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LAKE PLACID DIET: My new relationship with food: It’s complicated

Lake Placid News Editor Andy Flynn walks along Ampersand Avenue in Saranac Lake on Sunday, July 10. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

Highest weight: 499 lbs.

May 10: 490 lbs.

May 31 (surgery): 460 lbs.

July 19: 424 lbs.

Total lost: 66 lbs.

There are a lot more sugar-free options at the supermarket these days. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

It was a picture-perfect Sunday morning, July 10, with a bluebird sky. I was excited for this moment, and dreading it at the same time. This was going to be my first attempt at walking 1 mile in about seven years.

It was exactly five weeks since my emergency surgery to fix a bleeding complication from the bariatric surgery (vertical sleeve gastrectomy) I had five days earlier. I had already lost more than 60 pounds since the pre-op diet, and I was making progress on my exercise plan.

Using a pair of telescoping snowshoe poles for support, I crept up the Ampersand Avenue hill just after the Saranac Lake Civic Center, heading toward the school’s athletic field. I was almost halfway to the turnaround, slowly moving from shaded tree to shaded tree on the sun-soaked street. The rock music from Sirius XM’s Classic Rewind channel on my iPhone kept me on pace, moving step by step to the beat.

“Sister Christian” by Night Ranger had just ended when a minivan pulled up next to me.

There are a lot more sugar-free options at the supermarket these days. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

“Do you need a ride?” a man asked. He was driving, with a person who I assumed was his wife in the passenger’s seat. They were going down the hill as I was going up.

I peeled the headphone off my right ear and said, “No thanks. I’m out for exercise.”

“Well, is there anything you need that we can pray for?” he asked.

This happens a lot. Almost every time I walk up a street — looking the way I do — people assume I need help. So I told them part of my story.

“Well, I had surgery four or five weeks ago,” I said.

“Hold out your hand,” the man said.

So I did. The woman held my right hand gently while the man said a prayer.

After he was done, I said, “Now, can you do something about the deer flies?” We all chuckled.

Then a car pulled up behind the minivan, and the man drove off. There were two kayaks on the top of the vehicle, so I’m not sure if they were out for a paddle or just coming from church. Either way, I was thankful.

This was one of those odd moments in life. Totally unscripted. Totally unbelievable (my mother thought I was making it up). Yet totally human and reassuring that there are still some really good people out there, people who care about one another.

I continued my walk to the turnaround just over the rise and returned home. One mile down. I was very proud of myself. I’d come a long way since my two hospital visits in June, barely making it up and down the hallways of Adirondack Medical Center.

I couldn’t have walked the mile without first coming up with a morning food-and-water routine that gives me enough energy.

At first, when I got home after the surgeries, I was weak and had no energy when I woke up. Part of the problem was low blood pressure, which was remedied by cutting back on my blood pressure medication. The other problem was figuring out which was more important: hydration or food first thing in the morning. For me, it was hydration, so now I start my day with some water, and then I have breakfast.

Food challenge videos

I was still on the liquid diet the first day or two in the hospital when I rediscovered food challenge videos on YouTube. So I’d watch them on my iPhone.

I miss the pleasure of food, but I can’t imagine that these professional eaters take much pleasure in stuffing their stomachs so much. Still, I think many people have trouble looking away from disasters.

Some examples are below.

– ErikTheElectric in “Eating the 10 UNHEALTHIEST Secret Menu Fast Food Items,” “The Food Challenge I Never Should’ve Tried” or “Eating EVERY Item at Shake Shack.”

– Casey or Adam on “Man V Food” taking on a 12-egg corned beef omelet challenge in Virginia Beach or the 20-inch ultimate cheesesteak challenge in South Philadelphia.

– Canadian competitive eater Joel Hansen tackling the Deathly Spicy Chicken Challenge or the Impossible 15LB Texas Steak Challenge.

– The HellthyJunkFood couple (Jonathan Paul “JP” Lambiase and Julia “Julia Goolia” Yarinsky) eating only chicken nuggets for 24 hours or making a pizza inside a burger inside a pizza in their own kitchen.

– British competitive eater Adam Moran (BeardMeatsFood) trying the undefeated monster mac and cheese burger challenge or Britain’s biggest hot dog.

– Or professional eater Randy Santel — “Atlas” — finishing the 80-ounce Half-Sheet Trax BBQ Challenge near Indianapolis or the 100-ounce Gourmet Double Smash Burger Challenge in Pensacola.

I’ve been addicted to the videos for the past seven weeks, even though I think these people are crazy to mistreat their bodies this way. I look at the food challenges and I’m in awe and disgust at the same time. Even before bariatric surgery, I wouldn’t have done anything like this, so I don’t see them as tempting.

Other food videos — the Chicago’s Best series is one of my favorites — is more realistic. A team of hosts visits restaurants around Chicagoland to see some of the best eats around: pizza, burgers, hot dogs, Italian beef, Polish sausages, Mexican, food trucks, baked goods, wings, fried chicken, barbecue and much more. Just about everything they make, I can’t have. And the portions are way too large. So I don’t find the videos tempting at all.

“Our next stop … is recommended by many viewers,” said host Ted Brunson. “They all say you’ve got to go on Western Avenue to Fat Johnnie’s (Famous Red Hots).”

We get to meet John Pawlikowski, a Southside character working out of a small trailer on a foundation. Customers line up outside to order and get their food.

“My brother and I built the place in ’72, and we put a bottle of (Seagrams) VO (Canadian whisky) on the table,” Pawlikowski said. “And we were going to call it Frankie and Johnnie’s. So after a bottle of VO, we came up with the name Fat Johnnie’s.”

A popular item on the menu is the Mighty Dog: a tamale on a poppy seed bun, cut open with a hot dog, chili, cheese, onions, tomato, relish, hot peppers and a few slices of cucumber on top.

“As Chicago as this place is, John lets one rule slide,” Brunson said. “He allows ketchup on dogs.”

“A million kids on the South Side eat hot dogs,” Pawlikowski said. “The parents will come along and order 15 hot dogs with ketchup. Are you going to tell those kids, ‘You can’t have ketchup?'”

I like the stories about the people who make delicious food; more importantly, I enjoy watching people eat their delicious food. I’m eating with my eyes, and I have no emotional attachment. For now, until I can figure out how to live with this new stomach, I’m living vicariously through others as they eat whatever they desire.

I love my condiments, and I particularly enjoy watching people dunk French fries in ketchup and wings in blue cheese dressing (I will switch the video if I see someone dunk a wing in Ranch dressing).

As wonderful as this food looks, I’m not tempted to travel to Chicago and order food I can’t eat. Therefore, I feel safe.

For now, this is part of my dysfunctional relationship with food.

Diet progression

Initially after my bariatric surgery on May 31, my diet quickly progressed from Stage 1 (water and ice chips on the first day) and Stage 2 (clear liquids on the second day) to Stage 3 (high-protein full liquids and clear liquids on the third day).

Stage 3 lasted two weeks and consisted of high-protein shakes, yogurts, puddings and soups at meals with clear liquids in between.

Stage 4 — soft texture and pureed high-protein foods — lasted another two to four weeks. That’s when I bought a food processor, to puree my meat — mostly chicken, turkey and lean pork. I’ve been advised to stay away from beef for about six months, as my new stomach will find it tough to digest it. I thought veal — baby beef — would be OK, but not so; I ate some Monday night, and it upset my sleeve.

Stage 5 — soft solid to regular high-protein foods — began after the sixth week.

During one of my hospital visits in early June, I had a hard time at first with protein shakes. I made the mistake of telling my surgeon, Dr. Michael Hill, “I wasn’t hungry, so I couldn’t have my vanilla shake.”

He corrected me.

“You won’t be hungry.”

Removing about 80% of my stomach takes away the part that produces a hormone called ghrelin, which makes you feel hungry.

“Eating is a job now,” he said.

He’s right. For the most part, I don’t feel hungry, so I have to remind myself to eat at regular meal times. It’s something I must do, not something I want to do. And I can only eat so much. My stomach now holds about 4 to 6 ounces of food or drink at a time. When I’m full, I stop, and sometimes — depending on what I’m eating — that could be as little as 3 ounces.

Yet eating and drinking is a constant juggling act. I have to stop drinking (water or other no-sugar drinks) 30 minutes before eating. And I can’t start drinking again until 30 minutes after I finish eating. Plus, I should only be consuming 1 ounce of food every 10 minutes, chewing everything until it’s mush. That makes for three very long meals a day.

Meals now consist of about 4 or 5 ounces of food. Protein sources include shakes, eggs, chicken, turkey, lean pork, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, low-fat cheese and beans (which I need for fiber). I haven’t had any trouble getting in the required 60 to 80 grams of protein a day.

According to my nutritionist at the Adirondack Health Bariatric Center, the goal after about a year is to have meals of 3 ounces of protein first (a quarter of the plate), then non-starchy vegetables if I have room (half of the plate) and then starch (a quarter of the plate), which can be starchy vegetables, rice, pasta, bread or fruit. I’m not there yet. I just started adding non-starchy vegetables and fruit, and I’m staying away from pasta, bread, rice, starchy vegetables and sweets.

I also have to take four chewable multivitamins a day – two in the morning and two at night.

And my biggest challenge is getting in the required minimum of 64 ounces of fluid a day.

At first I was only eating about 600 calories a day, but now it ranges between 700 and 1,000.

The irony here is that I had the bariatric surgery to break up my unhealthy relationship with food, meaning that I will use this tool to stop overeating. Yet, all I do is eat and drink — tiny amounts — all day long. And I’m losing weight.

This new relationship with food changes every day — as I battle the demons of emotional eating and try adding new foods to my diet. I’m finding that, after being on a bland diet for about 10 weeks, I absolutely need more variety. My days are now filled with balancing those emotional needs and my physical limitations.

Eventually, I’ll figure it all out. My nutritionist said this particular part of my journey may take up to a year, possibly longer.