Lifestyle Changes – Work and Exercise

Once again we want to thank everyone for the outpouring of support.  We have received tons of emails, links, and lots of great advice, all given in a kind and constructive manner. We are really grateful for this community of people and I am going to pass some of it along in this post in the hopes it can help others.  If this is a topic you are interested I also absolutely recommend going back and reading the comments on the last couple of posts.  There are some great tips in there.  I’m going to start with where I left off though.


We had two jobs lined up when Lee had his heart attack and the incident put both of those in jeopardy.  The first is a job working a live event at the end of March, and is a significant amount of money.  When Lee talked to the cardiologist about the job, the first question was “How physically demanding is it?”  The answer, unfortunately, is it depends.  They are long days and the work is part physically demanding and part not.  Our kids in particular felt strongly that Lee should not take the job, but since he will make enough to cover most of our March expenses it’s not that easy.  I completely left the decision up to Lee and ultimately he called and talked to the person he would be working for.  Lee has a long standing relationship with the company and they were very understanding about the situation.  They said that they wouldn’t ask anything more of him than he felt he could do and because they know his work ethic they had no problem at all saying that.  The cardiologist said he just needed to pay attention to what his body was telling him, so based on those two conversations Lee has decided to give it a try.  

One important note here is that if the heart attack had been more serious Lee would have received cardiac rehab. Basically they reintroduce people to activity under controlled conditions and if that would have been required we would have needed to stay in the area.  Thankfully because minimal damage was done, that isn’t necessary, BUT Lee has to self-monitor how he is feeling and if he has chest tightness/pains for more than 10 minutes needs to go the ER immediately.

Our second job is our third season in the Mt. Hood National Forest outside of Portland, Oregon, and again we have an established relationship with those folks.  We received texts from both of our bosses checking to make sure Lee was OK, and it was incredibly nice that they reached out.  We know they would never ask Lee to do more than he was physically capable of, but this year we do have to take a company physical.  Its a standard every other year requirement and is done by third party providers.  The physical is pretty basic.  Lift 40 pounds, touch your toes, listen to chest, stuff like that, but it’s possible there are triggers in the questions set that might set off red flags.  Unfortunately there is no way of knowing prior to taking the physical and we plan on scheduling it immediately after Lee’s work in Phoenix. If for some reason they won’t hire him, we will find a job where physicals are not required.  I honestly don’t expect that to happen, but understand that because it is a large company it is out of our supervisor’s hands.

That will get us through the summer and then we will see where we are financially.  I expect the medical bills to start rolling in soon and once that all shakes out, we will have a better understanding of what we will need to do work-wise going forward.


I wanted to start taking evening walks as soon as we got back from the cardiologist, but Lee had other ideas. Because we kind of threw everything into Greg’s truck when I packed up he knew he had to repack everything.  He wanted to ease into it and really pay attention to how he was feeling, so every day he is doing a little more.  Task based activity is still activity, and I am following Lee’s lead.  We both agree though we would like to incorporate regular walks into our routine at some point and we will see how that goes in the following weeks. Perfect world we would start moving right away, but with everything else we are handling I am OK on holding off on this a bit.


Which leads me to updates.  We are starting day 6 of Chantix, and it is going OK.  I am having a few headaches and waking up several times in the middle of the night but still feel rested in the morning.  Lee is feeling tired, but having no other side effects from any of the medicine and we don’t know if that’s from the heart, quitting smoking, or less food.  Hard to separate things out when its all happening at once.  The full dose of Chantix starts on Day 7 and we are waiting to see how we feel at that point to cut cigarettes back more.  Lee is at 11-13 a day, down from 40, and I am at 13 and we are both willing to push through if we have to.  Best case though the full dose makes it relatively painless and we are waiting to see.

The diet, for me at least, has been way more stressful.  I sent Lee to the grocery store alone and he spent a couple of hours checking out products he might want to try.  I had done some research and sent him with a list and here are a few of the things he thought might work for him. Keep in mind our stance on the new diet is improving on what we used to eat, which is a pretty low bar.  Still every substitution is a step in the right direction and a good starting point for us.  Lee has lost 10 pounds since the heart attack and I have lost 4.5 so we must be doing something right.  The most important thing for us is to keep the weight off so we are doing this slow but steady.

Lee loves cookies and spent a ton of time looking for a substitute. Ultimately he decided to try these.  Added bonus, figs increase good cholesterol.


Albacore tuna is another good cholesterol enhancer, Not sure if the canned version will help as much but we will see. It has no fat, which is a good thing.


He also loves ranch so decided to give this Greek yogurt version a try at Cori’s recommendation.


Again at Cori’s recommendation no sweetener added ketchup. It tastes the same to me and I am picky about my ketchup.


He grabbed multiple bottles of Mrs’ Dash’s no salt seasoning. Lee never wants to feel like he is being “punished” through food, so seasoning is super important.


Some recipes just call for butter so decided to give this a try. Had some on my toast today and it’s pretty darn close.


Lee is switching from white rice (which is mostly sugar) to brown. This is one substitute I am not willing to make because I really don’t like brown rice.


I am willing to try the carb balance tortillas though.


We always ate iceburg lettuce, but are trying Romaine for sandwiches and salads.


I found several dessert recipes that have pumpkin puree as a natural sweetener instead of sugar and oils. Going to give this a try and see how it works.


We both crave something sweet at the end of the evening and the unsweetened applesauce is relatively inexpensive and seems to do the trick.


When that’s not enough though we have sugar free pudding cups. Only 70 calories!

Like I said, our approach is to eat a little less, try substitutes where it makes sense, and make sure we have something low in sugar and fat for those sweet cravings.  We are also not comparing ourselves to anyone else but instead comparing ourselves to what we ate formerly.  It’s much easier to feel successful when you look at how you used to eat versus what you are eating now.  Of course we could always do better, but if that is what we focus on we probably won’t.  One good example is Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce.  Lee looked for a low-cal example but nothing appealed.  And we know Sweet Baby Rays is definitely not good for you.  But it’s also yummy delicious.  He thinks if he uses it sparingly it will be OK and I am fine with that. There are other places to cut back that are less unpleasant.  If we need to get more hard core in the future we will certainly do that, but for right now we are focusing on what is easy (or at least easier).


While I’m on the topic, I wanted to pass along some things friends and readers have sent to me via email.   I promise this blog isn’t going to turn into all health all the time, but since people seem interested, I want to keep sharing.  First off Kelly passed along that she is taking Krill to increase good cholesterol.  It’s a more powerful form of fish oil and they buy theirs at Costco.


Several people reached out to warn me that coconut oil might actually increase bad cholesterol so at the last minute I pulled it from the shopping list.  There is definitely conflicting info out there and at this point I am sticking with general consensus.  I did hear quite a bit from my friend Deb, who used to own an Olive Oil business, about the benefits of olive oil.  She sent me an article Coconut Oil versus Olive Oil, which was written by a cardiologist to back up her thoughts.

A reader Wendy,  reached out to me and recommended A Hackers Diet. The PDF is a free download and there is a database and excel spreadsheets for all you data junkies out there.  I’m not sure I want to track to this level at this point, but I know some people would love it.  she also wrote something really sweet and funny that I wanted to share with you. she made me laugh.

“I’ve always told everyone that a budget is way worse than a diet. Sticking to a budget and sticking to a diet are not the same. If you can master a budget, spending less than what you make, you have super powers. Now a diet – that is totally different. You can be at work and they say “treats in the break room!” Everyone swarms for free food. I never hear “20 dollar bills in the break room!” You can always get free food, but they don’t give away free money.”

I also got a really nice long email from Ed, who is a long time reader.  He said, ” We found that it was tough to go “cold turkey” and to quickly reduce our intake of meat (including processed meats).  Our American taste buds were trained to love the taste and mouth satisfaction from meat and sodium.  We found that to help us to reduce meats in our diets, we did it gradually through changing the relative proportions of the food on our plates over time.  So, for example, where carbs and meat might have been 1/2 or more of our plate at a meal, we started decreasing this in increments, in favor of vegetables.  After about 9 months, we were able to change our daily meals to 90-95% non-meat.  We do eat fish, but try to limit seafood (shrimp, crab, lobster – as these are high in cholesterol).  During our trips to the grocery stores we rarely come home with any meat.” 

He also said, “Over time, we learned to significantly reduce the amount of processed foods in our diets.  Someone told us that when you shop at a grocery store, it is better to spend more time shopping in the outside perimeter of a grocery store, as opposed to the inside aisles!   Prior to RVing, when we were working in our corporate careers, we often purchased and ate a lot of processed foods, because it was quick and easy.  As we adopted this new (to us) style of eating, we learned to read ingredient lists on all of the canned or bottled ingredients we use (including some spices which can be high in sodium).   We also now make our own sauces – for example spicy tomato sauce made with grape tomatoes, spices, wine, garlic, and nuts instead of buying pasta sauces from a jar or can.   Also, we often make salad dressings using hummus, roasted garlic, citrus, spices and vinegar, in place of cream based dressings. “

This made a ton of sense to me and seems to be a balanced approach.  In other countries, meat is not the star in most meals and with some minor modifications I think we could do the same thing.  Neither one of us feels ready to give up meat completely BUT we can certainly adjust the proportion and still get enough to eat.  I also was intriqued by the idea of making our own dressing and sauces so I could control the sodium levels. Maybe I can find a good BBQ sauce substitute this way.  Thanks for taking the time to write the email Ed, it was much appreciated, and I did tell Lee that you miss his chiming in.

And again thanks to everyone who has reached out.  The most meaningful have been the people who said what happened to Lee has encouraged them to make some changes in their own lives. I would never wish this to happen to anyone, but if one person gets something out of it, then on some level it served it’s purpose.  Certainly it has given us the motivation we need to change our lives.

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