Two and one-half years ago, at a screening event scheduled to raise awareness of heart disease risk. I discovered that I had extremely elevated Cholesterol levels. This came as a shock to me as I had been in relatively good physical condition and used to do lot of physical activities like hiking and skiing. I used to think that my body shape and expanded waist size were appropriate for my age (around 50) and maturity! The doctor suggested three things: diet, exercise, and medication (statins). I wanted to give diet and exercise a try before getting on a regimen of medication for the rest of my life. I concentrated on regular exercise while my wife Purnima committed herself to helping me with my diet. As most people, I enjoyed deep fried foods, rich foods with butter, sweets, and the like. The challenge was to come up with meals that were healthy (complying with the recommended diet) while still being extremely tasty. All the experiments and the recipes that worked contributed to this book.
This is a common situation for many people. They are diagnosed with some medical condition. Doctors usually recommend lifestyle changes to prevent or control the condition and prescribe medication. Medical costs in the US have have continued to escalate. The problems of obesity, juvenile diabetes, Adult-onset diabetes, and many other such ailments have diet and lifestyle as significant contributing factors.
What is wrong with using medication as the only solution? It is well documented that most medications have side effects, and more side effects are being discovered over time. The side effects may be minor for some but they can be significant for others. If you watch the advertisement for a prescription medication on TV, they all end with a long list of possible side effects and contraindications for people who shouldnít take the medication. Also, most medications tend to lose their effectiveness as body gets used to them. This may require larger doses of the medication or change to a stronger medication. In addition, the costs of the medications are quite prohibitive. Whether it is paid by you, the insurance company, or some government program, the cost is ultimately being borne by all of us.
Why donít people get on a regular, rigorous exercise program? Because it isnít easy! We are creatures of habit. Since we all have our daily routines and pressing schedules, it is difficult to incorporate a major new element. Secondly, if we are currently not in good physical shape, even minor exercise can be very tiring. This was the case for me. I would do about ten minutes of the ski machine and would be too tired to continue. When you start doing the rigorous exercise, different muscles start to ache, you start to perspire profusely, and start breathing hard. The instinctive reaction to these symptoms is that this is harmful to us and we slow down or stop. The only way to change this is to be persistent and gradually increase the frequency, duration, and the intensity. With time, you find your own rhythm for breathing, your muscles get used to the exercise, and the perspiration becomes your indication that your exercise is working. The best part is that it is very difficult to be worried or stressed about something when you have sweat poring down your head and you are breathing hard!
Over time I was able to increase my exercise to thirty minutes of ski machine at least three times a week. Within six months I was able to do it for fifty to sixty minutes. Although I had belonged to a gym for over fifteen years, I rarely went there. I now started going to the gym. Another thing that worked for me was to keep a log. I maintained a spreadsheet that tracked my exercise, for example, the date, length of the exercise, and calories burned. My goal was to make sure that I did the exercise at least three times a week. Looking at the spreadsheet it was easy to see whether or not I was meeting my goal. After about a year of doing this I now miss the exercise if I havenít done if for a few days.
Regarding the healthy diet, I would like to present an analogy. Think of the different kinds of engines (automobile, truck, and airplane). Different engines require different kinds of fuel, regular unleaded, super unleaded, diesel, and jet fuel. Putting the wrong fuel will make the engine malfunction. I believe that each of us have our own unique characteristics. Doctors prescribe specific diets for a medical condition because the other diets are not being well tolerated by our body. Hence, continuing to put the wrong food (fuel) in the body will continue to aggravate the condition.
Even after knowing this, why donít people eat healthy meals within their medical constraints? There are a lot of reasons. When we eat out, the easiest choice is generally the unhealthy one. When the cost of super-sizing a meal is trivial, it is difficult not to do so. When a twelve-inch sandwich costs only a little more than the six-inch one, we buy the twelve-inch because it is a good value for our money. We have developed our tastes over a lifetime. We crave the rich buttery foods, sugary deserts, and high-caloric alcoholic drinks because we are used them. Eating healthy foods that donít taste good feels like a punishment. Even when we are eating home cooked meals, it is difficult to eat healthy meals if they donít taste good. So, it boils down to knowing what is healthy and being able to make healthy meals that taste just as good or better than what we are used to.
This is the challenge that Purnima decided to tackle: how to help me eat healthy meals to help reduce my cholesterol. She researched, modified, and experimented with the recipes to make healthy variations but, more importantly, to make them tasty. I wish I had developed a taste for these foods as a child then I would have always eaten healthy meals.
Now that I have been doing this for the last couple of years, I no longer crave the unhealthy foods. Eating healthy has become a habit and only rarely do I splurge and go off the diet. It doesnít feel like being on diet.
The desire to eat a healthy diet and the willpower to stick to it needs to come from you. But this book offers you the means, the recipes, that can help you stick to it and enjoy it. These recipes have been analyzed by a nutritionist to confirm that they are healthy. I enjoy these meals. I hope you try these recipes and make a list of those that you like, and make it a habit of eating healthy.
I wouldnít claim that medication is not required or appropriate for some people. But using lifestyle changes to minimize or eliminate the need for medication seems like the perfect solution. I can attest to the fact that this can be done.
Change is hard, but if you set realistic goals, and stick to them in spite of occasional setbacks, I am confident that you can achieve your long-term goal of a new, healthier lifestyle.
- Nanda Nandkishore