Friday, January 30, 2009


It stands for Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension, or something like that. My friend Bitta works at the Mayo Clinic, and she tipped me off to the existence of DASH. It is an existence that will begin to influence the way I live.

See, this past trip to Arkansas I did all the culinary things a trip South requires: ate lots of barbecue, lots of fried whatever, and drank lots of Dr. Pepper. It was glorious.

It was also excessive. In the months leading up to my trip I had been experiencing various physical discomforts that seemed to be symptoms of something. In the early autumn I gave up most caffeine, which I think helped, but some of the symptoms persisted. By the time it became clear that it would be beneficial to seek medical attention, I temporarily lost my health insurance with Starbucks.

Let's be real though. Partially from my dad's example and partially through growing accustomed to living without health insurance for several years, going to the doctor is usually a last resort. So it is that I began feeling some of the discomfort one night at my parents' house after dinner, and I decided to check my blood pressure.

To say it was high might be an understatement. I was freaked to say the least. But, without medical insurance, a visit to the doctor had to wait at least another three weeks. So, I called Bitta to seek her sage advice on life style changes in response to this new discovery.

Thus, DASH became a part of my life. It's really a pretty common sense as far as diets go. But, that's the point of lifestyle changes, right? They are usually not unexpected changes. Just unwelcome. So, for me here are some of the guiding dietary principles:

*Lower sodium intake. Sodium is one of the primary culprits of elevated blood pressure. The daily recommended value of sodium is 1500 mg, but most people exceed this several times over. One of the dictates of lowering sodium is giving up nearly all packaged food. Things I would not expect to be high in sodium, like much bread and cereal, have turned out to be on the black list. Also, no more free food at the Bux. Other than the overpriced oatmeal, there is not much reasonable there.

*Lower alcohol consumption. I won't dwell on this, but I pretty much hate this part. Thankfully I was dry for a month last winter and I know I can do this. Also, as much as I hate to admit it, I feel better when I'm alcohol free.

*Lower caffeine consumption. Also helping me with the alcohol reduction is looking back over the last few months and being surprised at how easy it has been to significantly reduce how much caffeine I drink. Another consequence is that my awake feels more awake, and my tired feels less tired. My sleeping has also improved.

*Drink more water. Obvious, but something I've not been very good at practicing.

*Increased magnesium, calcium, and potassium intake. Still researching what foods will help me do this, but I am also reacquainting myself with the multivitamin.

*Eat moderately. A big help with high blood pressure is weight loss. Eating smaller portions, and selecting healthier options go some of the distance with this. The other part is of course regular exercise. Thanks to a growing group of friends who love tennis, this has been an easier addition to my lifestyle. Come spring, I look forward to getting more hiking in as well.

There's lots of other things to consider in DASH, but those are the most salient for me. The upside has been moving my focus from what I'm needing to give up in order to get rid of something, to realizing how the changes I'm making are adding value to my life. I am feeling motivated about SOMETHING for the first time in a long time.

Then there are the little reminders. There is that wonderful feeling of exhaustion after a good tennis match which helps me realize that while my shots were wild and unruly, I left every ounce of energy I had on the court. There is that satisfaction of eating just enough at a meal instead of feeling like I'm going into a coma from overeating. There is that appreciation of friends who give recipe suggestions, cook sensitively, and respond to my ridiculous requests to play tennis in the cold drizzle.

Life is good and is getting better. It's nice to say that without trying to convince myself. Which is part and parcel with these changes. Stress elevates blood pressure as well, and there has been no shortage of that this past year and more.

To put it as simply as possible, I have been stressed that time keeps passing even though I don't have a clue what I want to do. I'm confident in who I want to be, and even certain things I want to do, but the day to day of making a living and all that goes along with that--no clue.

The merry-go-round spins...grad school, nonprofit work, missions, teaching, translation, writing, etc. I never land on anything for too long. I'm not looking for a permanent fit, but I'm looking for a meaningful occupation. I hope that's not too much to ask.

At any rate, my attempts to let DASH impact my life are in the infancy stages, but I'm hopeful. I'd like the other decisions in my life to follow that same path of hopefulness.

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