Sunday, December 13, 2020

Keeping on Track


The following is an article originally posted on the now discontinued website called StrokeNet. They published a monthly newsletter. Their articles are still very useful today. With the permission of their then editor, Lin Wisman, I am able to repost them on my site.

Rachel Stolz, the author of this article, was a member of the StrokeNet staff.

Keeping on Track
By Rachel Stolz

I went to donate blood for the first time post stroke about a month ago. I thought for certain my iron levels would be low due to the fact I’m a vegetarian (have been since I was a teenager). Turns out, my iron levels were above average. I was happy to hear that and started to think about what changes I’ve been making nutritionally since having a stroke that raised my levels up to where they should be.

This article will focus on the importance of nutrition for maintaining mental and physical health post stroke. (Side note: When I went to donate blood I also registered to be a bone marrow donor. I felt like I would love to donate if I were ever a match for someone in need. I submitted the paperwork and found out a short time later I was denied due to having a stroke. It never crossed my mind that I would be denied for such a thing. Banned for life. Bummer!)

I’ve written before about the importance of exercise for maintaining a positive mental outlook and also for the physical benefits. I have always been an active person…. Walking my dogs, swimming, cardio, lifting weights, however, I have never been the healthiest eater. Part of that is due to the fact I exercised a lot and could eat more or less what I wanted. That included a LOT of breads, pastas, and other carbs. It’s easy to carb load when you’re a vegetarian!

Everything changed when I had my aneurysm surgery and subsequent strokes. I still maintained some level of exercise, but due to my depressed state of mind and lack of energy, I was lying around more than ever. This led to me consuming more food than ever and I tended to snack throughout the day.

I think it was a comfort and I was becoming emotionally dependent on food. I easily gained 35 pounds over the course of a year and I kept that weight on for much longer. I threw out my scale because it was a reminder of how much I’d gained. No matter how miserable I felt about the weight gain, I couldn’t seem to shake the bad eating habits I’d developed.

Two things helped me get out of my slump and back on track (almost 3 years later). The first thing I did was go and see a GI doctor because I was having some upper digestive issues and acid reflux. The doctor told me without hesitation that I needed to lose some weight; that even 10 pounds would make a difference and probably clear up a lot of my GI issues and reflux.

The second thing that helped was watching a good friend of mine who was morbidly obese start going to the gym and counting calories. She dropped 60 pounds within 6 months. I saw how motivated she was and decided to follow her lead. I began tracking my calories in a phone app to keep me honest.

It was very difficult at first to stay within my allotted calories, but I figured as long as I was getting close, it was still less than what I had been consuming. As I gradually got used to snacking less and making healthier choices, it did become a bit easier and I was able to keep my calorie consumption within a more normal range.

The next step was buying a scale. This was scary to me because I had actively avoided the scale (besides doctor’s visits) for quite some time. I was shocked the first time I stepped on the scale but I resolved to let it be a motivator and not view the number in a negative light.

I had contact with my friend on a daily basis via text about what steps we were taking to become healthier and just checking in to help keep us on track. I started eating less carbs and more vegetables and protein. Veggie burgers have really come a long way! Daily multivitamins along with some natural additions like apple cider vinegar and healthy protein bars really helped me feel physically better. Along with moderate workouts, I finally saw the scale begin to move in the right direction. Although you could see the physical changes I was making, the emotional changes were even greater.

I began feeling like my old self again, not shying away from photos being taken, and just all around feeling more comfortable in my own skin. My confidence levels were bouncing back and my overall outlook brightened. I believe the combination of healthier eating coupled with losing the excess pounds did wonders for my mental health and self-esteem.

I have now lost the 35 pounds I gained after falling ill and am back at my 2011 pre-stroke weight. It has been a challenge to lose that weight, but the more you focus on your goals the easier it becomes. My motivation is not just the physical aspect of weight loss, but wanting to be as healthy as I can to prevent any future health issues, to include having another stroke. Some days are still a struggle to eat mindfully and healthfully and treating yourself occasionally is okay. On those difficult days, I remind myself how lucky I am to have the chance to turn my health around and I grab my apple with a smile on my face.
Rachel had surgery for a brain aneurysm in 2011 when she was 33 years old. After surgery, she suffered strokes throughout the right hemisphere of her brain to include the frontal lobe, temporal lobe, and parietal lobe. Rachel is fully recovered and runs her own investigations and security company. She and her husband also own a public safety communications business and reside in Oklahoma City.

Copyright ©November 2015
The Stroke Network, Inc.
P.O. Box 492 Abingdon, Maryland 21009
All rights reserved.

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