Every few days someone downloads my e-book, The Sweet Spot Guide To Eating Well After A Cardiac Event, so I know that it’s an issue on the minds of many people who read this blog.
Instead of another post from me, I thought it might be enlightening to hear from people who have lived with heart disease for a while. I put out the call almost a month ago, and it’s taken me a while to sift through the responses.
I asked people in various communities, in several different ways. Once I asked readers to complete the sentence, “What I know now about food/nutrition, that I wish I knew right after my event is … “. Another time I asked, “If you have some advice to pass on to someone just recovering, what would it be?”
At one point on Twitter I asked it a different way, borrowing a phrase from the book Intuitive Eating and asking, “How have you made peace with food?” That hit a nerve.
One person responded with “I’ve never made peace with food,” and another said “Food is still my poison even after 9 years. Sugar. It replaced smoking.” I’ve heard similar comments in client sessions over the years.
Food shouldn’t cause this much angst. So for this week, I’m getting out of the way and letting the those with lived experience share how they’ve adjusted.
I decided to leave out comments advocating a particular diet or supplement. In terms of “what” to eat, we have lots of flexibility, and you can do what works for you. What I’m focusing on here is the “how”, from mindset to practical matters.
I hope one or more of these bits of advice will help you!
“My husband is a heart attack survivor & I’d like to say we follow all the rules…eating at home is easy, eating out is trickier. We do try to choose restaurants with healthier choices (not fast food for sure). That said, for special occasions, rules are ignored and he gets a steak or whatever for his birthday. Haha.
It’s been our experience that never allowing yourself to have one of the forbidden foods only leads you to crave them more. So, occasionally cheat, small portions. Not sure if that’s sound from a dietician’s perspective!”
Roxanne, wife of James, High River, AB, 17 years since heart attack
For the record, it is sound from this dietitian’s perspective! I wouldn’t even call it “cheating.” But what matters most is that it’s working for them.
“Start slowly. You don’t have to eat only vegetables and cut out meat and potatoes completely. Start off with maybe half a cup of some vegetable and you can always add a little bit of pepper or some low sodium seasoning.”
Side note: I originally asked respondents to share their first name, city, type of event, and years since, to help readers relate to them, but many responded with just their comment that I decided just to go with what they sent.
“Dietary advice can be so confusing, but everyone is different. You have to find what works for you!”
“One day at a time. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I just try my best one day at a time.”
“Believe it or not, I’ve never enjoyed food as much as I do now. There’s such a variety of interesting new things to try and every meal is an adventure. It’s much more interesting then back in the old “meat and potatoes” days.”
“While it is true that old habits are hard to break, one must resolve to change the lifestyle which has led to the cardiac event. Making sensible diet and an exercise regime choice is a must. Many of us have greatly benefited from various Cardiac Wellness programs and joining a support group, such as the Heart to Heart Support Society.”
Tony, Calgary, AB, 26 years since heart attack
(While “lifestyle” habits like eating may play a role in to heart disease, there are lots of contributing factors, from genetics to socioeconomic circumstances, over which we have little or no control.)
“Kirkland’s ‘Organic No Salt Seasoning’ is a must for anyone with heart issues. per 1/4 tsp only 2 mg sodium! It’s fantastic on roasts (any meat or fish) and roasted potatoes… I’ve used it for years. And was able to make beef on a bun for a large gathering only using this spice… turned out fantastic and the person with the worst heart issues was able to eat and enjoy!”
This was unprompted and unsponsored, of course. I haven’t tried it, but it sounds good doesn’t it?
“I’m on a low sodium diet (2,000 per day ) I usually make it a lot less. In the beginning my biggest challenge was to shop smart ( READ THE RDA’s people!!!!) Then the real fun begins by working on variety of what I eat. Preparing and cooking, is almost as fun as eating now😋”
William, Hayward WI
(I think he meant read the labels.)
“We got an air fryer and it’s been great for vegetables. Plus generous seasoning. It’s hard at first to change, But persevere and it will become second nature. My meat-loving husband now eats what I do!”
Rachel, Thunder Bay, ON
“I have always eaten well. I am not one for processed convenience food. (As someone who has always been active, I always ate healthy nutritious meals, my heart condition is genetic. All the male side of our family has some form of heart issues unfortunately.) When it comes to food we were always brought up where everything had to be cooked from scratch — the only fast food in the 70’s here in the UK was fish and chips — our parents always encouraged us to cook.
These days I love being in the kitchen. I eat lots of fish, as I enjoy it, also lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, salads are my go to quick meal. I have always enjoyed salad and vegetables. It’s funny in England people assume if you have a salad you must be on a diet … not that you actually enjoy it.
I rarely eat processed foods and prefer to prepare everything myself. I always make my own pasta and curry sauces. During the panic buying at the start of the pandemic I was making meals up from whatever I had in my store cupboard and freezer: I always have tinned sardines, mackerel and kippers (smoked herring) and tuna in my store cupboard as they are so versatile. I like to steam and roast vegetables too as that brings out the flavours more. I hardly eat meat, as I prefer seafood and poultry.”
Archie, United Kingdom,
6 years since triple bypass (8 years since silent heart attack)
Archie isn’t alone here… Genetics and other non-modifiable risk factors play a role in heart disease for many people!
“Go to a dietitian if needed. Piles of vegetables, pulses, salad, and fruit. If you eat meat, then eat the leaner parts and skip the fatty bits. Frozen veggies are just as good as fresh and I switch between both depending on my schedule.”
“It took me about a year of trying to find foods that work for me. It was tough! I find using pulses and beans with veggies and mushrooms can make lots of meals: lasagne, spaghetti bolognese, shepherds pie, etc. Add herbs and stocks for flavour. Fruit and nuts are great for snacking.”
Anne, 7 years since heart attack, Cambridge, MA
“I grew up hating vegetables but I’ve learned to like them. Honestly, I enjoy them now. You just learn to cook them the right way.”
“I buy fresh vegetables when they’re on sale. I buy canned beans and tuna on sale. I eat a lot of large salads with beans, artichokes and sometimes hard cooked eggs. I make lots of homemade vegetable soup and serve it with a nice whole grain bread.”
Molly, 10 years since heart attack, Phoenix, AZ
“You don’t have to go all in. Slowly start eating healthier. You have to make a concerted effort, try to turn it into kind of a hobby. It’s really hard to change our eating but I know you’ve got this!”
“Try to find foods you like. And relax, you have enough going on.”
I wanted to give Patti the last word here. So well said.
If you want to add your thoughts on how to adapt your eating habits after a heart event, feel free to chime in on the Facebook post.