Monthly Archives: October 2016

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intuitive_eating

So for the past few weeks I've been struggling with how intuitive eating does or does not fit with weight loss surgery.  I don't have a healthy relationship with food to start with, so I'm admittedly at a disadvantage.  We grow up with certain foods being labeled as "bad" and "good", and some foods being held out as "treats".  Someone I know posted this week, "Treats?  What are we, dogs?"  It certainly made me think about how our society programs us for unhealthy attitudes about food.  I want to get away from that.

I agree that intuitive eating is a healthy approach to food.  Do I want chocolate cake?  If so, I should eat chocolate cake.  Thinking that I can't have the cake, or that it's forbidden or "bad" increases the likelihood that I'll binge on it.  Checking in with my body about what it wants and needs is certainly a good approach.  Food is not a moral issue.  Food is not good or bad, it's just food.

Most of the WLS community is sold on low-carb eating, many advocate a ketogenic diet.  The discussions on the boards frequently label anything with carbs as "bad" even including fruit and starchy vegetables.  Anyone discussing eating bread or rice is quickly informed that those foods have no place in our diets during the weight loss phase.  I find that kind of labeling problematic.  Especially given that I cannot eat low-carb.  Going into ketosis makes me incredibly ill for weeks, where most people get over the "carb flu" after 2-3 days.  So carbs are part of my diet, though I do try to eat mostly whole grains, fruits, legumes, etc. for my carbs and limit refined flour and sugar products.  But occasionally I want half of a bagel with cream cheese, dammit.  I refuse to start labeling food as "good" or "bad" just because everyone else does.

My sleeve actually is helping with part of the intuitive process.  My newly rearranged tummy has definite ideas about what it likes.  If I eat too much sugar, too much fat, too fast, or don't pay attention to when I'm full, I physically feel very bad.  Certainly reinforces the whole "listen to your body" thing.  My tastes have changed, and I'm having to re-learn what foods I do and don't like.  I am trying foods I would never have tried before this whole process started, as well.  Definitely steps in the right direction, I think.

Then there's the "have to" pressures.  I "have" to eat a certain amount of protein every day.  I "have" to drink a certain amount of water every day.  I feel pressure to eat vegetables and fruits, even the ones I don't like because they're healthy for me.  There are days I don't want another protein shake, or another chicken breast, or whatever.  There are days I just don't feel thirsty and the water just tastes awful.  Because I don't have much of an appetite anymore, if I practice completely intuitive eating, I can subsist on shockingly few calories and little hydration for several days before I'd feel the need to eat or drink more.  That doesn't seem healthy, but is it good to force myself to eat or to eat something I just don't want?  Is that any healthier?

Sometimes we have to hold our nose and take medicine that tastes awful.  There is a school of thought that food is medicine, and we should essentially hold our nose and eat what is healthy for us even if we hate it.  That school of thought is what has made me miserable for most of my life around the so-called "need" to eat vegetables.  While I see the logic, it's just not going to work for me.

So what am I supposed to do about the protein requirements and the fluid requirements?  My therapist asked me last time what the consequences were for not meeting the minimums.  If I don't drink enough fluids, I get migraines to start with, and other issues also arise.  So in order to stay healthy, I have to drink whether I want to or not.  All I can do is add flavorings to my water to make it more palatable.  With the protein, I suspect that missing a day here or there isn't a problem, but on an ongoing basis I'll start losing muscle mass.  So it's best if I strive for the protein goal every day in order to stay healthy and active.

As with so many things in life, I think that there's just no black and white answer.  I need to find ways to get all of my needed macro nutrients into my diet, most days anyway, to keep moving toward a healthier place.  Forcing myself to eat things I just don't want however, is going to push me back into an unhealthy relationship with food.  The best answer I have come up with so far is to start thinking of every food option for these macro nutrients so I can give myself options.  Like having different flavorings available to make the water more enticing, I need to have different options available all the time for my protein to give my tummy and taste buds plenty of variety to choose from.  Maybe the message my body is trying to send me is "enough with the freakin' protein shakes!!" and it's not about the protein per se because hummus or a nice bowl of lentils could meet the protein needs without forcing myself to drink another shake.  Maybe I'm just not listening ENOUGH to my body, even though I'm doing much better with it.

Food for thought.  (Pun completely intended.)

mri_anterior_cingulateI used to hate the term "cognitive dissonance."  That's because I had a guy one time use it as the reason to quit seeing me  when it was very clear to me at the time that the only dissonance was that I was smart and fun to be with, but I was also fat and the woman he had the hots for looked like a magazine model.

I'm starting to come to terms with the phrase, though, since I'm now going through it.  I find

myself trying to hold conflicting thoughts (or at least ones that seem conflicting) about body image and relationships with food.  I'm coming to understand just how frustrating a true cognitive dissonance can be as I try to tease out the layers involved.

It started when I read an article about a video blogger who had made the statement that you're not body positive if you're on Weight Watchers.  I dived into the rabbit hole of the internet, and ended up watching videos and reading articles from people in the body positivity movement for hours.  The vlogger that started it all for me had clarified that she was aiming that statement at people who are positioning themselves as leaders or examples in the body positive movement yet promoting ideas and products that are body shaming.  The statement made more sense in that context.  I agree that there is nothing body positive about the way WW does business or the messages they send.  That the WW program is healthier than most other commercial diet programs is not saying much, given that the evidence is pretty clear that diets make us fatter.

But I started wondering how she would see me and my choice to have weight loss surgery.  Can that choice mesh with a body positive mindset?  I brought the subject up with my therapist, and it started a very interesting and thoughtful conversation.  I'm still processing all of it, but want to share where I'm at in the hopes it helps someone else.

Some body positive activists clearly state that if you are trying to change your body shape, size, etc. that you are obviously not accepting it and that you are not espousing body positivity.  That was troubling to me because I do believe very firmly in many of the things the body positive movement is trying to promote.  I believe there needs to be a place in the movement for people who for whatever reasons want to change their size and shape, but know that it doesn't mean anyone else's shape or size is wrong or bad.

I can honestly say that my size and shape had little to do with my decision to have WLS.  Even though I've suffered bullying and a certain amount of discrimination over the years because of my weight, I had mostly come to terms with it.  I haven't looked in the mirror and hated what I saw for many years.  I don't feel pain when someone refers to me as "fat", because I am.  I'm also a strong, intelligent, sexy woman and my size doesn't alter that at all.

My decision was based on my health, which was in a decline for reasons not directly because of my weight, but certainly exacerbated by it.  The decision was made when Dr. B told me that the stomach tissue to be removed is directly responsible for a large part of the inflammatory factors that are driving my disease, and any weight loss after surgery would only serve to decrease the inflammation further.  The weight loss would remove significant stress from my screaming joints and could even render my medications more effective.  It wouldn't cure my auto-immune, but it held a great deal of hope for improving the condition.

Even clarifying this makes it sound like I'm bashing people who choose WLS because of aesthetic reasons.  I do not want to put forth that message.  Everyone has different priorities, and makes decisions based on them.  Those reasons are just as valid as others.  It's just not where I was coming from.

To make it even more complicated though, as I've lost weight I've found myself thrilled to be giving away clothes that are now too big for me and seeing some of the changes in my physical appearance.  Does that mean I didn't really love myself to start with?  Or that I cannot have a place in the movement because I'm liking the changes I'm seeing?  Or is that just playing into the societal expectation that only thin is pretty?  And since I’m trying to improve my health that I'm redeemed as a "good fat person"?

Health is a touchy subject in relation to body positivity.  One of the concepts that is hard for people to grasp, but is central to body positivity is that thin does not equal healthy.  That is very true.  Thin people get illnesses and fat people can be healthy.  You cannot tell by looking at someone whether they are healthy or not regardless of their size.  Did I have any guarantee that the surgery and weight loss would improve my health?  No.  However, other than reducing the stress on the joints, the weight loss itself isn't what's impacting my health.  It's the inflammation caused by the tissue that was cut away and the fat cells I’m losing.  It's a fine distinction, and perhaps it doesn't matter.  What about people for whom the weight itself has been shown to cause health problems, and losing it has improved their health dramatically?

I struggle with the health aspects of the body positivity movement.  I do believe there is a point - which is different for each person - at which the weight simply cannot be healthy.  When the weight itself prevents a patient from being able to move adequately to perform what medical professionals refer to as "activities of daily living" or ADLs (bathing, dressing, grooming, feeding are examples), then as a medical professional I simply cannot agree that the person is healthy at that weight.  I fear that the "health at every size" movement can go too far and give some people an incorrect belief that they are healthy when they clearly are not.

But even that definition - which I've been working on for months, by the way - fails when I properly expand body positivity to include more than just weight/size/shape issues.  Body positivity is also about people who are differently abled.  If a person is not able to do some ADLs because of a medical condition or injury, are they  then "unhealthy" because their condition keeps them from meeting my definition?

If a person who is unable to perform ADLs due to weight (or any other cause) is unhealthy, what does that even mean?  Here's where I converge again with the movement.  Because honestly, if I'm not their caretaker or on their medical team, absolutely nothing.  It is none of my business what anyone does in relation to their health if I'm not invited into that situation as a medical professional.  Doesn't matter if they're my best friend, my spouse, my child, or a stranger on the street.  It's not my business, nor is it my place to offer comments or advice.  Society treats fatness as a moral failing, and people seem to think it's their business to shame or confront people "because it's not healthy."  I think that's completely unacceptable.

Weight is a measurement of mass and gravity.  It is not a moral failing.  Our society needs to quit treating it like it is.  Our media needs to show many different kinds of bodies as "normal".  Our healthcare providers need to quit treating weight as the cause of every medical problem and shaming people who don't fit the "ideal" size and shape.  I read an account of a woman who went to her doctor with an ear infection and was told to lose weight and was not prescribed an antibiotic.  Another whose abdominal pain was dismissed for years because she needed to "be compliant" with weight loss and no testing done to reveal the invasive cancer actually causing the pain.  Absolutely unacceptable.  I'm on board with the movement about changing these things.

But then, I also participate in online support groups for WLS.  The people in these groups tend to be very focused on weight and BMI.  We gleefully post how many pounds or inches or clothing sizes we've lost.  We commiserate with people who are losing more slowly than others, congratulate the ones who are having "success", and share tips about our lifestyle changes.  We talk about caloric intake and carbs and "good" foods and "bad" foods.  How does that fit with the idea of body positivity?  It doesn't feel like it fits at all.  I can't (and shouldn't try to) change what other people are using as goals and benchmarks.  But perhaps I should take the advice I read today, and find different numbers than those on the scale and tape measure to gauge my success by.  I knew my health was declining when my heart rate was near 100 at rest and would jump to 150 walking from the parking lot to my physician's office.  Or when I couldn't even complete a cardiac stress test because I was too out of breath after 3 minutes on the treadmill.  I can judge the improvements in my health with numbers like these instead of my weight and my jean size.  I wonder how changing the language I'm using for myself would affect those around me?

So where's my place in the body positivity movement?  I don't know, but I found an article today that gives me hope that I have one.  The author talked about body positivity being about loving your body as it is right now, and taking responsibility for its care.  That can mean (but doesn't have to) making different choices about food and exercise and changing the size or shape, if it's coming from a place of caring for your body instead of hating it.

Perhaps, like most things in life, it's about the process and not the results.  I'm not trying to be a role model for anyone, or a leader in the body positivity movement.  Ultimately, it doesn't matter whether anyone in the movement accepts me and my thoughts and choices or not.  My actions are all I control.  I offer my thoughts and feelings with a small hope that it helps someone who's struggling, even if it's just knowing they're not alone.  My therapist (need a cute online name for her I guess) says that lots of people never even think about these things, and by examining my thoughts (even the dissonant ones) about it, I'm ahead of the game.

I'll have to think about that.

lifechanges

Wow. Over a month since I've posted anything. I plead life changes, grad school, work, and illness as excuses. Life is beginning to look a LOT different than it did pre-op. I'll post more on that later.

It's interesting to me how we define moments as life-changing. Life before this event and life after this event. There are the huge ones that everyone remembers as a frozen snapshot in time: JFK assassination, Reagan shooting, Challenger explosion, 9/11 attacks. The "where were you?" moments. We all have stories to share about where we were when we heard, how it's changed our life or society since then.

But then there are the personal ones. Some tragic, more that are joyful (hopefully), but each one marking a point in life where everything changed. Moving to another state, life-changing injuries or illness, graduation, marriage, ending relationships, forming new relationships, encountering the death of loved ones. Events that change the trajectory of your life, for better or worse.

It seems like I've had nothing but changes over the last few years. Back to school 3 times. 4 new jobs. Divorce. Remarriage. Chronic illness diagnosis. Weight loss surgery. Whew, and that's only the last 5 years. Needless to say, my life doesn't look anything like it did five years ago. I live in the same house and Munchkin is a constant as are friends, family, and the remaining cats. Nothing else is the same, and that's a good thing.

Some of these are certainly life changing moments. A clear line in the sand of time where something stopped or started or both. But many of them blend in like a wave of tiny changes that go almost unnoticed until in a moment of retrospection you look back and see how far you actually got moved.

I've been - mostly - a "go with the flow" kind of person my whole life. Especially regarding my career. Opportunities presented themselves, and even if it meant a complete shift from the prior plan I embraced those opportunities. That's resulted in an odd patchwork of job history and an interesting mix of skills. It's served me well overall. It meant that when a chronic illness diagnosis required me to leave bedside care, I only experienced some regret but no panic as I made the decision to move into Informatics. When changes come, I tend to roll with them.

The only things I tend to really regret are opportunities I've missed. Like when I was too scared as a 19-year-old to take a Paramedic job in Alaska (even though I "had people there") because it was so far from home. And leaving bedside care and a future as a nurse practitioner because I really didn't have a choice. I don't carry around a lot of regrets about life choices, and I think it may be because I did embrace opportunities and change when they came.

Since this has apparently become a "Wear Sunscreen" kind of post, I'll close with my advice for what it's worth. (And if you've never read "Wear Sunscreen", click the linky thing and read it now.)

Embrace the opportunities that come to you. Take the job that means moving across the country. Go to school (or even back to school) for the thing you've always wanted to be but didn't think you could. Go out on the blind date (but have a safe call set up). Travel every chance you get. Take that dance class that requires a public performance at the end. Life is about change, so buckle up for the ride and enjoy it.