Portion Control

Image courtesy of Treehugger.com
The idea of what constitutes a “serving” has been an ever-shifting idea to Americans for quite a while now. All across the Internet, usually on health-related sites, you can find lovely pictures like the one above showing what portion sizes were in years past compared to today. The difference? Today’s are uniformly huge compared to what was normal for generations past.
Now, that might not be a bad thing if we as a country had any concept of “later”. You know, eat half now, eat half at some point in the future. But along with our expanding menu items is this cultural concept that food waste is bad (which it is), so we should address food waste by clearing our plates any time we eat (which we shouldn’t).
This one-two combo of Rules At  The Dinner Table may have single-handedly created our current obesity epidemic. We are given more food than any reasonable person needs in a single meal, then forced by parental or societal pressure to eat all of it. To do otherwise would be “wasteful”. And, before too long, this practice becomes “waistful” instead.
I am not unfamiliar with the problem, heaven knows. I used to act as our living garbage disposal. Lor would regularly eat until she was full, then I would finish her plate. At family gatherings, I was the one who was urged to have “just another serving” so food would not go to waste. I finally developed the ability to eat so much that I was perpetually hungry – my digestive system grew habituated to the idea of processing food essentially 100% of the time. Eventually, this led to 300+ pounds, knee surgery, exhaustion, etc. The only way out was bariatric surgery, to correct my out-of-control digestive mechanisms.
On the way to visit the family yesterday, we decided to stop for lunch. Finding places to eat has become challenging, thanks to the “no bread” restriction, but we happened to be driving by a Chipotle, home of gigantic and customizable burritos and bowls. We quickly designed a “steak bowl”, which is basically burrito innards in a bowl. Here’s what came in our bowl:
  • 4 ounces of steak
  • 4 ounces of pinto beans
  • 4 ounces of shredded cheese
  • 2 ounces of guacamole
  • 1 ounce each of salsa, sour cream, and lettuce.
Yeah, just the innards, with no tortilla or rice, was over a pound of burrito materials.
Pre-surgery, I used to be able to finish an entire burrito, then eat whatever remained of Lor’s. Yesterday, we each grabbed a fork and started at opposite ends of the bowl. Within 15 minutes, we were done.
We had each managed just about a quarter of the bowl, leaving more than half to be put in a box and taken home. I had another fraction of it last night, and will probably add an egg to it this morning and finish it off for breakfast. This is literally all I can manage anymore without making myself ill.
So, my surgery works – no big surprise there, right? But the real question is, why didn’t I do this before obesity set in? Why did Lor and I not just order single entrees and split them? Why did I refuse to box up leftovers and take them home, committing to cleaning off both our plates at restaurants instead? Why did I never learn to say “No, thanks” when told to eat more at family gatherings?
Somewhere in the back of my mind is still a version of me that cringes at throwing away food. That feels compelled to eat just one more bite, that is experiencing a compulsion to clean off his plate. Every day, I am having to argue with myself, to remind myself that a diet of 800 calories a day gives me very little room to screw around with – I need to get in what I need, and no more, lest dire consequences result.
While Lor and I get a handle on serving ourselves things like 5 cucumber slices, or 24 almonds, I would urge you that are not currently post-surgical to experiment with smaller portions. Cut recipe ingredient lists in half. Order a la carte, instead of full entrees. Split meals with a loved one. Experiment with separating half of your meal into a to-go box at the beginning of your meal, then “finish” the remaining half, taking the rest home for later consumption. Do what you can to limit that intake now, so that you don’t need to have 80% of your stomach (or more!) removed to get a handle on your weight.
Most of all, eat what you love, just less of it. Focus on taste, texture and sensation. Don’t eat mindlessly. Life is too short to waste on indifferent dining.
Wishing I Had Known All This 15 Years Ago,
– Hawkwind

The Revenge of the Carbohydrates

In which I engage the ancient enemy of all bariatric patients.

Today brings us to exactly 4 weeks since I went under the scopes to have my “sleeve” procedure completed. I have not been at all unhappy with my progress. Mainly, I have found that life is now an exercise in patience. I still can not reliably ride the new bike any distance, so I am walking every day instead. I suffer from the problem of not being able to stand for longer than 3 hours at a time, but am informed that this is due to my current loss of muscle mass as well as fat, so I have to sit and rest frequently. My energy reserves are depleting quickly, thanks to my new, higher expenditures of energy, and I am having to nap for an hour or two every day to compensate. All of this still represents progress: while I was morbidly obese, I never stood or moved enough for any of these issues to come up in the first place. (Now, at 235 pounds, I am merely “seriously” obese.)

The area where I have not been very patient is with food – specifically, the kinds of foods that I am experimenting with. I am technically not released to a “normal” diet until two days from today, but that has not stopped me from having a nibble here and a taste there of various non-soft foods to see what type of effect they might have on me. Lor has been filled with dire warnings and ominous predictions, but I have found that just about everything I have tried has worked out fine. I am sure that this has been frustrating to her, since she is still working through re-acclimating to certain foods, but I seemed to be having no such issues.

This all came to a screeching halt on Saturday. For our anniversary, we went to a local event, went shopping at thrift stores, and then decided to cap everything off with lunch somewhere. We selected Panera, thinking that there were several menu selections that were fairly low-carb, or could be made so. Lor selected a chowder and a salad, I picked a turkey and avocado sandwich and chicken noodle soup, with every intention of deconstructing it when it arrived and only eating the shredded turkey and avocado. (I have discovered that shredded turkey is palatable if it is dosed with salad dressing or mayonnaise.) We also ordered large to-go boxes, knowing that we would have to take the majority of our meals home with us for consumption later.

However, once the dishes arrived, something came over me. The fresh bread (something Panera specializes in) looked and smelled delicious. Surely, I thought, I can have a bite or two of the entire sandwich? After all, nothing else I have tried has given me any kind of serious gastric distress, right? Emboldened by my self-justification, I took a small bite.

And chewed. And chewed. And chewed some more. No matter how hard I tried, or how long I chewed, I could not get this bread down to the consistency of “applesauce” that gastric patients are supposed to reduce their food to before swallowing. After a full minute of chewing, I realized I was going to have to make a decision – spit the food out into a napkin, or go ahead and swallow.

I am male – which do you think I did?

The moment the bite arrived in my pouch, I knew I was in trouble. It landed with what I could have sworn was an audible “thud”, and then I could feel it beginning to expand. Within a few seconds, I was sure I had swallowed a bowling ball. I was desperately afraid of throwing up at this point – because I was positive that this mass of food that had suddenly appeared in my stomach would never fit through the esophagus on its way back up. I did my best to sit very still, hoping the mass would settle, and not come erupting out of my chest like an Alien baby.

Lor looked across the table at me, concerned. “Your eyes are watering – are you ok?” she asked. I nodded, afraid to disrupt the delicate balance in my abdomen by speaking. She looked more closely at me, then shook her head. “It was too much for you, wasn’t it?” I nodded again, wondering why on Earth I had been so stupid as to try this stunt.

After a few minutes, things did finally settle down, but the feeling that I had swallowed a rock would not leave me for several hours. I sheepishly packed up the remainder of the sandwich in the to-go box and had a few sips of my broth while I waited for Lor to finish her lunch. Graciously, she never said “I told you so” even once.

Needless to say, I later turned the turkey and avocado into something resembling tuna salad, and threw away the bread and lettuce in disgust. When our Nutritionist clears me on Wednesday, I will pay very close attention to my food restrictions, and do my best to not give myself a heart attack in public again by tackling expandable carbs like white bread.

That’s what I am telling myself now, anyway.

I May Never Look At A Loaf Of Bread The Same Way Again,

– Hawkwind