Archive for the ‘Weight Loss Surgery’ Category

How I Got To Where I Am Going

Because it is what has helped me get to this point in my life, I think I want to talk about my surgery and the experience leading up to and immediately following it.

How does one just decide one day “I am going to undergo a major, life altering operation?” Well, for me, I didn’t just up and decide. I started exploring the idea in the summer of 2009 when it became clear that my body was so heavy I could no longer exercise without risking injuring myself. After coming home from Sapphire Joust, a 4 day camping event, with massive sores on my inner thighs from where they had rubbed together all weekend (even with bike shorts on), I could barely walk for a week.

My shame allowed for almost 2 months to pass before I could bring it up with Byram. I figured he would be radically against it, but I was very wrong. He had reservations (and anyone considering this should have some reservations and concerns), but he supported my efforts to go forward.

I went to a required informational “class” in late August 2009 and confirmed that I was eligible and my insurance was in good order to take the next step, which was a visit to the surgeon’s office to meet the surgeon and answer a whole lot of questions, ask my own, and then some testing. Here is the photo they took of me that day in the doctor’s office, September 1, 2009 (it’s really bad because it is scanned from a plain paper copy I have, made into a PDF, then made into a JPEG; I seriously lack in photo wizardry skills, sorry).

Yes, I really am almost as wide as the door in that photo.

That was September of 2009 and I had a lot of things I had to do before I could even hope for a surgery date. I had to spend time with a behavioral therapist, a nutritionist, visit a cardiologist, and my general practitioner. I also was not supposed to gain any weight in the intervening months. They said they would disqualify me if I gained substantial weight as it would disprove my commitment to my long term health.

On November 3rd, within an hour of getting word that a co-worker (who had also undergone RnY gastric bypass) had committed suicide, the phone call came in offering me January 14, 2010, for my surgery date. In a haze of emotion, I accepted the date and the countdown was on.

The 10 weeks that followed are a bit of a blur. I DID commit the “Last Supper” sin, a lot, eating anything I wanted, worrying about nothing. I had actually lost about 10 pounds between September and November, but I put them all back on, and on the morning I began the two week long liver shrinking diet (January 1, appropriately enough), I was 271 pounds.

The morning of January 14, exactly a week after my 28th birthday, Byram and I arrived at St. Mary’s hospital in the very cold, pre-dawn hours. Most of this is a blur as well; my heart was racing and my head was pounding for much of the time. I went to Inpatient Registration first where I was braceleted, and soon thereafter, we were taken to the pre-op waiting room. I was deeply comforted by having Byram so close to that point, but it was abruptly over when after less than 10 minutes of waiting, I was called into the pre-op prep center. I gave my last hug and kiss to my husband before walking down the hall with the nurse. That was a very hard moment.

I was taken to a large room full of other surgical patients, each of us with our own curtained quarters. I given warm socks and a surgical gown to wear, and the poking and prodding began. My veins were nearly impossible to find and it took 4 or 5 sticks to get my two i.v.s in place, but fortunately, the nurse had a standing prescription for novacaine injections, so I got a little numbing dose before each hit or miss with the i.v.

Things were going along okay at that point. I was being introduced to my surgical team, everyone was asking me my full name and date of birth and what procedure I was undergoing. After being asked a half a hundred times, it got a little old, but that was preferable to coming out with a hip replacement by accident or something. Dr. Bautista, my surgeon arrived, and everyone got down to their jobs; papers were being filled in, my vitals were being checked constantly, and everyone was going about their business, very professionally and at the same time, very casually.

This is where I got off track. I felt very insignificant, very small, and horribly alone right at that moment. My hands started shaking. My eyes started blurring. It sank in that this was really going to happen and I was scared to death. Now, all the shaking and tears were very silent; I wasn’t sobbing or gasping, and therefore, it was a few minutes into what was probably a full on panic attack before anyone noticed I was upset (I was trying to avoid anyone noticing, too. I was very ashamed of the tears and terror).

Eventually, the anesthesiologist’s nurse noticed. She was so very sweet and gentle with me. She asked, “Are you okay?” and I shook my head and whispered “No.” She said “Okay. Do you want to continue? We can stop here and you do not have to go through with the surgery. That is okay.” I got myself together a little and said “No, no, I really want to. I am just scared.” And I really was. She said “Okay, then hold on and I will put a little something in your i.v. to make this easier.”

I don’t know what I was given; some sort of valium type drug, I am sure, but whatever it was, I was grateful for it. Within minutes, the shaking stopped. My heart rate dropped back from the 120s down into the 90s. I was able to detach myself from my fear, look at it with some distance, acknowledge that I had good reason to be scared, but no good reason to let that overwhelm me.

Much calmer, and of course, slightly high, time began speeding up. The team left to get the operating room ready, dimming my lights, which allowed me to drowse off. I looked at the clock at one point and saw that the scheduled time for my surgery had passed. Dr. Bautista came in and said the room had to be decontaminated and it would be a little longer. No problem; I just dozed off again.

Right around 8am, they came and got me. It was go time. They gave me more of the calming drug and I remember being moved, but I have no idea what direction I went or how long it took to get from the pre-op prep area to the operating room. I do distinctly remember the operating room. It was smaller than I expected and looked NOTHING like they do on t.v. I remember seeing the daVinci machine they would be using to do my surgery and thinking it was much bigger than I thought it would be.

I helped the surgical nurses get me shifted from the gurney to the operating table and I remember that I was surprised at just how narrow the table was. This was the point where I was very glad they had given me all that happy medicine. I remember them strapping my arms down; I even remember thinking “Man am I glad I am high as a kite because I would be freaking the *bleep* out right now.”

The anesthesiologist was the last person I saw. He put a mask over my face and told me to take some deep breaths. The last thing I said before the lights went out was “I trust you guys.”

*~*

Fast forward about 4 hours. I woke up in recovery and the very first sensation I became conscious of was the feeling that my midsection had been perhaps run over by a dump truck; possibly two dump trucks. Immediately following that sensation was “Oh my god, I am going to puke” and in full terror, I started dry heaving (who wants to be dry heaving with a brand new right down to the new car smell pouch for a stomach???). A nurse quickly saw my distress and immediately put something in my i.v. for the nausea and showed me where to find the morphine delivery button.

I clicked that button. A minute later, I clicked it again. And again. And again. And then the lights went back out and I was gone again. And so began several maddening hours of waking up, checking the time on the clock, hitting the morphine button over and over again, and back to sleep. The only things I was conscious of were that much more time was passing than should have (I had been told I would only spend two hours in recovery), that Byram was probably flipping out not having seen me yet (he wasn’t), and that waking up meant hurting and clicking the button meant not hurting, but not being awake either. My five or so hours in recovery bordered on hellish.

Eventually, I learned that they were waiting for a bed to open for me, Byram had been updated about my surgery long ago and had left to get out and get lunch, and that I was doing just fine. I think it was about 4:30 that they finally got me a bed in the bariatric ward and I finally, at long last, got to lay eyes on my husband again. He stayed with me for a long time. He brought me my knitting project I had chosen for the hospital stay and even took a photo of me attempting a few, morphine assisted stitches. I was incredibly weak and constantly slipping into and out of awareness. He stayed until my drill sergeant, I mean, nurse came and made me take my first required walk around the ward.

That was the most exhausting and painful walk I have ever taken. It was maybe a couple hundred feet total, just down the hall and back, but once I was back in bed, I kissed Byram good night and I hit that happy little morphine button and went straight to sleepy town.

The first night was a bad one because I had roommates and I had to get up and walk every 4 hours and had vitals taken even more frequently than that, same as they did, and none of us were on the same schedule, meaning there was no rest for anyone. Around 6am, I got my own private room and finally started getting real rest.

I passed my barium swallow test and was given water to start sipping. Eventually, I was given broth and apple juice to sip for my very first post-op “meal.” That was Friday, the day after surgery, and it is a blur of walking the corridors and talking to various nurses. The morphine button was taken away and I was switched over to Percocet. Percocet was F.U.N.! I am a friendly little lady on Percocet. It turned out for all that I thought I was hitting that morphine button like crazy, I only got 7 doses in the space of 24 hours. There was a 6 minute delay between each dose and apparently it would send me to sleep long before that delay was up.

I was taught how to give myself a Lovenox injection. The catheter was taken out and I was allowed to get up and use the bathroom myself. Slowly but surely, the number of tubes I had attached were decreasing and as I gained more mobility, the discomfort eased.

The most stark moment I remember was meeting a man in the hall who had had his RnY bypass the same day as me, and also with Dr. Bautista, just later in the day. He was coming back from his barium swallow test and he was upset. I asked him what was wrong and he said “I have a goddamn leak, and I am going back into emergency surgery in a couple of hours.”

Whoa. There but by the grace of God went I. Dr. Bautista had done two surgeries in the same day and mine was the one that went flawlessly, not his. I felt scared, horrified, relieved, and guilty all at the same time. I talked to Dr. Bautista shortly before he headed back into surgery. He told me how great I was doing and that my procedure had in fact gone off without a hitch. I acknowledged where he was headed and wished him luck. We shook hands and I thanked him.

That was the last time I ever saw him.

Soon thereafter, I was very unceremoniously packed up and shipped out the door to head home and begin my new lease on life.

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Mapped

Half Marathon

4 more training team runs, 32 more sleeps, uncounted miles still to go. The map is up and the date is closing in. I am getting very excited.

Miles To Go

Knitting content has slowed to a halt, which means this blog has gone pretty quiet. My full focus has been on getting ready for the Instant Classic Half Marathon that is just about 6 weeks away now. Lunch hours are dedicated to either runs or cross training in the weight room. One or more evenings per week will find me doing more of the same at the gym. Saturday mornings are reserved for long runs with a team that is training for another half marathon on the same weekend as the Instant Classic. This Saturday will see me run my first double digit mileage ever.

The cool thing is now I am 100% confident that I will have no trouble finishing the race, short of catastrophic injury or illness (please knock on any wood you have handy for me), but for me, this was never about just finishing the race. I have a goal time I want to finish in, (2 hours 30 minutes; I fantasize about finishing in even less time than that, but I am trying to be realistic) and it is not an unreasonable time, but it requires not just a large quantity of training miles but some quality runs in my training for speed, efficient use of oxygen and glycogen, and mental stamina.

It is my brain that is my weakest point and to help overcome that lizard brain that complains when it’s too tough or hurts too much or makes excuses, I spend a lot of time visualizing my race, my training runs, and think silly-sounding thoughts like “I am so lucky I am able to run 6 miles” or “How fortunate am I that I choose to do this and enjoy it enough to keep doing it.” Sounds silly to type it out, but for few weeks, the cycle in my brain sounded like “This hurts. You are a sissy because you had to walk before 5 miles. If you had to take a walk break at 5 miles, why would you even think you could tackle 13?” And so forth, without end. Enough of that, thank you very much.

When I am not training, thinking of training, eating, or spending time with Grace, I prefer to be sleeping. These days, I am bushed by 8pm and often will be sound asleep before 10pm. Twice in the past week I have stayed up really late (midnight or later) and I have paid the price. My whole body, but especially my legs are tired all the time and I really have found that I need my sleep to recover. I haven’t been to an SCA event since early December and I don’t see my friends as much, either. Even when I do, I don’t have much interesting news to share. I can talk all day about lactic thresholds, VO2 max, speed intervals, what my preferred fuel gels are, and what types of cross training I like (weightlifting and yoga), but other than that stuff…I am incredibly dull company these days and prone to dozing off unexpectedly on Saturday afternoons, I am afraid.

This is my whole focus right now and I suspect it will only get worse as we close in on March 17th, but it is also February and the edges of winter are beginning to look frayed around here. You know what February and March bring every year?

Garden planning. Now that is something to definitely look forward too. I can’t wait.

Unapologetic

I was going to go to the Y for another murderous upper body weight lifting workout when I opened my bag and realized I had not swapped out yesterday’s cold weather running gear for clean, not soaking wet, short-sleeved, indoor appropriate anything to wear.

Rather than wear soaking wet, long-sleeved, outdoor, dirty clothes to lug around heavy weights, I bagged on my workout and decided to go for a walk. I headed east on Main Street and decided since I had my camera with me that today was as good as any day for another round of Photos Around Richmond. I think I only do this in January, when the city itself is not especially pretty, and when the weather is not especially fabulous, but then I am unlikely to waste a perfectly beautiful lunch hour trundling around with the camera.

As I headed east, I decided the top of the hill on Main Street where Rte. 5 and Main St. intersect would be my destination. Being a non-native Richmonder, I am not sure whether this is actually Church Hill or it is one of the other hills (I have also seen it labeled Union Hill on a map). Either way, this is where I was going. This is the hill I run up on my hill training days.


And this is how it looks from the runner’s perspective as you are just getting started going up.

Fortunately, today I was not running up the hill, just doing the aforementioned trundling (in 3 inch high wedge boots…my feet are very unhappy with this poor planning on my part). From almost the top, looking east, you can watch the James River drift lazily by.
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Looking back west, I could visually measure the almost exactly one mile between my current spot I was standing and the building I had walked from to get there.
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This gentleman is looking out over the City from atop his very tall pedestal.
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Everything below seems very tiny from my vantage point. I feel both insignificant and very large at the same time from up here. Cars look like Matchbox toys from up here and I can see all the way to the Chesterfield Power Station that is south of my house along the James River.
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And then I took this.

It is the first picture of myself since I turned 30. Unadulterated. Unaltered.
I got to the top of the hill feeling distinctly and intensely unapologetic about who I am. I did something silly today and wore some silly peacock feather earrings I bought for $2 last week. I like peacock feathers and I liked the earrings, and I didn’t care if they were fashionable enough to wear to work. I was feeling a bit rebellious and wore them.

Even more rebellious are the little stud earrings in my upper ear cartilage. I can’t remember the last time I wore earrings in those holes at home, much less to my rather conservative workplace.

I wear glasses. I have crows feet (too many years of playing outdoors in the sun without sunscreen). I have never intentionally plucked a hair out of my eyebrows. I don’t frequently wear makeup. The smile lines around my mouth have gotten very deep since I lost 120 pounds. My eyes can’t decide if they are blue or green, or gray. I do all kinds of unfashionable things, like wear my hair almost to my backside and only bother to color it once a year or so anymore. Or wear peacock feather earrings (actually, I think that is fashionable for the 13-17 year old age group right now…). I keep my toenails painted 100% of the time, but I have worn polish on my fingernails maybe 4 or 5 times in the past decade.

I run. I knit. I cook things my family likes to eat (we are having grilled Bessie Cow tonight!). I sing badly, but sometimes I do it out loud anyway. I sew poorly, but have enough basics to keep Byram and I at least somewhat decently garbbed in the SCA. I excel at washing dishes. I can plunge a toilet like no one’s business. I am either a horribly conservative democrat or a ridiculously liberal republican, depending on what day of the week it is when you ask me. Or maybe more accurately, I am a libertarian who appreciates some law and order, but really just wants to be left alone.

And you know what? I love all of those facts about me. I even like that self-portrait, taken at an odd angle with an odd, Mona Lisa-like look on my face. I love who I am and I don’t want to apologize for that.

Speaking of love…meet Melpomene.
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I am right at the half way mark with it and my progress has slowed (so typical of me). I came up a little short on yarn because I used larger needles than the pattern called for, but it worked out just fine. The first ball ran out just as I finished the last repeat of Chart B, so I just began the decreasing charts (Chart D) next and skipped over the middle point (Chart C). There should be no change in the effect on the shape of the scarf, just shortening its overall number of repeats.
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I adore the soft, solid texture the stitches create. I love the simplicity of the garter stitch short row sections, and enjoy the not too challenging, but not mindless twisted stitch patterns as well. I find the whole thing to be very soothing on my frayed nerves these days. The rich hue of the blue helps too. It’s a shame, but I couldn’t get a good true-to-color shot of the blue. Yesterday’s late afternoon sun threw off the color, and today’s lack of sun washes it out to gray when it really is an unapologetic sapphire blue.

The Girl In The Black Dress

My 2 year “surgiversary” is coming up on the 14th, in a little more than a week.

My friends sometimes tell me they forget how I looked before my surgery. Whenever someone says that, I am instantly reminded of this photo, taken almost exactly 3 months before my surgery, because this photo very quickly sums up exactly how I looked and felt.

Now, I look like this.

I haven’t forgotten where I came from. And I know where I could wind up.

When I let my weight run away with me, I felt like my whole life sort of got derailed. It was a horrible death spiral of my weight draining me of my energy, the lack of energy kept me from exercising, the lack of exercise allowed my body to hurt over the littlest things (like walking 2 blocks!) and kept my energy levels low, and I just kept eating.

I tried every diet. I tried supplements. I tried high carb, low fat. I tried low carb, high protein. Weight Watchers. Not eating. Whatever. Everything worked…for about 6 weeks.

I admit that I live in terror that my surgery will not be a long term fix either. Every time I strap on my trainers and go hit the pavement for a few miles, I feel like I am being chased after by that fat girl in the photo above with a dozen hot Krispy Kreme donuts in her hands, yelling at me, “Hey, remember how good these were???” And I do remember how good they were. And I could probably have one and maybe only feel mildly ill. But…and here is the truth about me…I couldn’t stop at one. Not “wouldn’t.” I mean it when I say “couldn’t.”

She is always there behind me, reminding me of how good things “used to be” and suggesting that “just this one couldn’t hurt, right?”

She’s good motivation, that old me. I am running away from her as fast as I can. If she catches me, that girl outweighs me by 120 pounds and I figure she would have little trouble wrestling me down and winning. I just have to keep running.

The scars of being morbidly obese will never fully disappear from me and I understand that now. I didn’t get that way just because I was lazy, or just because of my genetics, or just because I was clueless about what did and did not count as food, or just because of an unhealthy mental state. It was a whole series of things working together in a perfect storm against me. That storm is still raging but I have more tools to help keep it under control. I have more knowledge than I did, I have a better grasp on why I eat and am smarter about what I eat. I have found a form of exercise I enjoy enough to do several times a week, which helps combat my inherently lazy nature. And I put in the hard work I know I need to to help combat the genetics.

I look on that girl in the black dress with pity and sorrow, but also keeping the same distance you would from a friend who is down with the flu. If I get too close to her, I feel like all the sadness, fear, and misery she carries in all that weight will rub off on me again.

That girl in the black dress was me, but is not who I am today.

And my task for the past 2 years, and will be going forward into untold years, is to simply keep out running her.

Rules To Eat By

A dear friend who is chronicling her efforts to lose weight and run the Richmond Half Marathon said to me this weekend that she wanted to talk to me about nutrition because I “know how to eat.” Her comment took me by surprise; everyone knows how to eat right? I do believe everyone basically knows how they should eat, but in a world where every week there is a new “diet” book out and every magazine marketed to women has a new way to eat to “lose that belly fat forever,” it can get very easy to lose sight of the basics.

I will start with Michael Pollan’s “Rules” with my personal addendum in brackets.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly [lean protein and] plants.

That’s it. Simple and common sense. And pretty much everyone knows that stuff whether they have ever even heard of Michael Pollan or not.

So let’s talk about these basics, using Pollan’s Rules as a framework.

Eat food.

What is food? Food is nothing more than potential energy in a form that our bodies can digest and turn into kinetic energy. But it is SO much more than that. Food has deep cultural and emotional roots in most of us, both of which make it more difficult for humans to look at food as simply fuel and make it much easier to over-indulge.

In American food culture, we have the additional problems of what I think of as edible food-like substances. Think Lucky Charms, Kraft Singles, powdered non-dairy creamer, which are just a few examples that come immediately to mind. I am not saying these things are inherently evil (okay, I do think Lucky Charms are inherently evil…), just that they are not good ways to be getting nutrition. I also believe that these food-like substances confuse our bodies, mix up our hormones, and contribute to our obesity epidemic.

An occasional Pop-Tart is not going to kill you or make you fat by itself. But is it going to do anything for you aside from making you not hungry for a short while and fill some empty spot in your brain that said “I have a sweet tooth”? No, of course not.

My suggestion is this: enjoy your pop-tart (or whatever your unfood of choice might be; mine was a dunkin donut this weekend) but don’t use them as a meal or eat that stuff daily. Even better when have a sweet tooth attack would to be to eat a real food treat.

Homemade chocolate chip cookies? That is a much better choice than a Chips Ahoy! cookie out of the bag (I know, I nibbled on one this weekend, then threw it and the remains of the bag of cookies in the trash. Yuck.) A slice of cheesecake is better than a fudge round made with transfats and high fructose corn syrup. Do either options qualify as health foods? No. But I would bet you that the higher quality choice will leave you feeling better.

As for your daily meals, keep them simple and focus on high quality ingredients; higher quality means generally more nutrients and better flavor. The more elaborate you try to get with your meals, the more time it takes to prepare and cook them, making you less likely you are to cook your own foods. Make protein the largest part of your meal (more on this below), make your carbohydrates as complex as possible, and eat a little fat with each meal!

Fat? Oh noes! The Horror!

Fat is NOT the enemy. Fat is essential for the absorption of many essential vitamins like A, D, and K. Fat adds flavor. Fat keeps you fuller longer (actually, calories help keep you full, but what else is fat but concentrated calories/energy). The trouble with fat is it is a key feature in most processed foods (cheap way to add flavor) and most meals in restaurants (more flavor means happier guests, happier guests come back and spend money at the restaurant again!), which is where we get most of the fat in our diets. Eat at home when you can.

Not Too Much.

This is a murky spot for me to offer any advice on. I had to be surgically altered to stop overeating, so maybe I am not the best person to offer advice, but I will give you tips on what I do now, because it is still very easy for me to overeat, just my version of overeating is different from most everyone else’s.

If you are cooking at home and you KNOW you are a late-evening grazer, don’t cook more portions than you need to feed everyone; you say you will take the leftovers to work tomorrow, but chances are about 9:30 there is food right there waiting for you and you end up eating a second dinner.

Start your meal by eating your protein first. Protein is denser, takes more time to chew, thereby slowing your eating, and will fill you up fastest.

Don’t drink liquids with your meal. What’s this you ask? This is one of the rules I have to live by post-gastric bypass. Why? There are separate issues at work for weight loss surgery patients involving mineral and vitamin absorption, but for the normal GI tract, water, tea, or whatever, with your food washes the food more quickly from your stomach to your intestinal tract, and an empty stomach triggers the brain to request more food. Your brain will ask for more calories even though your small intestine will be busy with the ones you just consumed.

Don’t eat at buffet style restaurants very often. It should be obvious as to why. They serve low quality, cheap food, very high in sodium and fat, and often are questionable in terms of food safety (how long has that chicken been sitting under a heat lamp?). These places are designed to get you to overeat. You feel like you need to get your money’s worth out of that bar (you won’t), not like you should eat only until you are sated. Just avoid these places when possible.

In fact, as I said above, it is better to avoid restaurants when you can. Portions are usually too large, and you are out of control of the ingredients that go into your meal. Occasionally is fine. Daily, every other day, multiple times a day, are all too much.

Mostly [lean protein and] plants.

This is where Mr. Pollan and I diverge a bit. Part of his “Mostly Plants” rule, in part, relates to the environmentalism of eating meat. No question about it, industrial farms where meat is raised in mass quantities are horrific places, bad for the animals, bad for the environment, and bad for us. It is an individual’s choice whether to support those Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) by buying industrially-produced meat, milk, and eggs, or not.

I personally believe that animal-based proteins are healthy in reasonable quantities and I am doing what little I can to flex my activist muscles and dollars by buying locally and humanely raised and slaughtered beef and pork. I have not been able to extend that to chicken yet, but we do get eggs locally, almost 100% of the time now. There are lots of non-animal proteins out there, but I feel their quality is not as good and many of them are highly processed (textured vegetable protein, anyone?).

My basic diet is not specifically Atkins, The Zone, Protein Power, South Beach, or any of those plans. My bypass requires that I concentrate on protein because it is very easy for me to develop a protein deficiency; this is not the case for a normal person, but I think my basic diet is still a fairly healthy example.

A typical dinner at my house might be like the one I made on Sunday. I roasted a whole chicken, seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and the side dishes were pasta w/ peas (as requested by Grace; it’s one of her favorite things), and a (unfortunately burned) sauté of sweet onion, mushrooms, and asparagus.

Tonight’s offering will be a little different. The remnants of the roast chicken will become chicken pot pie. Pot-pie usually means a billion calories, but because I know how it is being made, that lots of veggies are going in it, I know how the crust is made and what is in it (mostly flour and oil), and I know that this meal will be filling without being the fat bomb that something like the KFC version or the Marie Callender’s version would be. I will eat a little of the crust (because it is delicious) and a lot more of the filling and I am not going to feel guilty about it.

Last week, one dinner was a grilled sirloin steak, with broccoli and couscous.

These are not foods you generally associate with “diet” foods, but I think our mental focus on low-calorie meals rubber bands us back into sudden high-calorie food binges.

This last thing came to me while I was eating my somewhat odd (at least, it was odd to my coworkers) lunch of feta and olives from my favorite Greek deli.

Eat Food You Love

Whenever I hear someone talk about “gagging down a yogurt” because they know it’s “good for me,” I want to ask them to just stop. Eating food that doesn’t taste good to you only screws up your relationship with food even more. If you are gagging down food just because it is good for you, what is your brain going to start telling you about food that is healthy?

The message won’t be a positive one, that is for sure.

Bananas are supposed to be some wonder food; I personally find them revolting and you know what? I am not sure if they cured cancer that I would eat one then.

For every healthy food out there that you don’t like, there is almost always an alternative that you will like.

I hope this didn’t come across as preachy; talking about food and nutrition is something I genuinely enjoy since it is so very essential to my long term health. If you have any specific questions, feel free to leave me a comment and I will see if I can answer it.

Give Me Food and Give Me Freedom

As is no secret to this blog, I underwent gastric bypass surgery in January of 2010, as an option of last resort to help me get my life and my weight back under control. Going through the process of it, I had to do a lot of learning about nutrition, macro- and micro-nutrients, and what really counts as food (hint: large swaths of the typical American diet don’t count). Ten years ago, as a college sophomore, my diet consisted mainly of Mountain Dew, E-Z Mac and Cheese, Ramen noodles, Lucky Charms from the Dining Hall (verboten in my childhood, and now I understand why), and a pack of cigarettes a day.

Is it any wonder that I underwent a life altering surgery before I was 30?

We have a serious disconnect in our country with food. It is a basic necessity. A common factor between all humans. We all have to eat. How and what we eat is an individual choice for each of us. But we also have emotional factors relating to our food. Sometimes we use it as a treat: “I will treat myself to some ice cream after this bad day at work.” Or we punish ourselves with it: “I promise starting Monday, I will give up the McDonald’s drive through and eat oatmeal every day until these last 10 pounds are off.”

In a country with a severe obesity epidemic, with a First Lady who is on a mission to help prevent obesity in our nation’s children, you would think that our top priority would be finding ways to make it easier to get fresh, whole, healthy, and natural foods to more Americans.

You would think.

But our Country is run by money. And big agriculture and big pharmaceuticals have the money. And they have the ear of our government. And you and I don’t.

Our Country allows things like Olestra (a fake fat that also serves as an industrial lubricant and paint additive, aside from a cooking oil for “lite” potato chips) to be legal for human consumption, and despite well documented gastrointestinal side effects, it can be used without a warning label. But heaven help you if you choose to consume raw, unpasteurized milk, which is outright criminal in some states, forbidden to be transported over state lines, and is the target of SWAT-like raids and regular undercover operations.

Seriously.

People have lost their farms, their homes, their incomes, and more for daring to sell or distribute raw milk or cheese products. Here is a new example today of a woman facing felony charges over her raw milk. If she is convicted, Californian tax payers will be footing her “3 squares a day” in some penitentiary. I mean, really, is it worth it to the State of California to incarcerate her?

When was the last time a huge scandal erupted because a lot of people got sick eating a small farm’s meat, dairy, or produce? If you know one, I would be interested to hear about it. I can show you a few cases of individuals with documented illnesses related to raw foods, but only a few.

When was the last time a huge scandal erupted because a lot of people got sick eating meat, dairy, or produce from a large Big Ag company? Well, Cargill recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey on August 3, only 3 weeks ago, due to salmonella contamination that resulted in one death and at least 76 reported illnesses. Jennie-O recalled turkey burgers for salmonella contamination in March and April. Last year, 2000 people reported illnesses related to the massive 500 million eggs recalled for salmonella.

Anyone else remember when fresh spinach was impossible to find because it killed 3 people and sickened almost 200 in 2006?

You can check Wikipedia for a list of some of the more egregious examples.

How many of those big operations saw people go to jail I wonder? Oh, I am sure a few heads rolled, but did any SWAT teams break doors down and bust in like it was a cocaine raid? I would be sure they did not. And people died in some of those cases.

I am not saying that eating raw foods like milk or cheese doesn’t come with an inherent risk; sure it does. But so does eating food produced and processed by those big corporations, and you don’t see them getting the same treatment — raids, busts, jail time, etc., for the same risks.

My source of frustration is the criminalization of any food, the FDA’s heavy handedness with small farmers selling to people who are 100% aware of the potentials with their purchases, and the FDA’s willingness to overlook “unfoods” like Olestra, HVP (can you imagine any food being boiled in hydrochloric acid being edible?), cheese “analogues”, and so many other things, while demonizing whole, fresh foods, consumed the way humans have been consuming them for hundreds or even thousands of years.

In the intervening 10 years since my “college diet” that I described above, I have learned what really counts as food, and what does not, and while I have room in my diet for some “unfoods,” I believe we as a Country would be much better served if we worked harder to make whole, fresh, raw, and nutrient dense food more accessible, more palatable, and less threatening. We should be able to choose and we should be able to make informed decisions with honest information, not industry-funded studies designed to sway your opinion towards the industry in question. We should not allow foods like sugary and nutritionally devoid cereals to be marketed to children and parents as “part of a balanced breakfast.”

I also support the right of people to eat those sugary cereals if they want them, in the same way I will defend the rights of a smoker to smoke, even if I don’t smoke anymore myself. If someone wants to eat cheetos and a 32 ounce cup of cola for breakfast every morning, they should be free to make that choice, and they must assume the risks of eating such things (diabetes, hypertension, etc.). If I want to eat a slice of raw milk cheese on home baked bread, I should be able to, while assuming the risk of something like listeriosis. (At least the listeriosis would be temporary.) If a vegan wants to eat cheese analogue that should be their right. If I want to eat a chicken raised and processed on someone’s farm that might risk campylobacter or salmonella, I should be able to, and I should be responsible enough to cook it thoroughly, just as I would a bird from Tyson or any other Big Ag farm operation (because, guess what, those Big Ag birds come with exactly the same risk!).

My whole feeling on the matter is that I should be able to choose foods I feel to be healthful and nutritious without worrying that the person selling it to me might be risking jail to do so, or I might find someone knocking on my own door if I committed the crime of sharing such food with my friends. I simply do not trust the people who promise that Olestra is safe to consume to tell me what is not safe to eat.

If the freedom to choose you food and its source matters to you, I encourage you to look more into this issue. Get educated on all the risks and benefits of raw milk, and other raw, organic, and seemingly “risky” foods. In a perfect world, everyone would know where their food came from, what is in it, and what the associated risks are.

If you think the government might be going a little overboard in its prosecution of small family farms serving and feeding their local community, I encourage you to check out Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund to get frequent updates on legal actions.

Whichever side of the matter you find yourself on, I encourage everyone to educate themselves, though. Learn the facts (both sides), and make informed decisions about the food you eat and the reasons you eat it. Try new foods. Try fresh foods. Find new and interesting flavors and textures. But do not let fear mongering by the government and the food and pharmaceutical industry (or supposed miracle cures from the other side either) pigeonhole you into one side or the other.

And every once in a while, enjoy a bowl of Lucky Charms or a Pop-tart, or some other thing that hardly counts as food, because that won’t kill you either. That is what freedom should be.