Weight Loss: The Connection between Mental and Physical Health

Like many folks in the world concerned about weight gain as we age, I’ve been on a variety of diets (not a lot, but still) and have lost and gained pounds over the years.  My trajectory, however, since I was about 40 was to see a consistent, slow increase in weight in my body.  For me it was not in one place, it was all over: legs, chest, back, arms, head, neck, etc.  By my mid-40s I’d found a persistent set of pounds hanging on to my midsection.  I exercised, dieted, and lost quite a bit of weight over that time.

Yet, my mental health when it came to weight gain and loss was pretty much the same.  I felt emotionally drained by the yoyo of my body; I felt out of control of what was happening.  I tried to hold onto the idea to accept my body as it was, not as it could be.  Simply put, staying in the present and not judging my own physical self.

The thing is, I knew, really knew, that how I physically felt was a reaction to my mental health.  I remember a few years ago when I made a conscious choice not to exercise on one particular day; it was windy (when is Albuquerque NOT windy) and I chose not to hop on my bike and ride the bike trail.  I said to myself it was OK; I didn’t have to ride.  It was windy, the ride would be hard and I could just as easily exercise by walking my dog.

The one choice in that moment was based on feeling like I couldn’t do it.  I felt so worn out from the week and work and such that I chose not to ride.  The choice, however, was an important one.  It spoke to a kind of depression, a willingness to, in a small way, give up and give in.  Some folks have argued that it’s OK to slide into that feeling, the feeling of resignation.  I’ve read commentary from some very intelligent people arguing that we should just be with the feeling and allow it to crash over us without judgement.

However, I’m here to say that allowing that feeling to wash over me and really take hold was the crux of the problem.  I actually let the feeling go, but by the time I had, it was too late.  The moment had passed.  And that’s the thing….we do live in moments and in those moments are choices and in those choices are the source of what happens to us in our lives.

I’m not sure what propelled me to change my physical life last August, but I decided to go all in.  To change eating, exercise, and mediation.  To alter my present to affect my future.  It is ironic, after my MI, that I not only continued my trajectory but ratcheted it up a notch, moving toward a more radical change.  Based on past history, one would think I would give up and give in.  I didn’t succumb to the fear, the self-loathing, the absolute pain of experiencing a health crisis.  I pushed through.

So, why, in that moment did I not give in?  My experience in the hospital was one driving force; I sat in meditation in the emergency and heard the cries of pain, the agony of other patients, and the death of someone inches outside my room.  Witnessing the death of someone has the ability to transform one’s life if you can be present in the experience.  I think a lot about that patient; a man in his 70s, heart attack passed, breathing stopped, resuscitation failed.  I heard those last few moments of his life and stayed with him.  I felt, profoundly, a sense of peace.

Secondly, I did not give in because I had found a path that worked for me.  I was on that path since August 1st.  Nothing was going to stop me now.  I knew, quite clearly, that I could alter my course, change my body in ways I had, to that point, only imagined.  I guess the best way to describe it is to state, simply, that I knew I could do it…I was in a place in which I could make a change in my life.

My weight loss, my change in diet, and my change in life style gave me the mental clarity, in those moments of all-consuming fear, that I had personal power.  The weight loss, the success of my eating plan, the physical changes I had seen improved my emotional and mental outlook.  There was/is a correlation between the two.  Fundamentally, it was my mind pushing, encouraging, showing me the path or way forward.

Now, when the moments arise, and they always do, in which I say, “I’ll not exercise tonight; I’ll eat that thing I’m not supposed to” I am now able to seize control of that part of my self and say, clearly and compassionately, no.IMG_1406

Do You Need Cooking Oil to Prepare Food? Nope.

One of the biggest surprises of the past few months has been the fact that oil is not a necessary ingredient in most prepared foods. My first attempt at no oil food were these Buckwheat pancakes. As you probably know, Buck wheat is a nutritional feast. These whole grains digest slowly and are filling in a way that keeps you full for hours.

When I first tried the no oil pancakes, I added unsweetened apple sauce instead. I read somewhere that apple sauce can act as a binder for the cakes. Then I threw in blueberries, vanilla, and, most recently, oats. The pancakes are a joyful pleasure to make and eat (although my kids say they don’t like them without lots of maple syrup).

I add fruit, maple syrup, and chomp through this lovely breakfast food!

Vegan Buckwheat Pancakes

2/3 cup of buckwheat flour

1/4 cup of oats

2 tbsp apple sauce

About a cup of Almond Milk

Vanilla to taste

Blueberries, chopped apples OR other fruit in the mix if you like.

Directions: Mix in a bowl until thoroughly mixed. All oats are coated in the mixture, looks wet.

Scoop about 1/4 cup and place on griddle or in a pan.

Add chopped fruit and maple syrup!

The Details: Food, Diet, and Well-Being

I started this path of plant-based eating last November (and made a concerted effort to change beginning last August).  I’m starting my sixth month of this eating plan.  Once I figured out what I could eat and how to prepare the food so it tasted like something I wanted to eat, things have gone very smoothly.  I can, without much thought, prepare a meal that meets my needs and follows the structure of the eating plan.

My eating plan or diet consists of combining fruit, vegetables, and grains in various combinations.  I’ve added a powdered vegan drink to the mix when I need a quick and easy way to get calories.  Included here are some of the combinations of food I eat on a daily basis.

Breakfast Lunch Dinner
Whole Grain Cereals (the ones without added fats) Salad that includes romaine, mixed greens, squash, cucumbers, peppers, carrots, celery. Salad (same as lunch)
 Steel-Cut Oats  Grains + Beans or lentils

 

Grains + Veggies
Whole Grain Oatmeal 1 Slice of whole grain bread Homemade vegan pizza (rarely)
1 cup Berries or 1 Apple/Orange and  1 Banana 1 Apple or Orange Tofu (grilled or steamed)
Vitamins: B12, B6, Folate, probiotic, C (1000mg) vinegar-based salad dressing with mustard or other spicy flavored condiment whole grain pasta (rarely)
VegaOne Drink w/ Almond Milk  32oz/1 liter of water Soba noodles (rarely)
Unsweetened Almond Milk   32 oz/ 1 liter of water
32oz/1 Liter of Water
I don’t eat everything on this list everyday; these are possibilities! I don’t eat everything on this list everyday; these are possibilities! I don’t eat everything on this list everyday; these are possibilities!

I season food with a wide variety of spices including turmeric, cayenne pepper, chili powder, chipotle powder, cumin, a variety of peppers, vinegars including balsamic glazes, and just about every other combination of spice that makes sense.  Curry powders and curry pastes are really wonderful ways to flavor food.  I’ve experimented with a whole bunch of ideas and they’ve all worked.   Just be careful of which spices to combine in which quantities….cumin, for example, is a very strong spice and must be used in limited amounts (1/2 teaspoon).  Garlic powder or fresh, chopped garlic combined with onions flavors anything.  Those two are staples when I’m sautéing veggies without oil.

When I am out in the world, I gravitate to salads, Japanese soups with soba noodles and veggies, vegan pizza with no cheese, or vegan tacos.  I have not had a lot of trouble finding food in the world as long as it’s vegetables and grains that are not cooked in oils.  Yes, it does limit what you can eat in some restaurants, and I’m pretty easy going.  Truthfully, food is often not the reason to be out in the world anyway.

The simple story is this: this eating plan combined with exercise has netted me weight loss of 40 pounds since August 2017.  I loose about 1 – 1.5 pounds per week.  I’m doing new blood work this week and will report my current situation as soon as I have the numbers.

My mental health is pretty good.  I face a lot of stress (relationships, finances, work, etc) and am able to manage it as best I as I can with exercise, meditation, and my Buddhist practice (although, I have to say that my Buddhist practice is not exactly a stress reliever).  I’m measuring everything right now from workouts to eating to blood pressure, to overall health and well-being.  I keep a written journal and record my thoughts, ideas, and other silliness in that book.  When it comes down to it, I’ve made a significant change to my life and health.

I’m not sure where this path will take me but I am on a journey that I began with an open heart and mind.  I guess that’s about all I can ask of myself in these precious few moments left in my life.IMG_1081