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How One Woman Beat Cancer With Food
More than 20 years ago, as a 47-year-old PhD 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 was the fittest person I knew. It was incomprehensible to me that he had cancer.
After the surgery, further tests determined that the cancer had already spread. However, instead of the recommended radiation and chemotherapy, I put my faith in Dr. John McDougall, a doctor who was then researching the relationship between a vegan diet (no animal products) and breast cancer. Although I had previously stopped eating red meat, when I was diagnosed I was still eating other animal products and my blood tests showed high cholesterol levels. Thus, with the help of Dr. McDougall, I eliminated all animal products, including fish and dairy. Today, as I approach my cancer-free 70th birthday, I enjoy my vegan diet and daily running. I am a six-time Ironman triathlon finalist, holder of over 900 gold medals across all distances, from 100-meter road races to 5Ks to ultramarathons and triathlons. I have completed over 60 marathons worldwide and have achieved three world fitness records in my age group at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas. In 1999, I was named one of the “Ten Fittest Women in North America.”
I also redirected my academic year. I was so impressed with what my new diet did for me that I switched from psychology to health education, with majors in nutrition and exercise physiology. I firmly believe that a key element to my sustained health is my vegan diet. Also, 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 maintaining a healthy weight. So I’m never hungry. From 1982 to 2000, I ate a vegan diet that included grains and some processed foods.
I started most mornings with oatmeal, bananas and raisins moistened with water or apple juice and a teaspoon of blackstrap molasses. To increase the nutritional value, I have added vegetables such as kale, edible hibiscus, seaweed or cabbage. Occasionally, I had pancakes or waffles topped with applesauce or fruit (instead of butter or margarine).
Lunch consisted of a number of possibilities such as baked or microwaved potatoes with carrot and broccoli popsicles, whole grain pita bread stuffed with sliced mixed vegetables, a whole wheat bagel with an orange and apple, or brown rice mixed with succotash . When I had lunch at a restaurant, I often ordered a bread sandwich: a whole grain loaf or two slices of bread. Then I stuffed the bread with vegetables, tomato, pepper and onion.
Dinner was often similar to lunch. Or, it included options such as spaghetti made with whole wheat pasta and a sauce made with tomato paste, onion, garlic, bell pepper, chopped broccoli and seasonings, or chili made with beans, tomato sauce, onion, garlic and bell pepper. , chili power and lots of brown rice. I made whole wheat crust pizza topped with a tomato based sauce with chopped green onions, scallions, bell pepper, mushrooms and alfalfa sprouts.
Between meals, I never allowed myself to get hungry. I chopped up fruit, carrots, whole grain bread, popcorn, and sweet potatoes. To avoid any temptation, I did not keep high fat foods in my house. For dessert, I ate fruit or popcorn.
In 2000, I eliminated grains and processed foods from my diet. Now I eat only raw food. Because most days I start with a three- to four-hour workout, which usually includes an hour of cycling, weights, or swimming, followed by an hour of running, I don’t eat breakfast until later in the morning . Then, I have a large bowl full of vegetables, a carrot, half a mango, a large banana, and six large grapes. The mixture is topped with a scoop of B12-fortified nutritional yeast and a scoop or two of blackstrap molasses.
Because breakfast is so late, I don’t eat a full meal again until dinner. Dinner includes plenty of vegetables like broccoli, kale stalks, celery, unpeeled English cucumber, cabbage, a carrot, half a bell pepper, half a large tomato, six cloves of garlic and half a yam or sweet potato, raw . The mixture is topped with a cup or two of salsa, a tablespoon of regular mustard, and a tablespoon of freshly ground flaxseed.
Dessert consists of blueberries and a second fruit, a small handful of walnuts and a spoonful of blackstrap molasses. Throughout the day, I snack on carrots, celery sticks, grapes, dates, and in the evening I eat popcorn.
As long as you eat a sufficient amount of calories, you cannot become deficient in protein. Because all vegetables contain adequate amounts of all essential amino acids, you’ll get all the essential amino acids you need from a plant-based diet. Also, since you get calcium from the same source as cows, i.e. plant foods, mainly vegetables, you will get enough calcium.
While you should make it a point to drink plenty of water, I also recommend two more drinks. To replace your morning coffee, try drinking a cup of hot water with a teaspoon of blackstrap molasses. And, since I live in Hawaii, where it’s always hot outside, I like to keep a pitcher of homemade lemonade in the fridge. 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 incredible amount of energy. Of course, without that energy, I could never compete in all the events I do, especially the Ironman Triathlon. I hardly ever 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 you can do is incorporate regular exercise into your life. To help you stay motivated, you should consider joining a group. Although I ran for about 15 years on my own, after joining a running group I increased my distance and started to really challenge myself. And while I find it a little boring to swim by myself, swimming in a group is fun. In the event of an accident or mechanical breakdown, longer bike rides should always include at least one other rider. Also, walks are more enjoyable with other people. Where I live in Hawaii, there is never a shortage of people wanting to go for a walk. Over time I have realized that triathletes are some of 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 doing 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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