The LILI Letter — January 2024
Heart Center, "Losing It & Loving It" support group newsletter
Time for a pause and a reset. How did 2023 treat you? How did you treat 2023? Most of us didn’t do everything we wanted to do, and we likely all had surprises, both positive and negative, that occurred during the year. Life is an adventure. If we knew what was coming around the bend, how boring (and terrifying) would that be? Living one day at a time is our lot in life, thankfully. We observe New Year’s Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Wishing you a healthy and happy 2024.
In good health,
One of our cardiac rehab patients agreed to write about their “Success Story.”
“J” writes… “At the age of 41, I suffered a heart attack. Even though I’ve been overweight most of my life I never considered myself “out of shape” or unhealthy. The doctor said some of my issues were likely genetic, but there were a lot of lifestyle changes I need to make as well. Along with an attempt to follow a Mediterranean diet, the biggest factors in my weight loss has been making better choices than my usual defaults. I cut out the daily 44oz soda (often with shots of other flavors), found other ways to deal with anxiety that didn’t involve Taco Bell at midnight, and making some simple choices like asking to leave off the cheese, or choosing the side salad instead of fries. My heart attack was three months ago. I was over 285lbs. Today I’m under 255 and still losing.”
Wonderful job “J”! Such simple changes have produced some impressive results for you.
Making Peace with Aging
My birthday is in January, which got me thinking about aging. Not only have I marked another year, ALL of us have aged another year. None of us have been this old before. Now there’s a thought. If we had lived 100 years ago, our expected lifespan would have been 58.5 years (for women), and 56.1 years for men.
Historically, according to the experts, humans did not live into their 30’s until 30,000 years ago. For the first time in human history there were grandparents! The average life expectancy was 48 years around 1500 AD. This is a bit misleading due to a wide discrepancy in lifespans between the poor and wealthy and also a high infant mortality rate (40% in some areas compared to the current US rate of 0.54%). Many lived into their 70’s or longer, but these were typically wealthier people. Even today the wealthiest people live on average 14.6 years longer than the poorest. Life expectancy increased to 75+ years in most industrialized countries by the 1960’s. For the first time since 1923 our US average life expectancy dropped by three years, due mostly to the Covid-19 pandemic, from 79 to 76 years in 2021.
My point about all this aging business is…so what if we’re older? We are alive if we are reading this. We might have more aches and pains and can’t do some of the things we did when we were younger. But, it is a blessing to be given so many more years than our intrepid ancestors had during their lifetimes. More years than our friends and family who passed before us at a younger age. The next time we blow out the candles, let’s appreciate the number of years we have lived, not complain about another birthday. Many did not have that chance.
A Grump on Compassion
My new favorite phrase is “I like people, except when I’m driving”. When we view people in their vehicles they become objects that don’t behave the way we think they should, or go as fast as we would prefer. I skied for the first time in two years a few weekends ago and my attitude about the people there was “only the wealthy can afford to ski anymore, what a bunch of spoiled, entitled so-and-so’s”. However, when I spoke with some of them on the lift for the bunny hill (after all, I endured two surgeries on my left foot last year), I found out a young woman broke her hip three years ago and this was her second time skiing since her injury. Others were taking ski lessons for the first time and others were helping their kids learn how to ski. All just people enjoying the day and skiing.
If another person had the same attitude I had about others while driving or skiing, that would include me. I think I’m a pretty good person, I am not a wealthy person, and to lump me in with the spoiled skiers or those who don’t have a clue about driving would not be fair. So, I learned a lesson that day. We are all just people trying to do the best we can with what life has given (or taken) from us. Poor folks have their issues, so do the wealthy. Maybe a slow driver is having a really bad day, or a reckless driver has a loved one in the hospital. Hard to say. Just because someone can ski does not mean they are uber wealthy and have no problems. Far from it. If we are humans living on planet earth, we are guaranteed some struggles. If I can look at humanity with more kindness and compassion, (me, the judgmental, cynical and sarcastic driver and skier), than you, my friend, can do the same.
A Simple Answer
If you ever watched clips from the 1920’s, you may have noticed how thin everyone was compared to how Americans look today. In the past 100 years the human genome hasn’t changed much, if at all. What has changed is our food supply. Up to 60% of our calories now come from highly processed foods, which have amplified salty/sugary/fatty flavors. Back in the 1920’s we didn’t have all the snacks, fast food restaurants, convenience foods, microwavable dinners and super-sized everything that we have now. Couple that with less activity and voila! Massive rates of obesity.
One small randomized, control study conducted by the National Institute for Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), generated some very compelling results. A randomized, control study is a high-quality study. Everything was strictly controlled as the study participants were housed in the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center for a month. They enrolled 20 healthy men and women to eat a highly processed food diet for two weeks or an unprocessed, whole foods diet, also for two weeks. They could eat as much or as little as they wanted of the premeasured meals and snacks. They then switched diets after two weeks. The ultra-processed diet included foods like potato chips, white bread, American cheese, bologna and soda. The unprocessed foods diet included foods like whole fresh fruits, nuts, vegetables, lean meat, fish and eggs. The Metabolic Kitchen in the center prepared all the meals and ensured both diets contained the same amounts of calories, sodium, fiber, sugar, fat, and carbohydrates. The participants performed the same amount of exercise every day with three 20-minute sessions of riding a stationary bicycle.
What did they discover? Those on the ultra-processed food diet ate more quickly, did not feel as satisfied after a meal, ate on average 500 calories more per day, and gained about 2 pounds during the two weeks on that diet. Those who ate the unprocessed foods did not eat as much, lost weight and felt more satisfied with their meals. Although this was a small study, it was well-controlled and showed a very clear and consistent response between the diets.
The take-home message? If you want to lose weight, don’t eat ultra-processed foods! Don’t have it in the house, or if you do, strictly control the amount you eat.
Granted, there are some unanswered questions, such as what is it about ultra-processed foods that makes people overeat? But, this was a compelling study, and the results made complete sense to me.
Hall, K. et al. (2019, May 16). NIH study finds heavily processed foods cause overeating and weight gain. National Institutes of Health. Viewed at NIH study finds heavily processed foods cause overeating and weight gain | National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Do you really know…Cardamom?
Such a yummy drink. I like making my own for a caffeine-free version. You can vary the spices and omit any sweeteners. You can vary this depending on what you have on hand. If you like it spicier, simmer it longer before adding the tea.
Makes 2 quarts
- 6 cardamom pods or 1-1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
- 10 whole peppercorns
- 5-1/2 cups of water
- 1 cinnamon stick, 5-inches long
- 8 whole cloves
- Fresh ginger, 1-inch knob, sliced
- 1 teaspoon fennel or anise seeds
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, or ground
- 6 black tea bags, regular or decaffeinated
- 2 cups of milk (cow’s milk or plant milk)
- 3 Tbsp. maple syrup or honey
- Grind up the cardamom pods, peppercorns, cloves and fennel with a mortar and pestle, or a spice grinder.
- In a large pot, bring the water to a boil, add all ingredients except the tea bags, milk and sweetener.
- Lower heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 10 minutes.
- Add the tea bags and let steep for 5 minutes, covered.
- Remove the tea bags and pour the liquid through a strainer to remove the solid bits.
- Return the liquid to the pot and slowly stir in the milk and honey or maple syrup, increasing the temperature gradually to a simmer.
I used half unsweetened soy milk and half 1% cow’s milk in this recipe. If you want it sweeter, you know what to do.
1 cup = ~50 calories
“Breaking Barriers to Well-Being & Weight Management”
It is a new and improved “LILI”.
Thursdays, Noon - 1:30 pm, January 18 - March 7
Heart Center Conference Room
$30 discount for ORMC employees and volunteers
January Support Groups
Mondays, 2:00pm - 3:00pm
Free to LILI (and now BB) graduates
“Old age is not a disease. It is strength and survivorship, triumph over all kinds of vicissitudes and disappointments, trials and illnesses.”
— Maggi Kuhn