Working with the dietician, I began to learn. The first thing I learned was that in order to maintain complex carbohydrates but eliminate the protein gluten, you substitute rice or potatoes for bread or pasta. There now—that was easy, wasn’t it?
I went on to learn about portion control. A chicken leg is not a healthy portion; a chicken thigh is. Half a cup of rice or potatoes is a healthy serving; half a cup is about what would fit in the palm of your hand. Try to imagine it. On the end of a cereal box is written the amount for a healthy portion—usually one cup but more if it’s an air-puffed cereal.
I learned to read labels. Almost all foods in America have to put nutritional information on the label. You don’t want to eat anything that has more than 30-35 carbohydrates per serving. Look for low-sodium content. Fiber is good—seek foods with high fiber content. They will be hard to find because we process all the fiber out of our foods.
I began to eat and cook for health. I bought two packages of plastic entrée containers and began to fill them. Each container had a serving of protein, that is, a piece of meat about the size of a pack of cigarettes (And why are dieticians using a bad thing as the model for a good thing? They really should work on changing that.) And it had one-half cup of rice or potatoes—particularly brown rice, which has more fiber than white rice. Additionally, I would add two-thirds a cup of vegetables. Vegetables are a slow-acting carbohydrate, like a time-release pill.
The problem with drinking a glass of orange juice when your blood sugar is low is that it causes rebound: your too-low blood sugar instantly becomes your too-high blood sugar, which then plunges down to be your too-low blood sugar again. With the stack of dinners in my refrigerator, when it was time to eat I could just pop a container in the microwave and in three minutes I had a healthy meal. My studies showed that the best diet would balance carbohydrates with protein, so my morning started with a small glass of juice and a piece of string cheese. I was off the roller coaster.
My glucose stabilized at a healthy level, which enabled me to feel better, live better, and start to exercise. I did not lose weight.
In the twenty-six years that physicians had prescribed antidepressants for me, not one had told me that weight gain was a side effect. I gained weight and gained weight and gained weight, and blamed myself. It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t know. After I stopped drugging, I started looking up the side effects of all the drugs I’d been taking and found that virtually all antidepressants carry a side effect of weight gain. The physicians never told me; they never gave me a choice between being fat and being depressed. Do you think I might not have been depressed if I wasn’t fat?
St. Joseph’s Hospital runs a peer support center. It is supposed to be peer-run. The money came from the NYS Office of Mental Health (OMH), that is, it’s your money and it’s supposed to be spent by people with psychiatric diagnoses taking care of themselves. There are studies showing that peer-support is effective, popular and useful. We know best how to help each other. That’s why OMH gave the money. There are two “peer support” centers in Syracuse. Both of them have been co-opted by the system. Transitional Living Services controls Unique Peerspectives and St. Joseph’s Hospital controls New Connections Clubhouse. These “peer support” centers are the next generation of what used to be psychosocial clubs.
The reason I bring this up is because peer support centers are where you will find the people who are most active and most committed to a healthy life, not to mention most independent. And at St. Joseph’s New Connections you will also find the largest percentage of really fat people. A lot of the participants are in the 300-500 pound group. They want desperately to live a good life and are willing to work at it but nobody has told them that their psych meds are what is making them fat. Physicians and pharmaceutical companies will not acknowledge the damage they are doing.
So I stopped eating for my taste buds and started eating for my health, and a funny thing happened: food started tasting really good. Once my system got cleaned out of all the fat, sugar and salt, just-plain-vegetables started tasting fantastic. I always and only ate fresh vegetables and fruits. The produce department and I became good friends: bananas, apples, strawberries, onions, carrots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, beans and greens (romaine, Boston bib, spinach—never, ever, iceberg lettuce, which has absolutely no nutritional value). I keep a bowl of tossed salad in the refrigerator all the time; I never met a salad dressing I didn’t like. I also should point out that I never met an ice cream I didn’t like. (To be continued)