Grow Your Business: Watch What You Eat

Assorted-broccoli-cabbage

What’s Keeping Your Business from Growing?

Surely, it couldn’t be what you eat, could it? Well, if you have a growing mid-section, low energy, or are on the verge of having a chronic health condition, what you eat might be holding you back. Sound crazy? Read on!

About 45% of Americans (144 million people) suffer from at least one chronic condition such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, and lesser-known conditions like fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, or Crone’s disease. These conditions cost billions in health care expenses, lost productivity, and low quality of life. And most are related to what we eat one way or another.

What does this have to do with growing your business? To answer that question, we need to tell our story.

The “Mickey-D” Days

When Jenny and I first got together long before we thought abouBurger and friest starting our own business, we ate what we considered to be a well-balanced diet, including occasional fast food. Okay, who are we kidding? We ate out a lot, sometimes 3-4 times a week. Picture Mickey-D’s cheeseburgers, fries, pasta, processed foods, ice cream, high sugar desserts, and red meat with an occasional side of broccoli.

What the hell, it was fun, and cooking in our tiny apartment was a pain.

We congratulated ourselves when we chose healthy “happy-ending” ice cream sundaes at Friendly’s™ or chicken platters at Applebee’s™. We’d heard our whole lives that a healthy diet comes from a combination of portion control and exercise.

Not only that, like most in the Westernized world, we had a hectic schedule. And it felt socially inclusive to eat out. How could you have a proper date night without take-out or the occasional fancy dining experience?

The “calories in, calories out” theory presented no problems until we lost our ability to function. Jenny’s longtime migraines began to intensify in magnitude and frequency. She slept for hours and would become exhausted from a trip to the store. Sometimes Jenny had to call Bill at work to walk their rescue greyhound because she couldn’t withstand or control an 80-lb dog on a leash. She would crawl rather than walk to the bathroom. Clearly, Jenny’s ailments rendered her unable to work a full-time job. Most days she lacked the energy to cook or enjoy life, let alone run her own business.

Rabbit Food Regimen

Neither of us was overweight when we got married despite Bill’s having

Puffy faces 2012
Puffy Faces, 2012

struggled to maintain normal weight for years. But about a year later, we both developed a puffy face. Trust us, puffy does not equal pouty or more Instagramable. Our waistlines bloated and Bill developed an embarrassing double chin.

More critically, Jenny’s health issues rendered her disabled despite her young chronological age. Medical professionals did not take her concerns seriously.

Bill, though much older, enjoyed relatively good health. Sure, he took Lipitor™ to control genetically–predisposed high cholesterol, and Prilosec™ to control reflux. Yearly physical exams, however, presented new problems: high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar (pre-diabetes), decreased kidney function, and arthritis.

 

Bill’s doctor wasn’t particularly alarmed.

She assured him, “People your age should expect these symptoms. Just watch your diet and continue to exercise and if that doesn’t work (and frankly it usually doesn’t), we’ll put you on a drug to manage these diseases.”

Despite piles of medical evidence and Bill’s stubborn attitude about not “getting old,” our old habits would have persisted were it not for a financial reversal that prohibited us from eating out. To save money, we began to cook all of our meals at home. At last we utilized our remodeled kitchen.

While researching recipes, Jenny also noticed the high sugar content of most processed foods. She began to purchase organic vegetables at Whole Foods along with processed foods made with organic cane sugar.

Our grocery bill skyrocketed (what they say about “whole paychecks” rings true), and Jenny still suffered from flare-ups of diverticulitis. You might be asking whether we considered going back to the Mickey-D days if our new healthy diet didn’t help. We reasoned the opposite. If we went back to white bread, high fructose, and MSG, we’d probably die.

So we persisted in the organic lifestyle until Bill’s physical revealed abnormal blood sugar numbers. It was time to reassess our diet yet again.

Jenny began to read the fine print on every food label. She would not buy anything with over 10 grams of sugar per serving. Not only were organic chocolate chips and cheesecake banned, but so were Bill’s favorite jelly and brown-sugar baked beans.

We continued to eat whole grain pasta and bread. Initially we felt better. We took control and Jenny was determined to have a positive report after Bill’s next physical. We each dropped 5 to 10 pounds. Yay! Winning.

But Bill’s blood sugar levels remained at pre-diabetic levels. Jenny felt defeated.

Her migraines worsened into a fibromyalgia-like condition, with seizure-like episodes. She suffered a nearly deadly attack of diverticulitis and medical practitioners debated whether to remove sections of her intestines, given her age.

We halted travel plans; life stopped.

Jenny’s blood-sugar fluctuated so fiercely that she would transform from Jekyll to Hyde (in a matter of seconds) if she didn’t eat every two hours. It then got to be every hour. For this reason, Bill does not laugh at “hangry” jokes.

Jenny lamented to Bill, “Why is this happening? We followed all the rules—went for hikes, cardio workouts, didn’t eat a single friggen’ chocolate chip cookie—for 6 months.” As a scientist, and former athlete she couldn’t reconcile the data.

By that time, we sorted out our finances but also realized that eating out presented too many challenges. Bill barely warded off mandatory sugar control meds even though we cut our sugar intake by 80% and suffered the indignity of brown rice in our stir-fry. So how could we manage restaurant food?

Gluten-Free and More!

During the summer of 2015, Jenny noticed a pattern to her extreme belly pain. After eating, her belly would swell and ache. She recalled reading a blog that mentioned “wheat belly” but didn’t give it much thought. She also began complaining about a bitter taste after she consumed bread. She whined, “What have they done to bread? I’m going to a real bakery where they use ancient whole grain flour.” Despite a price tag of $9 per loaf, the bitter aftertaste continued. She finally asked Bill if he had heard the term “Wheat Belly?” He responded, “What’s a wheat belly?”

Bills wheat belly
After low-sugar diet, Bill’s “wheat belly” in 2015

A Google search quickly turned up Dr. William Davis’s book, Wheat Belly. (You can find more information about Dr. Davis (a cardiologist) and his program of grain-free diet on his website, Wheat Belly Lifestyle Institute.) Since we both had a protruding belly, Bill purchased the book. What happened next was transformative.

Bill read Wheat Belly within a week while Jenny investigated online sources (to each their own, right?). After learning that gluten acts like a drug and a “super sugar” on a cellular level, we decided to go gluten-free just before we began a week’s vacation in Maine. Disaster briefly ensued.

Jenny experienced a full-blown panic attack. She called Bill at work after having what can only be described as a fainting spell. She declared, “I will starve! I eat bread all day. It’s the most important part of my diet. What can a person even eat if they can’t have bread? It’s the very sustenance of life. Bread and water.” After 10 years of marriage, Bill was accustomed to Jenny’s rants and mild exaggerations. He calmly stated, “I’m going to do this with you every step of the way. Let’s just take this one day at a time, together.” Jenny remembered why she loved Bill so much but still resented the change.

But then she had an epiphany in her dazed state. Why am I so upset about not eating bread? Am I addicted to bread? Because I’m sure as frig acting like an addict. Jenny climbed off the couch and went to the pantry. She had just eaten spelt crackers with her egg salad. “Siri,” she asked her phone, “What is spelt?” Turns out spelt is another name for wheat. What? So she hadn’t been gluten free for the last couple of days.

By the time Bill arrived home, Jenny had emptied 90% of the pantry contents into the waste bin or donated what was unopened. She repeated, “Wheat, wheat, wheat, it’s in everything we eat!” Bill noticed a new determination and hoped they wouldn’t regret this madness.

But shopping for gluten-free foods in Maine turned out to be a pleasant new experience. We discovered vegetables at a local co-op and fresh meats from the butcher.

Halfway through the week, we began to notice significant changes. We experienced higher energy levels. We even climbed Mt. Battie in Camden, Maine, by going up the most difficult slope—something we would never have attempted previously. A mental fog lifted, and we no longer craved food or snacks between meals. There were many more surprises. Our mood improved and our indigestion ceased. Bill thought he might throw his anti-reflux pills away.

These changes persisted after we returned home. We were more alert and began to go on hikes in nature preserves near our home. Jenny’s migraines became less frequent and severe, and her digestive problems subsided. She began to suspect that gluten was a trigger for her headaches and intestinal difficulties. Craving food, especially bread, stopped.

Jenny after
Jenny, doing better, 2018

We both began to lose weight. After 2 months, Bill had lost 30 pounds. His glycemic index and blood pressure numbers were still too high, but continuing with a low sugar, gluten-free diet gave him hope. When his physician suggested medication to control his blood pressure, he asked to try just the diet for a while longer. Within another 6 months, both blood pressure and glycemic index dropped into the normal range. Pre-diabetes was no longer a threat. His cholesterol levels stabilized, and he dropped to the lowest level dose of his statin. Arthritis pain also subsided.

Bill after
A healthier Bill, 2018

By Christmas, Bill told Jenny that he wanted to retire from academe and start a writing business. Our bodies and minds rejoiced at our new anti-inflammatory diet. Ideas flowed.

Implications for Your Business

Our story doesn’t end here, and it’s not universally applicable. We continue to refine our lifestyle, bur more about that later. Our story can help those of you who are coping with many chronic conditions that sap your energy, your time, your productivity, and your financial resources.

For instance, Americans eat out a lot. We did too. And they pay a lot of money to eat out. Most Americans dislike the cost of eating out more than for any other thing in their lives, but they still do it. Why? Because it’s convenient, it usually tastes good, and it offers a chance to connect with others.

But consider how many more resources you could devote to your business if you prepared your meals at home. Sure you’ll spend extra time in the kitchen, and more money on groceries, but we stand by the adage “work smarter, not harder.” (For more, see our other “Grow Your Business” posts.)

Because of poor eating and lack of exercise, most Americans suffer insomnia, sleep apnea, IBS, and lack of energy to name a few. Let’s be clear. Weight gain alone is not the issue. We don’t care if you have a wheat belly. But an expanding midsection is directly tied to health conditions, which will prevent you from reaching your true potential.

To recover alertness, to better manage or reverse chronic health problems, to gain more control over your business and have the energy to promote and expand it, try a low sugar, gluten-free, and mostly grain-free diet. We eventually gave up dairy and nightshade veggies too, but we don’t want to overwhelm you all at once. This has been a 3+ year journey for us.

We don’t consider our choices to be a fad diet. They’re a lifestyle.

You don’t need to give up terrific flavor or variety in your meals. Spoiler alert: you’ll be able to eat spices again without the acid reflux. But you will no longer crave eating to the point of over-indulging. And you’ll feel better almost immediately.

We’re not saying that you won’t need regular exercise, but you’ll get more benefit out of less. Twenty minutes, 5 days a week on the elliptical helps us feel energetic and maintains muscle tone. Don’t forget to stretch and meditate too. We don’t need to “burn” calories and we couldn’t begin to outrun our hangry-cravings anyhow.

So we’ve convinced you to join us in a new lifestyle?

Hold on. We really appreciate your support, but this will be one of the greatest challenges you’ve ever faced.

For one thing, we’re all social creatures. We break bread with friends and family. We celebrate our most important milestones in restaurants or at home with cake.

If you live in a major city, you’ll have more options like dedicated gluten free and paleo joints. You’re probably thinking that most restaurants offer gluten free options nowadays. What they don’t tell you is that very few take measures to prevent the dreaded “cross-contamination.”

A word of caution: the longer you’ve been off gluten, the more even a trace amount will make you sick. You can view this two ways. One is to say emphatically, “Screw that; I can’t live that way.” The other is to admit that gluten acts like a narcotic in your body and avoid it.

Science doesn’t lie. But you can use your “gut” too. Why are you melting down at the thought of giving up gluten at this very moment? And why would a trace amount start off a chain reaction that puts people out of commission for days if your body treats it as a healthy substance?

That’s why you must act now. Give up gluten and all its nasty cousins, like processed corn and rice, for good.

Also, you’ll have to plan meals ahead and tell your office mates that you don’t eat pizza or subs anymore. They’ll mock you for being anti-American. And if you’re not American, they’ll still mock you. Maybe this will become a perfect opportunity to start your own business!

Let’s start a healthy revolution, anyway. Shall we? Your body deserves better. You wouldn’t pump unleaded gas into a diesel engine, would you?

We’ve read countless articles written by doctors who warn people against the “gluten free” diet craze. You’re probably reciting some of their arguments now as you’re dreaming of eating your second breakfast bagel slathered with cream cheese. Partly, we agree with those doctors. If you’re just going to eat gluten free bagels and pizza, you won’t be any better off. This is about eating basic foods—mostly veggies, fruit, limited meats, and lots of nuts, and healthy fats.

And now you’re thinking, “Bill and Jenny are crazy or sadistic. I’m never giving up all my favorite foods because that’s not balanced, and I can barely get my laundry done let alone cook.”

Or you might be thinking, Jenny had extreme health issues and I don’t have those issues. But don’t forget about Bill. He lived a disease-free life until after 55. Then he experienced the same health issues as 80% of the population in that age bracket. And Jenny’s health issues are becoming more common, even among young people. How many people do you know who need a colonoscopy before the age of 40?

We never said it would be easy. You have to be committed to making your business grow. If I told you that you had to spend 3 hours a day posting on social media, you would not bat an eyelash. Does your health and your healthy brain count any less?

The benefits will outweigh the inconveniences. Promise.

We believe you can work smarter not harder and that this lifestyle will create time, energy, and alertness that you never knew you had.

Let Your Dreams Be Bigger

Expand your business like the alert, competent professional that you really are. Get control of what you eat and quit being enslaved to your inner gluten zombie.

Remember, when you eat to live a fuller life, your relationships will improve, your zest for adventure will increase, your feeling of achievement and control will zoom.

When wheat and sugar addiction ruled our lives, we weren’t aware of the debilitating effects. Try it for 3 days – no cheating. You can do anything for 3 days right?

Disclaimer: This is not intended to be medical advice. If you have a serious medical condition, check with your health provider and follow the advice of your health professionals.