Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Last Meal Syndrome

Last Meal Syndrome is very common among people facing weight loss surgery, and chances are you've already suffered it some time in your life, perhaps the day before you started New Diet #832. Since New Diets almost always start on a Monday (there may be a law of nature covering that), you spent every minute of Sunday gorging on all the foods you could no longer eat come Monday morning. You ate so much that you made yourself slightly ill, and you probably didn't taste half of that food in your haste to cram it into your mouth.

Overeating because of anticipated deprivation is an old, old habit. Until the earliest humans learned to plant seeds and cultivate their own food supply, nutrition was largely a matter of opportunism. If you caught a big fish or felled an animal by heaving a rock at it, you ate it all because you didn't know when another meal would swim, crawl, walk, or fly by.

Although I sometimes joke that being self-employed is terrifying for me because it's a hand-to-mouth existence, at no time in my middle-class American life have I ever been truly threatened by significant food deprivation. My repeated bouts with Last Meal Syndrome have been caused mostly by my emotional over-attachment to food. When starting a new weight loss diet, or contemplating my coming bariatric surgery, I was terrified not that I would starve, but that I would suffer from emotional pain, boredom, or stress unrelieved by my usual comfort: whatever food I wanted, when I wanted it, in any quantity I wanted. Intellectually I knew that I would be able to eat small amounts of healthy foods and thus lose weight and gain better health, but the spoiled, petulant child within me feared and hated the very thought of that.

A few days before I was banded, my husband asked me, "Are you going to have anything special to eat before your surgery?"

I said, "I'm on a clear liquid diet for the next three days. I can't eat anything at all, never mind something special." My surgeon had told me that if my liver wasn't in good shape (that is, having a manageable size and texture), he would bail out of my surgery. After all I had gone through to get to the operating room, I wasn't going to blow it, and it wasn't (as I reminded myself) as if I would never be able to eat again in my entire life. I was facing food deprivation, yes, but for a matter of days, not years.

Now, let's get one thing clear here: I'm not claiming superiority over pre-ops who give in to Last Meal Syndrome and celebrate their own private food festival a day or so before their surgery. My compliance with my surgeon's instructions was driven by fear, plain and simple. I wasn't (then or now) a paragon of virtue. But in the last three years, I've learned something important that newbies and wannabes may not realize about the adjustable gastric band. And that is:

The only food deprivation you will suffer after band surgery involves the QUANTITY, not the quality or nature of the food you eat. With a properly adjusted band, you should be able to eat a wide variety of foods you like. You don't have to give up Cheetos or Haagen Daz or McDonald's or prime rib of beef forever. All you have to give up is eating those foods in excess. It's true that when your daily calorie budget is limited, your health will depend on your making the best possible food choices - eating a piece of cheese instead of the Cheetos, a Skinny Cow ice cream bar instead of a gallon of Rocky Road, a Happy Meal instead of a quarter-pounder, two ounces of prime rib instead of the whole cow. You and your band will still be able to tolerate just about anything, so when you look down the road that your bandwagon will travel, you should see plenty of nice places to stop and eat instead of a dry, barren desert in which you'll have to subsist on stale melba toast and lukewarm water.

That's the good news. Now here's the bad news:

After band surgery, you'll be able to eat a wide variety of foods you like. Yes, I know I already said that, up there in the good news paragraph. But the tolerance of almost any food you can imagine means that you will have to exert some self-control to avoid overindulging. Now you may be thinking, "If I had any self-control, I wouldn't need weight loss surgery." If the need for self-control is a deal-breaker for you, maybe you should consider a different bariatric procedure, one that will allow you to eat anything at all and lose a pound a day. I'm not convinced that such a procedure exists, because I've heard too many gastric bypass (and even duodenal switch) patients moaning about significant weight regain, but by all means give the Magic Weight Loss Surgery a go. Maybe self-control will never be an issue for you again.

After your surgery, will you be sentenced to a lifetime of stale bread and water?


I have a few more words to say about self-control, but right now I want to reassure you that eating with your gastric band is not going to involve an endless series of dreary meals. It's not going to be like the mysteriously popular diet that requires you to eat nothing but cabbage soup three times a day. It's going to involve eating like a normal person who enjoys food but has a small appetite. Depending on your experience of restriction after each fill, you may have to forgo certain foods at times, but just because you can't comfortably eat a bagel with cream cheese today doesn't mean you'll never again be able to have a few bites of bagel. Your food tolerance is going to depend not only on your fill level but also on your eating skills. The day after my first fill, I suffered my first stuck episode after taking a huge bite of a grilled cheese sandwich. I have a lot more fill in my band now but I could eat that same sandwich for lunch today because now I'm used to eating slowly, taking tiny bites and chewing the food very well. I probably wouldn't eat the whole sandwich because I'd get "full" so quickly, and that's a good thing!


Becky said...

My mom and I recently ordered your book on amazon and read it out loud to each other on a lengthy car trip.

We laughed and learned so much! A month after the trip I had my band, and next month she will have hers.

Thank you for your informative and light hearted look at banded life. We both really appreciate it.

Are you still working on the cookbook?


Jean said...

I'm now working on the nutritional analysis of the recipes in the cookbook...not a fun job, but a necessary one. I'm hoping to publish Bandwagon Cookery by early fall 2011.

Becky said...

Yay! Sorry that you're in the difficult part, but I can't wait till the cookbook is out! You can put me down for three :)