Lunch Bucket List

Heart attack survivor, Traci Joyce

One thing some of us heart patients grump about the most is having to change our diets. This was the scariest part of my recovery process. Put a treadmill under me and some monitors on me, and I would walk like crazy, totally fearless about the outcome. Give me eight new medications to take? No problem. Try to teach me new ways to manage stress? Sketchy. But eliminate my best friends, salt and fat, from my diet? No way!

I was raised in a small town by parents who were slightly older. I grew up on a steady diet of meat and potatoes. My dad ate two eggs, two pieces of bacon and two pieces of buttered toast every morning until he retired. Vegetables, though provided, were not taken seriously as a food group, while Ding Dongs and Ho Hos were celebrated as a reward for just getting through the day.

As a lot of us do, I passed these bad eating habits on to my children. Because no one in our house was ever considered obese, I didn’t worry. I tended to boo-boos and broken hearts with comfort food like I had been shown. Unfortunately I also passed on a legacy of heart disease.

After two heart attacks I had to admit that my pizza-shaped food pyramid was seriously unbalanced. I left the hospital in a total panic and dove into healthy eating.

At first I hated it. There was nothing "healthy" that I wanted to choke down. I became really depressed about food and started to dream of things I could no longer have. I wept for my staples — bacon, cheddar cheese and mayonnaise. I knew it was only a matter of time before I caved and starting eating these things just to cheer myself up. I knew that would lead to a bad place medically so I came up with some things to trick myself into compliance.

Here are my tricks:

1. Bites. Too many are not good, but "bites" in moderation can save you a lot of arterial clogging. Here’s how it works: When craving something that is not on the "good" list, have a bite. My guilt over ingesting even just a small amount stops me from devouring more and my craving is satisfied, sometimes for good!

2. Clean out your mental refrigerator. Decide what you absolutely refuse to live without and find the healthiest way to consume it. For me, it’s coffee and homemade ranch dressing. Now I drink one cup of coffee instead of two and make my dressing with low-fat mayo and skim milk.

As each opportunity to eat something unhealthy comes up, ask yourself this question: Have I had this to eat enough times in my life that I can literally live without it forever? Some of the things I now live without are frozen burritos, pork and beans, and tuna casserole. If your answer is "No, I love it and I must have it," put it on your wish list. Allow yourself to have it occasionally in moderation and move on. If you still feel guilt, rethink which list it should go on because guilt isn’t good either!

3. Make a "lunch bucket list" of the restaurants you can’t imagine life without. When you try them, cross them off your list. Once your list is done, create a new, shorter list with some healthier choices. But remember that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying your favorite restaurant in moderation.

4. Grow something you can eat. We started with just a few things — green beans, snow peas and cherry tomatoes. We added cilantro and lettuce and now we’re growing onions, sweet potatoes and other veggies. No need to rent a rototiller — you can grow in containers.

My grandson is now eating fresh veggies with enthusiasm because he helped plant them. Even I get excited about vegetables when I get to pick them fresh from my garden.

If you don’t live in a place where growing your own is possible, visit your local farmers market. Set a goal of trying at least one new herb or veggie each time you visit. Find new heart-healthy recipes online. We’ve broadened our menu by leaps and bounds by adding a little rosemary or some other previously ignored fresh herb to a marinade or salad.

I hope these tips help you and I hope, like me, you are doing your best to find new ways to enjoy a healthier diet. It’s truly is for our own good!

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