51: Eating to Live

51: Eating to Live

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

Eating to Live

From the bitterness of disease man learns the sweetness of health.

~Catalan Proverb

“Your creatinine can’t get any higher,” warned Dr. Toral, my nephrologist, as he handed me the lab sheet with my latest abnormal kidney results — all circled in red. As he reviewed the tests, I wondered how long it would be before I’d be hooked up to a dialysis machine or waiting for a kidney transplant.

As I gathered my things, Dr. Toral gave me a stern look and admonished me once again about staying away from all dairy products, along with a list of other forbidden foods, including potatoes, bananas, peanut butter, and chocolate. In my mind, those were the four major food groups!

Before leaving his office, the receptionist handed me more paperwork for my next blood draw and sample diets that included no added salt. Why didn’t she just give me a list of things I could eat? It would have been a lot easier.

I made a decision that day — as I walked across the hospital parking lot — I was going to eat to live, not live to eat!

As soon as I got home, I cleaned out the cupboards of forbidden foods, including my stash of chocolate and peanut butter. Anything that wasn’t a fruit or vegetable wasn’t going in my mouth — period.

Later that afternoon I called my best friend, Kathy, and asked, “Would you pray that I stick to this kidney-friendly diet? Because I think it’s going to kill me.”

Kathy snickered and asked, “Which one — the disease or the diet?”


With family and friends supporting me, I scoured the Internet for help, hints and diet information. I came across a website that listed the fifteen healthiest foods for the kidney. I knew that potassium and phosphorus had to be kept in check, but the list gave me little hope for eating some of my favorite foods.

One thing was clear: I needed to become a lover of fruits and vegetables, including red bell peppers, cauliflower, onions, apples, blueberries and red grapes — thankfully not all at the same time. I posted the list on the refrigerator door along with my new mantra: “Eat to Live!”

My husband Mark glanced at the list, sneered, and said, “Good luck with that.”

Unchecked high blood pressure had placed a heavy burden on my kidneys and left me with no option than to change my eating and exercise habits. The saltshaker disappeared from the table and the sugar bowl became my herbal tea container. In one day, I had completely given up coffee, sugar, chocolate and French fries.

The following morning, my running shoes replaced my pink bunny slippers and out the door I went for a three-mile walk, which later turned into a jog — all before my green smoothie touched my lips. Even my husband joined me for my morning walks and afterward we drank a “Kidney Delight” — a blend of celery, apples, cucumbers, pineapple, fresh ginger and cinnamon. If I could make such a drastic change, anyone could.

Days turned into weeks and despair turned into hope as I began to see results from my diet and exercise program. My next blood draw was in six weeks and I was determined to have all my tests within normal limits.

When Dr. Toral called me with the results, he assured me that the lab made an error. “Your labs are completely normal and that can’t possibly be right. I want you to go to an independent laboratory and have your blood re-drawn,” he said emphatically.

The thought of being stuck again didn’t thrill me, but I was determined to prove that prayer, exercise, and a change of diet could make a difference.

After I hung up the phone, fear started to invade my thoughts. What if the labs really weren’t correct? What if kidney disease couldn’t be controlled by diet and exercise, and all my hard work was for nothing? What if my kidneys were failing?

I always worked best under pressure, so I picked up the phone and dialed the number of the lab Dr. Toral had given me and made an appointment for the following week to have my blood re-tested.

After the results came back completely normal again, Dr. Toral was baffled. “I’ve never seen anyone’s levels change for the good so quickly,” he said. “Normally kidney function can’t be reversed.”

He got out his calculator and went through my lab tests again. Finally, I just had to ask, “Dr. Toral, do you believe in miracles?”

He paused briefly from his calculations and responded, “Yes, I believe… whatever you are doing is working, so I think you should continue doing it.”

My mouth widened into a huge smile as I walked out of Dr. Toral’s office and then skipped into the parking lot!

In three months, I had totally changed my eating habits, dropped two dress sizes, and people started complimenting me on my complexion. My skin actually felt different and my hair glistened for the first time in my life.

What was good for my kidneys was also good for my entire body — even my husband lost fifteen pounds and started exercising with me. Without medication, I changed the way I ate and how I lived. Hope gave me the courage to change the things I never thought were possible.

It’s been almost two years since I was diagnosed with Stage 3 renal failure and now I have normal kidney function. I’m enjoying the benefits of eating to live — not living to eat.

I’m living proof that it works!

~Connie K. Pombo

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