Warning: this post talks about food and changing eating habits on a doctor’s advice.
This is a post I never wanted to write. I love FIFI because it focuses on being healthy at any size. If there is ever talk about eating, it tends to focus on enjoying our food. A few weeks ago, my doctor advised me that I now have high blood pressure in addition to high cholesterol. She prescribed blood pressure medication, with the possibility of cholesterol medication as well if I am not able to get my numbers under control.
As much as I want to be healthy at any size, clearly I am not. Cholesterol issues and slow metabolisms run in my extended family; we joke that we struggle to metabolize lettuce. I skipped getting my blood work done last year because I didn’t want to know that the cholesterol levels were still high. However, after years of avoiding medication and failing to lower my levels without it, I am forced to admit that I risk ruining my plans to live so long that no-one will care whether I signed my organ donor card, because I will have squeezed every bit of usefulness out of my organs.
I am lucky enough to have a doctor who does not talk about weight. She focuses, instead on other factors that affect the risk of cardio-vascular disease. She has clearly been reading articles like this, on the impact of physical activity on the association of overweight and obesity with cardiovascular disease. Spoiler alert: In this population-based study of adults aged ≥55 years, overweight and obese participants with high levels of physical activity were not at increased risk of CVD compared with their normal weight counterparts.
However, we did talk about maintaining my current activities, and ensuring I get lots of fish but less sodium, less alcohol, and fewer carbohydrate-heavy refined foods. My January experiment with vegetarian foods was a good start and she encouraged me to keep going with that, and think about keto principles (but definitely no elimination of food groups). Since I am at a higher risk for bowel cancer, this approach works well to help me maintain a high fibre intake and minimize refined foods.
She also suggested I look at a very gentle form of intermittent fasting. Basically, it boils down to the old adage “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dine like a pauper”. Have my last meal earlier in the day, and no snacking before bed. Try to give my body at least 12 hours without food so that it has a chance to burn fuel reserves, which should help reset my metabolism over time (despite my malfunctioning thyroid).
Since I often work late and have developed really bad habits about eating dinner as late as 9 or 10 pm, I decided this was worth investigating. I did a bit of reading on the subject and decided I like the description “circadian rhythm eating” much better. There is some decent science to support the concept, see here. Tracy had a different take on intermittent fasting earlier this week, but where she focused on the fact that intermittent fasting is no better than any other diet, I focused on the ways to use the information for better health, listed at the end of the Harvard blog post: eat a sensible, mostly plant-based diet; be active through the day; limit the hours of the day when you eat; and avoid snacking or eating at nighttime.
Since my appointment, I have continued my regular fitness activities and avoided eating after 6 pm whenever possible. I have been tracking my meals with an app that shows nutrients so I know how I’m doing on the fibre, and sodium. I love to cook, and have already tried several new veggie-filled recipes. I invested in a heart rate monitor and use it daily. My blood pressure is now consistently in the normal range. And I take my medication. As much as I resent the fact that I need it, it works.
Diane Harper is a public servant in Ottawa.