Monthly Archives: August 2013

WL 15 – End of Summer Review

Wow. What a Summer.

When I started this summer, I weighed 311 pounds. I wore a size 54 pants, and I had borderline high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Now that Labor Day weekend is here, I looked at a scales this morning and weighed 231 pounds. I’ve lost 80 pounds over the Summer. My waist is somewhere around 42 inches. My cholesterol and blood pressure are well within the normal range — the first time they’ve been like that in ten years or so, probably.

I spend a good deal of my time feeling my body. It seems so very different than it was just a short while ago. Luckily I don’t have big, hanging flaps of skin, but it’d be okay if I did. WLS is for health, not for looks.

I keep reading and participating in my online support group each day. Since there are so many thousands of people in the group, everyday it’s some new problem or worry. When I first joined, I thought, “Damn, these weight loss folks are a whiny bunch!” I probably wouldn’t even have considered surgery had I spent much time there listening to all the problems. But then I realized that there are tens of thousands of weight loss surgery patients. There’s almost ten thousand in the group I’m in. Most of those folks are probably worried or concerned about something. So of course it’s going to look like there’s a huge amount of problems. It’s just part of having so many people participate.

It hasn’t been all fun and games, though. There have been a lot of little things that I could have complained about. They just didn’t seem like such a big deal. But I thought I would mention them anyway.

First, I had a very low pulse rate in the hospital and after getting home. Part of my body adapting to losing so much weight. I’ve also been light-headed when standing up suddenly. This is something I’ve experienced before when losing weight rapidly so it was expected; although it is a little strange to be having the feeling for more than a month! I guess I’ve never experienced rapid weight loss for this long of a time before.

Pooping has been more of an adventure than I expected. One of the first things people ask after hearing I only eat about a cup and half of food a day is “How much do you poop?” which, I guess, is natural.

I poop about every other day. When I was at the hospital, I had very weak and runny bowels. It was a terrible feeling, as if I had a bad stomach flu. To this day I don’t know what the heck was going on. Later, though, I started not going to the bathroom at all — constipation. Since I had nothing to compare my bowel habits to, I wasn’t really concerned. Then, after straining one day, I got a hemorrhoid. Not a pleasant experience! Definitely not something I was expecting or knew much about.

So now I take a laxative every other day. Keeps things soft and moving along.

I’ve also started to lose some hair. Hair loss is one of the most dreaded side-effects of Weight Loss Surgery. From what I understand, your body isn’t so great at metabolizing protein at first, so it tries to skimp on things requiring protein. Your hair is the first thing to go, so many weight loss patients see a temporary loss of hair, beginning sometime around 3 months. Although annoying and perhaps stressful, most everybody sees it start back within a year, though.

Of course, I’m a 48-year-old guy, so I’ve been expecting, dreading, and planning for hair loss for a long time. Can’t say I’m crazy about it, but going bald a little quicker isn’t high on my list of things to worry about. In fact, I’m letting my hair grow out in protest. One last “hurrah!” for my future follicle-challenged self.

Having said that, some women get disturbed by hair loss — although I don’t think anybody actually loses all of their hair. It just thins up quite a bit for a while. And there are plenty of coping strategies for that.

There’s a lot of little stuff like this; stuff you could get upset about but in my mind is more of a nuisance than anything else. When I think of carrying so much weight around, perhaps dying many years before I should, what’s a little thin hair for a year? While something to consider ahead of time if you’re thinking about the surgery, it just doesn’t come close to being important. At least to me.

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WL 14 – Cooking up a Sweat

Homemade Salsa! Yum! Loaded up with a bit of habaƱero heat.

Homemade Salsa! Yum! Loaded up with a bit of habaƱero heat.

Had a blast in the kitchen Friday morning cooking up stuff.

It might sound strange for somebody who doesn’t eat that much daily to enjoy cooking, but I always have enjoyed creating meals from scratch. I wish I knew more about cooking, because it’s so much fun. I always said my dream job was working in a sandwich shop on the beach. People walk up, they ask for a sandwich, I make one, and they walk away happy. What a great way to live.

Today I made homemade chili — loaded with beans, meat, and spices. I also made my special habanero cilantro salsa, which the family is crazy about. Had to make a quadruple batch because four other people wanted some too. Perhaps I should consider opening a salsa shop!

These meals, of course, will last a long time. What with my new containers, I probably have enough chili and salsa for three weeks of meals. I’m thinking about boiling an egg for breakfast. Then my daily schedule would consist of exercise, homemade protein smoothie, vitamins, breakfast (an egg and some salsa), water, lunch, Isopure shake in the afternoon, then supper, which for the last couple of weeks has been half of a chipolte bean burger with some salsa and cheese on top. I also add a few pieces of fresh fruit to each meal just to have something a bit sweet to finish on.

Taking a couple of months off to get in the groove of things was a really good move for me. I can’t imagine some folks who head back to work after just being off a week. The eating schedule alone is a bear to get straight. I slept late one Saturday and had some unplanned things to do and then spent the rest of the day trying to sort out that I had the right amount of protein and water. While screwing up one day isn’t a huge deal, it’s been very helpful to have several weeks to get into a system before I start screwing around with it. I remember one of the first weeks I was just happy to be able to drink 4 swallows of water at a time. You build up a bigger set of habits by starting with the little ones and adding on.

Speaking of habits, I heard something interesting in the support group this week. Somebody said that the first six months after RNY is considered the metabolic miracle months, the time where hitting the exercise as hard as possible can make for big differences in the total weight loss. They said that this is the time where with good exercise habits you can easily add an additional 20-40 pounds of loss that you’ll have to really work hard to get later. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but I’m continuing to work out once a day. I must admit to thinking about trying twice daily.

Our elliptical trainer

Our elliptical trainer

One of the things that I haven’t talked about is home fitness equipment. Although we have a gym membership, I’m finding my time on our home elliptical trainer to be an easy way to make sure I’m keeping my muscle mass. Every day I’m exercising for an hour at my optimal heart rate. Having a machine that measures my heart rate as I go is an enormous help. I actually prefer getting outside and doing things like walking or hiking, but that’s not always easy to do — or perhaps I’m just not dedicated enough yet :)

Of course, the really tricky part of all of this is how to act when everything is moving around — the dog is sick, you have an unplanned visitor, you have to go help out at the local charity, and you are stressed out about a relationship issue. Now that I’m coming up to 3 months post-op, I believer it’s time to find out. Time to start mixing things up!

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WL 13 – Public Speaking and Colonel Sanders

Should have never crossed paths with the Colonel

Should have never crossed paths with the Colonel

It’s been a week full of fast food temptations.

For several weeks, every now and then I’ve thought about fried chicken. Nothing obsessive, just every now and then.

Now I’m not a big fried chicken eater, but for some reason, I pictured myself eating a chicken breast from KFC and thought this would be a great thing to do. There’s really no reason I couldn’t do this. Once I was cleared for solid foods I was free to experiment with various things. In general, however, I’m supposed to avoid fried or breaded foods. But I didn’t think I would blow up or the world would end if I bent the rules a bit.

Sunday I had a chance to find out.

I was out driving the kids around Sunday afternoon. With both of their appointments running late, I ended up spending about 2 hours more in the car than I had planned. I didn’t have a protein shake, or water, and I was driving around right through my dinner hour. So I figured this was as good a time as any to see if the Colonel and I would get along.

I bought a chicken breast, original recipe. I thought it tasted pretty good — but nothing like it did in my dreams. I ate about five or six large bites of the breast as I was driving around. Again, more than I would usually eat and I was not “mindfully eating”

The taste was like sucking on a deep fat fryer. The chicken was much more oily than I remembered. It also started to make a knot in my stomach. Uh-oh, this is one of the signs that the food is not going down. Continue forward, Daniel, and you’ll end up barfing all over the place.

So I didn’t continue forward. I think I ate about a third of the chicken breast.

The pain subsided, and I drove around some more for an hour or two.

That’s when things got more interesting. When I finally made it home, I thought I’d have a sugar-free Popsicle as a treat, something I do about every night. After several bites into the Popcicle, I realize “Uh-oh, this isn’t going down either!”

What had happened was that I had stopped up my stomach with my KFC adventure and it was still stopped up. In fact, this was when the real discomfort began, with the esophageal spasms, the tightening of the throat, and so forth. Anybody that has had something “stuck” in their throat knows how this feels — not fun.

So I went to the cabinet, grabbed some Papaya Enzymes, and chewed four or five of those rascals. The pain went away within minutes. Those little guys are miracles!

So while I still reserve the right to try things if I want, I think I’m keeping KFC off my food wish list for another few months. It would also be a lot better to prepare for the worst-case scenario when heading out of the house. If I’m prepared, I don’t screw up.

The second fast food temptation came Tuesday evening during a very stressful event: getting back into public speaking. I’d taken several months off for my surgery, and it was time to climb back on the horse. So I set up a time to talk to some great folks, and we ended up with about 50 people in attendance. Since I’m a hacker and a nerd, of course we had free pizza. There was pizza as far as the eye could see.

Managed to sit on the chair without having to worry about breaking it!

Managed to sit on the chair without having to worry about breaking it!

Stress, public speaking, making new friends, and social tension? It’s a natural for eating. But, unlike Sunday, I didn’t try the pizza. (That’s a shame, because I probably could have tolerated the pizza much more than the chicken!) I had been running on a bit of adrenaline, and just before I was supposed to speak? I crashed. The adrenaline ran out and I started feeling cold and shaky. So here I was in front of a large group of people without having eaten in several hours, feeling like I needed some kind of sugar.

This is where all of that hiking and exercising paid off. This was not the first time I have felt this way since surgery. It will probably not be my last. But I’ve learned I can push through this. It’s nothing but a thing.

So I pushed through, and it worked out okay. By the time I was done a couple of hours later, they asked me if I wanted to take any of the extra boxes of pizza home. I said sure! And took a couple of pizzas home for the kids. I could have taken more, but two pizzas seemed like enough even for your typical ravenous kids.

On the way home I got out three peanut butter crackers and ate them slowly. This was my supper. And it was fine.

I'm sure the all you can eat buffet specials are in there somewhere

I’m sure the all you can eat buffet specials are in there somewhere

While I still think about fast food, I also am beginning to view it much differently than I did before. I don’t know if you’ve ever watched moves where they depict a red light district of a city — It’s a Wonderful Life where the alternate city has become a cesspool comes to mind — but they usually show a lot of flashing neon signs, people standing out on the street, and garish shops and displays. This is how I’m starting to feel driving by the local fast food row. I probably feel like an alcoholic does driving by a long row of bars. While I used to find comfort there, there’s also something prostitution-like in the way these places are set up. Big signs, pimping out the sugary foods, large people milling about, the bragging of how much each person can consume, and so forth. Not exactly a good influence on me right now :)

And yet through it all, the weight loss surgery still works. When I went off the menu, my pouch “caught me” and reminded me I was screwing up. When I ended up in front of a crowd having to speak, my exercising and experience with my pouch reminded me that things would be fine. And they were. At the end of the week, I’d lost another 2 pounds, which is better than I had expected.

All-in-all, it’s been a good week. Things continue to get better and better.

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Weigh Loss 12 — Becoming a Smoothie Ninja

Vitamix 750

This Vitamix 750 is a monster blender. It could probably turn other blenders into a smoothie

Got the go-ahead last week to start adding solids to my diet, and also talked to my nutritionist about making smoothies. Wow, I’ve been missing out on some fun stuff!

When I knew I was going to have surgery, I bought a Vitamix 750. It wasn’t very cheap, but it was supposed to be one of the best blenders around and I figured I definitely wanted things blended well after my surgery.

It works great. I find I can replace one of my Isopure protein shakes with a homemade smoothie. Tastes better, I get to make it just the way I want, and cheaper, too. This morning I’m having a smoothie that has an half cup of Greek yogurt, a cup of frozen strawberries, some protein powder, a few Goji berries, a bit of citric acid for more twang, and a bunch of Splenda. Yum! Strawberry milkshakes!

At first I didn’t know how to treat these smoothies. Were they meals? Were they protein shakes? I finally decided on the latter. Even though they contain things I might have for a meal, they’re a drink, not something meant to fill up my pouch. Their primary purpose is delivery of protein — that’s why it’s important to add a bit of protein in with each shake. You don’t want to miss out on your 70-80 grams of protein required each day. If you do, you can become extremely cranky! And it’s bad for your health too.

The hiking continues along this week, although at 48 I’m not able to bounce back as quickly as I could at 28. I took a couple of months off for this surgery, spending my time at home on projects instead of traveling and working with clients all day. One of the things I worried about early on was my ability to be able to stay at work all day without running out of energy. Yesterday’s long hike assured me that I have the energy for a fairly full day — as long as I plan ahead of time for staying hydrated and having enough protein and food. This is not very difficult at all, but it’s not like it used to be. It used to be I’d just swoop in on a McDonald’s and eat whenever I wanted, for as much as I wanted. Now I’m pulling out three peanut butter crackers for lunch and eating them very slowly, then waiting another hour or so before I start back in on hydration.

Things change.

Everybody says the main difference in weight loss in folks that have surgery in the long-term is between people who exercise and those who don’t, and that the secret to sticking with it is to find something you do that involves exercising but isn’t just going to the gym. For now that’s going to be hiking for me. Later on I’d like to get my bike out of storage. After that — perhaps — think about starting to jog in the the mornings. I have plenty more weight to lose before that’s possible, though.

This past week I lost five pounds, which is much more than I expected. Most of that was probably water weight I lost yesterday on the mountain, so next week it would not surprise me at all if I only lose a pound or two. Still, the weight loss continues on. I figure I have about 20-30 more pounds to lose before I can seriously think about running again as a sport, but it’s something I think about quite a bit now. Funny how things that seemed ludicrously impossible just a few months ago currently look like they’re within reach.

Daniel hiking holding Isopure

The hike yesterday with the kids was about 6 hours. The Isopure shakes come in very handy when traveling.

I’ve been watching my online groups to see what kinds of questions other folks have, and I’ve quickly found out that I’m doing very well. Even though the percentage of people with problems is low, the surgery has become very popular, and that amounts to a lot of folks having problems. Then again, so many people seem totally unprepared for what they’re getting into.

Just wildly guessing, right off the bat, any kind of surgery has around a 1 percent mortality rate. That is, around 1 percent of folks that get put under deep anesthesia have some sort of problem either during surgery or afterwards and don’t make it. Believe me, this was a big consideration for me when thinking about my decision. Another ten percent or so have complications but end up working everything out. Just guessing, I’d say another ten percent of folks have some kind of emotional problem that surgery is not going to fix (though with all the modern psychobabble around weight loss, I bet a lot more people think they have some deep-rooted emotional problems with food than actually do). This is why the psychological screening is so important.

I’m seeing so many people ask questions in the room that were covered multiple times by my classes and handout materials. Somebody told me once that many doctors don’t have all of the safeguards and tests to run before they cut on you. One month you’re meeting them and the next month you’re getting an operation. As much as it got old driving back and forth to my doctor’s place for more tests and classes (four hours each way), after reading questions from many folks I’d much rather have it work this way than the other way.

One lady had surgery a couple of weeks ago and is already back eating all the same things she did before the operation! I’m not sure how this is possible with such a reduced-sized stomach pouch. I imagine she just went to one of these fast food places, bought something she loved eating, and sat down eating as much as she could all day long. Her complaint was that she hasn’t lost any weight yet, and wanted to know what to do. No wonder! The group suggested she go immediately back to her doc and fess up. Tell him everything she has been doing. This is really bad behavior. She could end up in deep trouble acting like this. There’s a reason they put folks on a mushy food diet for a couple of months after WLS. Your incisions need time to heal.

If you’re spending months planning for major surgery, going through all of that, feeling sick and sore from the work they’ve done, then immediately jumping into trying to eat like before? There’s something else going on. I’m under no illusions here — over time I expect the world around me to win out over the modifications I’ve made. Eventually I’ll return to the natural way of eating more than I need. Most everybody does in our society. I think the key question is: how much are you going to work on this after you’ve gone to all the trouble to do it? For many folks, weight loss surgery is viewed as a quick fix: go have the doctor sprinkle some magic fairy dust over you and then you won’t have to worry about anything.

Not me. Even though I’m not an optimist over the long-term, I’m prepared to work at this chance I’ve been given. Weight loss surgery isn’t a magic fix, it’s a “reset button” that allows me to develop better eating and exercise habits. Sometimes if you keep these habits for the first couple of years, they’ll stick with you for life. Most people end up gaining weight back — but only 20-30% or so of what they had lost. Some folks don’t lose at all, or gain it all back.

This is like being a kid, and always wanting to play football even though you’re not athletic. Finally, somehow, you get on the football team. One day, after many games of sitting on the bench watching others, the coach puts you into the game and you get the football.

Your job isn’t to run for a touchdown. You might not even make it five yards. Your job is to grab that football and run as hard as you can, to give it the best shot you can, and not worry about how it’s all going to come out. This is your chance. Take it. Run your little heart out, kid.

So even though I’m not blind, and I know the situation and the way things are, I don’t think I can worry about the big picture, my odds, or any of that. I’ve made my decision, I have the ball, and now I need to maximize the benefits of it as much as possible. After all, I’ve already done the hard part.

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Weight Loss 11 — Feats of Strength

“So how have you been doing,” the doctor asked me this morning. It had been 8 weeks since my gastric bypass surgery, and I was there for the two-month checkup.

I looked around the room, then back at her. The only thing I could do was tell her the honest truth.

“Doc, I’m sore all over. Every muscle hurts. I could barely walk in here today”

I could see her concern — and the gears start turning. Was it a nutritional deficiency? A disease? Some side-effect of the surgery?

Before she could start asking questions, I hit her with the punch line.

“That’s because I went hiking yesterday with the teenage kids. I had a blast! Can’t wait to go again!”

picture of author and kids on top of the Peaks of Otter

Not everything that feels bad is bad, and not everything that feels good is good

It’s been a good week, a week to think about positive and negative rewards.

Most of the week, I wrestled with my sleep apnea gear. This prevented me from getting a good night’s sleep, and I woke up all through the night. So I got to see what I was dreaming about.

What was I dreaming about? In one word, “FOOD!”

I dreamed I went out for a steak dinner. I dreamed I was at a theater and bought bought bubble gum and sweetarts to mix together. I dreamed I was ordering at a Burger King drive-through. If this week is any indication, lately I spend a lot of my time dreaming about food.

And it’s not just dreams. I’m noticing food and food commercials everywhere. Every show on TV has commercials full of people pimping out food. Driving down the road, a good chunk of the billboards and signage is all about the food I could be eating. Even reading books, the authors pay close attention to who is eating what, and how.

My wife used to tell me a story about dieting when she was a teenager. Her mother told her that if she lost a certain amount of weight by summer, she’d bake her a cake!

Let’s face it, food is Mother Nature’s all-natural way to motivate people. When you were an infant sitting in your high chair, you wanted food, and if you made the right sounds, people gave it to you! Is that cool, or what?

I’ve heard people say something like this my entire life, about how we worship or pay undue emphasis on food, but it took “being away” from it for a while for it really to sink in. Our entire culture in the modern world is based on rewarding ourselves with food. Have a great business deal? Go out to dinner! Finish that big workout at the gym? Have a steak! Have you been driving with the kids for an hour or two and they’re getting cranky? Ice cream ahead, and who doesn’t like dessert?

We even begin to start associating the lack of food, hunger, with having done something wrong. Better not skip lunch! You could get hungry. I remember getting through eating one big meal and immediately starting to think “Wonder what would be good for supper?” Ten seconds later, and I’m planning the next meal because, after all, if I’m not careful about this I could end up hungry! Lack of food; the ultimate punishment.

We say we eat food for nourishment, but it’s obvious that’s a lie. Look around at all the other things we do in life because our body requires it. We buy toilet paper. Do you see TV commercials talking about the family buying toilet paper? Are there billboards for toilet paper? Do we spend time on Pinterest going over all the ways to arrange and use toilet paper? Going to the bathroom is a bodily function, quite necessary, just like eating. But we don’t treat it like we do food. Food stands alone as the ultimate natural behavioral control mechanism.

It’s the crack cocaine of being human. Once you’ve tried it, very early in life, you can never leave it. The best you can do is come to some sort of uneasy relationship where it doesn’t kill you and you can still function.

This is why I have such a contrarian view of dieting and fitness. I do not believe that fat people are doing anything wrong. I feel they are acting exactly the way they should: seeking out food and consuming it. There’s nothing more natural in the world. In fact, I’d argue that people who spend their lives fighting their nature and being mean and miserable (and many times ugly to others) are truly the sick ones in this entire equation. It’s not the fatsos that are broken, it’s those folks who think fat people are somehow inferior that have problems and that life somehow sorts good and bad people by how skinny they can make themselves.

Having said that, nobody wants to have a heart attack before he’s 50, so you just can’t eat your life away. This was probably the defining reason I chose surgery: if I can’t change the world around me to help me live longer, I would take steps to change my own physical nature to fit the world. I would get a digestive system more engineered for the 21st century than the 2nd.

Still, it’s good to keep these things in context. Surgery is not a magic fix. It won’t make you skinny the rest of your life. Heck, it might not make you skinny at all. It’s just a tool, redefining the size of your stomach and reducing your hunger cravings, to help you have more control over your life. Like any tool, you can sharpen it and practice with it and get really good at doing what you want. Or you can leave it in the garage and have it rust. Understanding and using the tool is up to you.

So today as I hobble around moaning and groaning with sore muscles, I have to remind myself: everything that feels good isn’t good, and everything that feels bad isn’t bad.

It’s all about context. And nature.

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