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Like many kids I grew up eating unhealthily. I learned bad eating habits that continued through my 20’s. Most dinners as a child were from fast food dollar menus. When we did have home cooked meals they were not the healthiest choices. I also ate tons of candy and had plenty of sugary drinks as I sat in front of the TV either watching shows or playing video games.
In my teens when I started working I took fast food jobs which didn’t help with better eating choices. I would drink tons of soda while at work and chow down on all the bad choices these restaurants offered. When I started making my own food the choices I would make really weren’t that much better than fast food. I would eat Hamburger Helper (undrained 80/20 hamburger), hot dogs, top ramen, canned chili, canned tamales, canned soup, canned—well, you get the idea; frozen pizza, frozen TV dinners, frozen burritos, frozen—well, you get the idea again.
As you can see these are not the best choices or even remotely healthy choices. To make matters worse, all the food I was eating was processed. I could easily have put quotes around “making my own food” since I really didn’t do any cooking, just heating things up. These foods are high in fat and specifically saturated fats, cholesterol, very high in sodium, low in fiber, and are nutrient poor.
You will also notice that none of the foods I ate included vegetables or fruits. My idea of eating vegetables was having pickled jalapenos, iceberg lettuce, and potatoes. If I did eat other vegetables it was from them being snuck in foods like with carrots and peas in pork or chicken fried rice and bell peppers in a chili. The amount of veggies in these sources was lacking and the source itself not a very healthy option. As for fruits I rarely ate them, instead I consumed large amounts of juice. When I did eat fruit it was normally from a can in syrup.
From my late teens into my early 20’s I was still making bad choices learned from behaviors as a child. I was going through about 6 to 10 sodas a day, 40 to 64 ounces of juice a day and very limited in actually water drinking throughout the day (I didn’t have any room for pure water when drinking all that other stuff). Some of my meal times were skipped or replaced with snack foods and desserts. I consumed large amounts of meats or animal byproducts at most meals. Nearly all carbs eaten were processed or refined and I continued to shun vegetables.
I would like to give you an example of a day of eating for me in my 20’s. The day would start off with a nice hearty breakfast consisting of 4 to 6 slices of bacon, 2 sausage links, 2 hash brown patties, 3 to 4 eggs, and either a couple of sodas or juice or a combo of the two. Lunchtime would be either 4 chili cheese dogs with Doritos or a box of hamburger helper topped with extra cheese and Fritos, plus a couple more sodas. Dinner time normally consisted of having a frozen pizza, and I mean the whole thing, with you might have guessed it: a couple of sodas. Snacks were things like Hostess pies, Oreos, frosted animal cracker cookies, flavored tootsie rolls, jelly beans, pound cakes, ice cream, root beer floats, and various other sugary sweets.
As you’re reading this you can see that I consumed a very large amount of calories on a daily basis (4500-6500 a day) and were made up of mostly fats and empty carbs. The crazy thing is I was never really overweight because I was active and had a very high or fast metabolism. You could look at this as a good thing or a bad thing. Most of us look at being overweight as unhealthy and it is a way for us to judge how healthy we are. Since I was not overweight I always believed I was healthy. External appearance is only one way for us to determine health and it’s not even a reliable source. In order for you to really know how healthy you are you need to get checked out by a doctor. Any problems with your body can easily be related to your diet. The main thing is going to your doctor, getting checked out regularly and having bloodwork done.
For years as a teenager and into my 20’s I had quite a bit of back pain and pain my groin. I would have dark urine and pain with urination. I had 2 different ultrasounds done on my testicles thinking I had cancer, numerous blood workups done and medications given for possible infections. After seeing quite a few doctors over the years I finally had one figure out what was going on. It turned out I was having kidney stones. Kidney stones are small, hard mineral deposits that form inside your kidneys. The stones are made of minerals and acid salts. Types of stones are calcium stones, uric acid stones, struvite stones, and cystine stones. You can easily lower your chances of calcium and uric acid stones by simply changing your diet, drinking plenty of water and emptying your bladder more frequently.
The discovery of my kidney stones and finally having an answer is what started my long journey of my dietary change. Like most people habits are hard to break and we don’t want to change our lifestyle. That was especially true for me. Whenever making a change I would say its best when done slowly, intelligently, and correctly. Giving up all the foods I enjoyed seemed like an impossible thing but I knew I needed to make a change and start somewhere. Where I ended up, I never saw happening.
I would like to note that the first change I made was not because of any test result it was just what I thought was a good idea. I want to say around age 23 I gave up was soda (but not completely and forever) and replaced that with water (ever be it small amounts) and lots more juice (mainly apple). Oh how I thought this was a good idea, because after all juice isn’t bad for you right? It is a fruit right? Wrong! Fruit juice can contain as much if not more sugar than your average soft drink. Added to that, having fruit juice over actual fruit means you are getting fewer nutrient benefits with no fiber, making it easier to consume more calories because it is less filling. I was consuming so much sugar in the way of juice and sweets that a blood test showed I was pre-diabetic. I also was either in the upper levels of normal cholesterol or had high cholesterol; I can’t remember exactly. Added to this, every time I had my blood pressure checked it was somewhere around the high 140’s systolic to the mid 90’s diastolic.
After being diagnosed at about age 26 or 27 with kidney stones plus with the information from the other tests I knew I needed to make other changes. Next I started limiting the amount of juice I was consuming as I saw that this went up when I stopped drinking soda. Only thing though, is that I really didn’t start drinking more water I just stopped drinking as much juice. I still had problems with stones and discolored urine, but it was less frequent. I did slightly, oh so slightly, limit the amount of sweets I would eat and tried to not replace meals with sweets. Somewhere between age 27 and 29 I stopped eating hamburger helper and top ramen, but was eating so many other terrible foods it didn’t make a difference. I didn’t really make any real big changes to my eating habits until I was in my 30’s.
In my 30’s I did start eating more whole fruits and was no longer buying canned fruit. I stopped eating fast food and began making more of my own food. I was trying to be more mindful of the portion sizes and binging on sweets. I cut back again how much fruit juice I was drinking and started consuming more water. I was still eating a bunch of processed foods, but was trying to be more mindful of what I was eating. I also cut back on how much red meat I was eating and how much cheese I was consuming. The changes I was making seemed to be alleviating my problems with kidney stones.
I was grateful to have the issue with the stones seeming to be resolved but it’s not like that was the only problem. As mentioned earlier I had borderline to high cholesterol and blood pressure. Also in my mid 20’s to early 30’s my activity level was limited to my job. I had a physical job so it wasn’t like I wasn’t getting any exercise, but I hardly ever worked out anymore due to aches and pains, injuries, or often simply getting sick. Plus as you get older your metabolism does start slowing down and most people typically start putting on a little extra weight.
This brings me up to the start where the largest changes started to happen. At this time I have already cut out soda and fast food, cut back on juice and began eating whole fruits, reduced sweets, started limiting red meat, I was eating more whole grains, and was drinking more water. I made a nice move in the direction of better eating, but given the amount of food I consumed per day even with the reductions I ate more than pretty much everyone I knew. I was also still not eating much in the way of vegetables. At this time I’m 35, weighing around 176, have problems with pain, limited activity levels, my blood pressure is around 135 over 87. I unfortunately didn’t have updated blood tests so no new information there.
In February of 2015 I had hurt my back again and like most times I didn’t go to the doctor right away. I kept having pain and finally went in July of 2015. X-rays showed an injury and it was recommended that I take time off of work to work on fixing my back. I was out of work for about 6 weeks. This gave me a lot of time to think about my life and how I just wasn’t doing enough in the way of taking care of myself. The week before I was to return to I came to the decision that I needed to start focusing on me. Given how physical my job was and the amount of injuries that were piling up, I decided to quit my job and enroll in college.
I enrolled in 3 classes, one of them being a weight training class to get myself back into shape since I had only sporadically worked out in the last 10 years. I was able to make some nice gains in strength very quickly and actually put on muscle mass. During this class I got up to 185 pounds that I believe was the because of extra muscle I was putting on. I started working more on my diet and for the most part eliminated juices and sweets from my diet. I started watching how much fat I consume and focused on eating more fiber. I also continued seeing a doctor regularly while I worked on bettering myself.
In January of 2016 I had blood work done and got results for my cholesterol and blood glucose. With the changes I had made my numbers read as followed: Total cholesterol-210, LDL-128, HDL-63, triglycerides-97, glucose, serum-95. As you see I was a little high in my cholesterol and LDL, but my HDL was over 60 which is great. Glucose came out in the normal range so I was good there also. I was pretty happy with the overall results.
January was also the start of a new semester at college and I enrolled in another 3 classes. One of the classes I enrolled in was a sports nutrition class taught by the very nice Kim Juarez. While in her class and with the information being learned I decided to cut back further on the amount of animal products I was eating. I not only halved the amount of cheese and meat I was consuming but switched half the amount of meats I was eating to fish. Plus I really started eating more vegetables.
In March of 2016 during my sports nutrition class, my teacher Kim put out a challenge to eliminate one thing you eat regularly for the month of March. I had given up so much of what I ate already that I felt I would be left with nothing else.
This brings us to a place I never thought I would be. I have always been a huge meat eater. I have stated on my occasions that I would never eat a piece of fake meat. Not only did I decide to try a fake meat product for the first time I decided to give up eating meat.
I went a few weeks meat free and I decided to start trying other things like dairy free cheeses and tofu as an egg replacement. At the beginning of May 2016 I am still meat free and stopped eating eggs (exception being egg in the salad dressing I eat and had 3 bottles left I didn’t want to toss). I also stopped consuming dairy products and using oil to cook. I had another blood test done to check my cholesterol numbers and I was quite surprised by what I saw. These 2 tests were done less than 4 months apart and I had only been meat free for a little more than a month and a half. My total cholesterol dropped 68 points down from 210 to 142, LDL dropped 52 points down from 128 to 76, HDL went from 63 to 55 (so I was still good with this number even though it’s better to have a higher number), triglycerides dropped 42 points down from 97 to 55. I have also lost roughly 25 pounds without purposefully trying to restrict calories; it’s just that the foods I eat now are lower in fats and are not considered empty calorie foods.
Now I was never as bad as some of these people who are on medications for numerous health issues, but as you can see all I did was change my diet and started exercising. Doing just these 2 things most of my problems went away. I no longer have a risk of diabetes, my cholesterol is under control and looking great, I haven’t had any more problems with kidney stones, my blood pressure has come back in the range of 115-120/75-80 for over 6 months, I have been hurting less and getting sick less which has helped me increase my physically activity level.
I know that this was a little long winded and I appreciate you taking the time to read through this. I hope that what I have written can motivate you to start making small changes to your diet and exercise a little more. Though I have chosen to stop eating meat and dairy I am not saying that to make a change you need to follow what I have done, but if you could cut back on your intake of meat, reduce your unhealthy fats, cut back on refined carbs and unnecessary sugars, and start eating more whole fruits and vegetable you will start to see changes. Remember to get regular checkups and blood work done to ensure you are on the right track and good luck in efforts in becoming a happier, healthier you.
P.S. I plan on writing more posts about what I am eating and my daily workout routines if you would like to follow along. I am going to try to keep cutting down my body fat percentage while putting on muscle mass. I plan to post old pictures of me and a recent picture of me with updated pictures to follow as I transition to where I want to be.