By far one of the most common questions I get as a post-op Lap-Band patient is “What can you eat?” The short answer is “Everything!” But it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Some people might say that having a gastric band makes you feel fuller sooner when you eat so that you don’t consume as much, but that’s not really how the band is supposed to work. If you eat to the point that you feel full, band or no, then you’re stretching out your stomach. What the band is intended for is to keep you feeling fuller longer. If it sounds confusing, it is – to a lot of people. The band works by holding food in a pouch at the top of your stomach and releasing it slowly into your digestive system rather than all at once so you can avoid hunger for several hours without needing to eat as much. But the pouch (ideally) will never be larger than 4-8 ounces; any adjustments are made to the band itself and the speed at which food is released from the pouch. If you eat 8 ounces and need to eat again after two hours, you probably need a fill in your band. If you can barely eat anything at all, your band is probably too tight. One of the biggest mistakes people can make with the Lap-Band is not measuring their food and consuming the correct portions (instead relying on the band to “tell” them when to stop eating). If you feel physically full, you’ve eaten too much.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about what a typical day of meals looks like for me.
Like many Lap-Band patients, my band is tighter in the morning. I don’t know why; it’s also tighter during “that time of the month” but at least I know that’s caused by inflammation. This has been a big struggle for me since I work out in the morning and need something to “break my fast” before and after I break a sweat. My fallback option has been my own protein drink concoctions (fruit punch Crystal Light with unflavored protein isolate powder mixed in), but I try to avoid drinking my calories. Liquids run right through my pouch blockade without stopping, so they’re a fast way to eat too many calories without getting the benefit of feeling full afterward.
Instead, I’ve started eating like my toddler – food puree pouches. I haven’t gone full-on baby food or anything; my go-to combo is a pouch of applesauce and a pouch of Justin’s nut butters. Occasionally I can get down a third of a banana, but even that is sometimes too solid to be comfortable. If I’m really feeling tight, I might make a cup of hot tea (caffeine-free, since there’s nothing in my stoma to neutralize the caffeine and prevent ulcers) to loosen things up.
This was today’s lunch – a filet of tilapia, broiled with olive oil and cajun seasoning, some edamame sprinkled with sea salt, and a few little wedges of my favorite soft cheese, ColoRouge from MouCo. And it’s pretty typical of most of my lunches; I tend to eat the same meal a lot to avoid having to think about it. Gone are the days of grazing from my entire plate for the course of the meal; I have to eat my nutrients in a very specific order. First up, the fish – in case I get unexpectedly full, protein calories are the most important to make sure I’m consuming. Then I eat the edamame – more protein, along with some carbohydrates. And the cheese is just a nice treat (dairy and fat aren’t off limits!).
The one thing I can’t do while I eat is drink; consuming liquids with my meal turns everything into soup and causes it to drain out of my stomach more quickly so I don’t stay full. I’m supposed to stop drinking 15 minutes before I eat and not resume drinking until 45 minutes after I eat, but I fudge those numbers sometimes. The most important thing is that eating and drinking never happen simultaneously. I also have to take very small bites, about the size of a pea, to avoid things getting stuck. And because my stoma doesn’t have the benefit of all the fun acids and secretions the rest of my stomach gets, I have to chew each bite 25-30 times to ensure it won’t get stuck. Eating is a very “engaged” activity; I have to focus on what I’m doing or I get distracted and eat too quickly or take bites that are too large, which is a recipe for getting something stuck.
Some mid-afternoon hunger is expected, and I usually reach for my go-to snack: Nature Valley’s Sweet & Salty Peanut Granola Bar. I love these things. Calling them an addiction is not an overstatement, and I usually rationalize my snack by admitting that there are worse things to be addicted to. It’s certainly not the healthiest choice, but I get carbs, protein and fat to satisfy me.
Dinner is my “weak” meal, in that I’m poor at planning it and I end up reaching for convenience foods or eating less than I should because I never seem to be hungry in the evenings. I’ll have chicken nuggets since my kiddo is eating them anyway, or some cheese slices, or some more fish (I never seem to get bored with fish). I keep bugging my husband to get the propane tank on our grill changed so we can grill up turkey burgers or some amazing steak burgers I got at the farmer’s market. I also love tamales, so we keep those around and I can finish maybe one whole tamale by myself. And, in keeping with the Mexican theme, I’ll often make myself nachos from tortilla chips, refried black beans, and shredded cheese. I’m going to start meeting with someone to help me plan my meals better (more on that this weekend), and this is another area ripe for improvement.
And that, friends, is what I eat. Not so different from anyone else managing their weight (I hesitate to say “diet” because it implies that it’s temporary, even though technically everything people eat is part of their diet). Next up – even though nothing is off-limits, there are still a few things my body doesn’t like so much…