Weighty Matters

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Food Isn’t the Problem

I have a cold. I felt like crap all day, bad enough to stay home from work. I stayed home from work but didn’t refrain from working. Considering the sneezing, stuffy head, fuzzy brain and general tiredness, I was actually very productive and got a lot done. I was not, however, physically active. For the first time in months I have gone two days without reaching my minimum commitment of 10,000 steps. I feel sluggish. Even though I have more than enough reason to have not fulfilled my physical fitness goals the last two days, mentally I’m struggling with it. I’m sure that I’ll improve as soon as I get back on the step count, but it does me good to share this stuff. Thanks for listening.

While I was working from home today I had on the television. I sort of half listened during the Dr. Oz show, but in that hour I heard something that struck home. I’m sure I’ve heard it before, but it was excellent timing for me to hear it again today. The doctors were talking about the growing number of heroin addicts and the different prescription drugs that are hydrocodone related in different strengths, the addiction problems, etc. One doctor said that in the lives of addicts, the drugs are not the problem. The drugs are the solution. What a strong, important point. From my perspective, food and my way of previous diseased eating are not the problems. They are what I used to cope or bury the real issues. They’re the ways that I tried to solve my issues.

Sometimes it’s difficult to separate out these things. Even though a drug addict might know that he/she turned to drugs for an emotional reason doesn’t mean their bodies don’t physically become hooked. Same thing with me. I can get hooked on the behavior of stuffing my feelings with food or bingeing on certain foods because of their carb, fat or sugar content. So, I can’t ignore that, while food isn’t the root problem, it became a secondary problem at some point. So, until I “got clean”, I couldn’t clear my head and emotions enough to work on the motivating issues.

Some might think that getting clean is the hard part, but the real work begins after. That’s why it was so important for me to understand that the vertical sleeve gastrectomy — the bariatric surgery — would only be a tool to help me control my overeating behavior, which I’d not been able to sustain control over in the past for any significant amount of time. The hardest work is picking through the emotional and psychological issues that make me run to food. All of the time I need to remember that I cannot rely on food to be anything more than food. It needs to not be a problem or a solution.

The work is hard, but it’s important. It’s also possible as long as I keep at it.

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Life Reboot

A brilliant friend of mine did a continuing ed course for us at work yesterday. In it she told the story of what she does if something about her computer doesn’t work. Whether it’s a software, hardware, internet connection problem or whatever, the first thing she does is reboot her system. Have you tried that? It’s amazing how often it works.

That happens with my smart phone, too. Things slow down, response crawls. An app stalls. I turn off the phone completely for a minute, turn it back on and the problem frequently resolves.

So, the thought of rebooting has been on my mind.

Also on my mind was a dream I experienced last night. Someone I know in town with whom I’ve previously had a conversation about weight loss surgery appeared in my dream as a contestant on the Biggest Loser. I ran into him at a local restaurant with two of the trainers from the show and he told them about my surgery and progress. They invited me to sit down and we chatted some more. They asked me if I could give one piece of advice for anybody losing weight, what would it be. In my dream I said, “Whether someone takes off the weight after bariatric surgery or through the extreme workouts and eating restrictions on your show, everybody has to understand that this isn’t a “sometime thing” and problem solved. Long term success requires a complete life reboot.”

See how everything tied together in my brain?

I know I’ve talked about this before but it’s coming up for me again and it feels like I have a slightly different perspective. This usually means that it requires me to focus on it and reinforce it in my brain. I have said all along that the weight loss surgery is only a tool and the rest of the work is what really matters. Today after both the course and the dream, I need to revise or refine that idea. Actually, now that I’m pondering this in the writing process, I have something to own.

The weight loss surgery is a tool and it is not the reason for my success thus far. I’m the reason for my success. The diminished stomach capacity has provided incredible help by providing physical control that I was never able to adhere to before. I could always eat and eat and eat until the vertical sleeve gastrectomy changed all that. However, I’m the one who decided to have the surgery. I’m the one that makes the good choices about food. I’m the one who has committed to exercise and physical fitness. I’m the one who hit Alt + Ctl + Del on my old ways.

As egotistical as that makes me sound, I think it’s important for me to claim it. Own it and celebrate it, too. One day at a time, often one meal at a time, I have taken back my life from the eating disorder and all of my messed up ways of using massive amounts of food. Sometimes it’s good to step back from the one day at a time lessons in the 12 Step programs and gaze at the big picture. The global perspective then helps me put the individual choices into action.

In my dream I talked about success not being about the single meal or the day’s workout. It calls for us to reshape our lives and changing our entire lifestyle. This journey is not an accelerated, high intensity boot camp. It truly is a life reboot.

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Portion Out-of-Control

Recently, I stayed overnight at a nice hotel and the stay included a voucher for breakfast. When I went in, the hostess informed me that they weren’t doing the buffet that day but I could order anything from the menu except steak and eggs. No worries. For me, steak is lunch or dinner anyway.

I looked at the menu. Three egg omelet? Not unless I’m sharing with someone else. I wanted an egg, maybe a couple of sausage links and some fruit. To order that a la carte totaled more than three bucks more than if I ordered the two egg plate. Yes, I know I was there on a voucher but I figured that if I ordered sausage links and fruit a la carte, due to the price I could expect more than I could eat, right?

The “complete” meal offered two eggs, bacon or sausage, and then a choice of either breakfast potato or cut fruit and toast. I asked for scrambled eggs, sausage, and the cut fruit/toast option. Here’s what was served to me:

breakfast

Just look at that pile of food! So much for the either/or, and the smaller portions, they served me everything and then some.

If those equated two scrambled eggs, the chickens must have laid ostrich-sized varieties. I think the potato portion easily equaled an entire spud. There were four sausage links, a sizeable bowl of fruit and two slices of toast. I could only surmise that if the restaurant feels this was a one-person portion size, they must be accustomed to feeding pro football players.

I picked at what I wanted, skipping the potatoes entirely. When I was done, I’d still eaten less than half of the eggs, a single sausage link, less than a slice of toast and a couple of cubes of fruit. This caused concern in the hostess and waitress. “Is everything okay with your meal, ma’am,” each of them asked, separately of one another. I assured them that it was but just that there had been a lot of food.

Sort of got the feeling that not too many guests thought they were served too much. Make that pro football players, super heavyweight weight lifters and, perhaps, Sumo wrestlers. The waitress came over a second time, and actually said, “But you ate nothing!” Honestly, friends, the amount of food that remained on my plate would have easily satisfied a full grown man. A really hungry, full grown man.

I’m a little horrified that before my bariatric surgery I might have chowed down, plowed through, and eaten almost everything, regardless of the gargantuan amounts.

It was just more evidence that the eating habits in this country are out of control, including our “normal” portion sizes. If we grow up thinking that this much food is okay, not to mention necessary, it’s no wonder that we’re seeing an increase of obesity in all ages of our population, including kids. Clearly for most of my life my eyes were always bigger than my stomach and I forced my stomach to keep up. Now that I’ve had the vertical sleeve gastrectomy, my stomach’s in charge and leading the way to retraining my eyes. For example, the other night when my friend and I had dinner, instead of going out to a restaurant, we went to Whole Foods and selected what we wanted from their hot food and salad bars. Instead of loading up my containers, I took a slice of turkey, a dab of mashed sweet potatoes, and a half spoonful of the shredded Brussels sprouts. I had all that I needed nutritionally and stayed well within my food plan guidelines.

I controlled my portions instead of letting them get out-of-control.

Yesterday, a friend and I went to a lovely tea house for a traditional “tea” meal. I have to say that this was a superior treat since both of us love drinking tea and also love the whole ceremony of a high tea. This place also had the perfect approach, probably without realizing it, for someone like me who has a surgically altered stomach. It was a multiple course meal, beginning with a plate of tea sandwiches, followed by a scone. A plate of dessert bites came next and the final item was either a sorbet or a gelato. They also had about 100 different teas from which to choose and I had my own pot of a lovely blend.

No lie, that was still a lot of food, but here was the beauty of it. Every individual item was a very small bite. I got to taste everything that I liked without overeating. Perfect! I also handed off things I know I don’t like — such as the cucumber sandwich, stuffed mushroom, and apricot tart — to my friend. All of the tea that I drank also filled my stomach, so I thankfully couldn’t finish the dessert plate. No worries. Whatever we didn’t want to eat then, the waitress offered to box up for us to take home. This meant that late last night, I had a small cookie and a tiny lemon bar as a treat.

The tea house itself was beautiful and decorated for the holidays, including this cool upside down tree.

upsidedowntree

I wish more and more places would offer “small bite”, or even tapas sections on their menus. If I ever had a restaurant, that’s what I would do. I bet it would be popular with not only the weight loss surgery crowd but also with other people striving to practice better portion control.

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Was Weight Loss Surgery Really Necessary?

A little less than two weeks before I had my surgery, I was already doing the “full liquids” part of the preparation. Pounds were melting off. A good friend who was going through a very stressful time experienced a lot of anxiety over me having the bariatric surgery. When I shared that I was doing great with the full liquids diet, she asked me why I couldn’t just keep doing that and lose all of my weight instead of having a risky operation.

Speaking from the heart, I explained that I knew I would never sustain the weight loss effort long enough, or I would have done so before then. I also shared that I feared losing a lot of weight and then gaining it back yet again.

Next month I’ll hit my two year “surgiversary”. I probably won’t yet be at goal weight. Someone asked me today if I was sorry that I’d had the operation when it was still taking me so long to lose all of the weight that I wanted. There was nothing malicious about the question. I believe they were just honestly curious. I guess somewhere in their brain was the idea that I could have been able to lose it anyway so the surgery might not have been necessary.

I don’t agree. I still believe, just as strongly as I did two weeks before my vertical sleeve gastrectomy, that I would never have lost 175 or so pounds without the surgery. Was the surgery the magical cure-all? Of course not! Have I still had to work hard on every level to be successful to this point for so many months? Absolutely.

Was the surgery necessary? Was it worth it? Hell to the yeah! I can’t affirm it strongly enough. Surgically reducing my stomach capacity proved to be the tool, the key, the foundation on which everything else stands. To some great extent, it’s the security net when I teeter and fall off of the tightrope. It keeps me from completely hitting the ground and going splat. Because it limits how much I can physically eat, it’s an effective means for stopping a food relapse and prevents binging.

The physical control, or speed with which it helps me regain control when I periodically veer off course, has kept me in recovery and on a losing path for far longer than I have experienced at any other time. The longer time period has given me the opportunity to slowly and effectively make other lifestyle changes. The improved fitness and healthier food choices have developed over the months. I think this process means that the changes are better integrated and more sustainable. I don’t feel like the devotion to exercise is a flash in the pan. It takes time to grow new habits and that’s what I’m doing.

Maybe having bariatric surgery started out as my last ditch effort; the desperate attempt to save my life and improve its quality. Last ditch or not, it was absolutely necessary. I view its effects as the best way that I could open up my spirit for long term lifestyle changes. Simply put, it set me up for success and I’ve taken it from there.

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Taking Nothing for Granted

I haven’t been to a Zumba class in to weeks because of meetings, renovations to the place where classes are held and then my vacation. I looked forward to tonight’s class ever since I got home from my trip. After work, I took the dogs for a walk, fed them and then went to the bedroom to change into workout clothes. When I balanced on one foot at a time to pull on my exercise shorts, I flashed back to two years ago.

Getting dressed was a challenge. In order to pull on underwear or a pair of pants or shorts, I either had to sit down or I had to hold onto a bed post or table for steadiness. Even with that support, I still need to bend down as far as I could to drag the clothes on over my foot. Putting on sneakers was even more difficult. The easiest way was for me to sit on the bed, bend my leg at the knee and prop it on the bed too so that I could reach my foot. The other option was to again sit in a chair, bend over and sort of contort myself to get my sneaker on. I can remember a time when I had to pause and suck in a breath so I could finish tying the laces.

***** Before I forget, I need to digress a minute. Someone asked me why I share these memories of the way that I used to be when I was at my heaviest, most awkward self. I do it because it’s important that I remember what it was like. It also matters to me in case there’s someone reading who is struggling with morbid obesity. It helps to know that someone has lived what you’re experiencing and understands. I hope it also helps to know that things can be better. *****

Okay, back to the topic. Tonight I changed clothes with balance and ease. Putting on my sneaks was a simple as crossing one leg over the other, slipping on the shoes and tying in a few seconds. No stress or strain, no struggle or shortness of breath. In that moment I thought, “As long as I live, I will never take this for granted.”

I then grabbed my water bottle and hand bag and bopped out the door. Millions of people do this every day without giving the ability a thought. It’s just normal for them. Now it’s normal for me too, but I will never forget the days and decades when it wasn’t.

Zumba kicked my ass tonight. Even though I’ve been doing Tai Chi, brisk walking and that 7 Minute Workout, I could feel a reduction in my ability and endurance. I pushed on through to get the most benefit from the exercise, ignoring the internal whimpering. When we finished the cool down and stretching period, I picked up my water bottle and towel, said goodbye and made my way to the car. For a second I slumped in the seat and just felt the gratitude sweep through me. I thought again, “I will never take this for granted.”

I need to appreciate every day, every pound lost, every time I walk or dance or move with control and balance through the 108 moves in the Tai Chi set. I want to remember the times that I say no to eating the wrong thing and yes to healthy choices. It’s all hard work and I’m grateful for the willingness to put in the time, energy, effort and determination.

Recovery is precious. It also isn’t automatically permanent. I have to keep nurturing my progress, reinforcing the healthier practices, and maintaining my determination. I don’t want to lose what I’ve fought so hard to achieve so I can never, ever, take it for granted.

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