With the crisp, cool weather of autumn in full swing, and the chilly frost of winter preparing to make its way in (if it hasn’t already), I absolutely love the coziness of this time of year. Hunkering down inside the house, watching the leaves blow by the front windows (and later the snow fall to the ground), some festive music on the radio or programming on the television, and a good drink in hand to sip on while soaking it all in.
Yes, I sound like one of my favorite Onion articles about Mr. Autumn Man making his triumphant and cliched return, but that’s okay.
All that in mind, I have to admit, that one beverage I miss having in my hands as I hunker down is a nice glass of beer.
For those of you who aren’t tired of hearing about my low-to-no carb and added sugar diet in an effort to bring my cholesterol down, it has meant that beer, like much else, has been off the menu the past several months. I’ve instead been having an occasional glass of red wine, which I enjoy, but it admittedly is an entirely other animal.
So, this season, I’ve picked up a new favorite as I enjoy all the cliches of the season – hot apple cider. When the kids go to bed and I’m attempting, post-our nighttime responsibilities (because let’s face it, when those kids finally fall asleep, it’s a shotgun start to get anything done around the house or next-day prep we couldn’t get to earlier), I’ve been pouring myself a mug of apple cider and popping it in the microwave for a good two minutes so that it’s nice and piping hot for a little bit of time on the couch decompressing with the window, the TV, some music, or even a little silence.
Hot cider with spices, known as Wassail goes back centuries to Europe, a yuletide tradition.
My own transition from beer to cider as my indulgent beverage of choice seems to be in direct opposite to their paths (especially that of hard cider) in early America, where, according to the Smithsonian, the once popular apple beverage (popular with and easier to make for colonists and settlers than beer because barley was harder to grow in New England), was eventually dwarfed by waves of Germans and eastern Europeans settling in the midwest where an easier environment to grow barley in, and their own love of the brew, brought beer across the pond in a more robust way.
So while I admit to some longing for an Oktoberfest or Winter Ale as we move into this chillier holiday season, I’ll stick with it, saving the beer in the fridge for company and keep substituting a nice steaming mug of apple cider when that cold winter craving (and weather) comes a calling.
During an annual visit to my doctor this summer, I got word that my latest round of bloodwork had continued an unfortunate trend of very high cholesterol levels. I’m not one for medicine unless necessary, and fortunately for me, my doctor likes to go that route only when there are no other options to exhaust.
So, the prescription of the moment is becoming more active along with a fairly strict change of diet, eliminating (as much as possible, anyway) carbs and sugars from my plate.
If this sounds vaguely familiar it’s because my doctor had requested I try this in the past, to which I would start out strong and quickly lose steam before falling back into an eat-anything type of pattern again.
So this latest endeavor began at the start of August, and I’m proud to say that as I write this I am successfully three months into this new way of eating. The activeness part of the prescription, I admit, still needs some work. Sure, chasing three kids around certainly feels like a physical and mental work out by the end of the day, but I’m sure the doctor has something a little more routine in mind. Over the summer I was better at getting up early in the morning before the rest of the household awoke and going for a walk. With the start of the school year, of course, our morning routine changes with the season and an early morning walk is just not feasible, unless I wanted to go for a walk in the dark at 4 am – a prospect I think I’ll pass on.
Some years ago I had stopped sugary drinks, so sodas and sugared coffee was already out of the mix. So diet-wise, it’s been all-systems go, and with a huge help from Meg, my meals have consisted pretty much of meat and veggies, fruit or eggs, or soup and salad (in some order/arrangement) for the past three months. In that time I’ve found that many of the pains my doctor chalked up to inflammation disappear. Another side effect is that in that time I’ve also lost between 13-17 pounds, which I imagine had much to do with dropping carbs from the menu. Of course, the side effect to that side effect is that many of my clothes of the past few years are now baggy on me.
I’m going to be honest in that the road hasn’t been easy. The first few weeks without carbs left me in a state of constant irritation as my body went through a withdrawal stage. And I admit it’s hard to not sample a cookie or donuts, skip the birthday cake at the kids’ parties, and leave rice or potatoes sitting on a plate at the restaurant. But, I am and three months in, I’ve gotten much better at adjusting to what I can and can’t eat.
With another round of bloodwork coming in December, I’m determined to stand firm to see if this strict diet change has made any difference in things. If so, we’ll have conquered it without the need for medication. If not, well, we’ll have to cross that bridge when we get to it.
The motivating factor in it all? Not the numbers, but my kids. I want to make sure I’m around as long as possible to see them grow, to see them thrive, to see who they become. And it’s possible that without the right changes to my diet and health, that may not happen.
So, as much as I may soooo crave a donut now and then, I can forsake the taste of that baked good when I put it on the scale next to the future with my kids.
I really hate letting things go to waste. Yes, that statement is at odds with my aversion to clutter and desire for less, but in this particular case, I’m thinking about food. It never fails that when garbage night rolls around each week, we find ourselves with some slices of bread that’s starting to go, or fruit that’s past its prime and starting to turn. In times past, this may have found a home in the garbage bag while our sense of regret finds a home in our minds. But recently, I’m pretty proud that we’ve been finding a way to make sure that even those items get a new life or use.
And the answer lies right outside our kitchen window.
In our new digs of the past year, we’re not that far from some wooded areas and in the middle of the night last winter, up with our second child who couldn’t fall back asleep, Meg looked out the bedroom window to see a deer staring back at her. Since that night, throughout the winter months when food is not as plentiful in the woods, they come as one, sometimes in packs of three or even five and feast on the sunflower seeds in the bird feeder hanging from a tree in our backyard.
So now when that (non-citrus) fruit starts to go, or when the kids want an apple but don’t finish all of it, or even the apple core I have left over from lunch, out into the backyard it goes under the tree, where the next morning, if not within a few hours, it’s disappeared, gobbled up by our neighbors the deer, or squirrels, or perhaps that plethora of beautiful birds that frequent the place.
Will seeing me find an alternative to tossing away the leftover fruit rub off onto our kids? I don’t know. I’d like to hope so. Sometimes it feels like it’s an uphill battle to try and keep this planet in better shape than we found it, but if something like not throwing out certain types of food that makes a welcomed meal to the wildlife outside our door can make even a small difference, I’m all for it.
Since getting the results of my bloodwork that tell me I had high cholesterol, high triglycerides and High LDL, I have been working very hard to be disciplined about eating better. Much of that has been cutting out fried foods, processed foods, and as my doctor put it, “cutting down on all starches and sugars.”
I will admit it hasn’t been easy, but I have a feeling that the more I stick to it, the more it will start to just become habit. Instead of a sandwich, I’ll have a wrap or salad for lunch. Instead of some chips on the side, I have a stack of almonds.
For dinner, Meg’s been really good about switching over from rice to quinoa, more vegetables, and adding things like more fish to our meals. She’s really been coming up with some great, and delicious ideas that are still within the restrictions/limits.
Every now and then I like some ice cream, but instead, I’m trying frozen yogurt from Stonyfield. Great taste and much less cholesterol.
Going out to eat has been a bit more difficult, though. A day or so after I got my results, we were all invited to have dinner with my parents – who took us to a place that specializes in BBQ and Fried Foods. It’s a great place, but man was it difficult to look at that menu and try to find something that wouldn’t totally throw me off of the wagon. I settled on chicken, not fried, and cooked with rosemary and thyme instead of barbecue sauce or breading. For the sides, I skipped the french fries (despite loving fries) and went with a sweet potato, with no brown sugar and no butter. Just threw on a little pepper. And it was good. You get two sides, so I also made sure to get a salad and passed on the dinner roll, figuring it was probably just empty carbs and starch that wouldn’t help.
I’ve done lunch with a few friends since then at a local bar and grille and that has also tested me in terms of this new diet. Usually, I’d get anything from a bacon cheeseburger to a buffalo chicken sandwich. Just a few of my favorite things. Instead, each trip has been Soup and Salad. I once slipped up and got the Caesar Salad and French Onion soup, only to have Meg remind me later that the Caesar dressing is loaded with things I’m not supposed to have, and the cheese and bread in the soup is also not too cholesterol-friendly.
So, on my latest venture, I did the soup and salad with just an Italian dressing and got the french onion soup without the bread or cheese. Thankfully, it was still tasty.
I know. I know. I’m sitting here writing paragraph upon paragraph about what I ordered at restaurants. I think part of it is to help me track my progress as this is new ground for me. As I’ve stated before, I once had tried to eat healthier when I learned I had high cholesterol but quickly fell off the wagon after a few ‘cheats’ here and there. This time, there’s me, Meg, and our little guy involved, so I have to make sure I’m around for a long time.
And that means finally taking this seriously.
This isn’t an incredible shocker, as I’ve had high cholesterol most of my life.
A few years ago I was told this after blood work and the doctor told me I needed to go on statins. Not being one for medication (or the side effects that go with it), I decided a change-up to my diet was the route I’d rather go. And I did, for a bit. I fully admit I fell off that wagon over time, though and went right back into some bad habits – you know, like toast with lots of butter almost every morning with my tea, or lots of starches like rice.
I have a new doctor these days, and while she said I’m in fantastic health, she wanted to do some blood work, since it was my first visit to her. The results came back with the same old story – high cholesterol. Fortunately, her reaction was not to prescribe something, but instead to give me notes that it’s time to change-up my diet. “Cut out all sugars and starches” she said in her message.
When I used to get this news in years past, it was different. It was just me I was really worrying about. Now, there’s not only my wife, but our son. In other words I need to make sure I’m around for a while and it’s time to get back on the wagon and stay there in the hopes of bringing the bad cholesterol down.
Side note – wouldn’t you know it, I opened up the blood work results and note from my doctor when it came in the mail over the weekend and was halfway through a big starchy sandwich with chips on the side? Naturally. 😉
So, a few days in, we’re working on the changes. I admit, it’s not easy. We’ve had fish for dinner. We went out to dinner with my parents at a BBQ restaurant known for its fried food and it took my much longer than usual to figure out what to eat. I ended up with chicken that was cooked with rosemary and thyme instead of the fried of barbecued options. Instead of fries or regular potatoes, I went with a sweet potato – no butter, not brown sugar, as it usually would come. I threw a little bit of pepper on it and it was fine. It has its own flavor that tasted pretty good.
Breakfasts have been oatmeal the past few days. Though, I admit, I don’t know if I could do that every day.
I love salads, so I’m thinking there may be a lot of those in my future.
We’ll see what happens in four months when I go for the next blood work test to see if these changes have had any effect. In the meantime, I guess it’s going to take a little discipline and some creativity to make sure I stay on this train of health, for my sake, and the sake of my family.
Any low-cholesterol meal ideas are certainly welcome! 🙂