DIARY OF A KIDNEY LOVER
It’s good to be back here writing again after these last three weeks on the DASH diet. They weren’t necessarily bad weeks, but I was definitely up and down – excited, elated, frustrated, blue. To recap from my blog of a few weeks ago, my blood pressure is sometimes on the high side, so I’m on a quest to protect my kidneys and lower my blood pressure naturally. I’ve been watching my sodium for quite some time, but that alone doesn’t seem to do much for me. The DASH diet (that stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension”) sounded like an intriguing solution. It’s based on a comprehensive scientific study and is proven to lower blood pressure within 14 days. The DASH way of eating calls for a combination of whole foods – not vitamin supplements – that provide the right combination of potassium, magnesium, calcium and fiber to lower blood pressure. For me, that meant 6 servings of grains a day (which I never got up to), 4 of veg, 4 of fruit, 2 of low-fat dairy, 1 of fats/oils and 1/4 of nuts, seeds and beans. The diet is basically a better, healthier version of my already vegetarian diet; and for those who eat meat, that’s definitely allowed. You don’t necessarily need to restrict sodium with this diet, but it works better if you do, so I kept the sodium to a minimum like I normally do.
Week 1 started out fine. I enjoyed shopping for organic kale and chard and things I hadn’t consumed in years like low fat milk and graham crackers. I quickly discovered that (1) the cereal I bought just didn’t agree with me – way too much fiber when combined with the other things I was eating – and (2) this diet calls for more food than I normally eat. The latter was partly ok, since I’m often too busy to eat a midday snack and end up starving by dinner time. I dialed down the quantities a bit; even then, there was no room for non-essential food. When I strayed a bit on the weekends (I usually eat out at least twice or have a sweet with coffee), I found I missed my fruits and vegetables. The variety of colors, shapes, textures, never mind the flavors – appealed to the artist in me. This was clearly my honeymoon period. I was so enamored with my asparagus, squash and carrot tacos that I took a picture of them for you.
I was walking around my neighborhood every evening, feeling good about life. At the end of the first week, I took my blood pressure at the pharmacy (not as reliable as a trip to the doctor, of course) and my reading had gone down about 10 points from the week before. The bottom number was still a little high, but not as high as the previous week. I felt great.
By week 2, I had the food nailed down. I snacked happily on Asian pear, peaches, carrots, but my workload increased and the days turned ridiculously hot. There wasn’t enough time to exercise and the few times I went out at the end of the day (in 100 plus temps) it got dark much faster than before. I didn’t think slacking off on the exercise would make that much of a difference, but it did. My next trip to the pharmacy about 2.5 weeks in, was completely disappointing. Granted, the circumstances weren’t ideal. I’m always nervous when I take my blood pressure. Two really nice seniors had set up a table right next to the machine (I have no idea what they were advocating) and I had to crawl into the seat to take my reading. I was having trouble figuring out where to put my arm in the machine while the helpful man by my side, straight out of American Gothic, was predicting a wonderfully low reading for me. No such luck. I was about 20 points higher than the previous week. My pulse was over 100. I was either unbelievably nervous or in serious trouble. I took another reading and got my usual high normal numbers. My pulse had slowed only slightly. I was really mad. It didn’t help having an elderly gentleman, however nice, telling me I “really need to take care of that.”
So I moped, I railed, I took a day away from work so I could think. I became nervous that my pulse was too high, that maybe I had a hyperactive thyroid, which runs in my family. In the middle of the night, I felt my pulse and it was always the same – a seemingly fast bump, bump, bump. I considered changing my Facebook status to “Michelle is a stressball.” I could see that I had approached this endeavor all wrong. I had not been disciplined enough about exercise. A friend I had not talked to in a long time said, “I think your body needs yoga.” So, I planned to do yoga the following night. What the heck. I used to love yoga. (Then why did I stop?) The next day, I took more time for myself. I unearthed my camera and took photos in my mother’s garden. I found a cactus that made me very happy, and here it is.
That night, yoga felt great, but I had trouble with the deep breathing. That was telling. Stressballs don’t do much deep breathing. It’s an important thing to relearn.
I continued to do things for myself. I took the time to read a great article in the April Vogue (Yes, I am obviously way behind on my reading). It was about young Dutch model Kim Noorda’s struggle with food and weight. On the borderline of an eating disorder, she had become adept at eating “a little less.” She spent so much time worrying about what she ate that she didn’t have time for anything else. The author, Sally Singer, encouraged her to enter a program to help her see that she could be more than a model who worried about every bite she ate. She encouraged her to be “a little more.” I really liked that advice. As much as I wanted balance in my life, I could see that I wasn’t getting there. I was too focused on health and blood pressure and stress and it was stressing me out. In the past, balance meant the right amount of creativity vs. work. But yoga has made me realize that I need time for breathing, too, and stillness and relaxation, meditation. That has to be the way forward for me.
My doctor’s appointment is just about a week away. I’m going to keep on exercising, practicing yoga, eating good food, worrying less, spending time writing, drawing, taking photos. This time around, I’ll be sure to stop and smell the cactus and BREATHE.