Lifestyle: My 2018 Diet & Health Journey

Lifestyle: My 2018 Diet & Health Journey

Back in March, I went to the doctor and got shocking results that my Triglycerides were at 395 and my fasting glucose was over 100. Not to mention I weighed 185 (the highest I can remember). One and a half months later, I lost 20 lbs and lowered my triglycerides to 98. I did this without any teas or medications – all with a special diet and exercise.

Disclaimer: I'm not a doctor and this information is all from my own research from the internet and my own ideas. This diet is what worked for me, but won't work for everyone. And it may not be healthy for everyone. So please do your own research and talk to your own physician.

 The first photo was taken fall 2017.

The first photo was taken fall 2017.

I've had a lot of people ask me about the diet I did to get healthy and lose all this weight recently, and so I am writing this all up to help others on their journeys. My journey is unique as are each of our bodies. But maybe this information will help motivate someone else to lead a healthier life.

See below some graphs that prove my results. My weight dropped from 186 lbs 3/12/18 to 165 lbs 6/29/18. I started my diet right before the week of my 30th birthday 5/21/18, meaning from mid-may to end of June I lowered my weight by 21 lbs.

 See my weight loss. Looks like my blood pressure improved too!

See my weight loss. Looks like my blood pressure improved too!

 My cholesterol results trended - triglycerides dropped from 395 to 98, HDL went up, LDL went down.

My cholesterol results trended - triglycerides dropped from 395 to 98, HDL went up, LDL went down.

 Fasting blood glucose after my diet was down from 103 to 88! But it fluctuates daily.

Fasting blood glucose after my diet was down from 103 to 88! But it fluctuates daily.

 

The List

Feel free to visit My Amazon Influencer Shop to see a list of unique items I found on Amazon to make subsitutes in my diet: like raw wraps, stevia sweeteners, flax crackers, and seaweed. Also there is a list of the tools I used to monitor my progress.

The Story

When I learned of my high triglyceride levels, I was pretty freaked out. I was turning 30, I had no health symptoms, and I felt like I didn't know what to do. My fasting glucose was also over 100 (and I monitored it to be 105-115 some mornings before my diet). My doctor immediately prescribed me fenofibrate – a triglyceride-lowering medication – but at 30 I really didn't want to be taking medications for the rest of my life from such a young age. I talked to my parents and my husband and they both felt that since my levels were high but not deadly that I should see if I can make serious lifestyle changes first to avoid medication. And I'm so glad I took their advice.

Between end of May to July, when I started my diet and exercise program, I completely turned around my triglycerides to well below the healthy limit, lost 20 lbs (now 30 lbs at time of writing), and my glucose is now more consistently in range. I also improved my HDL "good cholesterol" score and lowered my LDL "bad cholesterol" in the process. And none of my other metabolic numbers were negatively affected. Success! Honestly I was completely motivated by lowering triglycerides and glucose, but losing all the weight was a really nice benefit too.

I haven't found many great resources for someone going through this process, and I know that high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and high glucose are very common issues with today's American diet and the foods we eat. There are lots of stats about how the food we have become accustomed to eating aren't healthy for everyone, and the overly delicious meals we eat in restaurants and at fast food chains are packed with fat, carbs, and sugar.

So I wanted to record my journey because I was looking for a personal account like this when planning my own health.

Research

First, I did my research. Research for one's own health after getting information from your doctor is important. I feel that if we are capable of understanding our bodies and the mechanics of how they work, we can work with our doctors to reach the best outcome.

How could my tricglycerides be 395?! A healthy level is below 150, so I was more than double that limit. It didn't make sense. I had a moderately healthy diet, though I definitely ate more carbs than I needed to (pizza, pasta, rice, etc.). But I also sensed something else may be going on. The scary thing was that my doctor told me that triglycerides over 500 was a toxic level for the body. So I was already approaching that level. And high triglycerides is an independent risk factor for heart attacks and heart disease... meaning even if you are otherwise completely healthy, high triglycerides can lead to serious heart problems.

High triglyceride levels hurts the pancreas, which regulates insulin levels, and this seemed connected to my slightly elevated fasting (morning before eating) glucose, which often came in above 110. The healthy limit is under 100. So I got the sense that both problems were somewhat related and that I needed to lower my triglycerides – and fast.

One part of my research was to understand how my triglycerides could be so high with a normal diet. So I read a bunch of medical journal articles and googled, and found that there is a genetic mutation present in some people on the APOA5 gene that causes triglycerides to be unusually elevated. That would make a lot more sense, so I wanted to determine if I had that mutation. I found a genetic test called Fitness Genes by googling "APOA5 genetic test" that determined that I did, in fact, have an APOA5 mutation that is present in ~25% of the population. I have my suspicions that this is from the Japanese side of my family, since the East Asian diet is so much different than the Western diet. That suspicion (which is totally my own idea) drove a lot of the dietary choices that I ended up making – following some ideas of a traditional Japanese diet.

Triglycerides

The Fitness Genes site recommended that with my mutation, in order to lower my triglycerides, I should avoid Omega-6 fatty acids because those are reported to lead to higher triglycerides in people with that mutation. So next I researched what foods have high Omega-6 levels. I learned all about Omega-3 : Omega-6 ratios, and I found that the Western diet has much higher Omega-6 levels than other diets like the traditional East Asian diet. I felt it would be healthier to switch from Omega-6 heavy foods to Omega-3 heavy foods. Omega-3 is mainly found in fish. Omega-6 is predominantly found in vegetable oils, shortening, and cooking oils. Additionally, I came to the conclusion that though we are often told in nutrition that healthy fats like avocados, rich nuts like walnuts and almonds, etc. are something okay to indulge in. But if I was trying to avoid Omega-6s, I actually needed cut down on those as well. Instead, I needed to focus on eating lots of fish as my source of fat.

Other things I read were that triglycerides can be increased by alcohol. In general, the best way to lower triglycerides is through reducing excess fat and sugar in the diet diet and cardio exercise.

Glucose levels

With my prediabetic glucose level, I wanted to decrease my glucose levels overall.

Glucose is energy, and everyone knows it can take the form of sugar. But from speaking to others, most don't realize that almost all carbs turn into glucose. This means that when I was eating bread and rice, those were both turning right into sugar in my bloodstream. And, though typically fruits are great, the sugar in fruit is still glucose, and when trying to lower my glucose I needed to reduce sugary fruits as well (bananas, pineapples, watermelon, etc.).

When glucose levels are high in the blood for an extended period, they actually deteriorate the circulatory system leading to heart problems and permanent circulatory system damage. So short of diabetes, I knew that it wasn't good to have excess glucose in my blood.

Tools

Diet and exercise changes can take a long time to have an impact on the body. And instead of having to do bloodwork every time, I wanted to be able to check periodically at home to see what diet changes were doing to my levels.

I bought a glucose monitor and triglyceride monitor, both of which use finger prick and blood drop to analyze levels.

In the end, my home levels closely matched the bloodwork from the doctor, so I feel confident in my home monitoring.

All these items are in my Amazon Influencer Shop.

The Diet

Here is a list of my diet and substitutions. I ate 3 meals a day, with lower portions than I was used to. It's easiest to explain what I did eat first, because the list of what I didn't eat was very long. I also want to point out that I was not calorie counting.

Again, check out my Amazon Influencer Store where I included a lot of these unique ingredients below.

If you look at the list of what I didn't eat below, we all know these foods aren't healthy. I'm not planning to cut everything out permanently, and I am experimenting now that I have reached my goal. But for this intense lifestyle change, I went "all in" for the 1.5 months it took to make a drastic change. Now I feel I know my body better and I can start to have unhealthy items here and there.

What I did eat/drink:

  • Fish (salmon, red snapper, tuna)
  • Egg beaters (I stopped eating all egg yolks)
  • Greens
  • Vegetables low in sugar (not carrots or beets, for example): tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, etc.
  • Turkey (ground or sliced)
  • Chicken (breast)
  • "Raw" wraps from Amazon (which have virtually no flour/carbs and replaced sandwiches/tortillas)
  • Low carb tortillas (see Amazon page)
  • Water (sometimes with stevia enhancers)
  • Almond milk
  • Berries
  • Seaweed (it's low carb but tasty and full of iron and other vitamins! but careful not to overeat bc it has lots of iodine)
  • Some brown rice (light)
  • Black beans (not pinto or other beans)
  • Lentils
  • Zevia brand Colas (from grocery store)
  • Coffee
  • Some avocados
  • Flaxseed based snacks & crackers
  • Vegan, plant-based, unsweetened shakes
  • Riced cauliflower, cauliflower crust (instead of white rice or pizza crust)
  • Limited cheese
  • Halo top ice cream (occasionally)
  • Olive oil
  • Vinegar (taking a small shot of apple cider vinegar is a home remedy for high glucose)

Generally, I looked closely at nutrition labels, I cut out all foods with sugar, I ate only foods with less than 15 net carbs per portion per meal, and I watched out for total fat. What I learned is that many foods that are marketed as "healthy" aren't really that healthy. Gluten free, for example, still is often FULL of carbs bc they replace wheat flour with potato flour or another flour – almost all flour or starch-based foods are high carbs. Low sugar foods are often packed with carbs, etc. I also did not follow an "Atkins diet" where you are "allowed" to eat fatty meats and lots of red meat. That is not healthy either, in my opinion!

I learned a lot about net carbs and nutrition labels. Grab a food in your home and check the carb nutrition facts. Typically this is broken down as: carbs, sugar, and fiber. Net carbs are the total carbs minus dietary fiber. This is because dietary fiber does not turn into sugar when digested. Some foods have crazy high carbs – like 40 carbs per serving – so check the labels. And some food items actually have a high portion of dietary fiber, like flaxseed products, so maybe there are 5 carbs but 4 are from dietary fiber (only 1 net carb). I got in the habit of checking net carbs and making sure foods I was eating didn't have more than 10 net carbs per serving.

I also started taking a number of supplements including Fish Oil, Niacin, and Evening Primrose Oil. But I am not sure how much the supplements had an impact or not.

What I didn't eat/drink:

  • Alcohol
  • Fruit juices
  • Any sugars
  • Red meat (beef, pork)
  • Bread (not even gluten-free), pasta
  • White rice
  • Nuts
  • Oatmeal
  • Potatoes in any form
  • Sugary fruits (pineapple, watermelon, banana)
  • Dressings, including vinaigrette
  • Cow's milk or other animal milks
  • Coconut milk (high fat)
  • Egg yolks
  • Fried foods (almost all food is fried in vegetable oil)
  • Cookies, cakes, ice cream, or any desserts
  • Mayonnaise (it's pure vegetable oil!)
  • Potato chips or other chips/crackers

Again, not everyone who wants to be healthy should follow this diet. I had high triglycerides that appeared to be caused by a genetic mutation; this meant that I needed a diet that's even healthier than the average person. Some people may be able to eat all of the above "unhealthy" items and be perfectly healthy overall.

There were periods during the initial diet when I was very hungry as my stomach was getting used to the smaller portions and lower carbs. People often talk about "sugar withdrawal" when you do these diets, and I experienced that during the first 2 weeks. When I felt like it was too much, I ate some brown rice or an extra meal to compensate. But I did push myself more than I had before.

After a while, I got used to it and my appetite was not as heavy or intense around mealtime. I noticed I could wait longer between meals and I wouldn't be craving food at mealtimes. I still made sure I ate all 3 meals with some light snacks, but overall I just needed less.

The Exercise

I have always hated cardio: running, biking, treadmill, elliptical, etc. But I knew that cardio was literally vital to my health journey. I knew a lot of friends had gotten into the spin class craze, and I knew it was finally time for me to get onboard.

I started going 3 times per week to a 1 hour, heavy cardio spin class at LA Fitness, where I've been a member for years. The classes are free with my $30/mo membership, which is so much cheaper than the major spin class brands like SoulCycle or Flywheel (which are often $30-40/class).

I went to many classes in the beginning at different locations and times to figure out which instructors I liked best. Because with spin the instructor is EVERYTHING. The music, their pacing, and their difficulty level are all important. I found instructors who kept me motivated through the entire workout and who played music that kept me bumping along.

I used to hate group classes because I found it intimidating to have others in the class that were clearly so much more fit. But I like that at LA Fitness, the instructors never single you out and don't push you individually – it's up to each person to push themselves. There were even people in the class off to the side who would have their own music on and go at their own pace, and the instructors never cared. I loved this because I found which levels and speeds pushed me adequately, and I never felt pressure or judgment.

Now that I've been spinning for a few months, I feel very comfortable in the classes. I wondered if my spin classes were less challenging than the craze of Flywheel, for example, but I went to a Flywheel class in the Hamptons recently, and I placed in the top 4 in the class and top 3 among just the men. This proved to me that my free classes at LA Fitness were just as effective at building cardio endurance and strength as the expensive fad classes.

My three pieces of advice for spin classes are:

  • If you can't keep up the speed, drop your gears so that you can keep up the speed the instructor recommends. Cardio is about momentum and fast movement, so if the instructors suggested gear is too high and it keeps you moving slowly, you will be wasting energy and it will slow your progress down.
  • Figure out which gears and speeds are right for you with each instructor. One of my favorite instructor will tell the class to add 12 gears, and I add 8. That's not because I'm weak or out of shape. It's because I've noticed my body struggles more with the heavy weight gears.
  • Don't overdo it in the beginning or you won't be able to push yourself consistently to the end. If you start to feel worn out in the first 15 minutes, then do lower gears than recommended for the rest of the class until you feel recovered.

Now

I've continued the core of this diet. I am still hardly drinking alcohol. But I'm making more exceptions. I make choices as to when I am going to have some less healthy meals, but mostly stick to a health diet. I've had a couple cocktails or glasses of wine during a meal with friends. I had some glorious soul food brunches with family. I'll have dessert here and there.

I'm continuing to do cycle classes at least 2x per week. And next I will get back to swimming and other weightlifting exercises I have done in the past.

My glucose is below 100 most mornings, and I have learned it's most heavily impacted by either eating lots of carbs throughout the day prior or if I eat too large a meal too late at night. So I try to watch my carb intake throughout the day and eat around 6 or 7 to avoid digesting while I sleep. But I'm not being as strict overall.

In general, now I know that I can't follow as indulgent a diet as I had been – it wasn't working for my body. Also I've continued to see weight loss results with this lifestyle. I'll start to increase meal sizes and add more carbs in here and there to make sure I don't continue to drop weight. Right now my goal weight is 155.

 My smart scale (available on my Amazon shop) shows my ongoing weightloss. Probably won't let it go much lower!

My smart scale (available on my Amazon shop) shows my ongoing weightloss. Probably won't let it go much lower!

Onward

I've learned as I'm getting older that our individual health journey evolves and we must listen to our bodies' needs. I knew that I wasn't eating right for my body before, but until I had medical proof, I wasn't willing to do anything about it. I know it was hard for me to take the leap from knowing that I wasn't eating as healthy as I could to actually completely changing my daily diet and lifestyle. Previously I knew some bits and pieces about science and how the body processes food, but I didn't know how many things I was eating weren't actually right for me. This learning experience has been so important. I don't think most American adults know what actually constitutes "healthy." And most aren't willing to make changes until they have to (this was true for me!). But now I know what I can do when I set my mind to it, and I'm proud of myself!