Business Times - 30 May 2009
Eat well & beat cancer
A macrobiotic diet helped Simone Vaz breeze through her breast cancer treatment and inspired her to become a macrobiotic counsellor. By Cheah Ui-Hoon
BREAST cancer survivor Simone Vaz suffered no side effects when she was undergoing chemotherapy - even though she was put on high dosages. She attributes that to the macrobiotic diet that she started on two weeks before her therapy began, after she was diagnosed with stage three cancer; and now, three years since embarking on her macrobiotic diet, she has become such a believer in it that she became a licensed macrobiotic teacher and counsellor.
'I got through chemotherapy with zero side effects, no vomitting or diarrhoea . . . and my energy level went through the roof!' she declares. She even started running, up to 9km six days a week, in the third week of her chemotherapy cycle. For the petite 40-something who used to be overweight and loved her lamb and steak, chocolates and cheese, going on the diet was a drastic change.
A change for the better, however, she points out. As she's lost her unnecessary weight, her energy levels have gone up. Her whole understanding of what it means to eat well has changed accordingly. 'I'm eating more luxuriously than before because there's more variety in my food,' she declares.
In her teaching and counselling sessions, she advocates eating well not just to allow the body to heal itself but also to cope with treatments like chemotherapy. But to clear some misconceptions about the macrobiotic diet, she says that it's not as strict as one thinks it is. 'The healing diet is the one that's strict, but the general one, which you adopt on a daily basis covers a wide variety of food even though it's more whole-grain and vegetable-based,' says the freelance public relations consultant.
'Once the body regains its immunity levels, it can cope with a range of issues. So this diet isn't just a diet, but a lifestyle - to help maintain an internal balance,' she explains, adding that even her emotional life is on a more even keel now, since being on the diet. 'I think if you eat a diet that gives you internal vitality, it'll affect your mental outlook,' she adds.
In fact, she doesn't like calling it the macrobiotic 'diet' because it implies that there are things forbidden. 'And that already is the wrong approach to the macrobiotic philosophy,' she says. 'In macrobiotics there's nothing you can't eat, but your personal tastes might change after going on it,' says Ms Vaz.
The macrobiotic philosophy originated in Japan in the 1900s, and the general approach looks at keeping an internal balance of the foods you eat. 'It's about understanding the 'energy' of the food you're eating. In macrobiotics, it's about eating food that keeps you centred in the middle of the food energy spectrum, not on the extreme ends,' explains Ms Vaz.
'Yang' foods are meats and very salty food, while 'yin' foods are those which are very sweet like chocolate and durian. Yang food is also usually firm or hard, and does not have an odour. Yin food is softer or mushier, with strong aroma and makes you feel more expansive and 'cooler' after consumption. 'It's not like our understanding of yin and yang to be cooling or heaty as in traditional Chinese medicine,' she explains.
Ms Vaz's daily diet sees two to three different types of grains, and then 10 different types of vegetables which include a large variety of root vegetables like daikon, carrot, turnip, parsnip, radish, onion and a touch of garlic. There's very little chilli in her diet, and she avoids dairy and sugar as much as possible. She's taught the macrobiotic diet to a few cancer patients who first coped well with chemotherapy, but who then suffered from side effects when they didn't keep to the diet. So anecdotally, she thinks that eating well helps one cope better.
These days, considering that her meals have more texture, colour and 'sensation' in them, as opposed to a platter of steak and a few potatoes before, her meals have gotten more 'luxurious'. Eating well is key to getting on the road to recovery, as Ms Vaz's example shows.
For those who want to find out more about Simone Vaz's macrobiotic cooking lessons, please look up http://lusherthanlife.wordpress.com or call 9004-2645