein diet is BETTER than a plant-based diet?  Hmmm.  My doctor suggested I look closely at the Whole 30 diet.  Here’s what I found (with links to the studies):

The Whole30 Diet

First, the Whole 30 diet is quite different from what I am doing right now.  The author states, “Eliminate the most common craving-inducing, blood sugar disrupting, gut-damaging, inflammatory food groups for a full 30 days.”  She says to remove, “sugar, grains, dairy and legumes” the very things I am eating (well, not sugar, but still).  The claim is that I will have energy and feel better.  The assumption is that I don’t have energy.  Am I lacking in energy?  Not at all.  My weight loss with exercise is an almost constant 2 pounds per week.  I feel good.  AND my blood work reveals that eating beans and grains have helped reduce inflammation dramatically.  WHAT?  Am I some anomaly? Some freak of nature that processes food differently?

I turned to more in-depth work.  Expanding my search, I entered the phrase plant-based vs low-carb diet and the FIRST hit was this article: Plant-Based Diet vs. Low-Carb Diet.  Here’s the money quote: “The June 21, 2012 issue of the British Medical Journal presented the latest updates on the long-term health hazards of low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets, and reported that, ‘In particular, women had a 5% higher incidence of cardiovascular disease (heart disease) for each tenth of an increase in the low carbohydrate-high protein score, yielding a 62% higher incidence among women in the highest categories of low carbohydrate-high protein diets compared with the lowest.'”  Simply put, does the paleo diet or Whole 30 diet presents serious problems for those of us facing heart disease?

Digging a bit deeper, another blog found the large scale medical study in Germany concerning these questions.  The author proposes that low-carb diets fight cancer because of the glucose question….cancer feeds off of glucose and low carb diets reduce the glucose.

Wow.  Confused yet?  Let’s get into those pesky questions about cancer, heart disease and the like: can a food-based diet prevent diseases?  One article that attempts to bridge the gap can be found on a blog related to good health.  The money quotation on this site is: “The research shows that a low carb diet is no better than the standard American diet (S.A.D.) in terms of preventing cardiovascular disease.  The high levels of animal fat in this diet are pro-inflammatory and we know that damages arteries.”  Key phrase we KNOW that damages arteries.  Notice too the “pro-inflammatory” phrase.  Didn’t the Whole 30 folks state that their diet was “anti-inflammatory”?  WTF? In fact, the research on this one topic, animal fat and protein and its affect on arteries, is extensive.  Search it.  See what I mean?  It’s everywhere!

OK, but we have the other question about cancer that the Paleo folks and low-carb folks keep harping on.  Just last month, a Harvard study of 115,000 people revealed some basic facts about low-carb, and especially fat in diets.  Here’s the information in abbreviated form: “Researchers noted that higher intakes of the most common saturated fats—lauric acid, myristic acid, palmitic acid, and stearic acid—were associated with a boost in the risk of coronary artery disease of up to 18%. But replacing just 1% of those fats with the same amount of calories from polyunsaturated fats, whole grains, or plant proteins was associated with a 6% to 8% lower risk.”  OK, yea, but that cancer thing?  Where’s THAT evidence?

Animal Protein and Its Effects

Let’s get scientific.  The evidence linking animal protein and cancer is extensive regardless of the promotional efforts of the low-carb folks.  An ongoing study at the Cancer Research Institute is isolating Neu5Gc, a sugar that appears in certain meat (red meat, organ meat, etc).  Current research is showing that Neu5Gc promotes inflammation and other serious immune responses.  As the research scientist, Dr. Oliver Pearce states, “But in this case, the cellular chemicals floating around in an acute inflammatory environment can lead to disruptions in normal cell activity in the surrounding epithelia, and this is what can increase the risk of cancer over time.”  Yikes!

Here’s a clear statement that references the problem from the MD Anderson website: ” While no diet choice will guarantee that you won’t develop cancer, cutting meat can help you lower your cancer risk. The American Institute for Cancer Research promotes a plant-based diet. Two-thirds or more of your plate should be plant-based foods.”  The quotation continues, “That’s in part because plant-based foods contain phytochemicals, the nutrients that you’re immune system needs to fight off diseases like cancer.”

That information, from the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, pretty much provides a  very clear, concise explanation that supports plant-based eating.

But let’s put that information into very practical and specific perspective.  In my case, my inflammation is extremely low, my other markers of health, cholesterol, C-Reactive protein, homocysteine, and on and on are all excellent.  Does that mean I’m in the clear?  Of course not.  I’m taking supplements (like B-12, Magnesium, D3, Omega 3 in flax seed, etc) and watching the food I eat everyday.  I am told that such a diet is “impossible” to maintain.  Really?  That statement has not proven true for me at all.  I have to plan what I eat and be aware of what I consume, but that’s not some crazy hard thing to do….having self-control is all about being healthy, right?



Daily Questions and Answers

In certain moments an internal dialogue starts up when faced with food that is, for lack of a better word, bad for your diet and eating plan.  Last night, I made nachos for my daughters and made them as clean as possible: not a lot of cheese, chips that were baked, not fried, and fresh salsa.  Nevertheless, for me, the saturated fat in the nachos was not the best option and while I was tempted to partake, I did not.  What was the thing that kept me from ingesting this tasty treat?  What was present, in my mind, to replace the temptation?

Each time I am tempted to eat something that is not on my eating plan, the thing I bring to mind is my hospital visit.  I think about laying in that bed, unsure of what my situation was, wondering at what doctors might find.  That unsure feeling of what was happening to my body and what I could do to correct, adjust, or alter my path.  Those moments of foggy perception I keep with me when I am faced with a food choice.  It’s, simply put, this idea: I never want to be unsure again…at least in this way…in terms of my health.  That’s why I stay vigilant on the path of eating what I now know is good for my body and my particular situation.

The Many Vegetable Choices in Bhutan

In a similar way, I stay focused on my practice using the same basic approach; if I veer off of the path of enlightenment for all sentient beings I am actually letting down many people who rely on those of us who seek to make things better.  I often think that if we all just cared for one person other than ourselves we would heal the entire world…if we were focused on the needs of just one person over our own needs we would find a transformed community.

Now I’m not here to lambast anyone at all; we all make choices and I have as well.  The simple fact is that it’s clear we face many choices that take us in one direction or other that doesn’t really help those around us or ourselves.