Trying the DASH Diet

Salt Heart

My husband’s nutrition coach had advised that he try the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet to control his diabetes. Since this diet was originally designed to  reduce hypertension, I thought that it would be the best diet for our family. My husband and I were both on medication to reduce our blood pressure. When I did a little research on line, I learned that the DASH diet was the one most highly recommended by doctors, not only for high blood pressure, but also for diabetes and heart disease. What could be better than the doctors’ most recommended diet?

I downloaded the guidelines from the National Institute of Health (available here). These guidelines include a chart that helps you to calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI). If you have a BMI above 30, they advise that you lose weight. To do that, they recommend that you eat 500 calories per day less than you usually do. I had no idea how many calories I ate on a regular basis. Nor was I interested in calculating several days worth of meals in order to find out what that might be. However, I was willing to try eating more vegetables and fruits, and carefully measure my portions in the future.

We had been on the Weight Watcher’s program before, so I was no stranger to measuring and recording what I ate. I hauled out our kitchen scale and braced myself for the long haul. We began to read ingredient labels again, with a careful scrutiny of the salt content. We ate smaller portions and leaner meats. I added more whole grains to our pantry.

While we stuck to the plan assiduously, both my husband and I lost weight. I was happy to see the results on my bathroom scale. The only problem was that since I was eating smaller portions, I was hungry for most of the day. Mealtimes were satisfying. I didn’t feel hungry immediately after eating, but the satiation never lasted. I began to crave the rich sweets that I had dropped from my diet.

As on previous diets, including Weight Watchers, my husband and I decided that we needed a cheat day in which we could splurge a little. We would allow ourselves a day, usually a weekend, when we would indulge our most prominent craving for that week. We might go out for a steak dinner, indulge in pancakes for breakfast, or buy a generous portion of candy. Since most of my cravings were for sweets, I usually chose to spend my cheat day on candy.

Since I was suffering from a sugar addiction after years of indulging such cravings, it made the rest of my week miserable. Everyday I found myself fantasizing about cheat day and how I would choose to use my weekly indulgence. Whenever I would get hungry, my sugar craving would be intense. Since limiting my calories was making me hungry most of the time, that meant that cravings were a constant burden.

After the usual early diet weight loss of about ten pounds, I plateaued. On a good week, I might lose as much as a half a pound. Those were very good weeks. On a bad week, in spite of sticking assiduously to the diet, I might gain two pounds. It was frustrating feeling that I was sacrificing what I craved and yet saw so little benefit in weight loss. However, I was consoled when I remembered that it wasn’t about weight loss, but about better health. I waited to see if the benefits would show in health scales.

The next time my husband visited the doctor, I expected to see big changes. His doctor had been keeping his blood pressure down through medication, perhaps it would be time to reduce the amount of medication now that we were eating so little salt? Would my husband’s cholesterol level reflect the changes we had made by eating leaner meats? Surely his blood sugar levels should reflect that we had been avoiding sweets throughout the week?

Though his numbers were adequate for his next doctor’s appointment, there was no clear indication that our diet had reduced his levels to any appreciable degree. The numbers had merely stabilized, without going down at all. The doctor expressed her satisfaction in hearing that we were striving to live up to the healthy guidelines as we understood them. However, she seemed more concerned that he continue taking his large collection of medications than anything that we were eating. She had faith that the medications would keep the disease from progressing.

This was disappointing to me, as we had put in a lot of hard work. I wanted to see improvement, not lack of deterioration. We needed motivation to keep us from slipping back into our old lifestyle. Yet, the numbers were not showing that there had been any real benefit. The disappointment, and the difficulty of staying on the diet made my husband and I become lax in our efforts. We began to indulge our cravings a little more often, and to eat until we were no longer hungry during the day. Perhaps the naysayers were right. Perhaps a healthy diet didn’t make a person live longer. Perhaps it only felt longer!

When both our weight, and my husbands numbers began to creep up again, we knew that we needed something more. We continued to eat salads, and leaner meats, but we didn’t stick to the diet as rigorously as we had before. I kept my eye out for something more promising. There had to be something better than this.


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