Before I begin, we wanted to take a moment and thank everyone who has taken the time to reach out in some way. The love and support we have received has been amazing, and to a person everyone has been kind and supportive, which we truly appreciate. Along with kind thoughts, many people have provided resources to help, which are great, and as I work through this post I am going to pass them along. Lastly, I am humbled by how many people took the time to say how well they thought I did. In the moment all I could see was what I could have done better, but those comments have gone a long way towards allowing me to give myself a break. It wasn’t expected, but it was much appreciated.
As I mentioned briefly in my last post, there has been a bunch of concurrent changes. Thankfully we have a safe and calm place to handle it, and we are being kind to each other. As I walk through those changes, please keep in mind they happened concurrently, but for clarity’s sake I am going to tackle them one at a time.
This of course was a no-brainer and in some respects the most straightforward thing we need to do. Not that it’s easy by any means, but it’s binary. You either smoke or you don’t, versus diet changes, which are a little squishier. Lee decided he wanted to try Chantix and I was able to get us started the day after he left the hospital. The way it works is you gradually increase your dose over 7 days until you are at full strength. For us, at least, it quiets the mental anguish that goes along with stopping smoking. My best explanation is there is a screaming two year old in my head when I try and quit, and these pills make her rants much less effective. There are all kind of side effects of course, the most common being very vivid dreams. We have both had those, but since they are dreams and not nightmares, we both agree it is a small price to pay. Even if they were nightmares, two months versus the rest of your life,I can live with the trade-off. I have also been getting some headaches, but I think those are from the nicotine withdrawal. We have both cut our intake in half while we are waiting for the 7th day.
At this point there are three different approaches. You can quit all at once, quit sometime in the first month, or gradually quit over a three month period. Lee wants to try the cold turkey on the 7th day, but I have stressed to him that any of the three is fine with me. He has already gone from around 40 cigarettes to 11 a day and it is more important to me that this is a lasting cure than a short term fix. When we went to the cardiologist today, he stressed that it was the number one thing Lee needed to do, but also offered alternatives such as vaping, or nicotine gum. This surprised both of us because we thought any level of nicotine was bad, but the cardiologist said that any improvement was better than none. Either way, Lee would rather just quit all together. He thinks if he vapes he would go back to cigarettes eventually. I am not sure which method I want, but am going to follow the pill’s lead. What I mean by that, is once the pill is active in my system I will naturally trickle down and only push hard if I have to. The tricky part will be keeping my smoking away from Lee. We realize that we reinforce each others bad behavior and are disconnecting from each other (ie: not smoking at the same times or around each other).
In a perfect world we would both be one of those people who can turn it off like a light switch. We know ourselves though, and without rationalizing we are selecting a path that we think will be successful long-term. It’s worth noting that we both thought we would smoke less with the full timing lifestyle, but we have both actually smoked more. Working outside of an office environment allows for more frequent smoking and that has hurt rather than helped us. No excuse, but we fully intended to have quit by now when we became full timers. The one plus side of this life is we have much less stress. Many people have to make serious changes in their lives to deal with that after a heart attack, but luckily that is much less of an issue for us. Lee feels strongly it will be much easier for him to quit, without a ton of stress in his life.
One last thing. A couple of people mentioned books that they found helpful in breaking habits and I wanted to mention them here.
- The Power of Habit. What we do in Life and Business by Charles Dunigg,
I am way more stressed about this than the smoking. I have been lucky enough in my life to never really diet and although I need to lose 20 pounds feel pretty healthy. Lee needs to lose about 40 and struggles with food more than I do. The last thing we want is for him to feel like he is “being punished” and Cori has been super helpful in that respect. Because she has been eating healthy for over a year, she has tried many of the products and shared what she likes and doesn’t like. She also has cooked a few meals for him which have proven he can eat well and still be health conscious. We know fish for instance will be something we eat more of in the future and Greg taught Lee how to grill fish one night, which is something we never do.
My frustration stems from the fact that I am having to re-look at everyone of my recipes and my ingredients. To give you an idea of the scope of the problem, I have been saving recipes for the last 4 years and went through and had to pitch 90% of them. It is going to take me time to build up a new list of workable recipes and Cori has again been helpful there. She loaned me the hard copy of Hungry Girl Official Survival Guide that has some great suggestions on products for substitution. Let me give you an example. Lee loves sour cream. Should we buy low-fat? What brand? Should we switch to yogurt? There are tons of options out there, but rather than spend a ton of money trying things I would rather get some recommendations.
She also gave me several websites with recipes that she thought were good and numerous other people have sent me those as well. If you diet you are probably aware of them but I am going to share them here.
- This Old Gal – Specializes in recipes for Instant Pots and Air Fryers, both popular cooking methods for RVers. We now own both and the Air Fryer is awesome.
- Mudhustler – Lots of low calorie sweet recipes. You can have something a little sweet every day you just need to be moderate about what you choose.
- McDougall diet – Plant based diet that can have startling results. Probably too extreme for Lee at this point but good to know about.
- Drizzle Me Skinny – Good Sweet recipes and weight watchers friendly. At this point we are not going to get on a specific program, but I don’t rule that out for the future.
- Skinny Taste – Healthy recipes made with real food.
- Forks over Knives Video – Available on YouTube or Amazon for $2.99.
- The China Study – by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D is written about the largest nutritional study ever conducted. Lee is all about the data and loves facts and figures so I thought this would be particularly helpful for him. Thanks for recommending it Nancy!
There have been other suggestions but these are a few to get us started. I spent hours one day looking through recipes and writing them down, so this is definitely not going to happen overnight. In the interim, we have been watching what we eat in particular the sodium intake. Many diet foods are super high in sodium, so that is something to watch out for. Lowering fat and sodium simultaneously is pretty tough but I think we are doing an OK job.
The Air Fryer has been really helpful here, and the best thing so far was the chicken wings. Cori thawed them, patted them dry, and using silicone tongs rolled them in potato starch. She cooked them for about 20 minutes and then tossed them in a variety of sauces. They were absolutely fantastic, and had a nice crunch. We also tried pizza on a cauliflower crust. I was concerned about the sodium levels and not that crazy about the crust so Cori put together a kit for Lee to try and make personal pizzas.
I even got into the act and made a little desert. It’s called an upside down chocolate cream pie and only has 137 calories. 2 TBL Cool Whip lite on bottom of plate. 1 Low fat pudding cup spread out. 4 honey graham crackers crumbled and put on top. It did taste a little like chocolate pie.
We don’t eat out much, but when we do we tend to treat ourselves and the last thing we worry about is calories or sodium. As much as I would love to say no more eating out for a while I knew that wasn’t realistic. After the cardiologist appointment, I suggested stopping at Souper Salad, but Lee really doesn’t like that restaurant. He countered with Chipotle and I agreed, although I started to feel stressed out. It took me a while to figure out what was bothering me, but the desire to protect him (and tell him what to do) was really strong. Thankfully we both recognized the situation was highly charged, although we didn’t know exactly why, and took a minute. Lee ordered a Barbacoa bowl with brown rice, beans, lettuce, and pico. He left off the sour cream and cheese. He also had a bottle of water instead of his mandatory eating out Coke, which was great. I had my usual soft tacos but had two instead of three and we didn’t get chips or guacamole.
As we were eating I realized it didn’t bother me if he fully knew the nutritional choice he was making, but the thought he could make a really bad choice and not be aware of it really bothered me. For all we knew there was 1,000+ grams of salt in that bowl, which was his choice but needed to be made consciously. He understood that and I said I wanted to spend some time researching standard “eat out” meals and get a handle on their nutritional value. I knew it probably wouldn’t be pretty, but again since we don’t eat out a ton it should be OK.
I should mention here that Lee’s cholesterol levels (at the time of the heart attack) weren’t that awful. That really mattered to me because two years prior his results were in range and last year during our physicals we blew off getting bloodwork because we would have needed to make a second trip back to Portland. The idea that we could have known from those test results last summer there was a problem really bothered me and I was glad that the results weren’t horrible because I would have had trouble living with that. Here are the results.
- His total cholesterol was 149; well below the 200 that is borderline.
- His Triglycerides were 81; well below the 150 that is borderline.
- His LDL was 101; which is near optimal although a little high.
- The big problem was his HDL which was 32. This is the good cholesterol that prevents against heart disease and anything less than 40 is high risk. Greater than 60 is low risk and with his other factors where we need to be.
According to MedicalNewtoday.com there are nine main ways to improve your HDL. We weren’t doing any of these things, but we certainly could have started last summer if we had known. I understand that wouldn’t necessarily have stopped the heart attack, but it certainly couldn’t have hurt.
- Consume olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil may be more healthful than processed olive oils. (Yep. I was about 50% on this already)
- Follow a low-carb or ketogenic diet. I’ll be honest, cutting out carbs at this moment might be one thing too many. Right now we are focused on eliminating oils.
- Exercise regularly.
- Add coconut oil to your diet. I took a look at this and think we should try to add it to coffee. Apparently a couple of tablespoons a day makes a huge difference.
- Stop smoking.
- Lose weight.
- Choose purple produce: Here are some I think we can make work: blueberries, figs, purple potatoes, red cabbage, purple cauliflower, purple asparagus
- Eat fatty fish often. This one is unfortunate because we really don’t like fatty fish. Instead we are eating North Atlantic Cod and Mahi Mahi. I know it’s not as good, but it’s fish at least!
After the Chipotle experience I went looking for information online about what we had eaten. I could of course go to every single restaurant individually, but luckily stumbled across a website called Calorie King, which has a database of many restaurants. Obviously this information can’t possible be completely up to the minute, but it is certainly close enough to make good choices. It turns out Lee’s bowl was roughly 500 mg of sodium, which is high, but not the 1,000 I was worried it would be. I am really excited about the database though, even more so because they have an app!! Fantastic!!
All of that being said, it’s important that Lee owns his own health problems. I am his friend and wife and want to be here to help and for support, but I am not going to start dictating his life choices to him. No disrespect to anyone who has that kind of marriage, but it simply wouldn’t work for us. Not to say I won’t ever give him a look or make a comment ever again, but I need to keep those moments to a minimum and stay on my side of the line. Just like with the smoking, he needs to try, but he needs time and space to find his own way. It would be hypocritical for me to act any other way. The situation could easily have been reversed and if he tried to “lay down the law” with me, that definitely would not have gone well.
Lots more to talk about regarding exercise, work, and travel, but I am going to stop here. We need to take frequent breaks, because this is a lot to process and we want to get it right. The response has been phenomenal though, so I want to keep pushing through. If the experience can help anyone, it is totally worth it. Thanks for listening, and thanks again for all the fantastic support.
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