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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

After WLS: 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!

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.

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.

Weight loss surgery 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 before surgery. 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.

The exciting thing for bariatric patients is that healthy eating is a lifestyle, it is not a diet. Dietary and nutritional changes can be made at your own pace. Perhaps you are a person who will dive headfirst into healthy eating, changing all at once the habits and behaviors you identify as unhealthy. Others may choose a more gradual approach, beginning with one healthy meal a week moving towards an overall healthy lifestyle. In the past, diets required us to make immediate dramatic change without room for forgiveness; that’s why they didn’t work. The changes were also temporary. Now, you are in a new life and you can make healthy changes at a pace you are comfortable with, a pace at which you can succeed. Permanent changes you can live with.

But don’t stall and put healthy living off for too long. The sooner you incorporate healthy eating into your life the sooner you, and your loved ones, will reap the benefits of nutritional wellness. It is interesting to note many patients are enthusiastic and dedicated to a healthy lifestyle after surgery – it is the first time the rewards of such lifestyle are substantive. We feel it in our energy and we see it in the mirror. For me, it seemed natural to ease from eating bland protein to developing a varied collection of healthy recipes to meet my bariatric needs, and the nutritional and nurturing needs of my family.

Another woman was thrilled at the new lease on life weight loss surgery gave her and embraced the change to healthy eating. “This is not an overnight thing,” she said. “Temptation is all around, but so are six grandchildren I want to live for. I want to spoil them. I am using weight loss surgery as way to get my healthy eating priorities straight and be in control of my life again. For me and for my grandkids.” Inadvertently, her six grandchildren are learning by her example to eat well.

Tomorrow we’ll look at Table Traditions and how we can celebrate life with eating and still succeed with WLS.

Best wishes,

1 comment:

Kim said...

What a great article! I think that everyone reacts differently to food after WLS. I spent my four days in the hospital watching nothing but Seinfeld and the Food Network. Cooking shows around the clock! I would wake up in between my morphine snoozes to see the Barefoot Contessa making something delightful. I didn't look at it as something that I would never be able to have/do again, but as a challenge to revise the recipe into a healthy meal. I'd see Paula Dean throw her stick of butter in the pot and think, "a bit of Pam would do the same thing".

My taste buds changed and my sense of smell intensified, but if anything, I was enjoying my meals more. I had a very strict list of rules from my bariatric group, which worked brilliantly for me. I love to follow rules. Right from the get go, I was getting all of my protein in each and every day. The only thing that I missed was chewing! After about two weeks, I had a dream that I was eating a piece of cheese pizza. Chew, chew, had nothing to do with flavor or hunger. Just the act of chewing.

I think that things were easier for me since I'm single. The only person that needed to be fed in my home was me. I became very creative during the liquid phase. Pureed canned soup pressed through a strainer. Delicious! It was like Thanksgiving in a little cup. Many people from my group that had families told me that they had mourned the loss of food about two weeks post-op. I kept waiting for this to happen, but it never did for me. Maybe because I never "officially" lost it. Perhaps that is the trick!

Now, two years later and a stones throw from my goal weight, I am the official food pusher. If there is a recipe that catches my eye as being INCREDIBLE, I'll make it and take it to work. If it is a dessert item, I wont let it pass my lips. I'll ask my coworkers to taste it and describe every flavor and texture to me. That's enough to satisfy me, believe it or not!

So, pre-op folks, plan ahead to enjoy your meals right from the get go! It will pay off in the long run.