I got sick. Great Harvest has always been about whole grains and whole wheat breads, even before whole grains were cool. Or not, depending on what fad is in today. But still, that is something we are very proud of. We have built our business around offering a wholesome, good-for-you product in a business model that makes sense. But, in 2012, it became personal for me. I got sick.
Unexpected Challenges: Cancer and Heart Health
In this space we have talked about my wife’s now-successful battle with cancer, but a story that we haven’t told is that the week before she found her lump, my heart went symptomatic with issues from a viral infection. I really didn’t think anything was wrong. I mean, how could it be? Two weeks before that I had completed a 7-day, 620-mile bike ride for the Million Dollar Challenge. A month before that, I had finished a half Iron Man triathlon and even set a personal best in the swim leg that day. I was in great shape. How could something be wrong? But it was.
Sometime around June of 2012 I got sick and the virus migrated to my heart. I lost the lottery in terms of having one of those freak health issues you read about but never really think will happen. That began a two-year journey back to health. We are fine now, but it took some effort. Yes, there was a lot of medical science and treatment involved for both of us — but that alone can’t explain our recoveries. We also took a long, hard look at lifestyle and environmental issues.
Switching Gears to a Macrobiotic Diet
The biggest thing we did was get totally serious about a real food diet. We adopted a macrobiotic lifestyle. In simple terms, a macrobiotic diet is one based upon whole grains, supplemented with vegetables and limited animal proteins. It is grounded in eating what is local, fresh, and in season, and eliminating — to the extent one can in today’s world — processed foods.
I knew I couldn’t do this on my own because I am not a trained chef, but I am the cook at home. I had managed to get by, up until that point, by focusing on cooking meat well and throwing in a few frozen or easy vegetables along the way. I also generally cook by instinct and don’t follow recipes. What I knew, I had to unlearn.
I have been a follower of Alex Jamieson for a while and knew she was an expert in this area. Alex went from being a person whose blog I read to my personal food guru. And then became my friend along the way. When I approached Alex and asked for help, I said I really need three things:
- I need you to teach me how to live a local, farm-to-table lifestyle.
- I need you to also teach me how to eat like that in restaurants since I spend about half of my life on the road.
- And, I need you to teach me how to cook instinctively in that universe since I don’t love following recipes.
Her reaction, as it is for most things in her life, was, “Okay, let’s get to work. We can do this.” The world could use more people with her outlook on life.
Dietary Challenge: Sodium & Hormones in Food
We had two major areas we had to focus on; both of which are rampant in the processed food world:
- Eadie’s cancer needed her to focus on hormones in the food supply.
- My issue was sodium.
We tackled the hormone issue by almost entirely eliminating dairy products and typical grocery store meats. What meat we do eat is either organic or locally grown and grass fed.
Sodium was another matter. That meant I had to get really smart about reading labels and cooking almost everything from scratch. (To get a handle on that issue, go look at the sodium content in a simple vegetable broth that isn’t low sodium.) At one point I even asked Alex to go grocery shopping with me so we could review all of the little questions I have in grocery stores about cutting sodium from this or that. My next post will address the specific changes I made to my diet in greater detail.
Real Food Made The Difference In Our Path Back to Health
A year after we embarked on that project we can say that we accomplished its goals. Our example is one where you can really see the difference a change in diet can make.
I was told by all of my cardiologists I wouldn’t be able to run a marathon again. That just made me want it again and I told them so. I recently got permission to train for the New York marathon this fall. That is the ultimate signal to me that I am fine.
Does real food really matter? Come see me at the finish line in Central Park. No one — I mean no one —with one exception, gave me a chance of ever doing that again. Without real food, they would have been right. Yes, it matters…
If healthy eating is important to you, be sure to peruse our collection of recipes centered around whole grains:
For additional information about cancer and hormones in food:
- The American Cancer Society on Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone.
- The Susan G. Komen Association on Breast Cancer "Factors Under Study."
- NYU's Langone Medical Center on "The Controversy Over Added Hormones in Meat & Dairy."