odds and ends from a life under construction

get in my belly, part two

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Organic Spring Mix Lettuce

Want to learn more about my post-op diet? Check out part one.

Despite the relative ease with which I’ve been able to adapt to my diet compared to the many, many other times I’ve tried to lose weight, there have still been some challenges along the way. And the foods that have given me trouble are, to some extent, not the foods you’d expect.

Take salad, for instance. For most people, it’s a must-have diet staple, low on calories and high on fiber and all sorts of healthy micronutrients. For me, it’s a predator in disguise. Because many ingredients in salads are extremely fibrous, they’re hard for me to chew into small enough bites to get past my pouch, so they become a food-holding dam inside my tiny junior stomach, which causes all sorts of fun problems. Any leafy vegetables I eat have to be cut up into tiny pieces, around the size of something you’d use as a garnish on a baked potato, or cooked somehow to break down the the fibers so they’re more manageable inside my digestive tract. I love spinach (anyone who’s known me for a long time knows that’s a surprise, since I never loved any vegetable growing up), so I typically eat it sauteed with some olive or coconut oil and sea salt. I also love kale chips, a fun and easy-to-make snack that helps me get in my green veggies. And all the fun toppings on salads – sunflower seeds, egg, cherry tomatoes, and so on – aren’t a problem.

But there are other foods that give me headaches…

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Bread is a big one. Certain things, like thin toasted breads or pastries, pass through my stomach without issue. But most breads turn into that shape-shifting metal Terminator in my stomach, seeking out other bites of bread and gluing themselves together to form a doughy ball of nasty that drives itself through the hole created by my band.

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It’s easy to avoid the “common” places bread shows up, like lunch sandwiches, but I’ve been tricked by the subtle ways bread pops up. My favorite lunch place, Buenos Aires Pizzeria, serves a teeny loaf of bread before they bring out your empanadas and gelato, and just one little wedge, about the size of a wedge of tangerine, is enough to send me to the bathroom trying to work out the blockade. Not very fun, especially when you’re at a restaurant with friends and co-workers.

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I’m not a big sushi eater, but I do enjoy the occasional trip to iFish (another work lunch spot). But rice is right up there with with bread on my public enemy list. Sure, it looks innocent enough. But once it hits my stomach, the rice becomes a sponge, growing to what feels like ten times its size. And at that point it’s not any better than bread; it’s just a giant road block in my stomach that no foods or liquids can pass.

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So long, filet mignon. Much like leafy vegetables, beef steaks (and pork ones as well) are too tough and fibrous to be adequately “pre-digested” by my teeth before they get to my pouch. I can handle ground meats just fine, and I have no problem with game like turkey or chicken. And, as mentioned before, I love fish. Beef and pork just have to be processed a little more before they get to me. Which is why I typically opt for chicken or fish. As my old personal trainer once told me – when it comes to meat, the fewer legs, the better. It’s a rule that hasn’t steered me wrong yet.

When something does get stuck, it’s an uncomfortable feeling. My chest feels very tight – a bit like I’m choking, because I can feel something blocking the way, but I’m able to breathe just fine. A particularly bad incident of sticking caused a pain that wrapped around my back and took an hour to clear. And often, the very systems my body has in place to help me can make things feel worse. When my digestive system senses something is stuck, it starts to produce more saliva (and thicker saliva at that) to help grease things down the tubes. But if the tubes are blocked… then I have food *and* a bunch of mucus hanging out in my pouch that’s barely the size of a large egg.

Warning: this is the gross part. Turn back if you’re squeamish! If something is stuck, it only has two ways to go – down the pipe, or back out the way it came in. Pinwheeling your arms, walking around, or even just standing up can help dislodge smaller bits, but rarely will bigger things go down the pipe. What comes back out isn’t really referred to as vomit, because it’s missing all the stomach acids that make throwing up such a pleasant experience. Instead, we refer to the return of foods as “productive burping.” There really is burping involved. And what comes out looks exactly like what went in, along with the extra mucus. It becomes very obvious what the cause of the blockage was, because it will be a chunk bigger than all the others. This doesn’t happen very often, thankfully. Because constantly getting things stuck can cause all sorts of complications that damage your stomach and may require removing the Lap-Band permanently. If I do get stuck, I go back on a diet of liquids and very soft foods for a day, since my stomach is irritated and swollen (which would make the likelihood of my next meal getting stuck that much greater).

Super fun, right?!? Getting stuck is a powerful incentive to avoid the things I know are going to cause problems. And like anyone else who wants to maintain weight loss, these are rules I have to live by for the duration. On the whole, they’re small inconveniences compared to everything I’ve gained – better health, a better relationship with my husband, a stronger body, and a new lease on life.

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