What an interesting week it was.
I accompanied my friend to Tijuana, Mexico to have gastric sleeve bariatric surgery. It was thought-provoking, eye-opening, and enlightening. Also, it was a little overwhelming. Generally people who submit to this type of surgery feel like they’ve tried all the other weight-loss options and are on their last-ditch effort to get back to a healthy weight.
It was a little tough for me mentally to realize that my BMI is higher than my friend’s was at the time we left for Mexico, yet though I know I need to work toward a healthier weight, I feel far from the level of hopeless desperation many of these people who went for the surgery felt.
Still, I understand the mental struggle with continuous, obsessive thoughts about food, and cravings for sweet or starchy, salty things. I know what it’s like to eat and never feel satisfied; to never achieve a sense of fullness – or at least to not achieve a sense of fullness until it is far and away too late and you realize you have eaten until all you feel is the sickening sense that you’ve gone too far to do anything but regret your gluttony. I know the sinking realization that the only temptation you have any choice left to resist is the temptation to find a toilet and throw up. Fortunately for me, that is a temptation I have always been able to resist, but every time I overindulge, its siren call creeps back into my mind. Because of all this, I hold no judgment in my heart for those who reach the stage where they feel surgery is their only hope. I just hope that I never have to stand in their shoes.
I spent the last week standing right next to those shoes, though, and I made some observations in these people that I hadn’t fully before realized in myself. I began to see and understand myself better because of the opportunity I had to witness their struggles in a brief, but up-close way. Please understand that though I may not express myself in the most diplomatic of ways, some of the things I say here may come across as harsh or judgmental. This is me, thinking aloud, about how to best apply what I’ve experienced to better judge my own situation, not passing judgment on anyone else’s decision-making process.
To be the only one eating solid food, in the midst of a bunch of people who have been on a liquid fast for three to ten days, is to feel like a stripper in a peep-show window. I had a sense of guilt for tantalizing others with something they could not have, while at the same time I felt sullied by their stares and wished I could close the curtain and be hidden from the lustful view of the hungry mob. These feelings became heightened when the inquiries from the onlookers begin.
“What’s it called?”
“Is it good?”
“What’s in it?”
“Is it spicy?”
This experience was a little easier for me to get through by remembering they chose this step and that the next day’s surgery will remove their “hungry gland”. (Technical medical terms are my own.) I looked forward to the days after the surgery when their hungry obsessions would be gone.
The hospital where the surgery was performed is small, with shared rooms, and the same women who rode the shuttle from the airport with us shared the room with my friend. The day was long, with each one taking her turn being escorted to surgery, and returning a couple hours later to rest and recover from the anesthesia, and begin the healing for their newly downsized stomach. It’s strange to think that though they all look the same on the outside, inside their bodies, their stomachs are 80% smaller than they were before and that the former habits of overindulgence will be no more. It is easy to envy them the chance to make the one choice of surgery and have it dictate all their future food choices – to never again be tempted with just one more serving of lasagna or ice cream.
I watched each of them slowly waken to full awareness and, for some, unremitting nausea. I helped them send text messages to loved ones that they were okay and that the surgeries had gone well. The medicine managed their pain, and the nurses were kind, although I heard the night nurse was not as patient and had difficulty communicating.
I went home to the hotel that evening with a great deal to consider. Throughout all of this, I enjoyed the food from the hotel restaurant, as the chef there was clearly passionate about his work. From the flavors to the presentation, it was wonderful. I was paying U.S. prices for it, but I have so seldom encountered such a wonderful level of service and food quality that I didn’t mind. I did discover that the best food (and the cheapest) on the menu was the more traditional Mexican fare, and I loved it. I found that, because the food was so beautiful and delicious, I had a deeper appreciation for it. I took the time to smell it, to savor the colors and arrangement, along with the flavors, and to feel gratitude for it clear down into the mitochondria of my cells. I don’t think I have ever felt such a deep sense of gratitude for food as I felt for each meal I ate in that hotel. The experience fed my spirit almost as much as my body, leaving me with such a sense of satisfaction when I finished that I felt neither guilt nor pressure, though I hadn’t eaten it all, but I was filled with gratitude for what had been offered to me.
The surgery patients all returned to the hotel in the morning to recuperate on IV electrolytes, pain meds, anti-nausea meds, ice water, apple juice, popsicles, and sugar-free gelatin desert cups, with the nurse checking in on them during the day. I continued to enjoy the blessed ministrations of the restaurant, each time feeling an almost overwhelming sense of gratitude for such delicious and beautiful food. Also, I realized that my Spanish was flowing back and I felt like I’d been kissed by Heaven for this wonderfulness.
The third day after surgery, the patients were feeling better and were able to enjoy chicken broth from the restaurant. They invited me to sit with them to eat my meal, and once again I was accosted with questions.
“What’s it called?”
“Is it good?”
“What’s in it?”
“Is it spicy?”
I was back to being the peep-show girl again. I had thought that since their “hungry gland” was surgically removed, they would not feel such a strong sense of desire for what was on the plate in front of me. The realization that surgery did absolutely nothing to correct or change their mental habits regarding food hit me so hard that for a moment I felt pinned in place to my chair. I realized that no matter what had been done to their bodies, they would each have to go home and learn to change their thinking – their scarcity mentality (“If I don’t eat this now, I might not get the chance again.”), or their obsessive thoughts about the way food stimulated them, or the way that food was a crutch to lean on in times of extra stress.
This was the most sobering experience I’ve ever had regarding food (aside from the painful lesson that you don’t eat tepid chicken at a Las Vegas buffet). I realized that I still had opportunities for many healthy choices before me. I can choose to be grateful clear down to the smallest part of my cells. I can choose to turn away food that I can’t feel this level of gratitude for. I can choose to prepare food with grateful anticipation and serve it with a heart of love. Because of gratitude, I can be satisfied with enough, because the gratitude is what feeds my spirit and fills me so that I don’t have to gorge. I heard once that you could never eat enough to fill a starving spirit. I think I finally understand. For me, the antidote to gluttony is gratitude.
Now, all I have to do is establish the habit of deep gratitude. It could feel overwhelming, because I know some days I will rush and forget, but though I know it will take time, I look forward to the satisfaction of learning.