How Not to Die

This week, I’m wrapping up reading my latest book How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease written by a doctor named Michael Gregor, who also leads a non-profit site called NutritionFacts.org. Reading this book has frankly made me even more angry about medicine in today’s world (or maybe just this country). In the book’s introduction, Dr. Gregor notes that he was inspired to go into medicine because of a truly life-changing turnaround he saw his grandmother go through. When she was just 65, she had a bypass surgery and was told that she probably had days or months at most to live. She entered into a pilot program (in a wheelchair) that required a plant-based diet and daily exercise. After about a month there, she walked out on her own two feet. And on her new plant-based diet and exercise regimen that she continued, his grandmother lived for another 31 years and was even able to see her grandson graduate from medical school.

Once he was of age and met all the requirements, Dr. Gregor applied and was accepted into 21 different medical schools. Much to his disgust, all medical schools in this country spend less than 1 percent of their curriculum on diet and nutrition. He eventually chose to matriculate at Tufts’ medical school, which at the time had the highest number of hours devoted to nutrition focus. He even interviewed at Cornell’s medical school, where one of the interviewers flat out said that there was zero connection between one’s nutrition and one’s health outcomes. Is this what our medical schools are filled with — people who really believe this? No wonder I think medicine in this country is crap.

If there’s one thing I’ve really followed that my dad taught me when I was young, it’s that I really hate taking medication unless I absolutely need it. “Your body is a lot stronger than you think it is,” my dad used to say. But what is “absolute” need, really? I suppose whooping cough is “absolute” need. Then what about high blood pressure? Do we really need high blood pressure medication? A study that Dr. Gregor notes in his book illuminated the fact that by taking two cups of strongly brewed hibiscus tea every day that on average you can actually see the same results as taking the leading HBP medication on the market. What would you rather take — tasty (but sour) hibiscus tea or pills every day?

I always read books like this with a grain of salt; even if I could live longer and healthier on a plant-based diet and eliminate all dairy and meat products, I know I’d be missing out on things I love in life, which I don’t want. But he offers a lot of insight into how USDA food recommendations are marred by food industry money and lobbyists, the benefits of pure grains, fruits, and vegetables that pharmaceutical companies have nothing to gain from if you ate them more, but you’d have lots to gain from a health perspective. He also discusses the science behind all of these things and evidence-based medicine (which I recently learned from a medicine-focused Freakonomics podcast is still not fully embraced by our medical community, surprise surprise; my friend, who is in her second year of doing her residency program now, confirmed this to me in her medical schooling). I realize we live in a factless world now with Dipshit as president, but how can you not embrace evidence-based nutrition and medicine?

Sealant

Another trip to the freaking dentist. If only my teeth could be invincible enough so that I’d never have another dentist visit ever again, I would be so unbelievably happy.

Today, I thought I was going to have a root canal because of some random hole that had developed in one of my teeth due to teeth grinding, but after an X-Ray that showed exactly what type of hole it was, my dentist determined a root canal would be too massive of a procedure for my issue. What is my issue? That a hole resembling the skinniest little cylinder somehow goes straight down one of my back teeth. This has been causing major sensitivity when biting into anything even remotely crunchy for the last seven months. So instead, the dentist cleaned it up and sealed the hole today. And I left with half my mouth numb, including my tongue. When I went to a restaurant to meet Chris, I ordered both of us drinks while feeling like my entire mouth was contorted, and I was speaking pseudo-English. I wonder if the server noticed.

This is my dental life now and for the future. I can brush and floss all I want, but my grinding is going to take over my dental life. And the silly mouth guard is only going to do so much. How did we become a society full of teeth grinders?

At the end of a Mother’s Reckoning

After seeing the Sue Klebold TED Talk where Klebold discusses the mass murder her son participated in at Columbine High School, I felt compelled to read her book A Mother’s Reckoning, so I picked it up from the library and finished it in four days. Needless to say, the Columbine shooting shook the entire country, if not the world, and opened our eyes to so many issues that are still a problem today: mental health and illness, the dangers and life-long lingering effects of bullying, gun violence and control, among others. I’ve finished reading the book, and have also spent a decent amount of time reading news articles covering the mass murder at the time, and also Amazon reader reviews, and this is generally what I think.

Sue Klebold is so right in that it’s so easy for us to say as outsiders that it’s easy to blame the parents. If you have never experienced the suicide of a loved one, or a suicide-homicide in her case, it’s easy for you to think that it could never affect your own life or that of someone you love who is close to you. You think to yourself, “if I had a friend/brother/sister/daughter/son/etc. who was going through that, I’d have to know.” No, you don’t have to know. No, you wouldn’t always be able to tell the signs. Sometimes it’s the people closest to us who have the most to hide and are the best actors. All of our lives are busy, and all of us are always going to overlook things that in hindsight, may seem obvious. We are all human beings, after all, and we are prone to error in judgment. We need to accept that we are not infallible. I’ve personally had to accept that every day since Ed’s death.

It’s hard for me to blame Sue Klebold and her husband the way so many readers and outsiders do because at the end of the day, don’t all parents “try their best”? Their best may not be your best or my best, but it’s to the best of their ability, as all of our spheres of knowledge are so different. Of course, the book is written by her, so it’s obvious she would want to portray her and her (now ex-) husband as good parents (which could make a potential reader think she would be an unreliable narrator), but that also seems to be the general consensus of those around them, as well, who knew them. She is also brutally honest in revealing all the “danger signs” that she and Dylan’s dad chose to either ignore or overlook at the time. She’s really using this book as a way to be a warning to all parents even non-parents out there: be aware that you may never fully know your child, but also look out for signs like all these that I failed to see. And I personally think that is so brave of her. It’s even braver of her to put herself out there in the world, volunteering for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, going to conferences around the country to share her story, despite all the hate and death threats that she has received.

One thing she does repeatedly in the book is refer to mental health as “brain health” instead of mental health. She says she does this because “mental health” is not something people can see or grasp, and therefore it is easier to ignore or avoid it; if we refer to it as “brain health,” it’s more visible, and it forces us to see that it’s part of our head. It’s an interesting concept, one that a number of readers have complained about, but I do think it could have some merit. Her argument is correct: it’s hard even for the medical community to take “mental health” seriously. Isn’t that why so many suicide attempts and hospitalizations are treated so poorly and handled in a way that wrongly treats suicide attempts as a conscious and active “choice” rather than a poorly made decision in a medical state of emergency?

First passing

Today, I talked to my mom, who informed me that one of her friends who attended our wedding back in March has passed away. He’d been struggling with health issues for a while now, and when we saw him back in March, it was clear he wasn’t doing well; he could barely walk. Yet he and his wife still made the trip from Hawaii to California for our wedding. He’s already been cremated, and the family is holding a memorial service for him in a month to allow for their relatives back in Japan to come to Honolulu and pay their respects.

It’s sad to hear about his passing, especially since he was so kind to my family and me when we visited their home in Hawaii back in 2007. Then, he seemed to be in great health and spirits, exuding so much warmth, enthusiasm, and a bubbly sense of humor. It had clearly faded by the time we saw him earlier this year.

Lives go on after our wedding. Babies will be born, people will die, others will get married, separated, divorced. We will all get older and time will pass. Or, as my dad recently said, “well, most people around our age — if they’re not dying from heart attacks, strokes or cancer, then they’ll die from falling in their homes. You have to go some way.” I wonder if they’re going to make the trip to Hawaii for this memorial.

Loaf on a plane

I had left over sour cream from muffins I made a couple weeks ago, so I decided to use it up by making my favorite banana bread recipe from Boston’s Flour Bakery today. Chris asked me why I was baking the day before we’ll be away in San Francisco for a week and a half, and I said we’d just bring the loaf to my parents. He seemed displeased. He loves banana bread. “They’re not going to appreciate it, anyway,” he muttered.

He’s not all wrong in saying that. My dad’s been trying to pretend he’s super healthy since his heart surgery a year and a half ago by publicly fussing over foods like red meat and pastries. Last January when I came home, I bought scones from the Irish bakery down the block in our neighborhood, and he got mad and refused to eat them, saying they were bad for his health. Instead of eating a pastry or eggs in the morning like he might occasionally do, he’s been mixing about five different types of seed, oat bran, flax, and who knows what else, along with a heaping teaspoon of turmeric into his oatmeal. This is every single day. It looks just like vomit. Yes, I told him this.

What I want to know is – if we are all striving to have a long, healthy life, isn’t part of that life being healthy, as in, not just my heart and brain are functioning properly, but my mind is healthy and happy? Otherwise, what are we living a long life for? What are we waiting for?

Health and life

It’s been about two months since I’ve gone to the gym. It’s kind of a weird feeling to not be working out for so long. In December, it made sense since we were away in Australia and then in Hong Kong, but ever since then, I’ve been slowly but surely recovering from whooping cough. It’s not good to be doing breathing exercises and getting over bruised ribs when trying to go to the gym. So Chris banned me from going until my ribs fully healed. And this morning, I woke up for the first time in nearly two months and didn’t feel any pain in my ribs after inhaling deeply. It’s like a revival (and this means I’m going back to the gym!).

The last week or so when I have been able to speak properly has made me so happy. I can speak loudly and clearly without my voice breaking up or sounding like I am choking up, and I don’t sound like a sick person. My voice actually sounds like my voice now. And I have moments through the day when I am speaking to people, and I just start smiling a lot, thinking, “I’m so grateful to be healthy and able to speak and breathe normally again.” Health is the most important thing in the world. Healthy people rarely think about it because they just have it, so they don’t need to. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve woken up in the morning, and as soon as I start speaking to Chris or whoever it is that I first see in the morning, I’ve been really thankful for my health and my life.

Reupholstering

Our sofa is getting a makeover. I finally got new foam cushions delivered for the seats of the couch and spent tonight resizing the cushions by cutting them with my big bread cutting knife. The cushions came sized a bit bigger than ours, so I had to bring out my DIY self and start cutting away. When I was done resizing, cleaning up the foam shavings, and stuffing them back into the cushion covers, I sat down on the “new” couch to feel a firmness that had never been there before for as long as I’d lived in this apartment. It really was like a new couch, just with the same color and stains from before.

Re-upholstery. It’s like one of those “grown-up” tasks that you tend to hear about when you get older and you have to start doing these things because they are either good for your health or good for your house or good for your kids. Chris thought to do this because he has been having back problems in the last month or so, so the firmer cushions would help with his posture and of course his back. We really are getting older.

Making healthy things “low fat”

I was at work the other day when I came across an article about the top selling items at Trader Joe’s. Most of the items, like Joe Joe’s (better Oreos), Three-Buck-Chuck, Speculoos Spread, and almond butter I would have guessed, but there were a few surprises, like fennel bulbs, which are the only vegetable/raw item on this list, and who knew that fennel was so popular?! Number Four, however, was the Reduced Guilt Guacamole, which immediately annoyed me when I saw the words “reduced guilt” in front of guac.

The description says that the reason it is “reduced guilt” is that part of the avocado is replaced with Greek yogurt, resulting in 50 percent less fat and 40 percent less calories than regular guacamole. When did guacamole become an unhealthy item? Of all the snack dips you could have, this is by far the most natural and the healthiest. At its most basic, it’s just avocados (good fat, mind you), onions, cilantro, lime juice, jalapeno, salt, and pepper. Sometimes it’s jazzed up with tomatoes or other vegetables to make it more colorful, but that’s it. What is unhealthy in that list of items that makes people think that they should be eating or buying lower fat guacamole? For the freaks who are anti-oil, there’s no oil, and there’s no animal fat here. I’m so tired of the food industry and people’s neuroses when it comes to what is “healthy” or “unhealthy.” The obsession with healthy eating just ends up resulting in unhealthy habits at the end of the day whether you realize it or not. Eat what you want, all in moderation, and exercise, and you’ll be fine.

Brain slowdown

I was reading an article the other day about attention span that said that based on website analytics across numerous news sites, the average amount of time one spends on a news story is 15 seconds.  And as I was reading this, I was fighting the urge to skim the page instead of reading each paragraph through. Apparently, I’m such a millennial. I am a product of the time in which I live. I can’t even read a full news article on one page without just wanting to read a few sentences per paragraph. Sometimes, when I am reading articles that are not about food or health (the main things I like to read about), I even realize that sometimes, I have to read some paragraphs more than once to fully comprehend everything that was written. That’s not a good sign.

So I decided to try out Lumosity, a web-based brain training program that is supposed to improve cognitive function – reaction times, memory, attention – you name it. I tried out two tests, one for speed and one for memory so far. As I would expect, my speed/reaction time is far worse than my memory. The games are actually fun to play, and it’s good to know that some of the time I am spending on the internet is not just wasting time. I’m adding this to my goals list for the year now.

Tofu burritos?

I was just added to an e-mail chain at work of women in the office who are either vegetarian or part-time vegetarian. They were discussing getting tofu burritos at Chipotle next week. I love tofu. I love burritos. But the idea of them together just sounds wrong. Maybe I am just a taco/burrito purist. I also do not like Chipotle, and in Manhattan would take Dos Toros a million times over Chipotle (too bad there’s no Dos Toros near my office). I’m fine with the part-time vegetarianism; I would think almost all of us are “part-time” vegetarians without even realizing it. I rarely eat meat at breakfast (it’s hard to combine a slab of meat with my morning grapefuit…), and a lot of lunches I have don’t even have meat. I just never thought to label it as that. Maybe I am also part-time vegan, part-time gluten free, and part-time anti-wheat?