Women’s Breast Health

There’s much more to breast cancer awareness than a little pink ribbon: we can empower ourselves by knowing what breast cancer is and how our choices might affect our chances of developing it.

Breast cancer is one of many hormone-sensitive cancers, meaning it is affected by, and is primarily fed by, hormones. What does that mean? A hormone is a chemical created by the body (or it can also be made artificially in a lab) to cause a specific effect, and there are two main female hormones: estrogen and progesterone. Females also produce a small amount of testosterone for libido, but that’s primarily a male hormone. This article is going to focus on the two main female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, and specifically on their roles in breast cancer.

Estrogen, Progesterone, & Cancer

Of the two, estrogen is usually the predominant hormone in women, except during pregnancy. Then, progesterone, aka the pregnancy hormone (pro-“gest” as in “gestation” is a helpful way to remember it) takes over, and estrogen drops. This is why having two or more pregnancies (with breastfeeding from both breasts) before age 35 is associated with decreased breast cancer risk — because more time for the body to be progesterone-dominant means less time for the body to be estrogen-dominant. Why does that matter? Because estrogen is a growth hormone. Though important to the body, it can also be used by breast cancer cells to fuel their growth too.

Therefore, one of the smartest strategies to reduce breast cancer risk is to maintain normal levels of estrogen — just enough so that the body has what it needs, without creating excess that can be used by cancer cells. And this approach applies to most types of cancer, because breast cancer is not the only cancer that will feed on estrogen; 70-80% of cancers will feed on this growth hormone if it’s available. So, it’s important to take steps that ensure excess estrogen is not available.

Normal Elimination of Estrogen from the Body

One way to decrease the excess estrogen in the body is through bowel movements every day. The body binds excess estrogen to fiber in the digestive tract for elimination, so this is another reason to eat a diet high in fiber: to give the body the raw materials it needs to eliminate estrogen properly. Unfortunately, fiber is lacking in the standard American diet, which is heavy on meat and dairy and other highly processed packaged and fast foods that contain no fiber. Not only do these foods cause constipation, but dairy foods especially introduce an outside source of estrogen to the body, which increases cancer risk. So if you have been eating a standard American diet, it’s strongly recommended that you phase out these foods and shift to a high fiber, plant-based diet.

Fiber comes from whole or minimally processed plant foods, and the highest fiber foods are beans (black beans, chickpeas, peas), whole grains (oats, quinoa, 100% whole wheat), and fruits and vegetables. Aim to increase fiber intake by 5g (approx one serving) per week until bowel movements are regular and unhealthy foods have been replaced with healthy foods.

Normal Body Weight

Here we see another example of the beauty of holistic health, as high-fiber plant foods are also the best foods for promoting a healthy body weight, which decreases breast cancer risk. Obesity, on the other hand, increases risk for breast cancer because estrogen is also made in fat cells (as well as in the ovaries), so more body fat means more estrogen production. Obesity is also associated with higher levels of insulin, which is another growth hormone that cancer feeds on. So everyone who is serious about preventing cancer must also make it a priority to maintain a healthy body weight. This includes a healthy diet as well as daily exercise, not smoking, and not consuming more than four alcoholic drinks per week. Especially avoid craft beers that contain many hops — hops are a phytoestrogen that has a negative effect on the body, unlike soy, which will be described later on.

Environmental Estrogens (Xenoestrogens)

By living a healthy lifestyle, we can reduce risk of cancer by about 40%, which is significant. However, we can’t make definitive prevention guidelines because there are some risk factors that are uncontrollable, such as xenoestrogens. These are lab-made chemicals that mimic the effects of estrogen if they get inside the body, which is easy to do since they are everywhere: not only in virtually every consumer product, but also in public water supplies and environmental contamination. It’s estimated that everyone in the United States has the chemical PFAS, also known as Scotchgard, in their blood.

Xenoestrogens take a long time to remove from the body, and evidence is showing they can even be passed on to next generations. Though they are difficult to avoid, there are some steps you can take to help reduce your exposure, such as using a water filter in your home, buying eco-friendly products or making your own, and not purchasing unnecessary consumer items.

Mammogram

A mammogram is not ‘early detection’ — by the time a tumor shows up on a mammogram, it’s already been in development for about eight years. This should drive home the fact that cancer is not something that just randomly happens overnight; cancer cells are always present in the body, but it’s the choices that each of us makes every day that add up over the long term and determine what the outcome will be. We can take appropriate action years before a few cells would have the opportunity to form into a threatening tumor.

Further, mammograms are a form of radiation exposure that can actually increase cancer risk. For detection, ask for thermography instead. Still, the ultimate peace of mind should come from active steps toward prevention.

Foods that Decrease Risk of Breast Cancer

Broccoli

In addition to the steps above, another strong action for reducing breast cancer risk is to eat foods from the broccoli (Brassica) family — that includes broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage/sauerkraut, radishes, Brussels sprouts, broccoli rabe, and broccoli sprouts. Why? A phytochemical in broccoli called ITC (isothyocinate) was found to kill breast cancer cells in vitro — and in a human study, it was found that just one cup per day was enough to get ITC into breast tissue.

One easy way to get a cup of Brassicas per day is to buy a frozen bag and add a cup to your meals, whether in smoothies, sauces, soups, stir-frys or side dishes.

Soy

Avoiding dairy foods and replacing them with soy is another strong risk prevention strategy. Dairy contains estrogen and IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor) which promotes all stages of growth — great for growing young cows, but not needed and even harmful in the human body, especially after adolescence.

Another reason for avoiding dairy: a fascinating study dripped blood from three different types of people onto cancer cells: The first group was couch potatoes — their blood decreased cancer growth by 10%. The second group was people who exercised — their blood decreased cancer growth by 30-40%. The final group was vegans — their blood decreased cancer growth by 80-90%. Not only were they taking in less IGF-1 by not consuming dairy, their bodies were also better at modulating their own intrinsic IGF-1, which resulted in an almost total decrease in cancer growth. (Why did blood decrease cancer growth at all? Because we have immune systems.)

Replacing dairy with organic, whole soy can provide even further benefits, in several ways:

  • Soy turns on the “Braca” genes (Brc1, Brc2) that cancer turns off. These genes are DNA fixers — they correct errors in mitosis (cell division), which is basically what cancer is.
  • Soy decreases risk of breast cancer by modulating beta estrogen receptors, which are located in breasts in high amounts, decreasing estrogen response.
  • In one study, soy and Tamoxifen (the main drug used to treat breast cancer) combined were shown to have increased benefits in breast cancer patients than using Tamoxifen alone.
  • Soy also increases bone mass and reduces occurrence of hot flashes during menopause.

There is a reason why Asian cultures that emphasize whole foods including soy have longer life expectancy and lower disease rates than Western cultures, and we can take a page from their book. Consider using organic soy milk or adding organic tempeh to your stir-fry or salad. Highly processed vegan fake-meat and dairy products that use isolated soy components are not recommended, as they can be detrimental to health.

Summary

We don’t have to live in fear of breast cancer or wait for “them” to find a cure — we can shape our lives around the outcome we want to see now. In summary, to minimize breast cancer risk and maximize quality of life:

  • Eat a high-fiber, plant-based diet
  • Eliminate meat, dairy, and highly processed foods from your diet
  • Maintain a healthy body weight with diet and daily exercise
  • Eat lots of broccoli family foods and organic whole soy
  • Avoid plastics and mass market consumer items when possible
  • Avoid smoking and excess alcohol

Taken altogether or one at a time, these are steps toward a significantly better outcome, if we so choose.

Transforming Health with Fiber-Rich Foods

It’s such an exciting time to be alive, especially within the context of the health field. The more I learn, the more I realize how much there is yet to learn, and the more excited I am for the future and all it holds. We are standing at a great precipice of transformational knowledge – I liken it to the Renaissance during the middle ages and what it did for the arts, science, philosophy, technology, and everything ever since. That era completely changed the world, and likewise the era we are stepping into now will do the same. When we emerge on the other side, the world as we know it will be history. It will be a wondrous new world, with a much more complex understanding of ourselves and how we live in it.

We are getting glimpses of that world forming now – starting in the microscope.

Something so fascinating to me is the human microbiome – the trillions of microorganisms that live on and in the human body. It’s analogous to Earth itself: just as humans, animals, and plants populate the planet, so too do bacteria and yeasts populate the human body. Our instructor refers to the human body as its own microplanet. I like that.

And interestingly, just as human populations may be altered and controlled by the food they eat, so too can the microbiotic populations in the body be changed by eating different foods – resulting in marked changes in the body as well. And those changes may ripple out from the person to the community to the planet to the universe and then to … who knows?

The point is, one person can indeed change the world, and it starts by changing the world that is your own body.

It seems that there really are two different types of people in the world: those who have a gut microbiome that is predominantly Prevotella bacteria, and others who are predominantly Bacteriodes. Those with Prevotella (which to me is pretty-sounding, like a name for an Italian princess) are plant eaters, with the Prevotella bacteria specialized in breaking down and utilizing plant material. Those with Bacteriodes (which to me sounds like a formidable Greek king in a war story) are meat and dairy eaters, with Bacteriodes specialized in breaking down meat and dairy.

In studies, Bacteriodes are associated with an increased risk of colon cancer – the second most common cancer in Americans.

But in looking at Prevotella studies, there also seems to be some controversy. So let’s put isolated studies aside for a moment and look at the big picture.

In the image above, the distinction is made between Western and Non-Western Diets, with populations of Prevotella increasing as the diet progresses from omnivore to plant-based. In other words, Non-Western diets, which are full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, have fostered Prevotella-based gut populations within the people who eat them.

Now, while non-Western populations may have their own problems, what do they generally not have?

Cancer. Obesity. Diabetes. Heart disease. Digestive diseases like IBS. Acne. Addiction. Mental illness.

So maybe they are onto something there.

But rather than make it about Western vs. Non-Western, or Meat Eater vs. Vegan (because not only is it possible, but rather common, for a vegan to be unhealthy) let’s focus on what we can do right now, no matter where we are in the spectrum:

Eat fiber.

The Standard American Diet is low in fiber – the average American eating meats and sweets is getting about 11-15 grams of fiber per day. The USDA recommends 25-35 grams, and historically, humans were eating 70 to a whopping 200 grams of fiber per day.

So modern Americans are getting significantly less fiber than needed.

Why do we need fiber?

Fiber is what keeps things moving along through the digestive tract to eventually move out of the body. A high-fiber diet is what makes for a quick, pleasant (almost orgasmic, even) bathroom experience. It doesn’t take longer than about ten seconds, it leaves little or no residue on your tissue, and it won’t stank up the bathroom. Oh, and it feels amazing, a feeling that can continue on well into the day, even if few people want to admit it – that may also be because few people actually experience it.

Most Americans are constipated. Being deficient in fiber (since animal products and junk food contain no fiber), the foods sit and rot in the gut, eventually leading to painful, forced bowel movements, hemorrhoids and irritable bowel syndrome, diverticular disease, and polyps which eventually turn into cancer (if diet is not corrected).

Nowhere is there a stronger argument for changing the diet than with digestive diseases. There is no pill that is going to solve this, which is why the medical industry (which deals only in drugs, not in nutrition) is woefully unequipped to handle these issues that millions of Americans are bringing to them. And unfortunately, there is little or no education among the public about what to do either: mass programming is in the form of profit-driven junk food advertising, which is teaching Americans to do the exact opposite of what they should do, and only fostering the furthering of their disease.

This is why I love the course I’m in now. Because the solution is actually very simple, once you know what to do.

How to Eat Fiber-Based

Like all significant changes, switching to a fiber-based diet must be done slowly and incrementally over time. Going from fiber-deficient to too much fiber can backfire and result in abandoning the operation altogether. So just remember: slow and steady wins the race. We are balancing the extremes.

The general guideline is to increase your fiber intake by 5 grams per week – that’s about one meal per week. Foods with fiber in them are listed below, in order of amount:

  1. Beans
  2. Whole Grains
  3. Fruits and Vegetables

If you are eating a Standard American Diet (meats and sweets), start at the bottom of this list and work your way up – fruits and vegetables, if you haven’t been eating them every day already. Bring an apple to work instead of visiting the vending machine, and add steamed vegetables as a side dish at dinner. If you eat white bread or pasta, switch to their whole-grain counterparts – just check the ingredients label, as front packaging that says “whole-grain” can still be only partially whole-grain (as bizarre as that sounds), as it’s mixed with refined white flour. There is no fiber in white flour – that’s what the refining process does, it removes the fiber – so you want 100% whole grain only if you’re going for fiber.

Next, try replacing an entire meal with a fiber-based alternative. The easiest place to do this is breakfast – instead of eggs and bacon, try oatmeal (a whole grain) with blueberries and bananas instead. Or, if you prefer a more savory flavor profile, try water-sauteeing onions, mushrooms and spinach to top your oatmeal – add Harissa sauce if you like it spicy.

Beans should be the last food added to your diet, and done slowly to cultivate the Prevotella bacteria in your gut that will break them down properly. (Without having those bacteria, eating beans can result in the indigestion they have been famous for.) Start with just a tablespoon per day, and increase the amount by a tablespoon each week.

What about a fiber supplement? Since fiber is so abundant in the right kinds of foods (real foods), a supplement might seem redundant, but it does have the benefit of allowing for a slow, controlled adaption to fiber. Unless you are calculating daily values of fiber in your foods, you may not know exactly how much fiber you’re getting, but with a fiber supplement, you can be sure. So a fiber supplement such as Acacia powder may be something to consider if that is the case for you.

As you begin to add more fiber to your diet and go about your day, you will start to notice something: you feel full after meals. For a long time. Yep, that’s one of fiber’s many amazing mechanisms: as it binds with water, it creates bulk, which gives you that sensation of fullness in your stomach. Oats, beans and potatoes are some of the most filling (and least expensive) foods available, so if you make them the base of your daily meals you can stretch your budget a long way, and feel full without stretching your waistline – shattering the myth that “it’s expensive to eat healthy” too.

You may also notice that after eating fiber, your blood sugar is more stable – or if you’re not tracking it, you may just notice that your mood and energy levels are more stable. You may find you’re not having that 2pm crash as usual (about the only thing that’s regular on a meats and sweets diet).

You may even notice a seemingly unrelated benefit: lower cholesterol. That’s right – in one study, participants who were fed 150 grams of fiber per day lowered their cholesterol as much as statin drugs.

Of course, a reduced intake of animal foods alone can lower cholesterol – but it seems that fiber also plays a role in elimination of lipids and hormones in the body.

This is encouraging news, showing again that not only does the body work holistically (with nutrition and colon health affecting cardiovascular health – these systems are seen and treated as separate by the medical industry), there is also hope for getting off drugs, which Americans desperately need to do.

At this time, there really is no drug that can treat digestive disorders – probiotic pills are probably the closest, but their efficacy is highly debatable. However, there are plenty of drugs that can harm the digestive system:

• Antibiotics (destroys gut microbiome, severely affecting digestion and the entire body as a result – getting 2-3 rounds per year as a child is a significant predictor for food allergies and gut issues later in life)
• Aspirin/Ibuprofen/NSAIDs (cause GI bleeding)
• Antacids such as Prilosec and Nexium (inhibit calcium absorption)
• Alcohol
• Steroids
• Opiates and marijuana (cause constipation)

Could any (or many) of these drugs could be tapered off or eliminated with a fiber-based diet?

What other ills could fiber help us avoid?

Colon Cancer, IBS, Diverticulitis

This is a big deal. Colon cancer is the second most prevalent cancer in America. It’s estimated that half of Americans (who eat the Standard American Diet) have colon polyps, which are pre-cancerous. It takes about 10-15 years for a polyp to form (from undigested animal protein irritating the colon wall), and another 10-15 years for the polyp to become cancerous. While this does give somewhat of a grace period for making healthy changes, it can also be dangerous – since the progression is so slow, people don’t connect their cancer with what they put in their bodies over 30+ years. Especially since they are generally not taught what the food is actually doing to their bodies. All they really know about it is that it tastes good, it’s what everyone else is eating, and it’s what they’ve always been eating.

And after decades of eating the Standard American Diet, starting a fiber supplement is not going to be enough. If you are in your fifties or younger, and/or if you have already developed chronic health issues, it is imperative that you make significant changes now.

Start with fiber-based. Since the last thing any of us needs is another war, don’t go picking fights with the meat-eaters in your life (including, possibly, yourself). Remember, the danger with animal protein in the gut, as part of a junk food diet, is it’s just sitting there and rotting for days. Fiber will move it out. So rather than try to force yourself or others to stop eating meat, which can be a losing battle – men especially seem to have a deep, primal attachment to eating meat – love yourself (and anyone you are preparing food for) by providing plenty of fiber so that the meat is quickly moving through and the colon is getting cleaned by the fiber.

My instructor would probably disagree with this – he says that giving up animal foods is the best thing anyone can do to save the planet – and he’s probably right. But I think junk food is the bigger problem – chips, cookies, candy, pop, donuts, ice cream, cake, pizza, etc. These mass manufactured foods have been around for only the past hundred years or so, and people are eating them all day every day. And you know what? There are vegan versions of them too – and I don’t believe they are any healthier.

These foods are foreign to nature and the human body. Though difficult to study or prove, humans do seem to have been eating meat throughout history – but has the human body ever fallen apart so spectacularly as it does today? I believe it’s due to processed junk foods having taken over the diet and replaced fiber-rich foods – combined of course with the toxic practices of the mass meat industry.

What’s easier or more likely for someone to give up – meat or junk food? (Assuming the meat is of some quality, and not McDonald’s meat, in which case it’s both). While junk food addiction is a real thing, it can be overcome in a matter of days with a water fast, or a few months with a healthy diet, and people can only benefit from giving it up.

But switching from omnivore to vegan is a huge undertaking. Not only is it an extreme change, but there is no medical support for it – your doctor isn’t going to be able to guide you. There’s information on the Internet, yes – a sea of conflicting information you can easily drown in. There are lots of ways to do vegan wrong. Technically, Oreos and Coca-Cola are vegan. People can definitely still be unhealthy and deficient on a vegan diet.

So I’m not really that into “vegan”.

But fiber-based or fiber-rich, I LOVE.

Fiber is about meeting your needs, and it’s inclusive of everyone. No matter where you are on the dietary spectrum, you can eat fiber, and it’s gonna help (as long as you are doing it in a balanced way).

And then as time goes on, and there is more fiber in the diet and less junk food, and health outcomes are improving and people are feeling good, they may start to rely more and more on non-animal sources for their protein, such as lentils, chickpeas, hemp seeds, and more – which amazingly, provide the body with even more fiber (and are much easier and less expensive to acquire and prepare than meat).

How blessed we are to live in an age of information and to have the power to choose what we eat. For such a long time, knowledge was limited, choices were few and we had to eat whatever was available. Now there is an abundance of different foods on the market, along with clinical studies, articles, gurus, diet books and cookbooks. There has never been more support for eating a healthy diet.

At the same time, fiber-rich foods are nothing new. It’s what dietitians have been saying, and humans have been eating, since the beginning. So why do people “know” fruits and vegetables are healthy, and still not choose them?

It seems people are still inclined to eat culturally rather than rationally. It’s one thing to know the right thing to do, but another thing to do it – especially when everyone around you is doing the opposite. It takes a lot of strength to stand on your own, and I personally have failed many times. In many ways I had to withdraw from culture (almost everyone and everything), but in reality, humans have survived this long by banding together. That is why I am so grateful for the HHP course I am in – it’s like my magnetic north that I keep turning to to remind myself of that world where I belong and that I am not alone in this journey to it.

For further study from pioneers in this new world . . .

Tips for Fiber Challenged People – Mic the Vegan and Dr Angie Sadeghi

This interview addresses some of the challenges people may experience with a high-fiber diet. Mic has a huge library of videos worth watching.

Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen Checklist – NutritionFacts.org

Mentioned by Mic the Vegan, this is an app that can help you track your fiber intake. I also have his “How Not to Die Cookbook” checked out right now. However, he does use nutritional yeast and soy often, which I consider avoid foods. Still worthwhile since those can be omitted or substituted, and NutritionFacts.org has tons of substantiated health information.

ImmunoNutrition – Dietary Biohacks for Your Immune System – Irminne Van Dyken, MD

Definitely not your typical doctor, she gives a thoughtful presentation on the human microbiome and how to support it. Also includes a mention of telomeres.

Dr. Burkitt Interview by Dr. McDougall

A Scottish doctor who became known as the “Fiber Doctor” after he went to work at a hospital in Nigeria and saw zero colon issues in 17 million people, leading him to conclude their fiber-rich diets prevented chronic disease.

Up the Wrong Butt, Colonoscopy – Guidelines for Colorectal Cancer Prevention – John McDougall, MD

Another atypical doctor, he discourages the use of colonoscopy and gives a much safer and less expensive alternative. Interestingly (to me anyway), he is from Michigan and did his residency in my hometown (Grand Rapids).

What is the Real Fast Food? – Jeff Novick, RD

I love this man’s mind. He has such a good way of explaining complex concepts so they are easy to understand. He has several lectures and cooking DVDs, which I rented from my library. He does a great job of showing how to make very quick and easy healthy meals that taste good. I ate one for lunch today. 🙂 He also used to be an executive at Kraft foods and made a total 180, which I really admire.

Understanding Calorie Density: The Secret to Eating Well and Losing Weight

They say “diets don’t work”. I say, that depends on what “diet” means. For most people, “going on a diet” means eating smaller portions and feeling hungry all the time until you can’t take it anymore, and then you resume the same eating habits – and weight – as before.

Of course that pattern isn’t sustainable, so they are right to conclude it doesn’t work.

But that’s not really what a diet is. Put simply, a diet is just the foods you consume every day. And if done right, not only does it work – it’s the only thing that really works.

Hippocrates said, “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

So a “diet” is not necessarily about eating less, but about what you are eating and why.

And in fact, it could even translate in to eating more.

It comes down to a concept called “Calorie Density”. Let me explain.

Calorie Density refers to how many calories are in a given food. As it happens, vegetables (even starchy vegetables like potatoes), fruits, legumes, and whole grains are low in calorie density – they don’t contain many calories.

In other words, you can eat your fill of these foods all day, and you won’t gain weight. And funnily enough, because these foods contain a lot of water and fiber (bulk), they fill you up very quickly. It’s almost impossible to overeat on them!

Whereas animal foods, refined sugar and flour, and junk foods are much higher in calorie density. With so many calories, these are the foods that cause weight gain, unless they are balanced by rigorous daily exercise (such as by professional athletes). And unfortunately, because they are so lacking in bulk (containing almost no water or fiber), they are easy to overeat – you have to eat a lot of them before you feel full.

In fact, junk food almost never fills you up – it’s designed to melt in your mouth. What usually ends an event of junk food eating is not a feeling of fullness, but an empty bag or bowl – the food is gone.

Even foods that might be considered healthy, such as nuts, seeds and some oils, are at the highest end of the calorie density spectrum. This shows how adding just a handful of nuts or a tablespoon of oil to a salad can bump the number of calories in that salad way up – which can be helpful if you are an athlete or a growing child and you need the calories, but something to avoid if you are trying to lose weight.

The concept is explained in detail in Jeff Novick’s lecture (which is also where I pulled the chart above), and which I recommend watching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CdwWliv7Hg

But the concept is basically this: you can eat til you’re full and still lose weight. You just have to cut the CRAP (Calorie Rich And Processed) foods, and replace them with the real foods that are truly serving you.

Photo by Serge Le Strat on Unsplash

S.O.S. – Overcoming Food Addiction

Yes, food addiction is a thing, and though there are also emotional and spiritual aspects to it, this article is going to focus on the physiological aspect of addiction and strategies to overcome it.

S.O.S. stands for Sugar, Oil, and Salt – and we may also recognize it as the old-fashioned cry for help. That’s because these chemicals, while found naturally in balanced amounts in whole foods, have been extracted by modern manufacturing methods and injected into all manufactured foods. And being so high in calories and flavor, the brain rewards eating them with a dopamine (pleasure) release, which creates a pattern of addiction. This is the same mechanism as, say, a heroin addiction. These food chemicals are effectively drugs.

Or, as our instructor put it: Sugar + Salt + Fat = Crack.

The majority of people are unaware of this, though they are suffering the consequences anyway: currently 42% of 40 year olds are obese. That’s not just carrying around a few extra pounds – it’s significant, chronic overweight that’s leading to a decline into degenerative disease like diabetes, kidney disease, and heart failure. But how do we reverse it?

Most Americans are simply not educated in nutrition, addiction, or what it really is they are eating. They eat it because it tastes good, it’s cheap and easily available, it’s what they were brought up on, and it’s what everyone around them is eating.

So we are up against not only a physical addiction, but also a lack of education and a culture that’s flooded with junk food. Where do we start?

Food Addiction Strategies

Once we are aware of the problem, there are several steps we can take to overcome it.

Healthy Meal Practices

If you have been eating a diet of mostly SOS foods, healthy foods are going to taste bland when you first make the switch. That’s because the brain has trained you on SOS foods, and will not reward you for foods that don’t have these chemicals.

However, you can retrain your body to appreciate the flavors of healthy food in two ways:

  1. Gradually add more healthy foods into your diet. It will take 3 weeks to 4 months for your taste buds to adjust.
  2. Go on a water fast for 2-3 days. At the end of your fast, an apple will seem like the most fragrant, juicy, delicious thing you’ve ever experienced.

It’s important that you don’t starve yourself, however. Overcoming food addiction and obesity does not have to be about eating less food altogether – it’s about eating less of the wrong foods. You can actually eat plenty of foods and eat til you’re full – just as long as they are the right foods.

So make it your mantra that it’s okay to feel full, and then fill up on the right foods:

  1. Start with ½ – 1 cup of veggies before your meal. This could be a snack of baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers while you are preparing your meal.
  2. Add an oil-free bean dip, like homemade hummus.
  3. Eat a small green salad with a vinaigrette dressing.
  4. Slurp up a cup of veggie soup.
  5. Graze on a few slices of fruit.

There. With those five things in your tummy, how much room are you going to have for pizza? Maybe you’ll have a slice or two instead of the whole thing. Plus, you’ll be getting a lot more nutrients from all the fruits and veggies – pizza has few or no nutrients.

Do this for all your meals – start with a a few courses of veggies first, and then there will be only a little room left for junk food. Fruits and vegetables have very few calories and are very filling, so it’s a myth that weight loss has to be about going hungry. Just eat less junk food and lots of real food.

Also, avoid liquid calories – they don’t fill you up. Interesting, diet soda seems to trigger only weight gain.

Learn How to Cook and Shop

Most if not all restaurants and social gatherings are laden with SOS foods. While these occasions may not be totally avoidable, they should be limited to one per week, or less if dealing with food addiction or heart disease.

Additionally, there are now an average of 50,000 food products in grocery stores, and most of them are full of SOS – especially salt, which is required for manufactured food to taste like food at all.

The simple reality is, your health is directly related to your food, so if you’re going to regain your health, you must gain control over your food – and that means making your food from scratch. Manufactured foods should be used ‘sometimes’ at most.

Most Americans rotate between 9-16 recipes for their meals – so find the recipes you like that can be made healthily (Pinterest can be great inspiration) and be strict about eating those foods only.

For example:

  • Breakfast can be oatmeal (unless you have Celiac) with bananas and berries.
  • Find fruit-based desserts you like instead of keeping ice cream in the house.
  • Use frozen veggies if you’re not a planner, so produce doesn’t spoil before use.
  • The secret to cooking is spice, not meat. Chili tastes like chili because of the chili powder and other spices, not because of animal foods. Look for vegetarian versions of your favorites and you will find that eating healthier is cheaper too.
  • Make enough dinner to have it for lunch the next day too.

If you are dealing with food addiction, be aware of what you are up against. You are more likely to binge on junk food if you’ve been restricting yourself of food altogether, so make sure you have plenty of healthy foods in the house. Avoid triggering yourself and keep junk food out of the house – let your home be your sanctuary.

Also be aware that there is an “extinction ramp up” when quitting, where the first day is okay, but day 2 is worse than ever, as the brain goes into overdrive to get you to eat the junk food. But by three weeks, the new habit has formed and your choices will get much easier.

“Spontaneous recovery” is also something to be aware of – when you may be doing well for once, and then “just one” knocks you right back to square one.

Finally, take heart. Food addiction is an addiction like any other. For smokers who are trying to quit, on average it takes 7-8 times of quitting for 7 days before they finally give it up for good.

So no matter how many times you fall off, just keep getting back up one more time.

What a Week of Healthy Plant-Based Eating Looks Like

When you first start out on a healthy diet full of fresh foods, you may have to make a meal plan each week and create a grocery list based on it… and that might sound like a lot of work!

Relax, it will get easier as you become more acclimated to eating this way. I am at the point now that I can get groceries for the week without making a plan or a list (and without experiencing food spoilage or waste), but it’s just because after doing it long enough, I’ve basically memorized what I need (and also where items are located in the store). I also keep my needs simple (and costs low) by implementing a few basic standards:

Dry goods – beans, brown rice, lentils, oatmeal – and frozen produce can be bought in bulk to supply for a month or more. So as long as you have these at home, you don’t have to think about them when out shopping, except to count on them as the base for your fresh food meals.

I already know what my favorite fruits and vegetables are – the ones I eat every day. I try to buy organic as much as possible, and load up my basket with the fresh ingredients that, together with the dry goods I already have at home, will make up my meals and snacks for the week.

Breakfast Ingredients Can be made into:
Blueberries
Bananas
Melon
Oatmeal with fruit, yogurt with fruit, smoothies (using frozen bananas), fruit bowl.
Lunch/Snack Ingredients Can be made into:
Red lettuce
Cucumber
Radishes
Baby carrots
Avocado
Grape tomatoes
Grapes
Pears
Trail mix
Salads, veggies and dip platter, sandwiches, wraps, guacamole.
Dinner Ingredients Can be made into:
Red pepper
Zucchini
Mushrooms
Yukon gold potatoes
Sweet potatoes
Local in-season produce (such as asparagus)
Asian-flavored stir fry, yellow curry zoodle bowl, Alfredo zoodle bowl, Herbes de Provence stir fry, vegan loaded baked potatoes, sweet potato curry, farmer’s market (asparagus) rice salad.

Also, it’s important to store these properly, or you might end up making a second trip for fresh produce later in the week.

I also pickup a few refrigerator and pantry items. I avoid animal dairy products, which is reflected in the nut-based dairy alternatives below.

  • Chai or other herbal tea
  • Macademia vanilla creamer
  • Almond yogurt
  • Almond butter
  • Cashew cheese (used as a base for a veggie dip or salad dressing)
  • Hummus or baba ganouj
  • Gluten-free wraps
  • Coconut aminos (soy sauce alternative)
  • Coconut milk (canned)
  • Herbs or spices such as garlic powder
  • Olive oil

And that’s pretty much it! Grocery shopping can be quick, easy and inexpensive, even when eating a healthy diet. The main thing is to make your meals from scratch and not resort to prepared junk foods. The more you eat this way, the more you will like it and it will become the new normal to you.

Where Do You Get Your Protein?

There are a lot of myths about protein, but the simple truth is this: as long as you are eating a variety of whole, organic foods, in at least three meals a day, you are getting enough protein to meet your needs.

Yes, even fruits and vegetables contain amino acids – the building blocks your body uses to create protein. Legumes, such as chickpeas, and whole grains, such as oatmeal, go even further to fulfill the body’s protein requirements. Eating these foods daily is how people on plant-based diets can sustain adequate protein levels without eating meat, fish, eggs, or dairy.

Even for people such as athletes, bodybuilders, and children, who are growing their bodies and need more protein than the average, additional protein needs can still be met through non-animal sources.

If you do choose to eat meat, fish, eggs or dairy, here are some basic guidelines to be aware of:

  • Meat from fast food restaurants and supermarkets is toxic to the body. Organic meat from local farms at farmer’s markets, where you can establish trust with the people growing your food, is a much safer option, as is wild hunted meat.
  • Same with eggs and dairy. Even supermarket labels such as “cage-free” and “organic” are deceiving. These foods are best consumed fresh from the farm, in some cases raw or minimally processed.
  • Most seafood is toxic, if not from mercury poisoning than from radiation. North Atlantic wild caught fish is safest, as well as freshwater fish from non-polluted lakes and streams.

Even with these healthier sources, meat and dairy can still cause problems in the body, such as constipation, inflammation, and acidity. I found that going to great lengths to get good quality meat and dairy was not worth it since I was still experiencing these issues, and I realized none of it was necessary when I could get protein from plant-based sources, which are much more agreeable with my body.

If you need reassurance that you are getting enough protein on your plant-based diet, you can sign up for a free account on https://cronometer.com/, set your daily protein target, and enter your foods into the daily journal. The site will then display a nutrient profile of all your foods, including all essential amino acids. It’s fun and fascinating to see, and after a few days you will get a good sense for how much protein you are really getting, and you can use that to establish a baseline for intake going forward.

Importantly, be confident in your choices and avoid getting into debates with others about your choices or theirs. Practice judgment of your choices only. If they really are good choices that are working well for you, you will become an inspiration to others and they will naturally pattern their choices after yours. Likewise, be open to new information as it arises, and be willing to change if it’s right for you.

Why Obesity is More than Just a Body-Image Issue

“Body-positive” campaigns to normalize obesity might seem nice, but they are lying to you: obesity is truly a life-threatening illness that requires change, not complacency.

Not only does obesity severely detract from quality of life right now, it also puts people on a slow decline into degenerative disease in the future, leading to years of suffering before an early death: diabetes (including foot and leg amputations), heart disease, hypertension/ stroke, breast cancer, kidney failure, and more. These are the biggest killers of Americans today, and obesity opens the door to all of them – and puts additional weight on an already overburdened health care system.

So it’s not just about “do I look fat?” (If you have to ask, you probably already know the answer.) The real question is: what am I going to do about it?

The standard answer is “diet and exercise”, but what does that really mean?

  • Exercise is more for healthy weight maintenance, not weight loss. It takes a lot of exercise to burn up just a few calories, and furthermore, it can be difficult for very heavy people to move. Walking for ten minutes a day, every day, is a realistic way to develop a healthy exercise habit. You can take a morning walk along a beach (very energizing), an evening walk in your neighborhood, or find nature trails in your area. And hey, bring your dog – it’s good for him, too.
  • A far more practical approach than trying to burn off a ton of calories is to simply take in fewer of them in the first place. The good news is, you can still eat a lot, and enjoy eating – it just won’t be junk food, which is where the vast majority of calories in an obesity-causing diet comes from. It’s not entirely your fault – junk food is deceptive and designed to be addictive – but it is now your responsibility to choose your Self, your life and your long-term goals instead.

This is the real body-positive movement. You are in control of your body and your choices, and it is an act of self-love to feed your body the nourishment it needs and dismiss what is harmful to it. You know by now that an apple is good for you and a donut is not, so look at what is really motivating you. I know you want to feel good, but the real feeling good is in a happy, healthy life and future.

Being healthy is going to change your life. Not just because you’ll look good, which is still very important in this illusion-based world. But also because of how you’ll feel, what you’ll have going on inside. Good health is the foundation for a good life. You will be amazed at howlife opens up for you and the profound, positive effect your transformation will have on everyone and everything in your life: your family, friendships, relationships, education, career opportunities, and more. You will dust off your dreams for your life and begin to really live them. You’ll know that since you can do this thing – you can do anything.

Choosing good health is saying “Yes” to you and your life – what could be more positive than that?

What Vitamin Supplements Do I Need?

The vitamin supplement industry is huge, but mostly unnecessary: A plant-based whole foods diet will provide almost all the vitamins your body requires for optimal functioning.

However, there are a few exceptions: Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, and DHA (Omega 3 EFA) are extremely difficult to obtain from food, so supplementing these may be a good idea. Read on to learn why and a few basic guidelines.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is largely known as a supplement for vegans, and it’s true that vegans do need it. However, people who eat omnivore diets should also consider adding B12, as research has shown even their levels are low. Additionally, vitamin B12 is recommended for anyone over age 50.

Interestingly, in one study, the early signs of dementia in elderly people went away with vitamin B12 supplementation.

There are two types of vitamin B12:

  • Cynocobalamin – this is the recommended form. Take 1,000 mcg 2-3 times per week.
  • Methylcobalamin – more commonly found, but requires daily intake of 1,000 mcg per day.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is actually a hormone, not a vitamin – the fallacy originated as a marketing ploy when the agriculture industry began fortifying milk with this hormone to make more milk sales, and the name stuck. Fortunately, you don’t need to drink milk to get the benefits of this hormone – your body can make it.

The human body will create its own “vitamin D” when UV B sun rays interact with the skin – about ten minutes of sunlight is all it needs. However, that can be challenging during winter seasons when outdoor temperatures are cold and days are dark. People who are not getting enough exposure to sunlight might want to consider a vitamin D supplement, especially in the winter, when supplementation may also decrease flu risk.

Here are the types of vitamin D:

  • Vitamin D2 – synthetic and not recommended.
  • Vitamin D3 – this is the recommended form, although it usually comes from an animal source (lanolin derived from sheep’s wool). Mushrooms when exposed to UV light have also been found to generate vitamin D, so that may be a potential vegan source. Take 1,000 IU daily, and not more than 4,000 IU. Excess amounts of vitamin D, such as 10,000 IU, are toxic to the body.
  • Everyone’s favorite, cod liver oil is the only other known food source of vitamin D.

Omega-3 Long-Chain Essential Fatty Acids (DHA)

Also known as “good fats”, Omega-3s are Essential Fatty Acids (EFA), meaning they must be obtained from food, a little bit every day. Short-chain (ALA) Omega-3s are fairly easy to get from food sources: you can find them in flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and trace amounts in beans, broccoli, and greens.

Long-chain (DHA) Omega-3s are most commonly found in deep ocean fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna – however, these come with a risk of mercury poisoning, so they should be avoided. With the mercury in tuna, it’s recommended to eat no more than one can every 44 days.

So where can you find a safe source of DHA? The same place the fish get it from: algae. Look for an algae-based supplement, although that may not be necessary if you are eating flax seeds, which contain short-chain Omega-3s the body can convert into long-chain Omega-3s.

Folic Acid

Folic acid is the synethic form of folate (vitamin B9), which is necessary for normal development of a baby during the first month of pregnancy. If a woman is eating a plant-based whole foods diet before becoming pregnant, she is likely getting enough folate to prevent birth defects.

However, many pediatricians will not work with a pregnant woman unless she supplements with folic acid, because the risk of birth defects (and getting sued) is too high in women who do not get adequate folate intake due to eating a mostly junk food diet.

Folic acid does work for the baby, but it also increases risk of breast cancer in the mother. It is far better to get the vitamin from its natural food sources by eating a healthy diet every day.

You Can (and Should) Get Most of Your Vitamins from Food

The 3-4 in the list above are the only vitamins that may require supplementation. The rest of them you will get easily from foods in your healthy diet:

  • Vitamin A – orange, red and green vegetables (yes, vitamins are the colors in our food! Pretty neat. 🙂
  • Vitamin B complex – cruciferous vegetables,whole grains, beans
  • Vitamin C – citrus, mini sweet peppers, leafy greens, berries
  • Vitamin E – nuts, seeds, and leafy greens
  • Vitamin K – leafy greens
  • Choline – cruciferous vegetables, nuts, whole grains

If you want to see detailed information about food sources and amounts, check out nutritiondata.self, veganhealth.org, or the USDA Food Composition Database.

The Dangers of Supplementation

A healthy diet really is the best way to get your vitamins, for many reasons:

  1. Taking supplements can enable eating an unhealthy diet – people might consume pizza and beer regularly and think they’re okay because they’re taking a multivitamin. The truth is, there is no magic pill or quick fix for good health.
  2. Supplements can be contaminated in the manufacturing process, or they can be mislabeled. The supplement industry is largely unregulated in China and the United States, though Consumer Reports and Consumer Labs can help with independent testing. European supplements are more regulated and may be safer.
  3. Vitamins can be harmful at high doses. It’s much safer to get them through foods, which contain only trace amounts, and avoid the risk of toxic overdose.

Documentary Review: Weight of the Nation

One of our assignments this week was to watch Part 1 of the documentary Weight of the Nation and write a paper on ten things we’ve learned from it. The film, which documents the obesity crisis in the United States, was eye-opening to me in many ways.

1 – I didn’t realize obesity rates are so high. But in fact, 2/3 of American adults are overweight or obese, and worse, they’re passing it on to their children – there were several different studies on this with obesity rates in children ranging from 20- 50% around the country — with poor, urban neighborhoods being the worst. These numbers are tremendous. With so many people affected, it almost seems like a slow genocide of the poor, especially when you realize how deadly obesity is.

2 – Obesity opens the door to degenerative diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and kidney failure, leading to death. While it’s true that all life eventually ends in death, obesity and degenerative disease ensure there will also be years of suffering first. The precursor to diabetes, metabolic syndrome is especially indicated if the liver turns fatty, which was found to be the case in 38% of obese people. The liver is an essential organ (see the word ‘live’ in liver?), and it’s severely compromised by excess fat. The good news is that the fat will clear out from the liver rapidly during a weight loss regimen, and liver structure can even be restored (the liver is one of the few organs that can regenerate itself).

3 – OBESITY CAUSES SO MUCH HEART DAMAGE. The film displayed doctors handling autopsied hearts in various stages of health and disease. It was kinda weird since I don’t usually look at human organs, and I tried not to think about how that was once part of a living person. I suppose now at this point it’s just organic mechanics. Anyway, it was shocking to see the difference between healthy and diseased hearts. The healthy heart looked like a piece of meat, and the diseased hearts (and aortas) looked horrifying. Pop culture is so obsessed with outer image that people may think that’s all obesity is, and that a campaign to call it “beautiful” makes it so. But here obesity is shown to be just as devastating to the internal appearance of the body. This devastation is definitely not “inner beauty”. I felt so sad seeing the damage people had done to their bodies through their unconscious choices.

4 – This made me wonder about their emotional heart, and if the physical damage to their heart was a representation of emotional heart damage. We know that one of the causes/contributors of obesity is food addiction. But what is the root cause of addiction? It’s a big clue that the acronym for the Standard American Diet is SAD. Sad. Why do people feel a resonance with this sad diet? What within them is sad? Why do people “love” this diet? What emotional suffering are they trying to escape? Where is the real love in their lives — just as absent as real food?

5 – At this point, now that it’s been here for a few generations, the Standard American Diet is part of the cultural framework. People do not eat this diet because they studied it on their own and determined it was the best one. They eat it because it’s what everyone around them is doing and has been doing all their lives. It’s the status quo. For most people to transition to a healthy diet, a healthy diet has to be the new cultural norm.

6 – This was not touched on in the film (at least not in Part 1), but a major reason why the SAD is a cultural norm is because there was and still is a sociopolitical agenda driving it to the masses from the beginning. This is documented in books like Fast Food Nation and The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. They knew it was additive and destructive (look at Donald Rumsfeld greenlighting Aspartame in the 1980s, for one of many horrific examples). The simple fact is, large food and media conglomerates manipulate politics to control the food and advertising industries to satiate their own ungodly greed, at whatever cost to the people and planet. There is a reason why everywhere you go, you see the same fast food chains and junk food brands – in every drugstore, gas station, liquor store, grocery store, on billboards and TV commercials, in school lunches, office lunches, vending machines, concert venues, sports arenas, you name it. They are everywhere. Why are these “foods” so widely available and easily accessible? As much as we focus on the power of choice, education and self love and care, this is also a top-down problem that’s far beyond the individual. Better government policies that truly serve the people instead of special interests would make our lives so much easier and more evolved.

7 – People need extremely simple direction. While most people are eating the SAD because it’s normal and they’re not ever going to change, others are waking up to the fact that they need to change, and they’re taking those steps. But they’re at the base camp of a mountain and they need a lot of guidance. One woman interviewed in the film said her doctor told her to “go brown, instead of white – brown rice, brown bread, brown pasta,” etc. That’s so extremely simplified, but she responded to it. (I hope the doctor also told her to “go green”). Anyway, it emphasized the point that people need things to be extremely simple. They don’t have the time or energy to study whole grains, let alone the importance of buying local organic or where to find it (avoiding GMO and pesticide poisoning). I guess that’s after you master “brown”. It’s amazing that real, healthy food has become such a complex feat.

8 – Food education should be integrated with schooling. What are schools teaching kids all day, if not something as fundamental as how to feed themselves properly? What kind of “food” is served for lunch? Do kids learn where real food comes from and how to prepare/cook it so it tastes delicious? What happened to home ec? Why is the playground derelict? Childhood patterns can be corrected with a lot of effort later in life, or we can set them up with healthy habits now. Again, this is a top-down policy issue. Probably not many people are going to pull their kids out to homeschool them, because parents are products of the same system, and both are working all day to support their family in it, even though it’s clearly not supporting them. Things are indeed changing though. It’s nice to see where I live there are some urban gardening programs for kids, and I rode my bike past a lovely school playground in an urban area last night.

9 – Self-love is happening. One guy started a weight loss regimen when he realized obesity was affecting his ability to play music in his band. After losing a lot of weight, he said he looks back on old photos of himself, but he doesn’t disconnect from who he was, he says he is still that guy, he just takes better care of him now. That shows a remarkable shift in consciousness toward self-responsibility and ownership. Whereas the woman at the start of the film would ask her husband the classic question, and of course she’s big, she doesn’t need to ask, but she’s in denial, to the point that when he lied to her and told her no, she would believe him. It was only when he wouldn’t answer that she would freak out, momentarily faced with reality. But she still hadn’t done anything about it – and probably just went to go eat something sweet to feel better.

10 – “Our generation doesn’t crave broccoli, we crave Big Macs.” I don’t like generalizations, because really everybody is different. Even though 2/3 of Americans are obese or overweight, there are still a third that aren’t. So what are they doing differently? Let’s meet them and find out. I, for one, do crave broccoli. I’ve eaten broccoli for breakfast. It’s delicious steamed with some salt and olive oil. And I think Big Macs are revolting, I haven’t been to a McDonalds in ten years. So they didn’t get everyone. 🙂