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How One Woman Beat Cancer With Food
More than 20 years ago, when I was 47-year-old doctoral student in psychology, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Of course, I was devastated. At the time, I had been running for 15 years, and I was the most physically fit person I knew. It was incomprehensible to me that I had cancer.
After surgery, further testing determined that the cancer had already spread. Nevertheless, instead of the recommended radiation and chemotherapy, I put my faith in Dr. John McDougall, a physician who was then researching the relationship between a vegan diet (no animal products) and breast cancer. Though I had previously stopped eating red meat, when diagnosed, I was still eating other animal products and my blood tests showed elevated cholesterol levels. So, with the assistance of Dr. McDougall, I eliminated all animal products, including fish and dairy. Today, as I approach my 70th cancer-free birthday, I relish my vegan diet and daily run. I am a six-time Ironman Triathlon finisher, holder of more than 900 gold medals from every distance from 100 meter to 5K road races to ultramarathons and triathlons. I have completed more than 60 marathons all over the world and I have made three world fitness records in my age group at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas. In 1999, I was named one of the “Top Ten Fittest Women in North America.”
I also redirected my academic course of study. I was so impressed with what my new diet did for me that I changed from psychology to health education, with majors in nutrition and exercise physiology. I am firmly convinced that a key element in my sustained health is my vegan diet. Moreover, since most plant foods are low in calories (exceptions are nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, and coconuts), I also eat a lot more than most people while keeping a healthy weight. So, I am never hungry. From 1982 until 2000, I ate a vegan diet that included grains and some processed foods.
I began most mornings with oatmeal, bananas, and raisins moistened with water or apple juice and a teaspoon of blackstrap molasses. To boost the nutritional value, I added greens such as kale, edible hibiscus, seaweed or cabbage. Occasionally, I had pancakes or waffles covered with applesauce or fruit purée (instead of butter or margarine).
Lunch consisted of a number of possibilities such as baked or microwaved potatoes with carrot and broccoli sticks, whole wheat pita bread stuffed with sliced mixed vegetables, a whole wheat bagel with an orange and apple, or brown rice mixed with succotash. When eating lunch in a restaurant, I often asked for a bread sandwich — a whole grain bun or two slices of bread. I then stuffed the bread with greens, tomato, bell pepper, and onions.
Dinner was often similar to lunch. Or, it included such options as spaghetti made with whole-wheat pasta and sauce prepared with tomato paste, onions, garlic, bell peppers, chopped broccoli, and seasonings, or chili made with kidney beans, tomato sauce, onions, garlic, bell pepper, chili power and lots of brown rice. I made pizza with whole-wheat crust covered with a tomato-based sauce with chopped green onions, round onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, and alfalfa sprouts.
Between meals, I never allowed myself to become hungry. I nibbled on fruit, carrots, whole grain breads, air-popped popcorn, and sweet potatoes. To avoid any temptation, I did not keep any high fat foods in my home. For dessert, I ate fruit or air-popped popcorn.
In 2000, I eliminated grains and processed foods from my diet. I now eat only raw foods. Since I begin most days with a three to four hour workout, usually including an hour on the bike, a weight session or a swim, followed by an hour’s run, I don’t eat breakfast until later in the morning. Then, I have a big bowl filled with greens, one carrot, half a mango, a large banana, and six large grapes. The mixture is topped with one round tablespoon of B12 fortified nutritional yeast and one to two tablespoons of blackstrap molasses.
Since breakfast is so late, I do not eat a full meal again until dinner. Dinner includes lots of greens such as broccoli, stalks of kale, celery, unpeeled English cucumber, cabbage, a carrot, one half bell pepper, one half large tomato, six cloves of garlic, and half of a yam or sweet potato, raw. The mixture is topped with one to two cups of salsa, one tablespoon regular mustard, and one tablespoon freshly ground flaxseed.
Dessert consists of blueberries and a second fruit, a small handful of walnuts, and one tablespoon blackstrap molasses. Throughout the day, I snack on carrots, celery sticks, grapes, dates, and, in the evening, I eat air-popped popcorn.
As long as you eat a sufficient amount of calories, you cannot be deficient in protein. Since all vegetables contain adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids, you will obtain all the essential amino acids you require from a plant-based diet. Moreover, because you are obtaining calcium from the same source as cows – that is plant foods, primarily greens– you will have enough calcium.
While you should make a point of drinking lots of water, I also recommend two other beverages. To replace your morning coffee, try drinking a mug of hot water with one teaspoon of blackstrap molasses. And, since I live in Hawaii, where it is always warm outside, I enjoy keeping a jug of homemade lemonade in the refrigerator. I make it by squeezing half a lemon into a half-gallon jug of water and then add a little sweetener.
My raw vegan diet gives me an unbelievable amount of energy. Of course, without such energy, I could never compete in all the events that I do, especially the Ironman Triathlon. I almost never miss a day of training. As a bonus, I sleep like the proverbial rock.
In addition to changing your diet, this is a good time to modify your behavior. One of the most important things that you can do is to incorporate regular exercise into your life. To help keep you motivated, you should consider joining a group. Although I ran for about 15 years by myself, after I joined a group of runners, I increased my distance and began to really challenge myself. And, while I find swimming by myself somewhat boring, swimming as a group is fun. In case of an accident or mechanical failure, longer bike rides should always include at least one other biker. Plus, rides are more enjoyable with other people. Where I live in Hawaii, there is never a shortage of people who want to go for a ride. Over time I have come to realize that triathletes are among the most sociable people I have ever met. So, whatever your age, give it a try. When exercise is fun, you won’t have trouble making yourself do it!
Copyright © 2005, by Weight Loss Buddy Press
Ruth E. Heidrich, Ph.D.
Author, A Race for Life, The Race for Life Cookbook
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