Tuesday, June 18, 2013

From this day forward

June is for weddings, isn’t it? Sunshine, blue skies, white gowns, white flowers. I was married the first time 38 years ago. After a four year courtship, Joe and I exchanged our wedding vows in front of a Catholic priest, a Presbyterian minister, and 40 guests consisting of family and friends. We walked out of the church and into our married life with “until death do us part” in our young minds. Six years later, we divorced. Eventually each of us married again, this time to the right partner, and we’re all still happily married today. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. 

It’s practice that will make your “marriage” to your adjustable gastric band perfect, or as perfect as any human endeavor can be. When you wake up in the recovery room after your surgery, you won’t be magically endowed with all the knowledge, experience, and habits you’ll need to succeed with your band. Even if you did tons of research, faithfully attended every pre-op educational class, and listened closely to and made detailed notes of everything your bariatric team told you, some things – important things – you’ll have to learn through the everyday experience of living and eating with your band.  

When you leave the hospital or surgery center after your surgery, you probably won’t be headed for your honeymoon quite yet. That will come later, when you’ve had enough fills to achieve optimal restriction and you begin to feel that your band is really working. The excess weight will start coming off and you’ll walk around in a dreamy pink haze, delighted with your new life partner. You might even give your band a silly private pet name, the way my husband calls me “Love Bug” (which always makes me think of my first car, a chubby yellow Volkswagen Beetle). 

Then one day, the reality of banded life will wake you up. You’ll think, “Who is this creature I’ve married?” And like Jenny, a former coworker of mine, you’ll realize that while the engagement, wedding and honeymoon were exciting and fun, the day-after-day business of marriage isn’t exciting or fun 24 hours a day. It’s hard work. It’s boring. It’s frustrating. It’s humdrum. Jenny left her new husband after only three months of marriage not because she didn’t love him, but because she didn’t love being married to him. Being a wife isn’t nearly as fun as being a bride. 

I suspect that Jenny just wasn’t old enough or mature enough to be a wife. Neither was I when I married the first time. One of the reasons most bariatric surgeons and insurance companies require a patient to have a pre-op psychological consult is to evaluate the patient’s understanding of what they’ll have to do to succeed after surgery. Are they ready for a lifetime commitment? Do they have reasonable expectations? Can they follow instructions? Are they capable of learning the new behaviors they’ll need for a productive, peaceful partnership with their band?

New bandsters need dozens of new habits – something like 60-70% of my book Bandwagon is devoted to explaining those habits, so I’m not going to try to cram them all into a blog entry (anyway, I’d rather you buy and read the book!). I’ll pick one at random. Hmmm…how about EAT SLOWLY? How are you going to turn that behavior into a habit that will serve you well for the rest of your life? 

So Dr. McMillan tells you, “Eat slowly,” and you nod your assent while thinking, “Get real! I’m too busy to do anything slowly. I have 3 kids and 2 dogs, I work 2 jobs, I take care of my elderly Aunt Bertha, I coach my daughter’s softball team, I have a house to run and a spouse who’s always on the road…” Well, you get the idea. Dr. McMillan has just told you to do something that’s very simple and yet impossibly difficult, you think Dr. McMillan needs to wake up and smell the coffee, and a door in your mind slams shut. 

Actually, Dr. McMillan is already awake, has had a cup of coffee, has tended to all 11 of her dogs and all 3 of her cats, is about to leave for the fitness studio, and when she returns she will deal with a home renovation project while running her home-based publishing business off the kitchen table; tomorrow the fun will start all over again, including a 5-1/2 hour shift at her retail job and a trip to the supermarket. She’ll do the laundry, pick another batch off ticks off the new dog, cook several meals, and get someone to come look at the leaking French doors. Dr. McMillan’s friend Nina calls her the “Tennessee Tsunami”, and despite all that, Dr. M. still manages to eat slowly every time she sits down to a meal. As a pre-op, it took her maybe 5 minutes to hoover her way through a meal that would feed a farmhand, and now it can take her up to 5 minutes to chew her way through the first bite. 

The EAT SLOWLY habit (or any other habit) doesn’t become a habit overnight. It takes many, many repetitions to turn a new behavior into a habit (a British study found that it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days of daily repetition to make a new behavior “automatic”).  I know it’s a big challenge, especially when you’re also trying to learn a few dozen other new behaviors and turn all of them into habits while somehow conquering the dozens of bad habits you already had, but I assure you, it’s worth the effort!


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