I recently spent over two hours with a nutritionist recommended by my primary care physician. I met with the nutritionist for two very distint reasons – the first so he could help me understand a gluten-free diet since I was diagnosed with celiac disease (more on that in a separate post), the second, and frankly, the one he was much more interested in, to help me lose weight and improve my cholesterol. I was game for the weight loss plan since I have a stubborn fifteen to twenty pounds to lose but skeptical about using cholesterol as a measuring tool because (a.) both my parents have terribly high cholesterol, at least twice as high as mine with the addition of statins, and (b.) my numbers aren’t bad to begin with. In fact, once we dispensed of all the gluten -related talk I waved my latest numbers if front of him, absurdly proud of myself. My good cholesterol was up, up, up. My bad cholesterol was down, down, down. My trigicerides were low. Sugar? Normal. Given my family history I felt happy, proud. That is, until the nutritionalist started talking (I thought for a bit about nicknaming him Jack Ass Nutritionalist but have since decided against doing so since, really, he’s just trying to make me feel better, heal, and live a really long time).
“We’ve got to get your numbers down. They are still significant,” he said, leaning over the table and grabbing notebook from my side of the table.
“Really? I thought I was on to something – the overall number is lower than it ever has been. It’s forty points lower than it was six months ago.”
I imagine many doctors and nutritionalists would congratulate their patients for a forty point, all natural, cholesterol improvement but S. and I go to the meanest primary care physician in the city and there are no congratulations, no hand shakes, from her – just a laundry list of things to improve every visit.
“But you are near the high end of normal,” he pointed out, writing something in his mysterious notebook.
“Well, I think that’s good! I mean, my parents’ both have cholesterol hovering in the high 200s…with statins! So did my grandmother.” I sat back and crossed my arms over my chest, pleased with my argument.
“Are you your parents?” He asked, continuously jotting. I imagined him jotting patient extraordinarily difficult – in denial.
“Well, no. I mean, obviously not.”
“So why are you comparing yourself to them?”
“Well, it’s just – cholesterol is at least partly a hereditary thing, right?”
He waved his hand in the air, which he does a lot – as though erasing my thoughts as they fall from my mouth.
“I don’t do that – I don’t care about your parents. My goal is to get your bad cholesterol down to sixty.”
“Sixty?” Truly, I sputtered. I laughed.
“Yep. Then it’s a negative risk factor for heart disease. So our goal number is sixty.”
“Well, I just really don’t see how that’s going to happen,” I said. “I think that’s impossible.”
“With that attitude it certainly is. But look, you’re young. You don’t have any health problems. Why not nip these two things in the bud…your extra twenty pounds and your cholesterol? Why have them hanging around you in a decade, when you’ll have kids and more pressure from work and less time to take care of yourself?”
See why he isn’t really a jackass?
“Okay.” I said. Grudgingly.
“So, let’s go over what you eat. What do you eat for breakfast?”
“Oatmeal and fruit. Almost exclusively.”
Okay – for the sake of expediency I am going to omit all the foods he ask me if I ate that could contribute to my current situation, including pork rinds, nightly ice cream, a daily beer or three…it took a grand tour of the American Way of Eating before he pinpointed my (in his eyes) problem.
“What about butter? Do you ever cook with butter?” He asked.
“Well yes. Of course.”
“How much butter?”
I honestly couldn’t think of an answer for him. How much butter? However much is necessary for whatever I am eating, is what I told him.
“You can’t have butter. It’s terrible for you. Use olive oil exclusively – measure how much you use. Use something like Benecol or Smart Balance if you have to – measure that, too.”
“But I thought it was better to eat more natural products, like in Europe…”
“Europeans don’t eat butter. Besides, do you live in Europe?”
“So I don’t want to hear that argument again. Until you are living in Paris or Rome and living a true European lifestyle it does not matter what they eat or what they do – you are still working a high-pressure job and eating on the run half the time. Now what about cheese? You eat cheese?”
“Of course.” Since I was trying to be all European and all.
“You can’t eat cheese. Cheese is death. You know what I think when I stroll through the cheese section of Whole Foods?”
Um, food orgasm? Because that is what I think.
“No, what do you think?”
“I think early heart attack. I think death. Cheese is death. Remember that.”
Together, we reviewed foods I could eat and foods I couldn’t and while I have to admit the list of foods to avoid seems grossly over-exaggerated to me I have decided to commit to this low-fat, low-carb, high-intensity exercise diet for one year. Because, really. I know I have been given the gift of pretty wonderful health…despite the celiac diagnosis I have pretty fabulous bloodwork and unlike a lot of my friends in their thirties I don’t have a bad back or a funky thyroid or anything like that, and I should protect what I’ve been given. So, as I told S., here is the deal – I am committing to this diet (both the gluten-free and the low-fat) and if, in a year, I don’t feel fabulous or I haven’t lost weight or my cholesterol hasn’t reached that elusive goal of sixty, then I’ll deal with it at that point.
Jokingly, I say I’ll throw myself headfirst into a pile of cigarettes, martinis and steaks – all things I’ve either given up or am watching very carefully.
In all seriousness, these are my parameters: While the nutritionist and my doctor may measure my results by my cholesterol, I am not going to do so. I will measure myself solely by the way I feel and weight loss. After all, my numbers are NORMAL. That’s worth celebrating for me, even if it isn’t for them. And I am not entirely avoiding meat. I’ve already been on the diet a week and butter and cheese haven’t felt like a big deal at all, but I have a terrible craving for my mom’s sausage, pepper and potato recipe. I am going to make it, have one serving, and freeze the rest. If I can’t have some of the things I love, I won’t stick to this – I just know it.
So, that’s the scoop! This diet seems a little ridiculous, even to me, but I am doing it so you don’t have to. I’ll share my results with you.
Oh! And also! Not only does cheese = death, apparently sugar = an even worse one. So, you know – avoid sugar. It is apparently a scourge.
Stay tuned, and happy weekend.