FORT WORTH, Texas October 16, 2014 — There was a bit of trepidation in my heart upon going home to start my new life. Change is never easy. As humans, altering our lives from the status quo seems to go against our nature. But self-help books don’t encourage readers to remain stagnant on their life journey.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to change; I was afraid of failure after so many tries. But my brain told me that according to the laws of physics weight loss had to occur. My stomach was 1/9th the size it used to be. There was no way I could take in the same amount of calories as in the past. Still, the fear lingered.
What if after this all I wanted was unhealthy food, albeit eaten at a slower rate than before? My family doctor said some people actually overcome the gastric sleeve, lap band and gastric bypass this way. They still eat junk food but in an assembly line of small portions throughout the day. Granted, they may lose some weight at first, but it won’t last.
One day at a time. That’s the words I heard in my head and heart. Don’t worry about what’s down the road. If I take care of today tomorrow will take care of itself.
The initial ¼ ounce sips turned into a goal of drinking one to two ounces of water every fifteen minutes during waking hours. That sounded like a lot but it wasn’t. Bariatric patients always need to be mindful that dehydration is right around the corner if one is not careful. Soon I was adding apple juice to the water. My stomach, still swollen from surgery, did not hold much.
Once the swelling started to go down, I added sugar-free gelatin and sugar-free popsicles to my diet. My daughter and I decided we like the sugar-free versions better than the sugar-sweetened counterparts.
I’ve heard some patients lament that their families still eat unhealthy fare that make choosing the healthy options much more difficult. It’s easy to see how that can happen and it’s tough to make two separate meals at a time. I decided that my family would eat what I eat. They would learn better eating habits too. So far there are no complaints and I’m delighted they are expanding their palates and behind me 100%.
After about a week I had an epiphany: I wasn’t hungry all the time anymore. In fact, until that moment I had not realized I had been hungry every waking second of the day. My body, long de-sensitized to leptin, the hormone that tells you to stop eating, was beginning to recognize it once more. Ghrelin, the hormone that triggers the hunger response, would now only work when it was necessary.
The next hurdle? Head hunger. It is one of the biggest obstacles to any weight loss program. Your stomach, trained by excess ghrelin, mistakes boredom, emotional comfort, anger, stress and other non-food related signals for hunger. Did you ever stand at your pantry or staring into your refrigerator “knowing” you want something to eat but don’t know what? That is most likely a head hunger scenario. If eating only for survival purposes was the only reason humans wanted food, no one would be overweight.
Now there’s nothing wrong with creating food as art or creating new and interesting tastes to delight our palates. Food is a gift. Yet our society allows for “too much of a good thing.” I believe it started here in the United States with the hippie culture of, “if it feels good, do it” while ignoring restraint and damning the consequences of one’s actions. Since then it seems we’ve gone hog wild to a point of unhealthy excess. For instance, there was no drug problem in the US before the “counterculture” encouraged it. Yes, there were people who were addicted to drugs, recreational or prescribed, but it was not a nationwide problem.
According to the Drug Enforcement Agency the United States has had two major struggles with drug abuse and addiction. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries abuse and addiction to drugs such as cocaine, heroin and morphine was a problem for many Americans. Domestic law enforcement and spearheading a world movement to limit opium and coca crops put an end to it. They stated, “By World War II drug use had become so rare, it was seen to be a marginal social problem.” Until the 1960’s.
And like drugs, food in excess is just as harmful. When my brothers were young they loved the Guinness Book of World Records they got for Christmas one year. The story of Robert Hughes, at that time the fattest man who ever lived, amazed them. Of course we all assumed he ate his way to that size. But according to his obituary a bout of whooping cough damaged his pituitary gland when he was a baby. When he died, Mr. Hughes weighed 1,069 pounds. Unfortunately five other men have surpassed his size since then; the heaviest, People like this gentleman were very few and far between before the 1960’s and 70’s. The Center for Disease Control says that in 1960 the number of obese Americans was about 13%. Since then, that amount has jumped to a whopping 34.9%
Entire hospital wings now exist for people of Mr. Hughes’ size. In fact, doctors have coined a new phrase to describe them: super morbidly obese. This problem is about more than pushing oneself away from the table. And it isn’t just because society has put restraint on the back burner. Fast food and processed food isn’t good for us, yet they have become a mainstay of the American diet. The one thing that does, however, apply to all the above is choice. We all have a choice to practice restraint, consider consequences and live in a way that is beneficial to ourselves from the get-go. Or, if it’s too late to choose that we can still change course to healthier lives and learn new behaviors.
And I am doing just that. A week after surgery my weight was down five pounds. I even thought my face looked a bit thinner too.
Come back next week to find out about diet changes and what Dr. Carter had to say during my post-op check-up.