Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Assault on Our Body

We've all heard the story numerous times and may even know someone or have a close family member who has dealt with Cancer. In 2006, I became involved with an organization called “FertileHope” whose mission was to provide women diagnosed with cancer, alternatives to fertility, pre and post treatment. The founder of the organization became a friend of mine and her story stuck with me and became an inspiration. At 26 years old, one day after running the New York City Marathon, she was diagnosed with tongue cancer. She was active and very healthy. How could she have gotten cancer? Many of us wonder why as well, but we often tell ourselves “that will never happen to me.” Something about healthy check-ups, regular exercise and sudden cases of cancer, never quite felt right to me. There had to be something else responsible for cancer, something that we are purposely ignoring or something we are not seeing.

Food is the center of our very existence. We are surrounded by food at all points of our lives; meetings, family functions, holidays and vacations. Growing up in a West Indian household to Guyanese parents, food was the focal point. My culture utilizes every animal and all parts of those animals. I grew up eating Curry Chicken, Oxtail, Stew Peas, Pigtails, Chicken Foot Soup, Fish Tea, and my two favorites Cook-up Rice (a traditional rice dish with pigtail, beef, peas and coconut milk) and Black Pudding (cow intestines, cow blood and rice). There a plenty more meals I could list, but it would take too much time. 

As a young girl, I developed quite early and with that early development came the end of my life - acne. My first pimple surfaced when I was 9 years old. All of a sudden everyone in my family became an MD. I drank nasty teas, exfoliated, used harmful face washes, took pills, used masks, over the counter treatments and even took birth control pills. My grandmother accused me of eating too many sweets and greasy foods. My father said, I needed to drink more water. I gradually learned to cope with the acne and devised my own regiments to have perfect skin on super important occasions. Little did I know, the acne was actually a warning signal from my body - I was consuming too much animal protein and the toxins were slowly building up. High school years brought even more signals, my body began to act out. Neither my mother nor my doctors were ever able to pinpoint the root of my issues or give proper advice to course correct. My body was attacking itself and the animal proteins I consumed in meats and diary, were the problem.

Watching television, it’s hard to ignore how sick our nation has become. There is a pill for everything; Erectile dysfunction, high cholesterol, diabetes, indigestion, constipation, the list goes on. These are not reasons for a pill, but signals from our body that something is wrong. In the words of Bill Maher “the answer is not another pill, the answer is spinach.” I’m somewhat health conscience, the only thing keeping me from perfection is the extra weight, I’ve been carrying for the last two years – which is slowly coming off. I keep almost all organic foods in my apartment, I juice cleanse frequently, spin about three times a week and only water in the Brita, can be found in my fridge. In the past, I exercised five days a week at 6am and counted every calorie that went into my mouth, but for some reason my body never seemed right. Annual checkups with my doctor always went well, she only warned me to drop weight, other than that, cholesterol, blood pressure and all my numbers were in check – perfect. Never once had my doctor or any doctor say hey, you should decrease the amount of diary and meat you consume. This would seem like the obvious solution.

Americans have been sold a bad bill of goods - Milk. We consume more milk than most industrialized nations, yet, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation by 2020, it is expecting 14 million cases of osteoporosis and over 47 million cases of low bone mass (142). This increase in cases could cause the number of hip fractures to double or triple by 2040 (143). Consuming as much milk as we do, there should be zero cases of Osteoporosis in the US. Animal protein is killing us!

We’ve been led to believe that calcium in milk will make our bones strong – this is false! Milk actually has a reverse effect; the chemicals in casein (milk protein) actually drain the bones of their calcium, leading us to weak bones and the above cases of Osteoporosis.

Five years ago, I began my uphill battle. I was determined to quit consuming meat and dairy, I wasn't sure why, but I knew that these foods were not good for me and they didn't do my body well. Here I am in my 20's, I don't smoke, I exercise, I care about the environment, I love dogs, I respect the sanctity of life, but every night I consume a meal that consists of a cow, fish, chicken or pig. Uneducated about my decision, I went Vegetarian overnight, but ended up on a carb and cheese diet. Eight months later with an additional 40 pounds in weight, at a friends wedding, I fell off the bandwagon and ate a steak. Three more stints took place over the next three years and each time, I went cold turkey and failed. Last November at Thanksgiving dinner, I vowed it would be my last turkey dinner, 2011 would be the year, I would finally end the 27-year assault on my body.

At the beginning of the year, I gradually began to eliminate animal protein from my diet. After my birthday in April, I told myself this was it. For my birthday celebration with friends, I went to a vegan restaurant and alerted all my friends of my lifestyle change and commitment. My goal is to be completely in consumption of only a plant-based diet by the end of 2011. So far, I am doing well, my kitchen is almost empty of animal by-products, and I no longer crave meat. Instead of eggs for breakfast, I eat oatmeal, quinoa or a simple green juice. I’ve become fixated with brown rice paella with veggies and silken tofu smoothies. My workouts are more effective, I recover much quicker and I’ve begun to drop pounds quicker – down 6 pounds this May. I’m learning to listen to my body and know what to feed it to obtain certain results. Most importantly, I’ve reduced my carbon footprint and dramatically reduced my chances of future health issues. Over the next few months, I will guide you on a path of enlightenment and an information drop about the correlations between the foods we consume and diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes. I want us all to be more aware of our food choices and their effects on the environment. These choices are political and economical.

In the midst of our learning, I challenge you to explore a plant based diet. I would like you to a adopt a practice of Meatless-Mondays in your home. It’s a common practice in the homes of many meat eaters and has positive effects on the environment. If every American adopted the practice of meatless-Monday it would be the equivalent of taking 8 million cars off the road. You can also see a few off my favorite books for recommended reading, if you wish to inquire.

Recommended Reading: The Kind Life, Alicia Silverstone

Eating Animals, Johnathan Safran Foer

The China Study, T. Collins Campbell, PhD

Food for thought: What are your eating habits?

Have you ever considered a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, and if so why?

Are you able to see the impact of the foods you eat, on your body and the enviornment?

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