Nearly five years ago, I was forced to change diets. That’s right. Forced.
During my annual physical exam at the doctor’s office, I happened to mention that I had recently had a couple of dizzy spells. With a family history of strokes and heart issues, the doctor ordered some tests, including a MRI.
On the return visit, I was told that I had cerebral arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries of the brain. If I continued my regular lifestyle, including my normal, unrestricted diet, I would run a high risk of a stroke.
The doctor of course prescribed medication, encouraged me to increase my exercise routine, and to drastically change my diet. The “don’ts” of the new diet far out numbered the “dos.”
The orders were no beef or pork, no processed food, no fried food, and only no-fat dairy products. Instead, my choices were grilled, roasted, baked or broiled fish, chicken or turkey. In addition, I needed to eat at least five to six servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Basically, I could eat anything with two legs or no legs.
My head was spinning. The doctor must have sensed my tension because he did something rather unusual. He pulled up his own medical chart on his laptop and showed me his blood work scores. He, too, had the same disease, and had been on the same diet for more than a year.
“You can do it,” he said.
My doctor was right. I could do it because I did. I have been eating that way every since and enjoying it greatly. In fact within a month of going meatless and eating lots of fruits and veggies, I felt much better.
Of course I had increased my exercise, walking for 30 minutes at least three times per week. I rode the exercise bicycle if the weather was bad.
My wife, the chief cook in our empty nest home, was diligent about preparing food that I could eat. Together we followed the same diet.
My change in diet came right when our heirloom tomatoes came ripe. That was both good and bad. The tomatoes were great to eat fresh off the vine or in a salad or salsa or soup, but I missed one of my favorite foods, bacon, tomato and lettuce sandwiches. Having the latter two without the bacon hardly qualified as a sandwich.
At my three-month checkup, I told the doctor about my BLT cravings. He said that it was all right to eat some meat once a month or so. I looked forward to my BLTs the next year, but kept to my no meat diet as best I could.
Fried tilapia and rice served to me in a home in Honduras.
If I was served meat as a guest in someone’s home, I politely ate it, but only a small portion. While working in Honduras on a mission project with a group from our church, we were sometimes served beef or fried fish. Not wanting to be insulting, I ate what was prepared for me or furtively shared with another person.
A year after first going on my new diet I received the best news possible. My homocysteine levels, the important blood work scores, were below the danger threshold. The diet, exercise and medication were working.
My doctor was as pleased as I was. I told him that to celebrate I was going out to eat and have a steak. I didn’t of course. By then, the desire for meat had long faded. In fact, the greasy smell exhausted by restaurants makes me nauseous.
Even though the dizziness about which I had originally complained was unrelated to my disease, I was ever thankful that I had mentioned it. I feel better, less lethargic, and more vibrant. I have lost a few pounds, and enjoy my regular walks, which have the added bonus of communing with God and nature as I stroll along our rural roads.
Best of all, I am able to maintain my regular routines and enjoy not only the food I eat, but the life that God has given me one day at a time.
This article appeared in the July 2012 edition of Purpose, Stories of Faith and Promise.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2012