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Monday, January 11, 2010

More Thoughts on Food, Company, and Impermanence

This morning I'm re-reading the post about Ebert's food memories, and wondering what it is I think is so familiar about his thoughts. He writes about missing the socialization of eating more than the actual food experience. I think that is a common experience for WLS'ers. I had read a little bit about other newly post-ops who felt awkward going out to eat with other people, especially people they didn't want to disclose their WLS to, but I didn't realize what an issue it might be until I had surgery myself.

I wrote about restaurant dining in this blog when I was just a few weeks post-op. At the time that I had surgery (nearly 3 years ago, for those who are keeping track) my hubby and I were frequent restaurant diners. We had many favorites around Portland: Nicholas', a Lebonese restaurant; Hubers, the oldest restaurant in Portland, where we loved the mussels (cheap and delish); and of course our very favorite, Saburo's, which serves "Godzilla" sushi in a very casual, almost cafeteria setting, doesn't take reservations, and where the patrons start lining up 45 minutes before it opens, every day of the week. Then there was breakfast, my favorite meal. We loved the J&M Cafe, Zell's, Sanborn's, the Cup & Saucer, and Lorne & Dottie's (before they stopped weekend service). We love breakfast so much that we had a brunch wedding reception. Our friends fawned over the bacon, and insisted that if I ever wanted to start eating meat again, this was the time, and this was the bacon.

But after surgery, I had to follow the post-op diet, which involved liquids for 2 weeks, then pureed soft foods for another 2 weeks. It took a while to get used to it, what was allowed, and by the time I'd been post-op for a month, I would get hungry fairly quickly after a meal of pureed tuna or pureed broccoli. I felt the need to be near home, to deal with the rapid onset of hunger. I got full quickly, but then got hungry quickly too. My body had been living on 1000 calories or less per day for a month by then, and it was certainly a shock physiologically.

I felt somewhat exiled from society because of this, because my meals became solitary, artificial things. There weren't really communal meal times, because the meals were small and frequent. I had to stay close to home. And what I was now eating was very different from what I had been eating for years. Meanwhile, my hubby had lost his dining-out partner. He loved going to all those great places too. He asked me several times if I wanted to go to this or that place for dinner, even when I was still on liquids. At the time I was astonished by the insensitivity of this. But in time, I realized that he probably hadn't anticipated having to make this kind of sacrifice himself just because I decided to have WLS. And I didn't seem so different, once I had mostly healed from surgery.

Once I was eating a regular Lap-band diet, I still had a hard time with dining out for quite a while. I felt guilty eating restaurant food, where I often had a hard time finding something that conformed well enough to my new diet. I never had to deal with the worst thing that many bandsters dread more than any other aspect of public dining, which is the consequences of eating one bite too many or too big or too solid. I never had a slime, PB, or barfing episode, in public or in private. But this is one of the biggest fears for many people who have had this surgery, to have this happen in public, especially when dining with people who don't know about your surgery.

The loss of socialization is a rather unexpected loss. When you want to catch up with a friend you haven't seen in a long time, what do you do? Usually set up a lunch or dinner date. There are expectations when dining out with others. All parties present eat, for one thing, and they drink something. We often count on one another to validate our menu choices, too: if your friend orders fried chicken, and you order bean soup, there is a loss of balance, and at minimum the friend will question your choice. "Is that enough food? Are you okay? Gee, I'm really pigging out, huh?" I can't imagine how that must be complicated for Ebert, who not only can't even eat the bean soup, but can't speak either. There is a great unspoken loss at that table, which I'm sure he feels at least as greatly as those he "dines" with.

The parallels between the WLS experience and Ebert's experience end somewhere around this point. Over time, I was able to start dining out again comfortably, and now no one eating with me would ever realize that I had WLS. (Exhibit A: 18-pound regain.) I can talk and socialize over a meal with ease. My loss was temporary, and for that I am grateful. Realizing this makes me sad for those like Ebert who have to adjust permanently, and yet filled with more wonder and appreciation that he has as much insight and grace as he does about the new circumstances of his life. Buddhists call this "impermanence", and as humans, we tend to resist this idea. Nothing in life is permanent, and you never know what might be lost from one moment to the next. Far from being something sad, this idea helps us to celebrate what we have right now, and frees us to enjoy our life more.

In light of this idea, my coffee doesn't taste better, but the fact that I can sit here in my kitchen, write this blog and enjoy my coffee is something to appreciate. And while I am continually disappointed in myself that I have regained weight, there is a lot to be grateful for: that it has only been 18 pounds, despite everything that has happened in my life in the last year; that WLS was available to me, and I chose it when I did, and did lose 70 pounds; that I am still healthy, and still have the ability to choose healthier ways to live; that I am alive, and aware of the choices I can make for myself.

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