On food. Again. Part 6. Tribe.
The last time I wrote about this journey, I was smack dab in the middle of my pre-op liver shrinking diet. This diet is prescribed about two weeks before surgery in order to shrink your liver to make the surgery safer. It's a highly regulated and very low-fat, low-carb, low-calorie diet-- approximately 700 calories per day for 14 days. It is followed by a day of only clear liquids right before surgery. Everyone has a different basal metabolic rate, which means that at rest, simply to exist, we all require a certain amount of calories to run our body and maintain a steady weight. And there are a lot of factors that contribute to that metabolic rate, but suffice to say, 700 calories is not that many calories. And it means feeling hungry. Not just head hungry, actual stomach-growling physical hunger. Basically all the time.
For anyone, being hungry all the time is no fun. For someone who has issues with food and tendencies towards using food for things like comfort, solace, protection (just to name a few), it's really where the rubber meets the road. Now, if you've been following along for a while, you know these are the very things I have been working on for the past year and a half. But even as I've tried to overcome these emotional eating behaviors, intuitive eating allows for the freedom to enjoy the foods you love in moderation and without shame. But this sudden, dramatic restriction is a process of coming face to face with using food only as a source of fuel to survive. The cozy, full-bellied feelings that a great meal can provide are gone all at once. In its place, all that is there is emptiness. Physical emptiness and emotional emptiness too. And this, my friends, is is why you need a tribe. There was a gap in what needed to be done and what I felt I was able to handle.
The process of telling people that you're having this surgery is kind of intimidating. There is a definite stigma surrounding it, because we all feel like it is something we should be able to handle. And let's just face it -- our society hates fat people. There are SO many reasons why 40% of Americans are obese and 70% of Americans are overweight. It's about the kind of food we eat. It's about why we eat. It's about the quantity we eat. But it's also about privilege and lack thereof. It's about movement and trauma and, yes, genetics. We're the fattest country in the world. And yet, in spite of 70% of us being overweight or obese, it's still a stigma.
I feel I must mention this every time I write on the issue, if there is one thing I have learned in this journey of self-discovery and weight it is this-- being fat is not a moral issue. Thin does not equal good. And fat does not equal bad. Let me say that again. Thin does not equal good. And fat does not equal bad. But yet, our society rewards thinness and punishes fatness in our advertising, in our insurance rates, the availability of bridesmaid dresses, and in our airplane seats. (Just to name a few). And so it is hard to be a big person and constantly receive this kind of reinforcement, EVEN WHEN YOU'RE AWAKE TO THE SCAM! It is a constant feeling that everyone is pushing you to be something different and smaller than you are. And so, there was almost a feeling of betrayal that I experienced when I decided to have this surgery. As if I was pandering to some vain societal pull. But like most things, there isn't a single answer that will serve everyone.
My desire for a physically smaller body was rooted in my desire to live my best life-- to be able to participate more fully than I am currently able, and to experience pleasure in things that are ahead of me in the various life stages I anticipate when I play the story forward. But no other person (with the exception of possibly Nick), can understand that nuance. Everyone, based on their own lived experiences, will have a different point of view about why I made that decision. And that is okay. To loosely quote my friend Charles, "What other people think about me is none of my business." But knowing that and living in that are two different things. And as independent as we would like to all think ourselves to be, we all need a tribe.
When I "came out" to my closest friends and family (ie-- my tribe) about the upcoming surgery, I tried to do so in a way that let them know that this was a decision that I had already made. I was (and am) open to questions, but not really to persuasion in the "I don't think you should do this" direction. And this was not because I didn't/don't value their lived experiences. It's because this was a decision I made (with Nick) over a period of time and with the assistance of medical professionals who are keyed in to very personal, private, medical information about me. To my great relief, my tribe has been amazing. Let me share a few ways my tribe has been invaluable to me.
During this liver shrinking diet scenario, my number one supporter, Nick, assumed all of the food-related household chores. He did the food shopping. He helped me prep my (pathetic) "meals." He prepared the actual meals for the rest of the family while I went up to my bedroom and binged on Netflix. He has communicated to me that my sole "job" during this process, is working that process to the best of my ability. He has 100% put his money where his mouth is.
But food is more than what we feed ourselves (or our family) daily X 3. For me, anyway, food is community. It's a big piece of my social life. People, I am in a COOKING club. Or as Nick calls it, "an eating club." (He's not wrong, although we do cook as well). We have weekly date nights with our BFFs and try new restaurants all over the Triangle. Food has been an integral part of my social life. And that is okay. That is something great. Breaking bread together is a tradition like no other, and something I do not want to stop. But practically speaking, there are some logistical challenges.
For cooking club, I knew I'd miss at least one of our monthly meetings. Just practically, I knew that it would be dumb to go spend a night preparing delectable and perfect recipes (yes, we ARE that good) and not be able to meet them. Enter Marco Polo. For all of you boomers who aren't up on the technology (*cough* kinda me), there is this video chat app that is the perfect friendship app called Marco Polo. We started using it as a cooking club over a month ago and it's a way for us to keep up with the day to day of each others' lives. We've been meeting for like 7 years now and honestly, I have never felt closer to these girls than I have in the past month. It's met a social need that I have had. The girls have checked in with me several times a week, and I've had a place to just sort of vent some of the struggles and frustrations I've been experiencing in real time. I love them.
Next, our regular date night partners, Deena and Jason. From day one, they were 100% on my team. They started coming up with non-food date nights that we could do in lieu of eating out during the liver shrinking diet so that we could still be together and enjoy the spirit of what date night is all about-- having fun with our spouses and best friends. We took one week and went to see the Frida Khalo exhibit at the art museum. The next week we hit the Collegiate Accapella Quarter Finals at the Carolina Theater. It was like real life Pitch Perfect. SO. FUN. Jason and Deena have been diligent in checking in on me, and Deena even gave up a whole day of work to sit in the waiting room with Nick the day of my surgery. These people get me.
And then finally, the other superhero who helped save the day was my mother-in-law, Bev, who flew in from NY for a week for my surgery. I adore my mother-in-law. Having her here to help with the kids, the house, the meals-- it was a game-changer. With her here, Nick was able to fully engage with the things I needed in the immediate before, during, and after surgery. He was there to help me out of bed to pee and make a schedule for my meds, fluids, and protein. Bev took care of everything at home and just let me recover. She even made her famous "Long Island Penicillin" chicken broth. She left at one week post-op (yesterday) and I really believe that one of the reasons that my recovery has been so good was because of her care.
There were so many others too. People who were texting me, calling me, encouraging me, praying for me. My dad sent me a letter in the mail to encourage me. A girl I met in my nutrition class had a surgery day one day after me, and so I had a texting buddy to sympathize with during the past three weeks. It felt so good to be considered and supported by so many people. Because the emptiness was (and still is) real. The first week post-op was not my favorite time period of my life. There was a lot of pain, nausea, grogginess, aversion to the protein drinks I rely on for sustenance, and oh my word, I can't even explain the constipation. I could (but will not, *you're welcome*) write an entire post about that trauma. But aside from the physical, I couldn't imagine a better tribe to support my recovery. In some ways, there is still emptiness. Most of that is physical-- I am still on a liquid diet and struggling to get in 500 calories per day. But three weeks into not being able to use food at all for things like comfort, solace, and protection (just to name a few), I don't feel the emotional emptiness I imagined I would.
On the bariatric forums I am a part of, there's a constant debate as to whether or not you tell your people that you're having surgery. There are some people who literally tell no one. They Uber home from the hospital and go through it completely alone with the exception of their online forum friends. There are others who have told people and have gotten really negative feedback. There are some people who are married who get the surgery despite the fact that their spouse does not approve and, in fact, tries to sabotage their progress. It makes me realize how very fortunate I am. I had/have enough self awareness to realize I am not the kind of person who was going to be able to keep this on the DL. One of my greatest strengths in life is not actually something inside of me-- it's the strength of my tribe. It's the people around me who encourage me, who challenge me, who stand in the gap for me, and who want the best for me. They are the people who see me at my emptiest, and fill me with what I need. There is a lot of this journey still ahead of me. (Stay tuned for that). But in this particular moment, after three weeks of emotional upheaval and a roller coaster of feelings, I am having a moment of clarity and feeling so grateful for my tribe.