You may have started eating healthier for general health, to prevent breast cancer or reduce your chances of a recurrence, but no doubt you’ve realized it can be a tough road. The benefits to your overall health, energy and skin make it worth the extra effort and proper nutrition can be a great weapon in the fight against breast cancer. Whether you jump completely into a gluten free, dairy free, sugar free diet or you’re just trying to “eat clean” to help during treatment and beyond, here are some quick tips to help manage it all and maintain a busy lifestyle.
#1 Give it 3 weeks – It takes that long to clean the junk out of your system and start training your taste buds for “real food” again. After about a month, believe it or not you may crave blueberries for dessert over cake because the heavy sugar content may be overpowering.
#2 Monitor soy and other GMOs – this is a confusing topic because studies show that organic soy is actually beneficial for fighting breast cancer. Most soy sold today is genetically modified and the bulk of it is not labeled, so it’s increasingly tough to determine what’s “pure organic,” the good kind of soy to fight breast cancer. This means a simple latte order can be fraught with worry but luckily more options are popping up. For example, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf now offers almond and coconut milk in addition to soy.
#3 Water, water and more water – It’s so simple but most of us forget to drink enough H2O. Eight 8 oz glasses are recommended but 70-80 ounces a day is better. Water cleans out your system, helps curb hunger and can be a huge contributing factor to overall health. If you’re willing to go “all in,” there are whole house water filter systems so even your shower water is as pure as possible (chlorine can be an issue in tap water). Otherwise, a nice Brita filter or bottled water works.
#4 Think old school food – The first question when starting a gluten free, dairy free, sugar free diet is usually, “what’s left?” Really good stuff is what. Chicken, fish, veggies, Mexican food, Asian stir fry, Thai food, quinoa pasta – many, many tasty dishes. And probably things your grandparents eat regularly.
#5 Make friends with your grocer – More choices are not necessarily better choices. More often than not, the options are between bad and worse wrapped in a healthy, “earthy” package to make us feel good about ourselves. Talking to the face behind the fish counter about the differences between sustainable farm raised and wild salmon can help you learn as you go.
#6 Use pill bags – Think you’re too young to be walking around with pill dispensers? More 20- and 30-somethings are doing it to stash vitamins and supplements in their bags, cars or whatever they have on the go. They can fit in wallets and bags and you’ll never forget your vitamins again.
#7 Plan to pay more – It’s a cruel fact that healthy eating is more expensive, and it should be. Yes, I said it should be. Have you ever wondered how someone can only charge 29 cents for a taco? What processes and ingredients are they using to make those numbers work? Of course, there’s simply no way to have organic, non-GMO foods that are as inexpensive as those plumped full of hormones and pesticides, and that’s ok. It’s worth it and should be prioritized in the monthly budget.
#8 Limit meals out – Thinking of a restaurant outing as entertainment rather than nourishment can help give it the proper perspective for nutrition. There’s a reason it tastes SO GOOD – extra salt, butter, lard, the wrong oils can all delight the taste buds at first but can cause problems later. Doing it night after night because we’re too busy to cook is putting your nutritional health in someone else’s hands.
#9 Cheat, but make it count – All gluten, dairy and sugar don’t have to be banished forever. That’s a recipe for failure, but when you do indulge make it count. A piece of birthday cake is a must, or maybe you’d rather have your sugar in a glass of wine. Be honest with yourself and track what’s really going into your body and remember these food choices can truly have an impact on your health.
Editor’s note: 1Aisle profiled the author of this post, Leasa Ireland, earlier this week in Food Equals Control for Breast Cancer Survivor.
Leasa Ireland lives in Manhattan Beach with her husband John and 11-year-old son Jack. She spends her days running a boutique PR firm specializing in technology and consumer products, volunteering at local schools and trying to play tennis and fit in a yoga or Pilates class. Her breast cancer is in remission and she’s in near constant pursuit of the perfect kale salad.
Editor’s note: If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, you should consult a doctor before taking additional supplements or making changes to your diet.
In recognition of breast cancer awareness month, Leasa Ireland opens up about how a holistic approach to treatment was instrumental in her recovery from a very aggressive stage 2A triple (ER/PR/HER2) positive form of breast cancer.
Following her diagnosis in September 2011, the Manhattan Beach-based PR executive immediately consulted with UCLA Anesthesiologist Dr. Kenneth Conklin to put together a program to get her through a year-long combination of chemotherapy (4 months) and Herceptin (12 months) treatment.
“Dr. Concklin needs to know specifically what chemotherapy drugs you are on and he tailors a program for you,” says Ireland. “I was on a gluten-, dairy-, and sugar-free diet and taking tons of supplements (80/day). In the time between my mastectomy and when I started chemo – about 5 weeks – I felt incredibly better than I had before the surgery, and I think it had a lot to do with how I was eating.”
Although there is no conclusive data that links healthy eating to breast cancer recovery, Ireland credits her holistic approach for her body’s ability to endure her aggressive conventional treatment regimen . “I was very strict about my diet throughout my chemo, and I remember my doctor telling me that he would put my body’s tolerance of all these hardcore drugs in the top 10% of people who go through chemo,” says Ireland. “I wouldn’t say that I was whistling a happy tune every day, but overall I was able to live my life and I completely attribute that to the diet and supplements.”
Ireland points out that there are emotional benefits to eating healthy during treatment, as well. “Any doctor will tell you, your mental state and staying positive plays almost as much a role in recovery as the medicine does, she says. “Changing my diet gave me control over the situation and made me feel like I was actively participating in my recovery versus taking all this medication that somebody else is telling me to take.”
Even though it’s been good news since her last Herceptin treatment in October 2012, Ireland will have ongoing treatment for up to ten years and has decided to make her new diet a way of life. “Gluten-, dairy-, and sugar-free sounds daunting,” she admits. “I am not so rigid that I exclude everything from my diet because I don’t want to feel like I’m missing out. But it’s important, with breast cancer especially, to take care of yourself; you don’t want to consume too much food that will have a negative effect on your body.”
“The good news about breast cancer is there are amazing treatments out there, and most women are surviving it to live long, healthy lives,” says Ireland. “You just have to get through the treatment and that’s where diet can play an important part.”
Leasa Ireland lives in Manhattan Beach with her husband John and 11-year-old son, Jack. She spends her days running a boutique PR firm specializing in technology and consumer products, volunteering at local schools and trying to play tennis and fit in a yoga or Pilates class. Her breast cancer is in remission and she’s in near constant pursuit of the perfect kale salad.