June is Men’s Health Month. We interviewed two men with varied backgrounds and significant age differences and how they have tackled living with heart disease and made significant lifestyle changes to help lower their risk of a cardiac event. We encourage you to make regular physicals and request to speak with a dietitian if you feel you would benefit from weight reduction or improving your diet and lifestyle to improve your lipid panel to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Part I: Dustin
I had 0 indications of heart disease…I went to work on a Monday as usual, and had the normal coffee at break around 9:30 a.m. Shortly thereafter, I noticed a throbbing in my lower molars. Thinking I had to see a dentist, I went about the workday. Gradually my chest felt tight, and as if a weight was placed on it. I went home for lunch, started to sweat, couldn’t eat, and decided to get back to work as quickly as possible because I was starting to get nervous. Completely naive to the fact I was having a massive heart attack due to plaque breaking off an artery and causing a blood clot, until an ambulance was called around 12:30 p.m. A 4.5mm x 16mm stent was put in my LAD via my wrist. Consciousness during the procedure quickly gave way to blackout and being reawakened by a defibrillator. I was 31 years old.
Did you know you had heart disease prior to your attack?
It’s unclear what exactly caused my heart attack, I was a normal weight, I did exercise but I lived a fast-paced life of smoking, drinking, and occasional cocaine use and a typical 30-year-old guy’s diet. All over the above is the most logical guess.
After the event what were your biggest lifestyle obstacles to overcome? What was your support system like?
My main support system was fear, so my main support system was myself, no one can 100% have an understanding of the personal emotional toll an event like that can take on a person. I ditched that whole scene out of fear. It was a hard change but it was also so abundantly clear that living was far more important. No alcohol, tobacco, drugs, red meat for one full year. After that year I started to blend in red meats. Whatever foods I enjoy sweets, a cheeseburger, periodically (birthdays, outings, etc.) I will eat without guilt or shame.
How did your heart attack change your eating habits? What are some of your new favorite foods/meals that you enjoy to make?
I enjoy salmon, chicken, red meat, I cook most everything in EVOO. I basically have a variation of a salad, plant protein shake (organic protein) w/ unsweetened almond milk, 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed, and half a serving of extra thick rolled oats. Sweet potatoes are a staple with dinner along with a type of sautéed green with garlic usually. I keep my carbs low a majority of the time; sugar that is added I sat away from altogether. Fruit is the new candy. I had pretty much been unknowingly intermittently fasting. 90% of the week I only eat during an 8-10 hour window (break at 9, lunch at 12, dinner around 4:30-5). It curbs hunger and overall I feel much better than when I would snack after dinner or in between lunch and dinner.
Did you change your exercise habits after the event?
I exercised more, but have been slacking a little bit as of late. I find myself in cycles of on and off gym visits but never completely put it down. My job is physical and I know I will always keep my gym membership. It’s fun getting motivated to go back when you stop for a month or so.
Has your lifestyle changes made you stronger mentally and had an impact on others around you? How do you feel now that you have made these changes to your diet and lifestyle?
Mentally, I am the strongest I have been. It’s all about control and mastering the power of choice. You can learn that, and knowing good habits are formed just as easily as bad habits, is a great thing to remember!
Any other comments you would like to share to help other men try to reduce their risk for a heart attack or heart disease?
Moderation is everything. Splurge if you want, but having a foundation that can carry you through the week is my personal key. I have routine, I have structure, I have the personal will to not want to get sloppy with my regiment. I buy food that is meat or veggies or fruit. I bring it home and I cook it. I do not eat processed prepared pop in the oven and eat foods. Read labels. Mostly, it’s how to eat healthy that works for you. Not everything works. It’s your body, explore it. See what it likes, see what it doesn’t like. Exercise is a bonus, but nothing works if you don’t have a solid diet foundation to build off of.