Familial Hypercholesterolemia, a “Response Ability”

” Proactive people recognize that they are “response-able.” They don’t blame genetics, circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. They know they choose their behavior.”

Stephen R. Covey, from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

My zeal for healthy food arose a long time ago, stemming from my struggle as an overweight child. The puberty years were more than a little burdensome—with both social and physical pressure—and I was constantly going in and out of one fad diet or the other. I regularly consumed laxatives, chugged down some water pills, tried the zero-carb diet, starved and binged, exercised wearing ridiculously astronaut-like sauna suits (until I literally dropped), bought miracle-promising inch-pinching creams, and in short—just suffered for the sake of shedding off some of that excess weight!

Until that devastating wake-up call.

When I was fifteen years old, devastating news hit our family like thunderbolt—the news of my 33-year-old uncle’s death, caused by a sudden heart attack that instantly killed him. He was a very active man, a young father with a very young family. Horror took over us all, for the culprit eventually turned out to be a silent, asymptomatic condition (except for some xanthelasma in some people-yellowish skin patches around the eyelids) known as familial hyperlipidemia—genetically induced high blood cholesterol which, if not approached correctly, would ultimately lead to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), culminating in a heart attack.

Almost automatically, my mother scurried with us into the cardiologist’s office, screening for any signs of that silent killer. ECG’s, echocardiography, and lipid profile blood tests it was. And the results came out positive for both my brother and I. As more and more members of my extended family were undergoing the screenings for familial hyperlipidemia, more and more positives arose.

It looked like something had to be done. Or rather, so much had to be changed.

From that moment onwards, I knew there was more to it than the temporary euphoric effects of fitting into a smaller sized dress or the results of the latest fad diet weight-loss. It was not about a teenager’s self consciousness anymore, nor about warding off any peer pressure or social criticism. I had something way more dangerous than a chubby image to keep at bay.

Fortunately.

Taking responsibility for a health condition I can control revealed the true nature of my “response-ability”. I had the ability to respond, and while the path would diverge into two different ways: a negative road (that could ultimately lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy) and a positive one, I chose to take the positive. True, there were many of those tearful, terrified, melodramatic “WHY ME?!” episodes of revolt in the beginning, but there was also the element of time. And time was one thing I couldn’t afford to waste in feeling deprived, threatened, or isolated (from a burger-hugging, lard-loving society). I was most certainly not choosing to respond to my condition in that manner.

Thus, the paradigm shift.

And so I chose the positive path. I kept telling myself that I wasn’t angry, and I wasn’t a victim. I was a happy teenager, lucky enough to know how to prevent extra blood fat from creeping up on me. I was lucky enough to have the knowledge, use it, share it, and render it a craft. A condition of the heart could be transformed to an art: the art of healthy cooking was a navigation in itself, an exploration, a philosophy, and a beauty. And plus, I technically had no choice but to shed off those extra pounds (finally)— the proper way!

So the love story begins…

Or rather, starts to take on a different shape. I had always had this passion for food (hence the extra weight), to the extent that my mother made a daily habit of literally kicking me out of her already-busy kitchen.  The need to assert the taste of my own taste-buds was kindled in me during my wee years: I was secretly sneaking in some extra olive oil and splashes of vinegar into my mother’s hummus since I was 9 (and I still make the same modified version of hummus up to this day). I was tossing in all kinds of helpful leftovers into my siblings’ omelettes since I was 10. I made my first pizza (dough, kneading, baking, and all) for my seventh grade class picnic when I was 12. In short, I always had my own sense of culinary musing, taking that extra mile with food. I was constantly sniffing out my mother’s spice cabinet, searching for a particular whiff to add to that batch of hand-cut home made fries we were making for dinner. And just for the fun of it, I’d make a concoction of sauces, fry up some hot dogs, and invite the neighbors’ kids, who loved being the guinea pigs.

But of course, the fries, buttery omelettes, and hot dogs had to become relics of the past.

However, the ardor for food and cooking remained, more determined than ever to find its satisfaction—the right way—and to proliferate. I said to myself that one day, I will be a wife and a mother of a strong, healthy family who is just as crazy about food as I am.

And so it happened.

But until then, my mom kept kicking me out of the kitchen!

Now how has the path I’d chosen become a blessing in my life? For one thing, the sense of communion with nature, God, and universal principles is absolutely exhilarating. Besides the exciting, fruitful solitude of food preparation, and the amount of meditative flowing thoughts it allows, you will gradually come to fathom the connection between what’s on your plate and what’s in your mind. However, most importantly, what you cook reflects what’s in your heart and the soulful passion you hold toward your loved ones. It is therefore an act of wholesomeness balancing all aspects of one’s being: the body (eating, health, discipline, and in the words of Stephen Covey “subordinating your taste buds to nutrition”); the mind (the meditative and creative artistic state of thought); the heart (the love and passion involved in the preparation); and the spirit (your consciousness about what you are eating/cooking).

Moreover, adopting a healthy lifestyle is a never-ending exploration—not only of different flavors, textures, and colors, but this path helps you to explore and learn different ways to give our loved ones both the best nutrition and the enjoyable sensual experience of meal times. Cooking from scratch is a constant need to create, and I had always perceived of it a perfect idea generator. Also, for those who have kids, the exploratory nature of cooking from scratch is a major attraction for them, an artistic appeal that would engage them into healthy lifestyles, thus introducing them to very important life values and principles from very early on.

My great appreciation for my familial hyperlipidemia has, in short, changed my life for the better. I allowed it to create a healthier person out of me. Moreover, my positive response had immensely helped me open the door to all the possibilities, rather than the hindrances, that came with my knowledge of having high blood cholesterol. With it comes a high appreciation of life, for what’s good for you, and the beauty in it. Life sent a few lemons my way, but instead of brooding over the sourness, I used them up for a refreshing glass of lemonade—an actual treat. I’ve been a healthy eater for 16 years now, made a habit of exercising, and take control of my condition with a matter-of-fact ease. Finally, I would like to end my long-story-made-short with the words of Nassim Nicholas Taleb: “The only article Lady Fortuna has no control over is your attitude. Good luck” (Fooled by Randomness, p. 249).

Roula 🙂

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Categories: Foodosophy, How it all began

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