Plant Food Journey and Heart Disease

Six years ago I was diagnosed with heart disease. My symptoms started occurring at high elevation when hiking up past 5000 feet above sea level. Initially because I appeared healthy and fit – in the 99.95% in fitness for women my age, to be exact – the physician told me I was “anxious” and suggested I see a psychiatrist. Here is the thing: heart disease appears in women differently. Our symptoms are considered “atypical” when in fact TYPICAL patterns in women do not have the same patterns as they do in men.

The last several years have been quite the journey with diet changes, movement and exercise changes, and subsequent changes in my overall ability to do more or less of certain things. It has also opened my eyes to the underlying patterns of suffering the American culture continues to still place on women, women’s roles, and for people of color. Having a voice, developing a community and learning to speak up has been an essential part in building health for myself and other women.

Learning to speak up and building community impacts not only our health, but our families and our culture as a whole. The abundance of the phrase “find your tribe” that we see targeting millennials points to a need we all have in an age where technology is replacing physical, in person connection.

The trick in life is having the discernment to understand that what may relate to a population, may not relate to you individually. We must know when to listen, first to yourself and intuition, but also when to listen to others when all the messages around you appear to be pointing in a certain way. I am not talking about giving up goals and dreams, I am saying pay attention to your gut, what people say, and what the environment is giving you. Have a trusted group. If you do not, there are places to look and you can always start one.

How that relates to heart disease within myself and most diseases I have worked with in others (as a physical therapist and yoga teacher) is the ability to listen and pay attention to when change is needed, and to start to deeply understand just how our every decision down to our thoughts impact our overall health, and those around us.

From a cultural perspective, meat is big in my traditional Filipina culture. And to try and change that, or offer judgement against that is offering judgement to myself. The other day, Tara Brach, the meditation teacher, gave a seminar along with 2 other vegan advocates. In her talk, , she pointed out that judging others for their choices not only demonstrates a lack of compassion, but it excludes others from your own process as well as dehumanizes others, the very thing we are trying to prevent. What I took from that was, in a world where we are increasingly becoming more disconnected, it truly makes sense to respect other people’s decisions, advocate for your own sense of what you feel is right but to open the heart to listen. Sometimes people will start to change based on what they observe from you, and sometimes not, but at least there is a possibility of connection which can lead to change of some positive benefit.

For me and heart disease, my symptoms were disparate and strange. However not too different than most women. In case you don’t know, heart disease especially for women in their 50’s is the leading cause of death.

Most women are taught to ignore pain and illness. And most women even if aware do bear a tremendous amount of pain emotionally and physically, whether in childbirth or just in everyday life from over functioning as a bread winner, emotional caretaker, nurturer, and whatever else we as women do now. Not much is still available in educating women in “how to pay attention”, “when to pay attention”, and the “right person” to go to talk over their symptoms and health/wellness goals. We have fought for equality in voice and pay, yet many women have not remembered to include the beauty of the feminine. There are a lot of coaches out there, but not enough groups of women educating women, and men educating men, and nonbinary way of going about our health goals that is inclusive of the internal and outer feminine.

I have learned over the years that I when I get certain symptoms I must stop and regroup: increased anxiety, sleep disturbance, fatigue, and feelings of isolation. If not paid attention to, I start to have neck pain on the left with some radiation down the left arm, and radiating right jaw pain. Some fullness in my right chest. And just to add to this picture, that heart diagnosis? It was discovered after I persisted: I had a cardiac cat scan and they discovered a 65% block in the major artery that supplies my left ventricle. That anxiety? It was lack of oxygen.

Every one of my initial symptoms could be diagnosed as depression, or as part of another psychological disorder such as bipolar or manic-depressive disorder. And I made sure to have myself assessed at different times. The issue with this of course is that if you talk to a surgeon, they will want to cut, meaning one speciality will focus on that speciality and not see the overall picture. So I, meaning you as well, must become your own best advocate and teacher for your own body. And find someone that will listen with you. I was  not diagnosed with any of the psychological issues, but I did get treated for Lyme disease and continue to receive care for my heart…and have listened to many in my private practice as a healer from women who have been diagnosed with “illness” and overly medicated with disastrous results, if not at the very least pressured to disconnect from their own wisdom and sense of personal autonomy to heal.

The things that have helped me the most I outline in my book, “How to Escape the Rat Race”. In short, learning to be aware of the larger natural rhythms around me, mindfulness, and mindfulness in motion, and community. All of these factors are present in a plant based diet. To start to pay attention to what one eats and puts in the mouth is not only to become aware of one’s one sacredness as a person, but the quality of the food that gets to your mouth. And in noticing the quality of the food, one can’t help but notice where these foods are available, how they are NOT available everywhere, but most importantly how the food is treated BEFORE it gets to the table. How the stress of an animal before death releases stress hormones into the meat…how poorly animals are treated in general, herded and in pain, or never seeing sunlight or being repeatedly violated for the benefit of a human. And then in being around pigs at a local farm and having chickens as pets, I became aware of how intelligent they are and responsive to care and kindness.

I found that eating meat was starting to upset me. Even before the diagnosis of heart disease, I was already starting to eat it less. To get pregnant, I eliminated all meat and gluten from my diet, my digestion and sleep vastly improved. But the society I associate with and the traveling that I do with my son does incorporate other lifestyles and culture, and juggling this without offending others has taken up more space than I realized.

Flash forward to now, today, May 19, 2019, and I am realizing that I have sacrificed my own well being and value system for wanting to accommodate and please others. That accommodation and pleasing has been under the old cultural pattern of wanting to “find my tribe.” Well okay. But somehow I think that if  I want a tribe, that tribe will respect my food and movement choices, and if anything be curious rather than judgmental. And if they are, perhaps they are not my tribe!

All this to say, here I am again, having done various different diets and landed back on the plant food spectrum. I will be posting food recipes again after a long hiatus. Since I am about to have hand surgery, my writing will be much more limited, but I will still post all the food I make, since I have been doing that anyway!  Your input and comments are welcome here!

And just so you have something to leave with…

I find that having an Instapot really helps me. Having surgery or not, I still find Sunday evening a good time to put together a few things for the week. This week, I have made a few things and stored extra in my fridge so I don’t have to chop:

Olive tapenade

Roasted red pepper spread

Garlic Hummus

Dry toasted pumpkin seeds with Ras El Hanout spice (seriously incredible)

A pound tub of baby kale, arugula, and spinach

Cooked black beans and quinoa for veggie burgers and for salad. I can honestly say as a rule, I don’t usually like quinoa at all. But the recipe I made yesterday was incredible. 🙂

Here it is:

Quinoa Black Bean Salad with Lime and Ras El Hanout spice.

1 cup cooked black beans.

1 cup of cooked quinoa

1 orange/red/yellow pepper diced

1/2 cup cucumber diced

1/2 cup baby tomatoes diced

optional: red onion 1/4 cup finely diced, an avocado diced

1/4 cup cilantro

1/4 cup dry toasted pumpkin seeds with Ras El Hanout spice.

Dressing: 1/4 cup lime juice, 1/4 to 1/2 cup avocado oil, 5-6 cloves finely diced garlic, tsp turmeric, salt to taste

Toss the first 5 ingredients together. When ready to eat, add cilantro, the pumpkin seeds, and dressing.



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