I know what killed my mother

Just a quick disclaimer: this is probably going to end up rather lengthy and deeply personal. I’m writing this for myself, for anyone who suffers from depression, anxiety, cancer, disease or any other illness.


This is a bittersweet time of the year for me. In November, when most people celebrate Thanksgiving, I do not. No one in my family really does anymore since my mom died. November is also the month I put in my resignation to quit my job at the State. December 1 marks the two year mark for me running my own business.

Speaking of December, when most people celebrate Christmas, I do not. The last memory I have of Christmas was in 2000, when I was 14, with my mom sitting on the floor of our living room, her shaved and scarred head wrapped in a thick layer of gauze. She had had her second brain surgery to remove a brain tumor just a month earlier. Like always, she made sure there were presents under the tree for me and my grandmother and my dad. And like always, she made sure to have each of them neatly wrapped and labeled. Except this year, as she sat on the floor, she wasn’t able to write so well anymore. Her spelling was off, her once pretty handwriting had been reduced to scribbles. She didn’t have enough labels, so she was forced to scribble over misspellings. The wrapping paper wasn’t as neatly folded as it once was because her vision was starting to fail in one eye. My memory from that year is of me sitting on the couch, looking down at her, as she squinted at the labels on the presents and refused our help to sort them. It wasn’t long after that that she became completely immobile, blind, deaf, incapable of coherent speech, constipated and in pain. She lived most of 2001 that way and then she died in January 2002, just two years and two days after she was diagnosed.

And in January, this January 18, 2012 at 11:14 a.m., I will travel to a small cemetery outside of Pekin, Indiana, in rural Washington County where mom and her grandparents and her little brother (who died two days after birth), are buried. I will place a wreath of red roses (her favorite) on her grave and mark the 10 year anniversary of her death. She was born on August 26, 1961. She was 41 years old.

Now, a decade later, I’m 24 years old. I know and have experienced a few more things now than I had then. Then, and up until somewhat very recently, I suffered from chronic depression. Taking care of my dying mother, living for two years knowing that she could die at literally any second, coming to terms with my sexuality, puberty and enduring the American Hell that is high school drained me. In recent memory, working at a depressing and draining job, struggling with dating and breakups, close friends that seemingly moved away in a constant stream, balancing finances and avoiding the debt for school, my dad’s near constant four-year unemployment and other things left my physically and emotionally void.

For a while it was incredibly difficult for me on a variety of levels for a variety of things, things that I’d rather not bore you with or rehash at this moment, but know that I’m speaking about things that most people don’t suffer with or endure much (or ever) in their lifetime. I’ve never told anyone personally about the things that happened to me during a period of time in my life between about 2008-2010.

And for a while in 2010 I tried medications to help with the stress and depression. I was diagnosed with kidney stones that year, too, and racked up medical bills that, thankfully, I’ve managed to pay off with the “help” of the insurance company (the same one that later revoked my coverage for ulcers and urinary tract problems). For a while, I tried modifying my diet to reduce some things, but it proved difficult because of my relationship at the time. It was the same ol’ problems, around and around.

And now, in 2011, I feel like I have the knowledge, the experience, the solution and the living proof to my problems of ulcers, depression, kidney stones, headaches, lethargy and weight gain: my diet.

I’ve long sworn-off fast food. I haven’t touched a fast food burger in about 7 years now, since 2005. But it wasn’t until 2010 I got a little more serious, by removing sodas and other sugary and carbonated beverages from my diet. I did it because my research lead me to believe that most kidney stones and urinary tract problems were caused by sodas. I also started filtering my water religiously to remove as much as I can from the city water. In addition, some stones are caused by calcium bond formations in the kidneys, calcium that’s usually delivered in large quantities by red meat.

So, I tried reducing the amount of meat I ate. And I started to feel pretty good.

And now, for the last month or so, I’ve taken my diet to a new level: I eat only whole foods and whole grains, based entirely on plants. I exercise more now than I ever have in my life by cycling, which I found that I love. For it, I feel better now that I have my entire life.

Some say that my diet is too extreme, too hard to live by and too restricting. To that I say: “Name me various kinds of red meat.” To which you will reply “Beef, pork, chicken.” You could go on to say venison, sheep, buffalo, etc., but really, people eat three main animals: cows, pigs and chicken because that’s what’s lining the shelves at the store. And then I will say, “Name me various kinds of edible plants.” To which you will reply, “Grapes, strawberries, cashews, peanuts, lettuce, wheat, corn, green beans, peas, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, potatoes, bok choy, celery, oranges, apples…” and on and on. I imagine the combinations of vegetarian dishes works out to many thousands. I do not think three meats can do that. Maybe if you’re generous and pretend that different cuts of meat are in fact different “things”. But in my book, chicken tenders, chicken breast and chicken nuggets are all the same.

Going to a whole foods diet sucks for the first couple of weeks. I lived my entire life around concocting meals by asking, “What meat do I want?” And then throwing “something else” around it. Now that I’ve gotten my bearings around this new style of cooking, the food’s actually just as easy and tasty to prepare as any meat dish ever could be. I don’t miss it.

In the last month I’ve lost about 10 pounds. This morning I weighed in at 158.5 pounds. I’ve been losing about a half pound every two or three days and I still eat about as much as I used to in volume. Heck, I’ve got two dozen oatmeal raisin cookies sitting on the counter right now.

My mood is extremely better, my body is clearly (and trust me on this one) pushing out a bunch of crap. Literally. I didn’t know a person could have so many bowel movements in a day. The high amount of fiber I’m taking in is working.

But enough on that matter; the point is this: I feel and am a whole lot better than I was just a month ago. I’m leaner, happier, more focused and more energetic. I rarely feel “stuffed” anymore, to the point of sickness, but instead I feel “completely full”. You know, like how you feel when you eat at a buffet right before you cram in “just one more plate”. And it doesn’t break the bank, I spend just as much on groceries as I did when I bought a lot of meat. I just spend it on different things now.

I’m able to cycle 20-30 miles in a weekend, plus another 30-50 miles throughout the week. This week I’ve not started my car once; I’m not even sure it will start at this point. Who knows; and I don’t even really care.

I’ve done some research, only after I’ve started eating whole foods, and it backs up what I’m experiencing. I’ve read books from the library, including “Diet for a Small Planet“, which is probably the most all-encompassing that I’ve read. I could go into the science behind it, but I won’t. However, I will say that it seems very clear to me that the science is there and repressed a great deal by concerned interests, particularly in the government. I mean, just this week Congress voted to make pizza a vegetable because it contains 2 tablespoons of tomato paste for sauce. Why? Because the frozen pizza companies, yes, those Titans of Industry, didn’t like the idea of not selling all that gray, frozen pizza to school cafeterias.

The gist of the science is this: plenty of things give you protein, not just meat (ever eat a peanut? Those fuckers are great, aren’t they?). In fact, your body can only absorb so much protein, which isn’t much. The rest is wasted, which means most of that protein in your steak just gets wasted or stored as fat.

Why am I so adamant about this now? Why do I see fit to tell everyone I can about this? Because in addition to knowing and experiencing this now at the age of 24, I also know that the shitty diet you have of sodas, fast food, processed frozen crap like frozen pizzas and fries and macaroni and cheese in a box plus the money-driven drugs for your depression, anxiety, pain, jitters and emotions is killing you.

It killed my mother, that’s for damn sure.

We lived in the wide open countryside of Washington County. We didn’t have pollution problems. We had water from a natural well under our front yard. Mom was a homemaker, so she didn’t have stresses of a job. Dad made good money at his factory job at the time (it’s since gone), so we didn’t have terrible financial troubles. I went to a good school and got good grades, I was not causing her any stress.

Her diet, however, consisted of sodas. In the 14 years I knew my mother, I never once saw her drink a glass of water. It was always sodas or heavily-sweetened tea (I still drink plenty of sweet tea, but only with two tablespoons of natural sugar per 8 cups of water). Mom drank so much Big Red soda her tongue was often just as red. We ate a lot of fried foods, particularly sodium-heavy ready-made things like Hamburger Helper meals, things that came frozen like frozen pizzas and fries, plenty of red meat like pot roasts and pork chops and steaks. In the summer we’d eat a lot of fresh tomatoes from the garden, because that’s what my dad would always grow. We’d slather them on white bread (which is completely void of anything nutritious, at all), Miracle Whip and bacon, hold the lettuce. It was a BLT minus the L (the healthiest thing).

Then, after mom was diagnosed, that’s what we kept eating and drinking. Mom went in for three surgeries, endured intense amounts of radiation — even going as far as implanting radiation and chemotherapy wafers directly into her brain — and was on medications galore. She took a pill for something every hour of the day around the clock, including numerous “experimental pills” that the doctors at University of Louisville and Norton Healthcare claimed did “very, very well in the clinical trials” at reducing the sizes of tumors.

Well, you know what, of course they did well in the clinical trials. Has anyone ever heard of a drug that didn’t do well in a clinical trial? Of course you haven’t because they always “do well” at something.

Then, after mom would have surgery or visit the hospital, they’d feed her Jello and white bread (toast); she’d have a Pepsi to drink. Really? Seriously? Did no one think it prudent to maybe give her carrots or tomato juice? Mom loved tomato juice — it was the only thing she’d drink when she was pregnant with me because she said it was the only thing she could keep down. That and 7 Up, because again, she never drank water.

If I could go back in time, I honestly believe that if mom started a whole foods diet in the mid 90’s or even the late 90’s, she’d still be alive today.

You’re saying to yourself right now, “Well, Justin, we’ve all gotta go sometime! And if we do, I want to enjoy my cheeseburgers.”

To that, I say, “You’re flat wrong.” If you think it’s normal for human beings to sit around like sloths because you’re “always tired”, or for people to die before they’re 40 for something that wasn’t a surreal accident or that it’s normal for people to be grotesquely fat or for you to have random aches and pains in your 20s or 30s, then fine, go ahead. If you think it’s normal to take a pill because you’re always “angry” or “upset” or that it’s normal to give kids pills to make them calm down or that it’s normal for elementary school kids to have diabetes or be so fat they have to use special reinforced chairs, I hope that cheeseburger is freaking delicious. Add a few more and you’ll be dead, or, at best, living on a diet rich in expensive drugs designed to treat symptoms just so you can function.

As proof, one only need to visit Japan. Ever see a fat guy in Japan? No you have not. Ever hear of a cancer epidemic in Japan? No you have not, because they have one of the lowest rates in the world for overall cancers. Rates of some cancers, like breast cancers, barely infects half a percent of their population. This is, of course, changing now that the Japanese are leaving their diets high in fish and vegetables for…”the traditional western diet.” KFC and McDonalds are growing fast there. In addition to the Japanese, this is why I don’t worry about the Chinese, because our diet will kill off their people with hardly anyone paying attention as to why.

Hippocrates believed that the body had an “innate ability to heal itself”. He believed that it was up to the doctor to help springboard the recovery of their patient by just giving them the right vitamins and minerals. The human body would take care of the rest. You have to agree that as our diets have gotten worse, the amount of deaths by cancer keep growing, even after the outlays in spending to research cancer treatments grows and grows each year. I don’t think that’s just a coincidence. And when’s the last time you felt like your government was really doing anything useful for you anyway?

Our medical system is so expensive because we have the worst diet of anyone in the world. All that crap people eat is killing our hearts and brains and keeps us inventing other things that don’t naturally exist to help the problems that also shouldn’t naturally exist! Granted, our system is great at trauma — if you get hit in the head or get stabbed with a rod in a car accident, our system does wonders. But disease? It’s pathetic.

I’m convinced eating crap turns you into crap. I’m convinced that the drugs people take for a medley of issues are completely made-up and designed to “temporarily cure” the symptoms, but never the problem. What use is it for people to take Prozac once if they can’t ever take it again? Keep taking it and paying for it and hey, everything’s “better”. Your Big Macs make you sad and depressed, not your life. If you have to take pills just to “function”, why does that seem normal to you? Do you think people in the colonial era had problems with ADHD and stress and depression? Certainly not at the rates we see today.

You can take expensive pills, or just eat foods rich in Niacin (Vitamin B3; like mushrooms, peas and beans), which has been proven to lift a person’s mood. At a fraction of the cost, that’s for sure. Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous suggested that his patients take Niacin to help their recovery based on his own experience and research of dozens of patients. But, by the time he suggested it, other medical groups had already inserted their influence and decided against that. They favored new drugs on the market instead. Somehow, in our society, a multivitamin can be dangerous in large doses, but Ambien is just fine (another pill, of which, I took for a while because of sleeping problems caused by two years of waking up at odd hours of the night to be with mom).

At the very least, stop eating white bread (look for “whole grain”, not just “whole wheat” — by USDA standards, a bread can be considered “whole wheat” just by sprinkling the wheat grains on the top of the bread after it’s been processed out, which makes it completely nutritionally defunct, like sprinkling boiled and rotten apple slices on top of a doughnut.). And stop eating fast food — tacos aren’t supposed to cost 69 cents and come in boxes labeled as “MEAT PRODUCT”. Food isn’t supposed to be manufactured, period.

Why isn’t everyone shaking their heads and wondering what’s gone wrong? How are people not questioning things they put into them more?

I know I’m right about this. I just wish I knew it in 1999.

Want to know when stuff like this is published?
Sign up for my email list.

Photo of Justin Harter


Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

Leave a Comment