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We’ve had an amazing journey in the last twelve months, part of which was Paul’s “miraculous” recovery from high cholesterol results and the threat of statin drugs, just through natural and simple changes to our lifestyle.
And not only did Paul’s cholesterol come back down to normal, but we’ve discovered so much good stuff along the way, that our lives are now so much better than they ever were.
So I wanted to share our experience, in case it helps you with your own journey. Trust me, you won’t react the same way that Paul did to the changes we made, but maybe what we did can help you get started on your own amazing journey.
So, in late November 2010, Paul had his cholesterol tested. His results were:
- total cholesterol: 8.7 mmol/L (ideal 0 – 5.5) [336 mg/dL]
- triglyceride: 1.0 mmol/L (ideal 0.5 – 2.0) [39 mg/dL]
- HDL: 1.5 mmol/L (ideal 1.9 – 2.2) [58 mg/dL]
- LDL: 6.7 mmol/L (ideal < 3.4) [259 mg/dL]
- ratio: 5.8 ( ideal < 5.0)
He also weighed more than 80kg, which made his BMI at least 27, and probably higher.
At the time, his doctor gave him 3 months, after which time, if there was no improvement, he said that Paul would need to go on statins. Paul made a very clear decision, at that moment, that there was no way at all that he was going on drugs for the rest of his life and that he was going to find an alternative solution. So he decided to see if he could bring his cholesterol down through diet and exercise, and I was more than happy to jump in and help out where I could.
Interestingly, only his LDL (and so also his ratio) was actually out of the normal range, which is a bit unusual. So the things we did were focused primarily on lowering his LDL, but I’m sure they had other general benefits as well. (Maybe just a little!)
By the time he had the tests repeated, five months later, at the end of April 2011, Paul weighed 62kg (BMI ~ 21), and his results were:
- total cholesterol: 5.4 mmol/L (ideal 0 – 5.5) [209 mg/dL]
- triglyceride: 1.0 mmol/L (ideal 0.5 – 2.0) [39 mg/dL]
- HDL: 1.4 mmol/L (ideal 1.9 – 2.2) [54 mg/dL]
- LDL: 3.5 mmol/L (ideal < 3.4) [135 mg/dL]
- ratio: 3.9 ( ideal < 5.0)
And so his doctor declared him “cured” and wanted to know all about what we had done to achieve this amazing transformation.
I love the way he just “squeaked” it in with the total cholesterol and the LDL figures – nothing like cutting it fine!
Ideally we’d like to get the LDL levels closer to 2 to 2.5 mmol/L, but with all the changes that are still happening, when he goes back in twelve months for a retest, I’m pretty confident we’ll walk it in.
During the same period, I also went from 57kg to 44kg (BMI 24 to 18.5), using the same principles.
I think there were three main things that we did in that time that made the difference:
1. Weight loss through practicing eating less
2. Changing over gradually to a raw vegan diet
3. Increasing exercise
Not as easy as they sound, but the results are pretty impressive, don’t you think?
Step 1 – Eat Less
I thought about calling this section “The Easy Way to Lose Weight”, but it just sounded too much like an ad for the latest weight-loss product or fad diet.
“Just give me all your cash and I’ll show you how to lose those unwanted pounds.” [Sigh]
But Paul and I lost 18 kilograms between us in the first three months, and we’ve now lost a (sometimes still unbelievable) combined total of 35 kg, and it was a lot easier than I expected.
And the key to this was eating less.
I’m convinced that this was the biggest factor in our weight loss. And even though it sounds pretty simple, and it’s something we still have to practice every day.
All we did – and still do – was to listen to our body’s signals, and eat only when we’re actually hungry.
It wasn’t until we started doing this, that we realised how often we ate for the following reasons, none of which were helping our bodies:
- because it tastes so good, you just want to keep going
- because you’ve almost finished your plate and it seems like a waste to stop so close to the end
- because there are leftovers (the kids’ food, the extras in the pot) and you can’t bring yourself to throw them away
- because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings when they’ve gone to so much trouble to prepare food for you
- because you’re stressed, worried, tired, anxious, grumpy, or one of many other emotional states you don’t want to deal with, so you eat instead as a distraction
And we still do that last one to this day, but at least we know when we’re doing it! We call it “emotional eating”.
Eating less will only work if you actually EAT LESS!
There was a show on Australian TV a few years back called “Life Support”, which poked fun at all the lifestyle shows that were all the rage at the time.
There was this one segment by their resident “doctor”, Dr Rudi, describing his recommended diet for weight loss.
Warning: Includes heartless humour! Do not watch if you are easily offended!
We said to each other over and over each time we realised we’d eaten too much again, “Eating less will only work if you actually EAT LESS” and it really helped!
Paul even learned to see “hunger” as a good thing because it meant his body was burning up the excess weight.
When I look back at the portion sizes we used to serve ourselves – and the big bowls we bought to accommodate them – I’m not surprised we were carrying a few extra kilos!
But learning to eat ONLY when you’re hungry is not something we’ve generally had a lot of practice at, and it can make ALL the difference.
So how do you actually eat less?
Well, for us, just becoming aware of the reasons why we were eating was a big start.
But then, each time we caught ourselves about to eat when we weren’t hungry, we had to make a deliberate choice not to eat, and boy was that hard sometimes! Those habits were so ingrained that sometimes we ate anyway, but at least it was a choice, we knew we’d done it, and we were willing to try again next time.
But there were other things we did too, like drinking a glass of water first, to see if that diminished the hunger, or filled us up a little; and eating consciously and carefully, and listening for that first hint of fullness.
I was always inspired by the stories of the people in Okinawa and their practice of hara hachi bu, which roughly translates to “Eat until you are eight parts (out of ten) full”, and the fact that they have some of the world’s oldest and healthiest people.
The way I first heard it described, was that they would stop eating at the first hint of fullness. Now if you’re not used to listening to your body, that signal can be pretty faint. But over time, we were able to begin hearing it.
Even harder though, was the act of stopping at that point, for many of the reasons – social, financial, habitual – I mentioned before, and there were many times we heard it, and kept eating anyway.
Repeat after me, “Eating less will only work if you actually EAT LESS!”
We also started making smoothies, initially with powdered super-foods and later with fresh greens, and we’d often have those after we got home from work. We started these to make sure that Paul was getting all the nutrients recommended for lowering cholesterol (more on diet another time), but we soon found that we weren’t that hungry for dinner, and after a while, we stopped eating dinner altogether, because we just weren’t hungry!
Since then, we’ve played with other ways to help us to eat just enough and no more, like intermittent fasting and getting comfortable with throwing food away, but whatever we did it was always really important that we never felt deprived, because if we felt that way, we just wouldn’t stick at it.
But we never really felt deprived, because we got to eat food that we enjoyed, just less of it.
You can do it too!
Sure we got it wrong heaps of times – and we’re still getting it wrong to this day – but like anything, you get better with practice, and eventually the balance will tip, you’ll start getting it right more often than you get it wrong, and your body will respond.
We’re walking proof – Paul started at 80kg and is now 60kg, and I was 57kg and am now 42kg – and we’ve never been happier or healthier!
Go on, give it a try. I know you can do it…
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