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Friday, April 15, 2005

Eating Well

I don’t know what my family ate in the months immediately following my surgery. I’m sure they ate something, they seemed to be healthy and well showing no signs of malnutrition or starvation. Whatever it was that they ate, they planned and prepared it on their own – I was too distracted to be of any help. It’s not that I didn’t care about them or their well being. But the immediate days and months after surgery are overwhelming. My single task was to take care of myself, heal my body, celebrate the weight loss, face the emotional issues and do the best I could taking each day at a time. It was an around the clock assignment: the most challenging task I have ever undertaken.

This was a time of great fear and realization for me as I started to comprehend just how dramatically weight loss surgery changed my lifestyle. I was a devout bread and pasta eater before; not after. A meat loving steak eater, not anymore. A skilled baker with a repertoire of cookies envied by Mrs. Fields, but never again. Eating breads and pasta, steaks and sweets was no longer a part of my life. It had been unequivocally excised from me without reprieve. All these beloved foods were history. Gone. Never again. No going back. Weight loss surgery is for life.

For the first few months I ate four foods: hard cooked eggs, tuna, shrimp and sugar-free gelatin. At first I tried mixing my morning egg with commercial mayonnaise to kill the taste of the egg, but that made me nauseous. I learned to eat the egg plain. The egg sustained me until lunch. Then slowly and deliberately I ate two ounces of canned tuna mixed with a little relish and mayo. Yum-yum. Then for dinner, a real extravaganza, six peeled and boiled shrimp. I’d have a spoonful of sugar-free gelatin as a special treat. That was all. That’s what I ate. I didn’t feel hungry and I was indifferent to eating.

I, the self-made gastronome, had lost her taste for food.

One reason for eating just these four things was a loss of appetite – I just wasn’t hungry for anything. Who would have thought that could be possible? The mention or sight of many foods made me sick. Can you imagine watching the late night television advertisement for a burger and getting ill at the site of the greasy drippy mess of heavenly fast food? Retching ill at the site of the very food I thought before I couldn’t live without. Before surgery an advertisement could be so powerful that I, wearing my super-sized sweats, would have loaded in the car and gone for that burger in the darkness of night. I was known to wolf it down on the drive home. Now just the sight of it on television was making me sick!

Worse than seeing food was smelling it – I couldn’t stand the smell of most foods cooking. Raw meat – ugh! Cookies baking – disgusting! Coffee brewing – putrid! It was as if the smells of food were exaggerated beyond tolerance putting me in a state of nausea at the first whiff. Other patients say this happened to them as well: food smells made them gag.

The other reason for my limited selection of high protein foods was fear. I was afraid to try anything except my safe foods. I was afraid of dumping, afraid of vomiting, afraid of breaking my stomach pouch, afraid of gaining weight. I didn’t know what to do with this new tool of mine, but I was certain I didn’t want to irreparably harm it because I was losing weight swiftly without hunger or dieting stress. The tool was working.

Time passed and I became acquainted with my bariatric infant tummy. With cautious hesitation I introduced new foods to my infant tummy: some deli turkey, bits of braised chicken. Cottage cheese, then hard cheeses like cheddar and mozzarella. And, glory be, I continued to lose weight and my energy soared.

It seems for some time we had two dinner menus at our house – the bariatric menu and the normal menu. The bariatric menu was little portions of lean protein. The normal menu included some protein sided with pasta, potatoes or bread, a salad, some vegetables and possibly a sweet treat for dessert. When I did return to the stove to resume the responsibilities of family chef I accepted that I would fix dual meals. And this I did for some time. It was a hassle, a lot of work, and I started to resent cooking things I could not eat. And I resented my family for “flaunting” normal tummies in my face.

But then the awakening moment arrived and I asked myself, isn’t this a golden opportunity for all of us to learn to eat more healthy, prepare better foods and start to practice some portion control? Can’t we all benefit from the things I’m learning about health and wellness by way of bariatric surgery? Is there a way to create one meal for the family that satisfies all of our health, nutrition and nurturing needs?

Eating well isn’t a diet. It’s a lifestyle choice. It should never be a choice of deprivation – it is the deliberate selection and preparation of food that leaves us nutritionally fit and emotionally fulfilled. Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures: who knows this better than the bariatric patient? We lived to eat and that passion resulted in morbid obesity. Now we must eat to live. It is an astounding turn of events. Every bite, every flavor, every taste must be the best it possibly can be to satisfy and nurture contentment. Having bariatric surgery does not mean you’ve lost the right to have variety, flavor, and texture in your diet. It does not nullify your need to be emotionally fulfilled by the ceremony and tradition of eating well. It simply means redefining your lifestyle so your diet meets your nutritional and emotional needs – and respects the science of your medically altered digestive system. Bariatrics is truly a second chance to make good on feeding your body well. And for those patients with families, it is the golden opportunity to learn together that eating well is a pleasure with tangible benefits. And perhaps, you may save someone you love from needing bariatric surgery or worse, an early death from an obesity related illness.

I was unwilling to eat eggs, tuna, shrimp and jell-o for the rest of my life, I love food too much. I fully understood that not only couldn’t I return to my old eating habits – I shouldn’t return to them – they were killing me. I wanted a healthy, normal way of eating that met my bariatric needs, but also provided a healthy well-balanced menu for my family so they too could be nutritionally well. This was my chance to redefine our eating lifestyle.

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