by Stacia Friedman
Carrie Fisher’s death at 60 came as a shock. Known as Princess Leia to generations of Star Wars fans – she was considered too young to die, but she did, on Dec. 27, from a heart attack. What an inauspicious finale for an actress and best-selling author born into Hollywood “royalty.” And, yet, I am hoping that Fisher’s sudden passing serves as wake-up call.
According to the American Heart Association (AMA), 80 percent of heart attacks, possibly even Fisher’s, are preventable. While there is nothing you can do about factors such as age, gender, ethnicity and family history, there are lifestyle changes that will greatly reduce the risk of a fatal heart attack.
The Womens Heart Association estimates that 8 million American women have heart disease. Forty-two percent will die within one year of their first heart attack, a rate that is twice as high for women as men. To put it into perspective: Twice as many woman die of heart disease than of breast cancer. The clearly defined lifestyle changes recommended by the AMA – controlling weight, cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure – save lives. So, what stops women from adopting them?
This is what I hear. “You don’t understand. It’s my metabolism. Diets don’t work for me.”
This is what I know. Most of my female friends who struggle to lose that extra 30 to 50 pounds – as opposed to women who are obese – are emotional eaters. They turn to fatty and salty foods or carbs for comfort and solace. When they experience anxiety or depression, they do not discuss these issues with their physician. They talk it over with a tub of hot buttered popcorn, a slice of cheesecake or a pizza. These foods not only make it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain a healthy weight but they wreck havoc with cholesterol and blood pressure. For them, food is their best friend and lover. It never lets them down. Until it kills them.
Until recently, these same friends accused me of having a hollow leg. Supposedly, I could eat all the high fat foods I wanted and never gain an ounce. I put that to the test by adding up my daily caloric intake and discovered it wasn’t a trick done with mirrors or even metabolism. Even with my addiction to TastyKake Creamies, I only consumed 1,300 calories a day which kept my BMI (Body Mass Index) within a healthy range.
You don’t need a medical degree to figure out your BMI. You just need a calculator. Multiply your weight by 703, divide that number by your height in inches, then divide that by your height in inches again. I know it sounds bizarre but it works. If the number you get is under 25, you are good to go. 25-30 is considered overweight. 30 or higher is obese.
Even though my weight wasn’t a problem, all those Creamies eventually caught up with me. When my doctor told me that my cholesterol was “dangerously high,” I initially refused to take statins. I was determined to drive those numbers down by making lifestyle changes. This was no easy task, especially for someone who never thought twice about stopping at Dunkin Donuts or Dalessandro’s. I consulted with a nutritionist who helped me identify heart healthy foods to be added to my diet, in addition to everything that I had to eliminate. It wasn’t easy saying goodbye to the buttery croissants and pastries that had been at the top of my Food Pyramid.
While I got my numbers down by swapping avocados, bok choy and quinoa for mashed potatoes swimming in gravy, it wasn’t enough. I’m on statins now and, like a newly married playboy, I look but don’t dare touch when tempted by high fat foods. This is especially difficult during the holidays when cookie trays zoom by as frequently as cars on the Expressway. I know I will continue to be challenged by potluck parties, visits to restaurants and my cravings for cheesesteaks, fries and apple pie. But when those urges strike, I will think of Princess Leia on her final orbit out of solar system and wish her God Speed.
Stacia Friedman is a Mt. Airy resident, freelance writer, artist, novelist and regular contributor to the Local.