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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Food Police:
People Patrolling You After WLS

Are you supposed to be eating that?
Can you have that?
Is that allowed on your diet?
Boy – you sure did eat a lot – is that allowed?
Isn’t that going to make you sick?
I heard you can’t eat after WLS. Why are you eating?

Any of this sound familiar?

There is something about being public with weight loss surgery that makes others believe they have permission to become volunteer “Food Police” monitoring every move when it comes to our eating. One of our community members told me her skinny sister actually asked her, “I thought that surgery was supposed to make you stop eating and look at you with the food!” She was eating a small portion of poached chicken breast. Why the nerve! Poached chicken breast after WLS!

Another woman received a citation from the volunteer food patrol, she was eating a saltine cracker when she took her vitamins: “I thought it was against ‘The Rules’ to eat carbohydrates! You are really going to mess this thing up eating carbs.” Really now! You know I’m a rule pusher and preach “protein first” all the time. But you know, sometimes having a saltine with the vitamins is the only way to avoid stomach upset and it is not going to mess-up the surgery.

So why do outsiders feel it appropriate to become our food police?

The first thing psychologists will tell us is we give others permission to patrol our behavior. In many cases this is probably true. When I first had WLS my self-esteem was so low I had the confidence of a doormat. So my ability to defend my WLS and my eating behavior allowed others to monitor and comment. This did nothing to buoy my spirit or boost my confidence. In fact, having been a sneak eater, I continued through much of the weight loss phase to eat in private out of sight from the critiques. Today I will ignore or defend my WLS and my behavior, but six years ago, I was incapable of either ignoring or defending myself and I took every comment to heart. Rough way to go, don’t you think?

Another reason, I believe, that others feel it appropriate to police us is the fact that we chose the presumed “easy way out”. There is a certain envy, particularly from those who are obese and dieting conventionally, that compels people to judge. Sometimes it almost feels they are hopeful we will “fail” at this easy way out. By pointing out something they perceive to be a violation of the surgery they can inflict feelings of failure upon us, which does what? Makes us feel like failures. Have you experienced that? Our community member, eating the poached chicken breast said she felt “guilty” for eating! Mission accomplished by her sister, the self-appointed food police.

Finally, I do believe there are well meaning people patrolling us, offering feedback because they genuinely care about us and our success with WLS. Sometimes their patrolling may come across as criticism because we are sensitive, but also because they do not know how to offer it in a constructive manner. My husband, and you all know I adore the man to pieces and he is my biggest supporter, has sometimes watched me eat something and asked, “Are you sure you want to try that?” He is sincere and genuine with this feedback and I know this. But a little part of me resents it too and I want to scream back, “I know what I can eat and cannot eat!” But you know, he’s also been the one to get me through numerous dumping/vomiting episodes and his concern is to avoid that. He is giving feedback for a valid reason in the most sensitive manner possible and I appreciate him for that.

How to cope with Food Police:
I don’t believe there is one perfect coping skill for all of us when it comes to the food police. But here are some strategies I’ve found for dealing with self-appointed food monitors.

Identify the motive: In the case of my husband, he has seen me get sick and he hopes to help me avoid getting sick. In this case I can accept his policing with the kindness in which it is rendered. In the case of the skinny sister over the poached chicken, her motive is to hurt and belittle.

Acknowledge or Ignore the “citation”
It has taken time but these days if my husband mentions something I’m eating I am able to pause and consider his feedback. Today I can say, “You know, sweetheart, you are right. I don’t need to get sick tonight.” This wasn’t easy at first but now it seems natural. As many of us struggle on the long road after WLS it is a good idea to have a few well-intentioned police to kindly help keep us on track. Find your supporters and let them know how they can be helpful because nobody should go this route alone.

In the case of skinny sister our reader could have acknowledged the comment saying “I appreciate your concern. It seems you have a misunderstanding about WLS. Would you like me to share with you how, with the help of surgery, I’ve changed my eating and lifestyle habits to improve my health?” Chances are the sister doesn’t want to listen but it is clear the error is the sisters, not our friend eating some great lean protein.

While many will disagree, sometimes the best course of action is to ignore completely the comment or citation. I believe there are people who use policing to engage in a debate over the merits of WLS, over the personal fortitude of the WLS patient and simply want to antagonize someone who is doing the best they can to fight the disease of obesity with the best medical means available. Such people will not be persuaded to think well of WLS or the person who has it. They may be arrogant and feel it their superior right to criticize, often in front of others, the WLS patient. When I find myself pitted against this person I do anything possible to disengage from the moment. This could mean exiting the room, turning my attention away from the antagonist or deflecting it by saying, “I would love to talk about WLS with you at another time.” The antagonist will bully and push but I will not engage myself in discussion. Six years ago I could not do this, but today I can.

I don’t remember reading about the food police before WLS. But they sure have been patrolling my plate the last six years. The skills above are the best I’ve found for personally coping with this social phenomena. What skills have you developed to manage your food police?


Anonymous said...

now i feel badly that i may have done this to my sister. back in the spring she came to visit and was about 7 months out. i paid attention to what she was eating and did ask a lot of questions/make comments like "you can eat that?" or "i didnt think you could eat that" - Honestly, I was just curious b/c I was planning to have the surgery myself (and I did so over the the Summer.) I really I didnt annoy or offend her.

Kim said...

My mom policed my dinner last night. Being two years post-op and at a healthy weight, one would think that I had things under control. For dinner, I had a can of Chicken Noodle Soup and a toasted wheat english muffin. Her eyes got huge when she saw me eating this (she is taking care of me since I just had my thigh lift), and said, "you should only eat half of the soup and half of the english muffin". Well, thank you mom! Mom weighs 95 pounds and gets full after four crackers. I simply replied, "This is what I'm having and I'm quite comfortable with the quantity. Pass the pepper, please."

Diane; AL said...

Okay ladies,
But what do you do with those who think you are losing too much weight. I have just barely reached the "normal" category of BMI. But my family constantly tells me to stop losing. 140 is not too skinny. My goal is 120.
I think they're just used to the old me. What do ya'll think?

Kim said...

I have found that my body has lost it's weight "unevenly". For instance, from the waist up I'm rail thin. You can see my bones in my chest area and my shoulders. From the waist down, I'm normal...actually a bit thick in my opinion. People focus on what looks too thin. They see my bones and say that I need to quit losing weight. What they don't see is my flabby backside. I'm hoping that at some point my body will redistribute the fat cells. When people tell me that I'm getting too thin, my standard response is, "Thanks, but I'm hiding the fat...if you want to see it, you'll have to take me out to dinner first!" It always gets a laugh, but it also ends the discussion. I don't like how thin I am up on top and I'd probably make the same observation if I was on the other side of things.