This August 2011 post announced my successful weight loss using a calorie-counting app – and provided a personal way to illustrate what SAS does with data. Eleven years later, here’s an update on my journey to living my best life through better nutrition.
The SAS analytics part still holds up! My end of the analogy? Ehhh, not so much. The calories in/calories out strategy was a spectacular failure, as it is for many people. I re-gained every pound, plus more. Worse, I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, which (among other horrors) fuses the disks in your back and causes excruciating pain. Then came the pandemic, which had me stress-eating peanut butter right out of the jar. Ugh.
"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food."
Corpulent and hurting two years ago, I was desperate for a sustainable solution. Today, thanks to using food as medicine, I am arthritis-free and healthier than ever!
This post chronicles key steps in my journey and credits my co-author, SAS Health Care Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Ashley Bailey, with helping me start down the right path. If you want to be free of an autoimmune condition or are tired of food cravings bossing you around, let my story inspire you.Quit counting calories and focus on better nutrition. #lowsugar #lowlectin lifestyle #saslife Click To Tweet
In a nutshell, here’s what worked for me: (NOTE: Nutrition is very personalized. While these changes worked for me, you may need something a little different. For individualized guidance, work with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to find a plan that works best for you.)
A session with Ashley gave me a great foundation. She educated me on the downsides of sugar and refined carbohydrates, like bread, chips, cookies and cake. Those foods elevate blood glucose. Over time that can cause insulin resistance, diabetes and obesity. She showed me how to pair a carbohydrate, like apples or carrots, with a protein-rich dip, like tahini, to prevent glucose spikes and raise satiety.
Ashley taught me that it IS possible to identify sugar hidden in food and satisfy your sweet tooth without compromising your health. I can’t believe how fortunate I am to have an employer that invests so generously in employee wellness. If you’re a SAS employee and haven’t participated in a nutrition challenge before, what are you waiting for? We recently wrapped up a 10-Day Sugar Challenge where 200 SAS employees and family members from around the world joined together to eliminate sugar and processed carbs from their eating plans. Keep your eyes out for this and other whole foods-based challenges and sign up to participate!
Better Nutrition Step 2: Identify and limit food triggers.
Gluten-free, I’d heard of. But I knew nothing about lectins (gluten is a lectin) till I found a copy of Dr. Steven Gundry’s book, Plant Paradox, at a beach rental in 2020. I was already cutting out sugar and processed stuff. But p. 68 made an eye-popping assertion about food I thought was healthy—that some types of arthritis and a host of other medical conditions can be resolved by avoiding lectin-loaded grains, fruits and vegetables.
Rule #1 of Plant Paradox: What you stop eating has far more impact on your health than what you start eating. There are four rules in all. Upshot of the other three: enjoy moderate amounts of fruit in season, feed your gut microbiome what it likes and pay attention to the quality of your food (especially dairy, eggs, fish, meat and poultry).
Lectins, Gundry says, are inflammatory proteins that cause all sorts of mischief in our cardiovascular, digestive, endocrine and immune systems. I skipped ahead to the book’s eating plan and saw that Gundry divided food into “Yes” and “No” categories. Yikes. Pretty restrictive eating plan. But armed with the “gift of desperation,” I followed the plan to the letter for six weeks. You can do anything for six weeks, right? Plus, I began to experiment with intermittent fasting and tweaked my supplements.
After six weeks, on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the worst, my pain dropped from 7 or 8 to 1 or 2. After spending thousands on failed traditional and alternative treatments, I was amazed! A few months later, all evidence of autoimmune vanished from my blood work.
- Sleep? Better quantity and quality.
- Energy levels? High.
- Hunger and sugar cravings? Gone.
- Twenty extra pounds? Gone.
- Grocery bill? Higher with all the supplements (and, well, inflation) but cheaper than treating a chronic condition.
I won’t lie. This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Eating habits are pretty baked into our lives (no pun intended). After the strict elimination diet, I experimented with reintroducing some foods. Pressure-cooked beans? No problem! For Thanksgiving, I enjoyed my husband’s amazing sausage dressing (loaded with bread) and cranberry sauce with no negative consequences.
For a long-term solution, as much dietary diversity as you can manage is best. I draw the line at my health. My mantra: “Nothing tastes as good as pain-free feels.” Some things remain off limits. For example, traditional, full-fat ice cream – I LOVE it! But it doesn’t love me back. It just isn’t worth the gastrointestinal discomfort. Sweeteners remain tricky for me, too, even stevia leaf extract. If I use what many might consider a moderate amount, one of my knuckles starts throbbing.
NOTE: Food culprits can be tricky to nail down and are very individualized. Remember to seek guidance from a Registered Dietitian Nutrition to design a safe plan to eliminate/limit potential food triggers for a period of time, rebalance and repair your gut, and then get you back to a diverse eating plan personalized for you.
Better Nutrition Step 3: Join a community of like-minded people.
The journey to the best health of my life would not have been possible without the people I met along the way through digital channels. I joined a Facebook group where members encourage one another, benefit from the group’s collective wisdom and swap recipes.
Experts like Dr. Mark Hyman, Mickey Trescott + Angie Alt, Pharm D Izabella Wentz and Dr. Amy Myers have supportive social media pages. I also started following people on social media who could add to my understanding of food as medicine. Like Chris S. Cornell, who has sustained an 80-pound weight loss for four years, and Dr. Elie Jarrouge, who coaches patients on weight loss and reversing autoimmune disorders. Dr. Eric Berg’s YouTube videos do a great job of explaining how our bodies work and process nutrients.
I don’t know if I would have even considered a dietary lifestyle change if I hadn’t learned so much through the amazing wellness programs here at SAS. If a career change is in your future, you’d do well to apply here. If you’re a SAS employee and haven’t benefitted from these programs, this is your cue to get started!
And remember, nutrition is very individualized. What works for one person may not work for the next. Team up with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to create a personalized plan that is sustainable and tailored to meet your unique needs.
Gingerbread Energy Bites
1 cup cashews, almonds or walnuts
1 cup pitted dates (raisins or dried figs would work too)
1 cup rolled oats
¾ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground allspice
pinch of sea salt
1 tsp molasses (optional)
- Soak dates in hot water while you assemble the other ingredients. This will make them softer and easier to chop.
- Place oats in a food processor and grind for about 1 minute until almost ground down.
- Drain dates and place in food processor along with other ingredients.
- Process until the mixture begins to turn into a dough, about 1 more minute. It should be slightly sticky and very thick. If your dates are older, you may need to add a teaspoon or so of water to help the mixture come together.
- Roll mixture into small bite-sized balls.
- Store in a sealed container in the fridge for 1-2 weeks or the freezer for up to 3 months.
- Enjoy 1-2 bites at a time.