Sweet tooth and male ego hinder heart health

A physically active, thin, 47-year-old, Cran never dreamed he could be a candidate for heart disease. But little did he know his fatty, sugar-laden diet was playing havoc with his cholesterol levels. And his male ego stopped him seeking help. Here is his story in his words.

Approximately six years ago I was experiencing occasional chest pains, so I decided to go and have a full medical health check.  A few days later I was rung by the GP. He asked me to come back in and see him as he had received the blood results.

He explained to me that the chest pains could possibly be angina caused by very high cholesterol levels. My level was 8.5.  I had no idea what cholesterol was or the implications of having overly high cholesterol levels. I laughed at the doctor and said, “I’m too skinny and fit to have anything wrong with me.”  I became very defensive and went straight into denial. He then asked me politely if my parents had high cholesterol. I laughed and said, “They're both dead.”

“I laughed at the doctor and told him I'm too skinny and fit to have anything wrong with me.”

He stated to me that he would refer me to a nurse for community follow up and regular blood tests. I just laughed and went home. The nurse rang and made an appointment to see me after work, but I never went to any of the appointments. I remained in denial for approximately six months. At the time I exercised regularly and I had always been active throughout my lifetime.

Severe chest pain a wake-up call

One night my chest started to get pain again and it became severe.  It passed, but this time I got frightened. The next day I made an appointment to see the doctor. This time I was prepared to listen and acknowledge that something was not right. I had bloods done again and the results were not good. My triglycerides were out of control from the food I was eating - and had eaten all my life.

I was brought up on a farm and eating high saturated fat foods was the norm for me.

When the nurse came into the consultation I felt stink and apologised to her for not keeping previous appointments. She said to me that we would be looking at factors associated with cholesterol.  Firstly, changing my diet and lifestyle. If that didn’t decrease it to acceptable levels over a 3 month period, it could be genetic and I would have to have statins. At this stage, I was accepting of help...

“I had sugar with everything.”

I always had a sweet tooth and really struggled with changing eating habits. I had sugar with everything. A specialty of mine was to buy cream and have cream, sugar and strawberry jam, and then soak bread in it.  I also ate the fat on meat. I had hot toast with melted butter, and then put more butter on while I was eating my morning porridge with cream, sugar and melted butter in it. On my way to work have two $2.00 pies before I got to work. Then I’d go to a team meeting and have cakes and biscuits for morning tea. Then takeaways for lunch (Chinese, of course, because I was told they were healthier than other takeaways). That was my typical daily work cycle.

The change was overwhelming and bloody challenging. I think I got depressed for the first month. Changing my taste buds was unreal. Having porridge without cream and butter and one teaspoon of sugar and trim milk and low fat spread on two pieces of toast tasted like mud. Having brown bread with fatless meat sandwiches for morning tea and a cup of tea with one teaspoon of sugar and trim milk tasted like tar. Having chicken without skin on with kumara and salad for lunch tasted like goo - and I distinctly remember that it stuck to the roof of my mouth. Not a good feeling.

Healthy diet and medication brings results

However I persevered for a month, without chest pain, and went back to the nurse for follow up bloods. My results came back and my triglyceride levels were starting to decrease. I felt a sense of real achievement that I was finally accepting that I did have a condition and that I was doing something about it.

I have cut all junk foods out of my diet. I especially loved chocolate and ice cream, etc, but I have replaced those with fresh fruit and vegetables. I cook differently as well:  no more frying instead grilling, steaming, and poaching. I cut all the fat off meat I prepare. I’m more aware of food labels when I’m shopping and do a lot of preparation for meal planning. I took that on board from the nutritionist I was referred to by the nurse.

Approximately two months ago I went for my six-monthly-check and found my triglycerides had started to increase again. The doctor prescribed me 10mg of a statin which I take daily and I continue on my journey of clean eating. During my time of change, I contacted my sister and my four brothers. We all have high cholesterol and there is a genetic predisposition in our family with high cholesterol. 

Since I went on medication my triglycirides have stabilised and I feel good within myself. I continue to be physically active and approximately three weeks ago completed my second Oxfam 100km walk.

Overcoming the denial

The key thing for me was to overcome my denial. You have to accept that you have something internal going on for yourself and to make a psychological shift in your head so that acceptance becomes part of the adjusting process.

Men are the very last to seek help for any medical issue. Often they minimise the issue or are scared of the outcome and haven't got the ability and courage to make change.

Male ego is a huge issue for men and particularly Maori men. We shouldn’t let that hinder our health. If we do, we’re hurting not only ourselves but also those who are closest to us.

 

Shared May 2015

Please note: the views and opinions of the storyteller and related comments may not necessarily reflect those of the Heart Foundation NZ.

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