Eating To Live

April 12th, 20101:30 pm @ Angela Odom


Prior to my diagnosis with lupus — many years prior — my diet consisted mostly of fruits and veggies. I believe this kept the wolf at a low growl. Unfortunately, in 1998, I hit a wall of stress with family problems, illnesses and loss of my uncle in 2001 and my partner in 2002. The stress did not stop there unfortunately as I also endured a pretty stressful situation at work which did not help my already broken and battered body. I personally believe my body could not take the amount of stress I was under.

During those years my diet consisted of whatever I could get my hands on and that was what could be purchased at the window of a drive-thru, fast food establishment. Not good. Adding insult to injury, most of the food I purchased at grocery stores was processed or pre-made dinners full of sodium. Sadly, my stove was retired and became more installation art in my kitchen while my microwave worked overtime. Again, not good.

In addition to the above, I went from a person who drank loads of water daily to a person who drank very little water per week. Add that to a high sodium diet, wall-to-wall stress, and any other environmental hazard and what you have is a mess. I was an absolute mess when I was diagnosed with lupus nephritis in 2005.

I have had to sit down and look at the last ten years of my life while taking a good hard look at what was going on in my life and how I was eating. I will tell you I’m not proud of what I saw. Granted, I was in such deep do-do at the time I could not see the forest for the trees. Truly, when going through life’s challenges we will typically do whatever it is we need to do to get through. Sometimes the decisions made in stressful times are not the best either.

I also took a walk down memory lane, back to my youth, and there I saw a similar problem when poor diet and health problems ran together. Heart problems, pancreatitis, and more were all a result of a high sodium, no nutrient diet. During my pancreatitis period my mother switched me to a bland diet. This helped my condition substantially and from that point on, whenever I felt I was having a health issue, I switched my diet to healthier fruits and vegetables, low or no sodium foods, and I drank plenty of water. Whenever I was in the right frame of mind, knew I was experiencing something awful, I always changed my diet and watched what I ate. I realize now this kept the wolf to a low growl.

It is unfortunate, however, when we find ourselves “balls to the wall” thrown from “pillar to post” or any other cliche you can fathom, the awareness switch goes into the off position. For many, a high sodium, low water, and very few fruits and/or vegetable diet is normal. That diet, particularly if you have lupus, will not serve you well. Actually, it manufactures the wood and nails needed for your coffin. I’ll admit that’s a blunt statement but I believe it is true.

In the early days of my diagnosis, honestly, I did not want to change my diet. I was used to my bad diet, I had spent many years with that diet and it was hard to give it up. I wanted my salty pizzas, cheeseburgers, grilled cheeses, high sodium salads, bacon, sausage, swimming buttery eggs, lots-o-mayo, high sodium soul food, et. al. Prior to my stressful period, I rarely ate this stuff. During and after my stressful period, it became comfort food. It was far easier to think about tasty — ugh!! — fast food I could buy than actually prepare a healthy meal for myself. I learned this behavior was easy, fast, and had less clean-up.

The aforementioned diet also kept me lazy. I did not have to stand around in the kitchen preparing a meal. I did not have to worry about stooping to pull anything out of the oven, or reaching over the oven to lift a pot. I did not have to exert myself by opening the refrigerator, bending, stooping or reaching for anything inside. I did not have to wash dishes, reach to put them in the rack, or extend my arms to put the dishes in the cupboard. I certainly did not have to worry about sweeping or mopping because I never spilled anything because I was not cooking. Oh yes, with very little garbage to dispose of, I did not have to lift heavy garbage bags or take heavy cans out to the curb for garbage pickup.

My greatest strain — if you could call it that — was pushing the lever for the microwave, putting the package inside, closing the door, pushing a series of buttons to get the thing started, and pulling out the package to sit and eat. Basically, all of this non-movement made me a prime candidate for disease.

Speaking of movement, I will add something else. Prior to moving into this house in 1996, out — what I used to think — in the middle of no where, I always chose apartments that had gyms and saunas. That too kept me healthy. I had access to treadmills, bikes and saunas. Exercise is always good for the body. Of course, with no gym close by and no exercise equipment in my house, I put myself in serious trouble with the aforementioned diet and no exercise. Again, not good and it is no wonder I am where I am today.

As a friend once told me, for someone else it might have been cancer; perhaps another, a heart attack; for yet another, a serious health problem; another perhaps high blood pressure or diabetes. Her thesis is an unhealthy diet, combined with no exercise and stress could lead to a really bad health problem.

So, where to begin?  Quite frankly, in our society, fast-food, processed foods, and easy bake (or microwave) meals are the norm.  After getting over my stubbornness, I realized I had to change my diet and that meant staying away from all of the “easy” foods.  This was no easy feat. I needed some serious behavior modification because I was addicted to all of that sodium rich food which, in my opinion, tasted extremely good with easy access.

First, a friend introduced me to the elimination diet. I had to eliminate dairy, bread, meats and sodas. I had to drink plenty of water — had to reacquaint myself to the bland stuff — and eat loads of veggies and fruits. I also could not eat out. After a few days (or weeks) I could slowly bring other things back into my diet to see if my body reacted. I was surprised to find my body reacted badly to certain types of breads. I also discovered, though I love sweet rolls or cinnamon rolls, they do not love me. There was more. Beef and I don’t get along and I don’t do well with milk, but I always knew that.

I always liked a certain brand of honey wheat bread but I found that brand does not agree with me. I also found I cannot do certain yogurts. I am now restricted to a certain brand of yogurt that does not upset my system. Anything containing high fructose corn syrup upsets my stomach. Now, I must shop for items — ketchup included — that contain sugar, no high fructose corn syrup. Anything containing aspartame upsets me for days. I don’t know why but it does. What it means is I cannot eat or drink anything that is labeled sugar free because I don’t know what the stuff will do to me. I also discovered anything containing a form of MSG — whether labeled that way or not — causes my blood pressure to elevate.

As for restaurants, sadly, one of my favorite places to eat is now off my list of eateries. For some reason, whenever I eat there not only does my system react badly to the food for days, my blood pressure elevates. Since I cannot see anything, anywhere that lists dietary information about their food or the ingredients — as much as I hate doing this — I can no longer eat anything from the place. There are other restaurants where I have had similar experiences. Boooo Hoooo!!!

Bottom line, it is hard work eating right and what used to come as second nature for me has become one long arduous road to good health. My stove has gotten a workout, my kitchen has been rearranged, my refrigerator is now stocked with fresh fruits and veggies and my spice rack is filled with spices and herbs that are both medicinal and tasty. This has all served me well.

I also have a gym membership and I have equipment at home. Cooking and cleaning affords me a good workout at home. Yes, I still feel the urge to go out and pickup something quick and yes, I have gotten myself into trouble. When I eat well and keep it going, I feel fabulous. Once I fall from the wagon, trust me I pay a heavy price for doing so.

With lupus, or any health condition, it is important to get on that good eating wagon and stay there. The medications alone will not save you or make life better, you need to eat to live. I cannot emphasize it enough. Eat good whole foods, fresh veggies, fruits, and if you can buy organic, do so. Trust me, within days you will feel sooooo good. The less stress you put on your body — particularly with food — the better.

Eat clean, eat well, eat to live.