For the last 5 months I have been experimenting with different ideas around nutrition- looking for that one elusive, definitive answer and navigating the plethora of confusing and often conflicting advice. While there is no single answer as to why some people develop cancer and others don't, there are some clear guidelines from a variety of medical sources that say you have a much reduced rate of recurrence if you are at your optimum BMI and if you exercise regularly.
Through my first chemo regime I was lucky to even eat let alone exercise. The irony of breast cancer is that the steroids and medication make you gain weight and make taking weight off even harder. So if you were carrying too much to start with, by the end of treatment you are well on the wrong end of the scales.
You may remember I started a series of posts called Feel Better Friday. This was in conjunction with my learning curve on nutrition and exercise and to give me a focus to get through the second regime. Although stepping it out at the gym was hard (almost impossible some days), as was the calorie counting and focusing on everything I was eating, I truly believe the process has guided me to the clarity I have today.
Tracking everything I ate on my fitness pal app for 4 months taught me when I ate and made me aware of exactly what I was eating and how many calories things were. An apple at 80 calories meant I had to slog it out at gym for 15 - 20 minutes on the treadmill. This shocked me. Tuesdays were my "bad" eating days - they coincided with chemo - I was an emotional eater - bad stuff happened - eat nice things. Particularly sweet things.
I learnt about the amount of exertion required to burn off calories through this process. I learnt that going for a 20 minute walk did not cancel out slices of pizza and mudcake with cream. After a while I was able to stick to the 1200 calorie limit I had been recommended by the dietitian.
I persevered at the gym (despite some diets saying you don't need to exercise - I knew that it was good for me mentally). I found myself going 5 or 6 days a week and increasing the intensity of my workouts as I gained fitness.
Even so, I wasn't getting the results I wanted - which was weight loss and a feeling of wellness. When I really thought about it I realised it was only the nutrition side of things that wasn't really working for me. It all came to a head when one day I caught myself thinking if I skip breakfast I can have a scone and cappuccino later in the day. That's when I realised I really hadn't come that far and I had to make a sustainable change to what I was doing.
I hit the books and researched again. Low gi, low fat, sugar free, vegetarian, so called "Cancer Fighting diets" you name it I read it. Over and over. One by one I found holes in everything. I wanted a way of eating that was not a diet - didn't just last for a "phase" then add something else but was based on ALL food groups and would fit our family life and philosophy around cooking and eating.
Personally I felt there had to be an importance on whole foods rather than "low cal" diet food and to be honest I had this phobia about "stuff". I didn't want any other junk in me after all the medication and treatment. So I started reading labels more closely and ditching anything that had ingredients that didn't sound like food- emulsifiers, preservatives, flavours etc. Many of the low cal versions were the worst offenders.
I increased dramatically our vegetable and fruit intake (after almost cutting our fruit entirely this was so good to do) I switched all our low cal stuff to the real thing -organic yogurts rather than diet ones. I continued with portion control but stopped calorie counting. I started reading some healthy eating blogs in particular Teresa Cutter and I visited a nutritional biochemist Theresa Todd. I hassled my long suffering trainer at every gym session with questions abotu what she ate and why.
Through all of that I found that I had NOT at all invented a fabulous sensible way of eating. I had just stumbled upon clean eating. I was already doing exactly that by accident.
With a little extra tweaking I was able to define where I wanted to go in terms of nutrition and I was able to put a name to it. YAY
So what is clean eating ?
It's slightly different for each person - you can define it to suit your own needs ( that is if you are vegan, vegetarian, have food in-tolerances, allergies and so forth ) Once you know what parameters you want it's really easy.
It is built around the simple concept of eating whole foods as close to their natural state as you can.
Fresh fruit, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and healthy fats. Simple.
1. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit- choose fresh. If you use canned - check the label for 100% fruit or vegetables - skip the ones that add salt sugar and chemicals. You'll be sruprised read every label!
2. Choose whole grains over processed grains. Wholemeal flour rather than white, brown rice not white.
3. Eat lean meats and choose organic or grass fed meats. Typically these do not have pesticides, hormones and additives. For our family this means red meat very rarely. The cancer council released a report in April that recommended breast cancer survivors limit their red meat intake and no processed meats.
4. No processed sugar. Stick to natural sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, stevia, agave syrup. I am using just honey maple syrup and molasses so far. - (Oh and good quality dark chocolate) I have been amazed by the amount of processed foods that have sugar added.
5. Swap bad fats for good fats. Nuts, avocado, fatty fish are all good fats. We aren't using any butter and certainly no margarine ( read the ingredients) - macadamia oil, avocado oil is our staple instead.
6. Eat regularly. 6 small meals a day is recommended. We do the traditional 3 (smaller sized) along with snacks morning tea lunch and after dinner treat.
7. Dairy choose low fat clean options. Some clean eaters skip dairy totally. For us it's skim milk, organic yoghurt, organic sour cream and rarely cheese. I read the labels carefully. I use almond milk in my cooking and have it on my bircher muesli but the girls and Richard have skim.
Some other things you may like to know
Am I at my optimal BMI? Nope still 8 kilos to go but I am no longer in the obese category. I have much more energy depsite still being on radiation. I rarely get a headache these days. I sleep better. My skin is clearer. My eyes are whiter. I just feel better.
How does it affect the family? Well they just come along for the ride. You know the old adage happy wife happy life LOL. I hadn't made them do any of the other things I was trying. It was only when I realised this was our families answer that I got them on board. We had a family meeting and talked about what it looked like. I gave them examples of how they were already doing it without knowing.
Do we ever eat "unclean"? Sure. Watch my instagram feed you'll see non clean eating treats. Richard and the girls went to a family lunch in Brisbane on the weekend and I know they didn't eat clean - tends to be a bit more tempered when you have Mumma sitting there saying is that the best choice? It's all about moderation. But in my pantry and fridge is only clean eating options - so when we are home that's all there is to choose from. The girls love the freedom of choosing anything they like from the pantry or fridge. When I am out I often find myself choosing a gluten free, vegan, vegetarian option instead and we try to go to non chain style places which promote home made foods.
What does it mean in terms of time? I have found that I am enjoying the challenge of making our favourite things clean. I have to cook more. I am in the kitchen more often preparing. I enjoy that so it works for me. I have to be more organised but in a different way.
Is it more expensive? I think it's about the same - if you go all out and throw out all your baking ingredients and have to replace them then yes it would be initially. Organic yoghurt over other yoghurt is dearer for example but overall it evens out. We mostly shop the edges of the supermarket - no packet things. I also visit the fresh food markets and buy fruit and vege there or at fruit and vege stores rather than woolies.
I'm really looking forward to sharing more of this eating journey with you. I'll tag any posts clean eating and I'll create a new category for it especially. I have a number of recipes I have developed already photographed and ready to share with you too. Plus I have been gathering lots of links and info which I will share.
So tell me are you a clean eater? What are your thoughts I'd love to know.