...and other things you need to know about WLS but are afraid to ask...
I wonder sometimes if bariatric professionals forget to emphasize the importance of good band eating skills because they they've never had to live with a gastric band. Of course, a few bariatric professionals are also bariatric patients, and thank goodness for that.
I also wonder if bandsters are unaware of the importance of good band eating skills because their brains slipped into neutral during that part of their pre-op education. You'll have a hard time convincing me that's never happened to you, because I am the Queen of Lists and Note Taking. In high school and college, classmates would pay me for copies of my class notes. (Not only were they thorough, they were neatly penned in my prize-winning handwriting and decorated with cunning cartoons depicting my teachers and professors in embarrassing situations.) I take a notebook and a list of questions to every medical appointment, I ask questions, I re-read my notes, but despite all of that, my brain tends to shift gears when I see or hear something that strikes me as unimportant or irrelevant. And aside from being The World's Greatest Living Expert on Everything, what exactly qualifies me to make the unimportant or irrelevant judgment? Nothing. Nada. Nichts. Niente.
During my pre- and post-op patient education, which was tailored for bandsters and administered by well-prepared bariatric dietitians, nurses, physician's assistants, and so on, I must have heard the eating skills lecture a dozen times. I was told that if I didn't eat carefully, I would end up in pain or with my meal in my lap. I nodded my understanding each time I heard that and could repeat the lecture verbatim, but it wasn't until I took a huge bite of a grilled cheese sandwich 24 hours after my first fill that I truly understood what all those folks had been telling me. And that’s not an experience I’m likely to forget.
Take Tiny Bites!
I talk about good eating skills a lot. Why do I go on and on about that? Is it because I like the sound of my own (editorial) voice? Well, sure - that's no secret. But for what reason besides that?
Important information bears repeating, and repetition is one of the ways that we acquire new information and learn new habits. If you doubt that, pay attention to how many times the Geico lizard appears on your television screen each day. Good band eating skills must become a habit if you're going to succeed with your band and avoid side effects and complications. The fact that some side effects and complications can happen to even the most conscientious bandster does not excuse us all from doing our best to avoid them. You'll need good band eating skills every hour of every day, not just as a new post-op or after each fill, but every day for the rest of your life.
That sounds like a pretty tall order, doesn't it? Don't panic, though. A well-ingrained habit doesn't take as much conscious thought as a brand-new one. Your own behavior has already proven that if you've ever found yourself with a half-finished Twinkie or a cigarette or a beer in your hand and couldn't remember how it got there. It works the other way too. Your healthy new habits will eventually dig themselves into your life and using them will get easier as you go along.
When you forget your band eating skills, your band will give you a loud reminder in the form of side effects like PB's, sliming, or stuck episodes, but I beg you not to rely on your band's built-in warning system on a regular basis, because doing so will send your bandwagon skittering down the road to complications like esophageal dilation, stomach dilation, band slips and even band erosion.
One of the problems with the band's alarm system is that the truly destructive behaviors it reacts to may trigger relatively mild warnings so long before the damage is done that it's easy to shrug them off. For example, let's say that you often take big bites, don't chew very well, eat quickly, and/or eat beyond your soft stops (soft stops are gentle stop-eating signals, like hiccups). Each time you do those things, you experience mild discomfort. Nothing horrific. It happens, you think, "Oops," and you go back to whatever you were doing before the discomfort happened. Eventually this mild discomfort becomes just a part of your post-op life - the same as the way you sneeze when you pet a cat, pass gas when you eat beans, or get a headache when you don't wear your eyeglasses. Hey, that's just the way it is, right?
But one bad day after dozens of ordinary days you can't even swallow your own saliva. You rush to the doctor, who does an upper GI x-ray and tells you your band has slipped. "How can that be?" you cry, "Everything's been fine until now!"
In fact, everything has not been fine, because your careless eating has been pushing, pushing, pushing at your band's limits, until finally it pushed your band up your esophagus or down your stomach. I don't like finger-pointing any better than you do, but whose responsibility is that band slip? Is it your surgeon's, for not stitching it on there well enough? Is it the band manufacturer's, for not making your band slip-proof? Or is it yours?
There can be a happy ending to your story, though. Even if the band slip is clearly your fault, you won't get sent to prison to sip brackish water and gnaw on stale bread for the rest of your days. Your surgeon can unfill your band (or, less likely, re-operate to reposition your band), and you can revamp your eating skills, lose weight, and live happily ever after. Or better yet, you can avoid the pain, inconvenience, financial and emotional costs, and pay attention to your eating from now on.
I ain't gonna lie to you...acquiring and practicing this new habit won't be easy, but I can think of a lot of things that could be worse. A lot worse.
The official Bandwagon® Eating Skills are:
1. Don't drink while you eat or for 30 to 60 minutes afterwards.
2. Take tiny bites.
3. Chew, chew chew.
4. Eat slowly.
5. Eat the protein first.
6. Learn your stop signals.
7. Pay attention to problem foods.
8. Eat only when you're hungry.
9. Avoid liquid calories and slider foods.
10. Use a small plate.
11. Plan your food in advance.
12. Don't watch TV or read while you eat.
13. Don't put serving dishes on the dining table.
14. Eat sitting down at the dining table.
15. Follow the HALT rule (don't eat when you're too hungry, angry, lonely or tired).
You’ll find full explanations of each skill in Chapter 12 of Bandwagon, Strategies for Success with the Adjustable Gastric Band, by yours truly.