I Am What I Eat
Two disclaimers before I begin: One – This is my story. I tell you these things to tell a story. There is no intention of suggestion, encouragement, preaching – none of that. It’s just another story on Couch Surfing at 70. Two – For all I know, I could drop dead tomorrow.
Picture this: Here’s me, carefree, happy-go-lucky, a whimsical sprite bouncing along any of Salem’s wide tree-lined streets, quite likely high or a bit tipsy, and a brand new Ford drives by, a 1973 Mustang, and on the back bumper I see this sticker – “You are what you eat.” Now I’m hip, I’m slick, I dig it, it’s copacetic, because I truly understand the meaning of the phraseology. I am what I do, I am what I think, I am who I hang with, I am – in my case – how cool I am. Yeah, I get that righteous 60s sticker my man. Except for two things: One – It isn’t really a 60’s invention like I think. A French physician named Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, in 1826, says this – “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” Which brings me to the other thing: Two – It isn’t about all that other crap. No, it means exactly what it says. You are what you eat.
I’m at the tail end of a two-plus mile middle-of-the-day walk when I decide to call my pal Gavin down in Oakland. We talk about this and that, mostly cool stuff like how to save the planet and has he created a drug-free zone in the entire East Bay yet, and as I’m walking up the steepest of hills on the walk he says something like, “Oh. I started this new diet called the Keto Diet.” He goes on to say it’s about getting rid of carbohydrates and eating mostly fat and he’s been doing it a couple of weeks and has lost weight and is sleeping better and his mind feels sharper and it’s cool. And I say cool and finish my walk and head down into the basement and google “Keto” and start reading and doing what I do — all Hansel and Gretel-like — following bread crumbs and links hither and thither and after a while I come upstairs and it’s a day Susan is working from home and I say something like, “I think I’m gonna try this new diet thing, try eating differently, Gavin was telling me about it.” And that was two months ago.
Sometime in December of last year I had a physical with my doctor up at Kaiser. Before seeing him a nursing assistant or some medical support personnel person or whatever, a young woman came in to ask a couple of questions and take my vitals. I almost fell over when I stepped on the scale – 181. Holy french fries Batman. My best weight has always been 155. Back when I was a runner I hovered there and lower. But over the last 10-12 years it has inched its way upwards, all sneaky like, and a few years back I started buying a larger waist size jeans and then most of my favorite t-shirts weren’t comfortable anymore and it was 165 and 171 and 176 and then last December came. Never mind my blood pressure was in the 140s, up some 40 points from usual. Never mind periodic chest pain. The big news that day was my doctor, after a couple of previous attempts, finally convinced me to go on a statin drug – my score of heart disease risk at 18, the number past which they worry – 6. Yeah, my cholesterol was much higher too. As I walked out of the medical building I vowed I was going to do whatever it took to get my weight back where it belonged – where I felt pretty good.
In early July this year I was back at the medical center due to a lot of ambient chest pain over a six-week period and scary flutters in my legs. My Doc was away, the PA said I was okay, and my weight that day was 174. Better but not good. And the blood pressure was still way high. A week later, Susan and I visiting in San Diego, my Doc called to say my blood work showed way better cholesterol results. Not to be all mathematical but numbers are numbers:
May 2017 July 2018
Chol 216 122
LDL 154 46
HDL 32 32
Trigl 158 222
Yeah – statin drugs rule, though there was that Triglyceride bump. He said don’t worry. I worried. Then I had a phone call with my pal back in mid-July and googled the crap out of food and diets and cholesterol and YouTube doctors and videos and began what I call a fairly easy-going Keto diet, no more sugar, no more white flour, bye to most fruits (with their natural sugars), bye to most dairy (though I switched to Greek yogurt and kept eating a little – Bad Buddy), and way less beans (no baked, organic pinto and black and kidney only – more Bad Buddy). Tons of water, no fruit juice ever, and — this is the deal — way more “good” fat: eggs, grass-fed beef, chicken, ev Olive oil, coconut oil, and a zillion veggies, including cauliflower which I don’t believe I had ever had and now lust after, even if it is kinda like eating air – with fiber. The Keto diet – 70% fat, 20% protein, 10% carbs. Which translates to less than 40 carbs a day, the optimum number less than 20. By the way, I have been eating a bagel with peanut butter and a big bowl of yogurt for breakfast every day the past couple of years. A bagel – 47 carbs. I read labels now.
My wife Susan (see Blog post #1) has always been way closer to the earth than I ever was – except when I was throwing up on my knees – and had been suggesting all our years together I buy and eat organic when possible, eat less of everything (you freakin’ swine-thing), drink more water, and lay off a lot of my treats. But being a little sugar fiend herself and up for a journey, she decided to follow pretty much the same path. Even the kids have been tormented into some of it. The point being, as I am still what I eat, I lost weight fairly quickly and felt better physically overall (way less aches and pains, less daily aspirin swallowed). The biggest deal was up in my head. I can’t explain it better than say I think one night when I was sleeping after a week or so of the food change some mystical being reached in through my right ear and flipped a switch, which had been in the dimmer position a long, long time. Holy amphetamine-brain Batman. It was like my mind decided to jump up off the couch.
I cannot say I will never eat spaghetti again. Or rigatoni. Or a potato. Or never have a sandwich with bread, or (yikes) never eat another pepperoni pizza or (ouch) have by myself most of a pint of Trader Joe’s mint chocolate chip ice cream. Or sugar or Snickers or Reese’s or a glass of milk. But for these last two months I haven’t had a morsel or drop of any of them. Some days it’s a day at a time, some days a meal at a time. I’m walking more and longer now that there is less of me to carry along, and plus my mind is more excitable for fun conversations with myself. I would call how I’m eating these days a lean-toward Keto, Slow Carb, a bit of Paleo mix. I was back at the medical center last week for more blood work at my request. The results were emailed a couple of days ago – Chol 137, LDL 67, HDL 48, Trigl 110. The first time in my life my “good” cholesterol has gone up. I have studied and researched a lot these past two months, about the useful things cholesterol brings and the very bad things about triglycerides and I have a phone consultation with my doctor scheduled early next month to talk about getting off the Lipitor. And yeah, there is always disclaimer number two back up there at the beginning.
My son Spenser – being a devotee of the WWE – and I began Friday afternoon “weigh-ins” a month ago. When I stepped on the scale last Friday it read 150. I have more energy these days to be grateful for that fact and celebrate a bit. And a lot more energy and clarity for my writing and maybe a podcast and maybe a Zine and possibly couch surfing expeditions all over the west coast and who knows what’s next. The last time I felt so good I bet I was 13. If I am what I eat, I like the way I am better today.
All comments will be wildly appreciated.