It's Not That I'm Afraid of Cancer

It's just that I feel a little less invincible. At least, this is the way I've been trying to explain my recent "health kick."

My mother got back from CA yesterday, which means that today was DAY ZERO of our mostly vegan diet. I say "mostly" because chances are, if we are confronted by a piece of free, non-vegan birthday cake, or someone takes us out to a nice fish dinner, we are going to cave like dixie cups. But at least we are aware of our weaknesses. That's what counts, right?

I have spent my life sneaking food, afraid of the judgments I'd be faced with if caught with a Snickers bar or mouthful of peanut M&Ms. Turns out, people on the other end of the spectrum are judged just as harshly. The general reaction to my going on a six-week vegan diet has been that I have lost my marbles.

Honestly, I was one of the loudest protesters of this diet a few weeks ago. To me, veganism seemed just as unhealthy as one of those Hollywood liquid diets. But for all the reasons mentioned in my last blog, I have decided to give this a try.

It is one of the ways I am trying to fight cancer, which oftentimes feels like some omnipotent fate-weaving force, not to be looked at directly, nevertheless challenged. Cancer makes you feel vulnerable. It is a betrayal by the body you cannot escape.

The only way to beat cancer is to be healthy. This is not as paradoxical as it sounds. I have an unhealthy (missing, in fact) thyroid. But I have healthy legs because I ride my bike three times a week. I have healthy arms because I lift weights. I have been healthier on the inside because I have been eating whole foods and calorie counting. And I believe I will be healthier still after trying veganism.

Ultimately, both my Mom and I feel that the most important change to our diets that we can make will be reducing our intake of processed foods. And since meat and dairy are often hyper-processed by the time we consume them, they are to be avoided more than other foods. This is an experiment.

Today's experiment went like this:

Breakfast: 1cup of Cheerios with 1/2 cup of almond milk
Lunch: Orange Quinoa and Black Bean Salad
Snack: 2 Vegan Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (okay, 3)
Dinner: Another cup of Orange QBB Salad

So I think I did pretty well. Except for the whole giving in to my sweet tooth and making a batch of cookies thing.

My mom had a harder time because she didn't have time to cook and just had plain beans and rice to eat for lunch and dinner.

It tastes much better than it looks, I promise!
I've come to believe that all diet success comes down to spices. I love experimenting with flavors; the more flavor, the better. My QBB Salad was awesome, but only because I added a ton of flavor. This is actually the first time I've ever eaten Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa; I went around saying kwi-no-ah for days before people figured out what I was talking about). By itself, it is not that flavorful, close in consistency and taste to overcooked rice. But I added orange juice, chili powder, tumeric, salt, pepper, green onions, and Tony Chachere's and BAM--awesomeness.

Even my nay-sayer husband said it was delicious.

My downfall today came when I went to Whole Foods fifteen minutes before closing. This sent me into panic mode, which is never a good mode to shop in. I got the fresh fruits and vegetables on my list, some lentils, some millet (pronounced mil-it, unless you are French and then you can probably get away with mil-ay), more quinoa. But then I started just kind of snatching things off the shelf that said "vegan" on them.

I ended up with a bunch of processed vegan foods, which, if I had really thought about it, are not all that essential to this diet, but seemed like must-haves in my supermarket-sweepstakes moment.

Here is the rest of what I bought (the ones with stars by them were actually on my vegan essentials shopping list):
- Vegan Mayo * (I have had unpleasant experiences creating my own mayo when on the no-iodine diet; turns out I have an aversion to the smell of vinegar.)
-Vegan Butter * (I don't actually eat a lot of butter, but I figured I might need to cook with it and I certainly am not about to churn my own, even if it is made from soy.)
-Almond Dream No-Dairy Ice-cream (whoops)
-Gluten-free Organic Graham Crackers (I had a coupon and it didn't occur to me until later that regular graham crackers are vegan anyway.)
-Canned black beans (boo, canned food)
-Frozen mixed veggies * (fresh is wonderful, but goes bad too quickly)
-unsalted cashews *
-2 Amy's frozen burritos

So I guess I'm covered as far as vegan junk food goes. Sigh. It doesn't really make sense to cheat on my regular diet so I won't cheat on my vegan diet, but again, I plead sheer panic and flashy-label brainwashing. At least most of the junk I bought is junk that lasts forever. I'll start with all the fresh stuff.

Cheers to all you vegans for letting me hop your bandwagon!

I'll let you know how I'm feeling six weeks from now....


Is There a Cancer Conspiracy?

Does Corporate America Secretly Want You to be Sick?

Sounds pretty Orwellian right? I'll admit I've been reading manifold dystopian novels lately, but that isn't the only reason a cancer conspiracy, or really an overall keep-people-sick conspiracy, is beginning to sound plausible to me.

When you are diagnosed with a disease, one of the first things you go looking for is a cause. "Why me?" you wonder. In my case, the doctors explained it away as genetics (I have a strong family history of thyroid cancer). But before they knew about my family history, they basically shrugged their shoulders. Like it doesn't matter what the cause is as long as there is a treatment. Why prevent what can be fixed via expensive medical procedures, most of which are not covered by insurance?

But it is human nature to seek answers, and if you can't blame your genes, you usually blame yourself. Why didn't I eat more superfoods? Why did I microwave so many plastic dinners? Why didn't I exercise more? After all, the media tells us that these are the quick fixes to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cholesterol, etc., so why not cancer? You may already be thinking these things, but if someone else dares to suggest that your bad eating caused your cancer, you want to slap them.

This is a dangerous road to go down. No one deserves cancer. And everything we consume, down to our drinking water, has a certain level of carcinogens in it. So who is to say whether that strawberry poptart was the last straw, the thing that told your body it couldn't win the fight?

HOWEVER, what if we really are slowly poisoning ourselves? What if poptarts (or candy bars or hamburgers or cheese fries, etc.) are not just "junk food," but food filled with addictive chemicals and cancer-causing animal proteins and dairy?

The Forks Over Knives Theory

This is the basic thesis of the Forks Over Knives lifestyle changing documentary/ diet program. The idea that the foods we eat are not just making us overweight, but killing us with terrible debilitating diseases that are reversible, is what makes it different from the usual Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Atkins dieting phenomenons.

A lot of people see FOK as an extreme lifestyle. After all, it is essentially veganism. You are allowed very little animal protein or dairy (5% max). When my mom told me she would be giving up meat and dairy, my reaction was basically "Yeah right, crazy-pants."

I have had a strangely high number of vegetarian friends and roommates in my life and have never been tempted to give up meat myself. I don't consume a lot of fatty red meats, but I do eat a LOT of fish and chicken, which are HEALTHY, right? Hmmm..... Now I'm not so sure. Yes I believe people are naturally omnivorous. But it seems to me that even once-healthy and natural foods are no longer safe due to toxins, hormones, steroids and preservatives.

Here are the basic arguments of FOK:
  1. The foods we eat, especially animal-based and processed foods (ABAP), are directly causing most, if not all, degenerative diseases.
  2. These same diseases can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting ABAP foods and turning to a whole-foods, plant-based diet (WFPB).
  3. The ideas that we need meat for protein and dairy for calcium are capitalist lies promoted by corrupt corporations who want us to buy their products. 
  4. Food and health care corporations actually benefit from keeping us sick and have no incentive to promote healthy eating among citizens (globally). 
  5. While genetics predisposes individuals to diseases (like me), whether the disease actually manifests or not depends largely on that person's diet. Hmmm.....
Their evidence includes:
  1. The research of Dr. Campbell (nutritional scientist), who studied children in the Phillipines and found that those eating animal proteins got liver cancer while those who ate WFPB did not. 
  2. The research of Dr. Esselstyn (breast cancer surgeon) who also conducted studies where WFPB patients did not get the same cancers as ABAP patients.
  3. The combined efforts of these doctors, who now use and promote the use of WFPB diet as medicine for degenerative diseases. 
  4.  Dr. Campbell's The China Study, a twenty-year survey of diseases and lifestyle factors in rural China and Taiwan that details the connection between nutrition and heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
  5. A half-dozen "reality patients" who are filmed while on the WFPB diet, and who lose weight, reverse diseases and eliminate medications.
  6. Other studies mentioned in the film and an impressive list of celebrity/ expert advocates of the diet.
Now if you are like me, you are probably thinking something along the lines of NO WAY am I going to give up ice cream and sloppy joes for the rest of my life. Not even if I wanted to.

The typical carnivorous counterarguments to FOK and other veggie plans are:
  1. Humans are naturally omnivorous (we have those nice shiny canines).
  2. Humans need meat and dairy (why? because the government says so).
  3. Everything we consume is carcinogenic (we're doomed anyway). 
  4. Vegans are scary-thin skeletons who shove scary-gross pamphlets in my face (ack!).
  5. Meat lover's pizza (yum).
Etc. And then there are whole lists of counter-counterarguments from veggies about world hunger, pesticides, antibiotics, natural resources, etc. 

When in Doubt, Cut Back on the Processed Foods

I am not entirely sold on FOK yet. But the notion of "consumercide" makes sense to me. If executives of Nestle and McDonalds and Kraft have infiltrated the boards that determine American health standards (the USDA, the FDA, the health pyramid, etc.), then of course we are going to be manipulated into making unhealthy food choices. We already are manipulated by commercials, deceptive packaging, and misleading labels like "Fat Free" and "Sugar-Free." Have you ever noticed those magazines where the front cover says "Lose 25 pounds!" AND has a picture of a new chocolate cake recipe on the front cover?!

There is no doubt in my mind that processed foods are bad for you. There is no doubt in my mind that animal protein and dairy are bad for you in excessive amounts, and that the processes used to raise and feed and kill these animals are suspect, if not inhumane and unsafe. There is also very little doubt in my mind that if I attempt to completely eliminate two food groups from my diet, for LIFE, I will fail.

However, I have signed on to do a 6 week trial FOK diet with my mom when she gets back from California. Already, I am a bit deterred by the strange, difficult-to-find ingredients in the FOK recipe book. It took me two hours to shop at Walmart, and I never did find brown rice syrup or tahini (which I now know is an Indian herb, NOT sold at Walmart).

This is not going to be easy. But, if I can truly eat my way to better health, garner more energy, lose weight and not have to worry about cancer recurrences, skipping that once-a-month burger might actually be worth it....