Okay, I know that’s not true. Deep down, in the recesses of my cerebral cortex, I know everything I’ve learned about fitness is NOT really a lie. I know taking care of yourself means eating healthy foods and exercising. I know we should cut down on sugars, and simple carbs, and starches, and saturated fats. I know eating whole fruits and veggies is good for us.
But this is why my life has been turned completely upside down. I’ve had this knowledge drilled into my brain. Article after article has told me in order to lose body fat and get fit, you must eat a healthy diet low in starchy, simple carbs, and higher in lean proteins. Stuff most people know about fitness.
When Chris was diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease, I knew it would change our life, but I didn’t know it would change our lifestyle. Well, at least, HIS lifestyle. For a couple of weeks after the initial diagnosis, I tried to continue on with our eating habits. I was, am, participating in the Whole30 challenge. Whole30 is designed to basically reset your body and eliminate the craving triggers by going 30 days without sugar, including honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar (I know!). It has you eat only whole, unprocessed food for 30 days to reset your body and then slowly reintroduce foods to your system to help you understand your relationship with food and how food affects you.
Chris was also participating in this challenge, but after we saw how much weight he was losing, we decided to forego some of the restrictions and increase his calories with honey and a couple other non-approved Whole30 foods. I was doing everything I could think of to feed this boy while also maintaining a healthy balance. But it was harder than it looks. Because his kidneys are only functioning at 12% , Chris is super worried and concerned about his salt intake, his phosphorus levels, and even potassium. Okay, we’re not as concerned about potassium because those levels look okay. But we were looking at his food as one of the best ways, something WE could control, to either slow this disease down so he doesn’t have to go on dialysis.
I kept at the idea of eating healthy. This was my first “mistake”. We looked at the list of foods high in phosphorus and potassium and noticed an interesting trend. All the healthy foods we have been taught to incorporate into our healthy lifestyle were on the “no” list. Bananas? No. WAY too much potassium. Beans? Too much phosphorus. Almonds? Too much potassium AND phosphorus. The list continued to perplex me. Pie, marshmallows, regular pasta, and white bread were all listed on the “good” list. These foods were low in sodium, low in protein, low in phosphorus, and low in potassium. And for a person with kidney disease, that is the important issue.
Was I the only person who was taught to limit or cut out pasta? Chris and I haven’t eaten pasta at home in years. We replaced spaghetti with zucchini and spaghetti squash. Tasted just as good to us, and cut out tons of empty calories and starches we were told we didn’t need if we wanted to stay fit. I remember cutting out most bread because it was too easy to eat on impulse, and again, had empty calories. It was too easy to grab a slice of bread and make a sandwich or toast or just shove the bread in my mouth. Most bread was replaced with lettuce wraps, or I bought the ingredients to make the bread myself. This definitely slowed down my mindless carb indulgences. I stopped eating white rice and only bought wild, whole grain rice. These were things I thought I was doing to stay healthy.
As a CrossFitter, improving my performance, strength training, and trying to cut down my body fat, I increased my protein intake compared to starches and simple carbs. Chris was working out right along with me. He lifted weights, practiced gymnastic moves like pull-ups and toes to bars. Shouldn’t he need lean protein as well?
Well, in normal circumstances, yes. But here’s the thing with kidney disease. Proteins are more difficult for the kidneys to clean out, so they have to work harder. When your kidneys are only functioning at 12%, it helps to not make them work so hard. So cut out proteins, or at least limit them. Think about that for a moment. If my lifestyle had cut out heavy starchy foods and eliminated most sugary sweets, it stands to reason most of my calories comes from my protein. So if you reduce your protein and all you are eating is whole vegetables and fruits, your calorie count goes way down. Such was what happened with Chris, only his weight dropped fast. Really fast.
So, in Chris’ unique case, he needs to increase his caloric intake. That means he needs to collect those empty calories we had worked so hard to cut out of our lives. We hadn’t eaten pasta at home in years. Now, Chris needs to have a portion with his meal instead of zucchini. White bread may be considered the devil incarnate to a devout fitness advocate. But white bread is devoid of nutrients and full of calories, so he can have almost as much as he wants. Honey is a typical sweetener in our home, but we used it sparingly. Chris now gets to pile it on. In this parallel universe, which I’m calling the upside down world, Trump is President and junk food is good for Chris.
I don’t envy Chris right now. I want to reiterate that. I love my healthy lifestyle. I find new ways to embrace it everyday. The other day, our landlord made Chris a loaf of white bread. Wasn’t even remotely tempted to try it, thanks to my Whole30 challenge. I haven’t even been craving sugary sweet stuff. I still have things to learn in my relationship with food. I snack a lot. I get the munchies right before bed nearly every night. These are things I am continuously working on. I enjoy eating foods that help my body and even help the earth. I can usually turn my nose up at packaged sweets because of their lack of nutrition and negative impact on the planet. So I’m not necessarily jealous of Chris. I mean, he has chronic kidney disease and needs a transplant! Who in their right mind would be jealous of that?