Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Struggle To Stay On Track

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Ten percent of me is gone.

I mean that in a good way, I suppose. As of Monday of this week, my pre-surgical diet and exercise program has resulted in me dropping from a high of 302 pounds down to 272. My friends and family are all congratulating me. I should be elated. But I am not.

Because now I am having doubts about my upcoming surgery.

The real problem began about a month ago, when I was informed that there was a mysterious "holdup" in processing my claim through my insurance. My (federally required) psychological exam had never been approved by Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Upon calling the insurance company, the mystery deepened - my claim was "pending", and had been since the middle of April. No one could tell me why. The insurance reps seemed completely baffled. "Call your doctor." was their advice.

I called my doctor, who said he would get it straightened out. And then...nothing. For two weeks I have been waiting for an approval to move this whole process forward. and have heard not a word. Without the psych eval I can't have surgery - and if it doesn't take place by mid-June, the whole process will be delayed for who knows how long.

Upon talking about the problem to family and friends, I keep hearing a similar train of thought: I am doing great on the pre-surgical diet, so I could potentially stick with that even if the surgery never gets approved.

Did you catch that? It goes by pretty fast. The general thought is, if I am not approved for surgery due to an insurance snafu, I can just press on and lose the weight on the basis of the work I am already doing. Sounds very encouraging, until I ask myself: "If I can do this without surgery, why am I having the surgery?"

It is not as if I haven't tried to lose this weight before. I've been obese for better than half my life, I have had the opportunity to try just about everything. I finally fell into weightlifting in my late 20s and early 30s because I could be obese and functional at the same time.  But, something has always come up that interferes with my success, Seizures. Boredom. Transportation problems. A couple of very bad food intake days leading to frustration after which I would give up. Believe me, I have been there and done that. I have turned to bariatric surgery hoping for a final solution, a weapon to use against my own food issues.

So, what happens if that weapon never materializes? Will I be able to commit to these changes without the physical modifications I was counting on?

If I can't succeed without surgery, how it is going to impact me watching Lor go forward without me?

If I can succeed without surgery, why the hell am I am going under the knife in the first place?

The Wheels In My Head Go Round And Round,

- Hawkwind

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Struggle Against Ignorance

As bariatric patients, we have a lot to deal with. New diets, new exercise regimens, and new ways of thinking. Our insides are being re-routed or removed, depending on the procedure, leaving us with lengthy recovery and relearning periods of time. And ever after we will be forced to make choices that reflect the physical and emotional changes that we have gone through - that or suffer a resurgence of weight as we return to bad habits. Seems like enough to deal with, right?

Not according to a large percentage of individuals out there in the world who perceive obesity surgery as "cheating". If you have surgery to correct obesity, the thinking goes, you are just lazy. One glorious example was related to us in a bariatrics group - a woman who had lost over 100 pounds post-surgery decided to join a local gym, overcoming her self-esteem and body issues. The trainer she was assigned was blunt: "Did you lose that weight through diet and exercise, or just go through surgery?"

This from a physical trainer - someone supposedly educated in assisting people with their weight loss and fitness goals. Apparently she stopped paying attention during class to polish her self-love. There are reams of studies out there demonstrating that obesity is more than laziness. The condition itself prevents us from high-caloric burning activities, which leads us to depression, which leads us to seek comfort in the very thing that caused our condition. It is very similar to drug addiction (another maligned and misunderstood condition, but my soapbox can only reach so high.) All this was apparently somehow missed by this stunning example of physical training at its worst.

"You don't see obesity and food allergies in Africa." wrote another charming individual commenting on an article about a successful bariatric surgery patient. Since starvation exists, he theorized, it was obvious (to him) that the only thing needed to cure obesity was a calorie-restricted diet. It is all about willpower, was his thought.

Such an argument should not even exist outside of an elementary school playground. How many of the starving people in the world (not just in Africa, you budding racist) are choosing malnutrition? Not a single one, I would guess. They, too, would love to exist in a food-rich culture like ours - where they have choices about what to eat on a daily basis. They are not "thin" because they have chosen to not eat. There is no willpower or exercise involved. Where now is your "healthy lifestyle?" This man was too stupid to be allowed on the Internet.

(By the way, this statement is not meant to suggest that there is no hunger or malnutrition within our food-rich societies. That it exists at all is a travesty, but, again, one soapbox at a time.)

Bariatric surgery is not a shortcut to a "slim and beautiful" self. In fact, we not only get the intestinal re-arrangement of surgery, but we then get to do the very same food restriction and daily exercise these bigots claim we are avoiding. We don't go through surgery and then eat whatever we want for the rest of our lives. We go through surgery and then spend the rest of our lives eating tiny amounts, usually sacrificing the foods we loved the most. Food becomes fuel, not necessarily a source of pleasure and enjoyment any longer. And, thanks to the lifetime of bad habits we previously embraced, we will almost certainly never look like supermodels. Does that sound like a "shortcut" to anyone here? 

The ignorance is everywhere. When you encounter it, your initial reaction may be to just run away from it in embarrassment. I would ask you, as a fellow bariatric patient, please do not respond as if you have something to be ashamed of. You do not. You should be proud that you have taken control of your health, and made some very tough decision in the name of caring for yourself and your loved ones by giving yourself the tools needed to return to a healthier, more active lifestyle. Hold your head high, and don't flee from idiots and the misinformed.

Instead, though it may be difficult, educate. Though there are bigots out there who will not be convinced no matter what you say (about anything, really), there are far more people who simply do not understand the procedures, the lifestyle changes, and the commitments that are required to be a success story after bariatric surgery. Take a minute to explain what is really happening to you. Ignorance is only overcome by one good decision at a time.

Sort of like obesity.

Still Wishing I Could Boycott That Trainer's Gym,

- Hawkwind

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Whiskey Point Tribute

Once upon a time, I was in a band.

It is so simple to read, and yet there is a wealth of emotion and history behind that sentence. From 1997 to 2004, I was part of something that I had wanted to do sine I was a little boy - I played in a Rock and Roll band. We did all the usual things: we practiced every week, we drank too much beer, we played gigs all around the Albuquerque music scene (where we drank too much beer), and when we weren't playing we were sitting around talking about the band while we drank too much beer.

It remains the most important period of history in my life. Many people wish they could go back to the good old days of High School. Not me. I wish that I was back in my garage with these people, working out a difficult riff, piecing together a 4-part harmony, sweating through a 3-hour set. Epilepsy was no crueler to me than when it took away my gift to work with other people, making music. I wish I had known at the time that it was a gift - I would have spent less time worrying about making it perfect, and more time just enjoying being a part of it.

I spend very little time here on Misdirected talking about the past. What, I think, would be the point? But after an especially evocative dream last night, I awoke this morning realizing that I have never properly recognized or thanked these people for the role they had in my life. There is no time like the present for righting the errors of the past. Accordingly, I wrote a tribute to the members of Whiskey Point. Though the letter went out to each of the band members as well, most of whom know nothing about this blog, I wanted to share with my new "family" what these people meant to me. Enjoy.

Not pictured: J. Mooney
"Last night, we were all gathered together again. We all sat at a table in a bar somewhere (it had to be a bar), catching up and telling stories about how great we were once upon a time. Jerry had put the whole thing on his tab (of course), and Brandon and Mike were trying to figure out where the whole operation was going to move to after the bar threw us out. I sat back and sipped on my Jack and Coke, soaking it in, trying hard to memorize the faces that I hadn’t seen for so long while we were all under one roof.

It was a good dream.

I am glad that 3 of us (Brandon, Jim, and Mike) have gone on and kept the music going. Every time I get out to see you play, or read your Facebook updates, or hear about your exploits through the grapevine, I am reminded that, for a few years, we shared in something awesome. More than anything, I am proud that you have kept the music alive, and are still sharing your talents with the world around you, day after day and night after night.

I am glad that 2 of us (Jerry and Kristen) have gone on and found fulfillment in other things, building lives around love and service to others. I would like to think that, somehow, playing together was an apprenticeship of sorts for you two, where you learned how much you loved being plugged into something bigger than yourselves, and carried that love forward into the destinies that lay ahead of you.

For me, the music is gone, and I haven’t yet found my place in the world, but I can look at the 5 of you and know that, for a moment, I was a part of something special - with some very special people. Thank you all for sharing not only music but a season of your lives with me. Knowing you all has made my life better, and I am always proud when I get to point at one of you and say “I was in a band with them.”

Keep your dreams alive, whatever those dreams may be.


- TJ "

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Last Stand of Carbohydrates

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We spoke earlier this week about our unscheduled trip to the grocery store due to poor dietary planning on my part. But, what was coming down the pike for today was an even bigger trauma - today is the last "real" trip we will be making to the store. Like, ever. The ultimate food funeral is about to commence.

In 10 days, everything changes. Lor enters her pre-surgical liquid diet, and I pass into my "baked chicken and steamed vegetables" phase. (Unlike some members of the household, I have no problem eating the same thing every day.) While Lor is dealing with the low energy and food cravings of the all-protein-shakes-all-the-time-diet, I am showing solidarity by making sure I don't eat anything Lor would find amazingly tempting.

It's either that or eat in the garage.

Accordingly, Lor is working diligently over our meal planning for the upcoming week, making sure that she inserts healthier versions of our previously favorite meals into the menu. It is still critically important that we maintain the < 45 grams of carbs per meal cutoff, so we don't end up sabotaging ourselves in the process. Weight gain before surgery is a no-no, But, we are still going to be performing one last week-long food funeral, albeit a low-carb one.

It is simultaneously exciting and depressing - never again will I eat sausage lasagna, but I also am able to bend over and touch my toes for the first time in about 20 years. I will never enjoy a few beers again, but I will be able to shop at stores without a "big and tall" section. In life, we make choices. Bad choices got me to obesity, good choices will hopefully return me to a healthier life. It is as simple (and as complex) as that.

In the meantime, we're off to the store for our final week of not protein-centric grocery shopping, One last blaze of glory before life turns into all protein shakes and yogurt, all the time. Everyone have an awesome weekend, and we will catch you all here on Monday.

Regretting That There Is No Such Thing As A Low-Carb Chocolate Cream Pie,

- Hawkwind

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Stand By Your (Wo)Man

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Our surgery dates are getting ever closer, and we are now at the point where we are ticking off days on the calendar before Lor's liquid diet begins. In about a week Lor will have her pre-surgical appointment, and I will have the appointment where my surgery gets scheduled. Tense times in this neck of the woods.

As we've gone through this whole process together, I've had the opportunity to really observe Lor's daily operations in a detail I had not ever been privy to before. The ins and outs of her daily life, her schedule, and her diet have left me with one overall impression.

Sometimes, it sucks to be a woman.

Take our weight loss journeys for example. Lor was chatting with a family member and mentioned how "unfair" it was that, while I have lost about 29 pounds so far, she had only lost about half of that. I mentioned that I started off at more than 30% heavier than her, so why wouldn't I lose more? And then promptly forgot about the matter.

But, during our most recent meeting with our nutritionist, I found out that this is a real, live issue. "Men lose faster than women, and in the places where bariatric patients want to lose,"she told us. "Women tend to lose weight in all the areas we don't want to lose in before we ever start reducing the areas that we want to lose weight from." She went on to talk about how important it was to not compare weight loss, that each journey was our own, etc. - but I had seen the flag of Female Solidarity being raised in that medical office. I was outnumbered and I kept my opinions to myself after that.

The fact remains that Lor has always had a healthier life than me. She has always wanted to eat fruits and vegetables while I wanted crap. She has always wanted to go outdoors and be active while I wanted to stay inside and play video games. The fact that she is having to go through this surgery to manage diabetes is manifestly unfair - but there you have it. Life isn't fair. If you are a woman, apparently less so.

Women are still 400% more likely to undergo bariatric surgery than men.This despite the fact that there are more obese men in this country than women. Sadly, many of these surgeries are not really motivated by health issues like mine and Lor's, but instead by self-esteem. The "beauty cult" in the U.S. tells women that they must be young, slim, and beautiful forever. Men, meanwhile, are free to pile on the pounds - because it represents success, or power, or something. And just spend a little time talking with any group of bariatric surgery survivors, and you will hear the horror stories of men trying to talk their ladies out of having surgery, of sabotaging their partner's weight loss, or even leaving their wives after surgery. Why? Fear of infidelity, mainly - these men believe that once their spouse has reclaimed some self-worth, she will leave them for someone better.

I say if your husband or boyfriend is that much of a prick, you should trade up. Bariatric surgery is hard enough without some insecure man stabbing you in the back at every turn.

A friend of ours was visiting the other day, providing moral support, and she and Lor began chatting about "female problems." With nothing to add, I decided to keep my own counsel. She finally looked over at me and attempted to bring me into the conversation. "What do you think?" she asked. 

I blurted out "I think I am glad I am not a woman," and I cringed the minute I said it, hearing how blatantly sexist and superior it sounded.

No one took any offense. Our friend just patted me on the shoulder and said "And you should, honey. You should."

Thinking I Dodged A Bullet,

- Hawkwind

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

To Market We Must Go

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You know that moment when you realize your household is out of food, and you are 3 days short of the day you were planning on going shopping?

Yeah, we've arrived there.

Don't get me wrong, it isn't as though we can't go to the store. It just means that we are going to have to go today to get us through the next 3 days, and then again on Friday to do our regular shopping for the month. And any week in which you have to go to the grocery store twice is not a good week, in my opinion. I must acknowledge my gratefulness that I have the means to go and buy groceries, but that doesn't make me like the flickering lights, the lines, or the air of impatience in the average grocery store any better.

We have still not completely gotten a handle on shopping for the household now that better than 90% of our meals are prepared at home. We got a lot closer this month (only missing by 3 days), but holy smoke do we go through a TON of food nowadays, We're having to buy things we never used to buy (shrimp and other seafood springs immediately to mind), and we're having to buy daily quantities of items (like fresh produce) that used to only make occasional apperances on our plates. It takes an awful lot of provender to get two people through a month when you are no longer relying on fast food and pizza to supplement your diet.

One thing that has totally improved is food waste. We used to throw away pounds of unused produce and leftovers every month. Now we are scraping the bottom of our crisper drawers looking for one last pepper or cucumber. This makes me very happy - throwing food away every month used to drive me crazy. It feels not only wasteful but insulting given the amount of hunger in the world - a moral failure on my part, if you will. It is an unintended happy side-effect of healthy eating.

But the real kicker here is that starting this month we have to begin planning for 2 months worth of "protein shake only" diets in the next 90 days. (One month each, surrounding our surgery dates.) We're getting lots of help from friends and relatives on the protein shakes already, but 180 protein shakes in the next 3 months eats an awful lot of grocery money. Not to mention that we're going to have to figure out single-person meal planning for whoever is not current going through a pre- or post-surgical diet.

The bright spot? By the end of summer, this will all be behind us. With each of us only being able to handle only 2 - 4 ounces of food at any given meal, our grocery shopping should go WAY down. Leaving us plenty of money to spend on protein shakes, multivitamins, bottled water, dietary supplements...

Damn. I am never going to get out of this going to the store thing, am I?

Wondering If Cardboard Counts As Low-Carb,

- Hawkwind

Monday, May 16, 2016

I Have Been Measured...And Found Wanting

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We're a week into our new resistance band exercise regimen, and someone who shall remain nameless came up with the idea that we should start logging our body measurements.The idea was pretty simple: The scale is not a reliable source of information about our weight loss. But physiological changes will be taking place whether or not the scale moves, right? So why not start tracking that info?

It seemed like a valid idea, and it probably is, but taken as a whole the first set of measurements didn't do anything but make me depressed. Since the baseline is being set now, I have no idea what kind of progress has been made over the last 4 months. Mainly what I have demonstrated to myself is that I have got so far to go that it isn't even funny.

Take my waistline, for example. I clocked in at 47 inches. 47!! I have been shopping for 48-inch waistline clothing in FatLandia for as long as I can remember, so apparently I have managed only a single inch of loss in 4 months. Well, yes, I can now get into 46-inch pants, but only because my beach-ball belly has deflated a bit, and slid further down my abdomen.

My chest was close to what it used to be - 47 1/2 inches. Back when I was attending a gym regularly I used to clock in at a 48-inch chest. The difference is that then I had pecs - today I have breasts. They are not the size that would excite the typical teenage boy, but I really could get away with wearing a bra. After some of my more strenuous workouts, I actually kind of wish I had put one on before I left the house.

But the really depressing numbers were my arms: a measly 12.5 and 13 inches. Back in the day, I had 17-inch biceps. Mind you, this was back when I was doing things like 235-pound bench presses as part of my normal workout routine. Were I to try to bench 235 today I would likely drop the barbell and cut my own head off. I have had big plans for years for a 3/4 sleeve tattooed on my left arm, centered around a scene on a beach. I can't fit a beach scene on this arm. Maybe a single palm tree. As long as it is a skinny palm tree, anyway.

Now, yes, a certain amount of this is nothing more than "The older I get, the better I was." But mainly it is disgust at how far I have let myself slip over the years. I don't think of myself as terribly vain, at least not about my appearance. So it was really surprising to me how strong of an emotional reaction I had to these numbers. It was as if every negative thing I have ever said about the way I look was being documented in black and white - the opinions of those who have tried to encourage me over the years being proved wrong once and for all. See? I have proof.

A month, or 6 months, or maybe a year from now, these numbers will demonstrate something about how far I have come at that point. For now, they've just bummed me out.

Avoiding All Reflective Surfaces,

- Hawkwind