Disclaimer: I have done a fair amount of research, but I am not an expert on nutrition, nor do I claim to be. Nutrition is like religion, everyone has a different opinion and different things work for different people. And, some just don’t believe it matters or care about it at all. This post is just to explain my nutritional journey and the rationale behind what I have been putting in my body, especially since I was diagnosed.
In life, you only get one body. You make like it, you may not. However, there are no exchanges. In my humble opinion, it is your duty to provide it with the proper nutrition for it to function properly. The food you put in your body is what fuels your body and all the amazing and complex processes (there are BILLIONS) that happen inside it throughout each day. Take a second and really think about that. Hopefully, you come to the realization that what you eat is extremely important. When your body doesn’t have what it needs to operate, bad things happen…like obesity, cancer, autoimmune issues, and other diseases. What you eat definitely deserves more than a fleeting thought.
When I was 19, I remember seeing a picture of me for the first time where it looked like I had two chins. Hellllllllllllllllo freshman fifteen. I was mortified; I knew something had to be done. Instantly, I started to educate myself on nutrition and exercise. I never really worked out if it wasn’t incorporated into a practice by this point. When I was younger I was kind of what I would call “lazily active”. I did a lot, and everything I needed to do to be successful, but I wasn’t exactly the one that went the extra mile.
Fortunately, I was always ridiculously active throughout my life and could barely eat enough to keep up, so it was never a problem. At this point, I was 19, a freshman in college, and was nursing a broken collar bone for the last seven or eight months. My activity had been extremely limited and I was living on my own for the first time. I was on a very limited budget and my diet consisted mostly of beer and macaroni and cheese. If I was feeling fancy I would throw some hot dogs in too! We’ve all been there…you know it’s not pretty. My nutritional knowledge at this point was pretty much limited to “umm, I’m pretty sure vegetables are good for you.” The majority of my vegetable intake was probably lettuce on a sandwich. I had no idea how important they were, why they were important, or the difference they could make in your mental, physical, and even emotional well-being.
I realized I had always enjoyed being fit and decided that I needed to change to continue being so. Well, I knew exactly nothing about working out either…except that it was hard, and it hurt, and I would rather play in traffic than run a mile. My education started at bodybuilding.com. You may laugh, but it made sense at the time. I wanted to know how to build muscle and be lean. Who builds muscles and gets lean? Bodybuilders. I poured through articles on there to get a general knowledge base and started working out as soon as my collar bone was healed.
By this time, it was the beginning of my sophomore year of college and I had been sidelined while dealing with the collar bone issue for almost a year. After months of it not healing, they finally put a six-inch plate and ten screws in my shoulder. The scar looks cool though. Also, I hated one of my roommates, which made me eager to spend plenty of time at the gym, and more importantly, out of the house.
Anyway, for the last nine years or so working out and eating “healthy” has been a pretty important part of my life. I put “healthy” in quotation marks because that means something different to everyone. I am far from perfect though. Everyone is. I did the Paleo thing for a year and also did Zone for a while. I really liked paleo and continue to follow a similar diet. But, I have always “cheated” a lot. I love bread and pasta. It’s addicting. I try not to do that at all now that I’m sick. But, I’m only human. The only real hard-and-fast rule I tried to stick by no matter what was to avoid sugar at pretty much all costs (Yes, I know alcohol has sugar, I preferred to pretend it didn’t count because…fun). Sugar is awful, in my mind, even though it’s delicious.
There is lots of evidence that sugar is more addictive than cocaine. Check this out. Or just read this quote from the article by Robest Lustig, a medical expert at the University of California, San Fransisco: “There are four things that have to be met in order to consider a substance worthy of regulation. Number one: ubiquity – you can’t get rid of it, it’s everywhere. Number two: toxicity – it has to hurt you. Number three: abuse. Number four: externalities, which means it has a negative impact on society. Sugar meets all four criteria, hands down. One, it’s ubiquitous – it’s everywhere, and it’s cheap. Two, as I mentioned, we have a dose threshold, and we are above it. Three, if it’s addictive, it’s abused. Four, how does your sugar consumption hurt me? Well, my employer has to pay $2,750 per employee for obesity management and medicine, whether I’m obese or not.” If you do nothing else to do your diet but avoid added sugar, you will see major results. Especially, if you want to lose weight…which is a major risk factor for cancer and a whole host of other problems.
At this point, most of you are probably saying “what about fruit?” Well, fruit has a lot of sugar, and even though it’s natural, it is still sugar. If you are trying to enter ketosis or lose weight, don’t eat it. Or, choose sparingly. Berries are your best choice.
Now, what have I been putting in my body since I found out that I have a ten centimeter tumor blocking my entire transverse colon? At first, anything I felt like. Not good, but I was losing weight so fast at the time that I just felt the need to get any calories I could. Strawberry milkshakes were my go-to. I probably had more milkshakes in a two week period than I had ever had in my life. I had never been much of a sugar fiend and didn’t really like desserts much. However, all of the sudden, I was craving sugar at every turn. Then, I made the realization that cancer cells work at a higher pace than normal cells and consequently use more glucose. Cancer uses sugar so much that the way doctors see if it has spread is to shoot you full of the stuff and then look for the parts of your body that are using it the most (also known as a PET scan). Now, obviously cancer can use other forms of energy too and there are many kinds of sugar and I am abbreviating a very complex progression that science is just now starting to understand. However, I freaked out and realized I was, most likely, perpetuating the cancer that was already growing in my body. That’s not at all what I need to be doing. I decided to tell myself that when I crave something with a lot of sugar that it is the tumor talking and not my body. It may not be true at all, but it sure helps with willpower.
Nevertheless, after I got over the initial trauma of the whole diagnosis and everything, I decided it was time to do everything I could to give my body the best chance at success. I dug into the research and what I found was a lot of evidence that a ketogenic (low-carb) diet was pretty successful at shrinking tumors…if you are a lab mouse. That being said, there aren’t really any good clinical studies done on human cancer patients and the direct effects their diets have, at least from what I could find. The idea behind the ketogenic diet is that it limits the amount of glucose the cancer cells have to use for energy and so they can’t replicate at such a quick pace.
As I mentioned earlier, sugar is straight up terrible for you. It’s a fact. But, grains and gluten seem to have pretty negative effects on your health as well. I won’t get too technical here but the issues basically stem from the effects on insulin and inflammatory responses your body has to them.
So, what I have chosen (no doctor’s orders) to eat is pretty simple. I basically eat lean meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, and some nuts and seeds, with a lot of healthy plant fats (avocados, coconut oil, olive oil…etc). I think coconut oil might cure everything known to man…but that’s just my opinion. I eat a spoonful or two of it throughout the day. My favorite way to eat it is to put it in coffee! I like the whole bulletproof coffee concept, except I don’t use butter anymore. I’m trying to avoid animal fats for now, unless I get access to very high quality meats. If you try bulletproof coffee, make sure to use a blender because oil and water don’t really play well with each other. I don’t particularly like eating in the morning either, so it’s a good way to get some calories and energy to start the day.
Predictably, I still don’t get enough of the vitamins and nutrients I need through diet alone. I also use supplements. I take three fish oil capsules two times a day, one Vitamin C, K2, and D3 capsule a day, and a multi-vitamin in the morning. There is overwhelming evidence on the benefits of fish oil. Vitamin C is to help my continually lackluster immune system while I’m going through chemo. The K2 has lots of great benefits and D3 is because I live in the Midwest and it is really freakin’ cold outside right now so I don’t get enough sun to produce my own. Finally, the multi-vitamin gives me a good supplement to everything. There are many other supplements that might possibly be beneficial, but I’m not trying to have the world’s most expensive pee.
Lastly, many of you have commented to me on the picture of Kombucha Tea that I posted. I am increasingly convinced that gut microbiome is remarkably important to overall health. Thus, I am trying to increase the amount of fermented foods that I eat. People have been intentionally fermenting things for tens of thousands of years before they eat them…there must be a good reason! Unfortunately, those of us in the Western Hemisphere do not typically have fermented foods in our diet, except yogurt and, for some, sauerkraut. I am looking forward to expanding my horizons when it comes to fermented food…bring on the kimchi! The healthy probiotics that fermented foods provide are essential for your gut, which effects every part of the body. Speaking of probiotics, I also take probiotics everyday now.
I think that’s it! Sorry for the length. I could talk on the subject for hours. I just wanted to answer some of the questions about what I’ve been doing, nutritionally. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. If you disagree, that’s fine too.
All I ask is, cancer patient or not, pay attention to and make conscious decisions about what you put into your body. Get informed. Set a good example for your kids, your parents, your significant other, or whoever else is important to you. All calories are not created equal.