You Are What You Eat

Last updated: December 2022

Warning  … the above is not some cute slogan. And if you have experienced a blood cancer journey or any cancer journey, I suggest the above “slogan” is an important message. And YES, everything you eat eventually impacts you physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Overeating through emotional chaos

Due to a family tragedy, I have been adjusting to living alone for the past few months. Out of the blue a wakeup bell rang 3 weeks ago and drew my attention on the types of and amount of food I was consuming. For years my wife always shopped for and prepared everything we ate. And yes, we also dined out several times a month to give everyone a break.

Fortunately, I am  not a virgin to meal prep and can manage the challenges of a barbecue, crockpot and air-frier cooking as well. Yet due to my recent emotional upheaval, I fell  off the good food diet and was consuming a variety of meals delivered by a group of well-meaning church folks who supported me through several weeks of emotional chaos.

The lure of convenience foods

Candidly I was not in position to deal with any form of meal prep and often due to stress I could not eat. With any emotional shock to your system be it due to a blood cancer diagnosis or the passing of a loved one, it is so easy to fall into the trap of giving into the lure of convenience foods. Unfortunately, processed foods typically contain significant amounts of sweetener, salt, artificial flavorings, and preservatives all of which are designed to garner increased and repeat sales. When you are “down in the dumps” and in a  vulnerable state of mind it is very tempting to reward yourself with some less-than-ideal food choices.

Our church has a large group of volunteers who sign up for and are part of a program called MealTrain. Once registered members at your organization can sign in and bring you meals several days a week. In the beginning I signed up for three times a week but was soon taken back by the variety, quantity and  quality of foods that were being delivered.

Processed home-cooked meals

Most of the volunteer providers on MealTrain are elderly, and it was interesting to see the number of processed foods were included in what were touted to be  “home cooked” meals. I was also stuck by what some considered a single portion. While I realize that calorie requirements decrease as you enter your senior years due to a slowing metabolism and a reduction of physical activity, I am someone who remains physically active between walking my dog, biking, gardening and more. While on MealTrain I also maintained supply of easy to prepare processed foods. Not the best choice but then again, I was not focusing or thinking as clearly as I could.

Getting off the MealTrain

Then it happened … for better or worse I bail out of MealTrain and took back my life.

I have now gone back to focusing on what I would refer to as nutrient dense foods – these include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. A particular focus for me has been a focus on the importance of protein not only from meat poultry and seafood but also from plant sources like nuts and beans and peas .

If you are wondering how much protein you need to consume on a typical day a general rule of thumb is 0.8 grams of protein for every 2 pounds you weigh. In English 0.8 grams visually looks like 2 packets of sugar. If you want to dig deeper, it is easy to find a conversion table online which is a lot easier than me vs trying to do the math for everyone here.

Focusing on my nutritional needs

When I look at my plate, I try to be sure that I have more protein than empty calories. While I do not drink milk, I  do get calcium from dark green vegetables and eating plain Greek yogurt with some fresh fruit. I am also fortunate that my daughter is a health and nutrition coach, and we spend a lot of time online discussing dietary and nutritional needs. She recently sent me a book that focuses how to shop for and make simple 5 ingredient meals. Its a winner! In addition, I have also been reading up on pan roasting and recommend it to anyone who is looking for tips on how to conveniently prepare and cook food.

As blood cancer patients it is critically important to maintain a healthy diet and while I can't reverse past damage, I will say I am feeling much better after retaking control of my food prep and consumption. I hope you do too.

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