After being diagnosed with cancer, I took a hard look at what I was eating and made some positive changes.
After cancer, my eating habits have changed drastically and maintaining a clean, nutrient-dense diet is one of my top daily priorities.
This transformation didn’t occur overnight— during treatment, for example, I ate everything from McDonalds to Chinese food as doctors instructed me to worry more about gaining calories and keeping my strength than eating healthy and avoiding acidic, inflammatory foods.
But the more I researched health and wellness, the greater my knowledge became, and I credit my adjustments in diet and nutrition as a pivotal factor in my overall situation’s improvement after doctors gave me a less than 10% survival rate from metastatic osteosarcoma (bone cancer).
I’m not saying that diet alone is a silver bullet to cure cancer, just that to a great extent we are what we eat. Along my quest for wellness, my strategy became creating an internal environment through food, supplements and detox regiments that empowered my immune system and forced difficult conditions for disease to thrive.
I currently maintain a mostly plant-based diet — although I’ll have wild salmon and organic, cage-free eggs — that’s flush with vegetables, healthy nuts and a few daily servings of fruit. I keep everything organic to the best that I can. I like to start my day with celery juice and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Throughout the day, I also like to throw in shots of apple cider vinegar and cups of hot lemon water.
Perhaps just as important as what I include in my diet is what I do my best to avoid. Nutrition labels have become my best friend, which I comb through thoroughly now that I’m more literate. These days, I rule out artificial flavors, preservatives and pretty much all processed foods, unhealthy fats and oils as well as added sugar (which is different than the natural sugars you’ll find in an apple for example). I limit carbs to mainly quinoa, beans, lentils and Ezekiel bread, which is nutrient dense and low on the glycemic index (affects how your body processes sugar). For dessert, I stick with a few squares of Lindt 95% cocoa which taste like cardboard to most people, but for my adjusted taste buds, they’re amazing. Popcorn with light olive oil (one of the healthy fats) is another personal favorite.
As for the practicality of this diet, fortunately, the world is coming around to embrace wellness and healthier diets, but even a few years ago it was tricky going out with friends, ordering takeout or dining at restaurants. Each event required planning ahead of time. I would bring Tupperware with pre-made meals along with bagged nuts and special detox bars that were free of artificial chemicals. I’m not great in the kitchen, so this took way more energy than it probably should have, at least in the beginning. Eventually, I found my groove.
My friends and family have always been extremely supportive along my cancer journey so sticking to such a rigid diet around them was never uncomfortable, they got it. However, it could occasionally be awkward eating out— I’ve had to bring my own meals at restaurants if they didn’t have anything I could work with, although most people were compassionate once I explained the situation or in worst cases showed them a medical note.
Over time I’ve also grown more flexible, allowing myself occasional cheat nights— especially since the added stress caused by being too rigid counteracts the benefits, which I learned the hard way a few years ago. I was driving myself crazy trying to reach dietary perfection (I believed my life depended on it) and ultimately experienced another recurrence. Afterwards, my medical team explained I was doing such a great job overall with my diet that taking my foot ever so slightly off the gas wouldn’t be the end of the world, and they reiterated the importance of leaving room for moments of joy.
So, I’ve chilled out a bit, but during the height of my cancer fight I kept quite disciplined. The way I saw it, nutrition was one of the few areas where I had control. And even with a few hiccups in finding the right balance of intensity along the way, I’m very grateful to have made these changes (and seen the benefits).
I hope to be much, much healthier in the long run and if you can appreciate the irony, I guess I have cancer to thank for that.
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