Back in early December I posted about “Getting Stricter About Sugar“. That has gone pretty well, although the holidays did make it challenging. There always seemed to be a special dinner with dessert or a holiday party with treats out coming up. But Dr. Michael Greger in his book “How Not to Diet (which I discussed previously) points out that we naturally have a craving for sweets, because that had a survival advantage when calories were scarce. However, we have unnaturally become accustomed to concentrated sweet processed foods. The good news is that fixing this is one of the fastest adjustments our palates can make: just avoid processed sweets and stick to natural sources of sweetness like fruit, for a couple of weeks, and you start to get used to it. This is working for me, processed sweets still taste just fine, but they are also getting easier to say no to.
Lately I’ve decided to up the ante and be much stricter on avoiding all junk. I have a visit with my cardiologist coming up in April, and he wants me to have bloodwork done first. My numbers from my last tests with my general practitioner about a year ago weren’t bad, but I want to get back to great numbers I’ve had in the past. Replacement heart valves don’t wear out, instead they eventually get calcified, which makes the stenosis return. That can happen in anywhere from 10 to 25 years. I’m now about 2 ½ years out from my surgery, so in a worst case scenario I’d have to get it done again in only 7 ½ years. I’d rather shoot for the upper end of valve life, and a there’s evidence that high quality diet can contribute to that. My friends still tease me that I’ll just be disciplined until I get good numbers on my blood tests then backslide. Hopefully I’ll prove them wrong.
There is a mental reason for being stricter about avoiding junk also. More than one meditation teacher has pointed out that training the palate is a great way to train our minds. You don’t have to gear up to run an ultramarathon to discipline your mind, there’s a readily available everyday challenge in trying to eat healthier. I first encountered this in the writings of my favorite meditation teacher, Eknath Easwaran. I read his book Conquest of Mind in 1992, a very stressful time in my life, and it helped me a lot. He highly recommends “training the senses” (including the palate) as one of what he calls “allied disciplines” to help bolster the benefits of meditation. I must admit that though I’ve been trying to follow his program for 27 years now, training the senses is probably what I am weakest at. I have enough “willpower” to do athletic challenges, but less “won’tpower” to say no to junk food. So that is another reason to take this seriously.
In his book Gandhi The Man, Easwaran tells a fun story about Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi was another believer that training the palate plays an important role in self-transformation. But he also believed in practicing what he preached. Once a mother brought her young son to visit and asked Gandhi to tell him he shouldn’t eat sweets. Gandhi told her to come back with the boy in a week. A week later he solemnly told the boy it was not a good idea to eat sweets. After they left a disciple asked “why did you make her come back? You could have told him that last week”, and Gandhi replied “a week ago I was still eating sweets”.
No Junk As An Alternative “Reset”
Previously I’ve discussed the idea of a “reset” to jumpstart healthy eating. This was based on the work of Dr. David Ludwig, and uses a temporary period of moderately low carb eating to “reset your metabolism”, making healthier eating easier afterwards. I had good luck with a similar approach I blundered on back in early 2017. In that post I mentioned that whole-food plant based authors feel it is sufficient to just dive right in to healthy eating. Basically this time I went with their approach. My diet consisted of mostly whole-food plant based eating with occasional “treats”. Maybe the treats had become a little too often then occasional… In my recent experience of avoiding junk, it had pretty much the same effect as Dr. Ludwig’s approach. In both cases after about 3 weeks, it became easier to stick to healthy eating. I would say in my experience both approaches worked equally well.