LAKE PLACID DIET: Eating out socially? I’m not quite ready yet.

Alec Friedmann, left, and other members of the Lake Placid Rotary Club spoon food onto their plates on Thursday, March 23 during a benefit dinner featuring Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine. The fundraiser will help fund some of the club’s international projects. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

May 10: 490 lbs.

May 31 (surgery): 460 lbs.

March 28: 389 lbs.

Total lost: 101 lbs.

If I have to eat in public or at a social event, I’m not comfortable with it yet. That’s why I’ve been getting anxiety attacks prior to this weekend’s New York Press Association Spring Conference in Albany. I’m still adapting to life with my new smaller stomach — called a “sleeve.”

Based at the Hilton on State Street, a stone’s throw away from the State Capitol, the conference features workshops for editors, reporters, page designers, publishers and salespeople — most of the people who make a newspaper run. It’s also the time of the year the NYPA hands out awards for its Better Newspaper Contest — all during meals.

The last time I attended a NYPA Spring Conference was in 2019, prepandemic, at the Albany Hilton. I weighed about 45 pounds more than I do right now, but I was able to eat without restrictions. I could sit around a lunch table and feel comfortable, as long as I didn’t have to get up and squeeze past people packed into the ballroom like sardines — which I did when I got up to retrieve my three awards. It was extremely uncomfortable, asking people to move their seats so I could get by or apologizing as I bumped into them. I always tried to get a table as close to the awards podium as possible, just in case (fingers crossed) I got a first-, second- or third-place award or an honorable mention, but it wasn’t always possible.

Such is the life of a fat man. These situations happen all the time, and embarrassment is around every corner.

This year, 10 months after bariatric surgery, I’m still not ready to eat in public in a social situation, at least not with food on the menu. Takeout is fine; I can pick and choose from a menu and eat in my own space. Generally, it boils down to control; I need to have control over my food, which means preparing it myself most of the time or knowing exactly what’s on the menu.

Juggling act

With the sleeve gastrectomy, cutting off about 80% of my stomach, I have daily food restrictions.

First, I need to eat protein — about 21 grams (3 ounces) per meal. My aim is 60 to 80 grams of protein a day. If I have room, I move on to the non-starchy vegetables on my plate. If I still have room, I finish with the starchy food (includes fruit, grains, etc.) on my plate.

Here’s the kicker: I can only fit about 6 ounces of food into my sleeve at one time. If at any point I feel full, I need to stop eating.

Then there’s the fluids. My goal is 64 ounces of non-sugary fluids a day — typically a combination of water, coffee, tea and Crystal Light, sometimes 1% milk. I don’t count protein shakes as fluids.

Here’s the kicker: I have to stop drinking fluids 30 minutes before eating, and I have to wait 30 minutes after eating to resume drinking fluids — so I don’t wash away the nutrients.

Then I have to remember to take multivitamins in the morning and the evening — during eating time, not drinking time.

Then I have to remember to take my pills — vitamin D and medication for high blood pressure, gout and blood clot prevention — during drinking time, not eating time.

It’s one big juggling act at home. Now try doing it in public or on the road. I can’t just jump in a car and go. There’s a lot of preparation required. As I head back into public situations, postpandemic, it’s taking me some time to adjust and learn some new life skills as a bariatric patient.

I had my first road-eating test last summer when my wife and I traveled to Buffalo, staying for two nights. I spent weeks planning our meals. Some food we could bring ourselves, but for the most part, we had to eat on the road. And my diet was more restrictive than it is now. But we did it. I planned stops along the way and researched restaurants that served food I could eat. Since we brought our Chiweenie — Arabella — on the trip, we were ordering takeout the entire time, so I didn’t actually eat in a restaurant.

Anxiety attack

This past Thursday, March 23, I got a taste of what’s to come in the near future, as far as eating in public. I was invited to attend an Ethiopian feast, writing about a Lake Placid Rotary Club fundraiser for the club’s International Service Committee projects. It was worth attending, both as a news story and as a test for my social interaction during food events. The expectation was that I was going to eat a meal with more than 20 people, and it would have been my first social food event since bariatric surgery.

But a few hours before the dinner, I had an anxiety attack. I wasn’t ready. So I called Rotary Club member Martha Pritchard Spear and explained my situation. She put me at ease. She — and it seems all the Rotarians — already know about my weight-loss surgery and struggles, as they read the “Lake Placid Diet” column in the Lake Placid News.

Knowing that I’d get a better story — with photos — if I were present, I decided to keep my appointment and attend the dinner … with no expectation to eat, just do my job and report on the fundraiser. I ended up sampling some of the food to get a taste — protein first, then veggies, no starch — but it wasn’t a full meal. People seemed interested in my post-surgery diet, and I was happy to explain it. There was even one diner who had bariatric surgery 20 years ago and had lost almost 200 pounds. They all made me feel comfortable in a stressful situation, and I am grateful for their empathy.

Conference planning

Fast forward to this weekend. At the NYPA conference, I’m faced with at least five meals on the road — breakfast, lunch and supper on Friday and breakfast and lunch on Saturday.

Breakfast on Friday at the conference is usually light fare — pastries, coffee, etc. That doesn’t work for me. I need protein, so I’ve packed some yogurt, which I can eat before I leave, on the road or once I get to Albany. That’s the easiest meal.

Lunch is harder. I know from past conference meals that I’ll be faced with a lot of starchy food, such as sandwiches that I’d have to deconstruct, eating only the meat. Maybe a light salad. No dessert. Without knowing the exact lunch menus, I’m just brown bagging it. I’ve cooked chicken sausage ahead of time — two links per meal, which is 26 grams of protein total. I’ll keep them in a cooler in the car until I need them. So that’s lunch for two days.

Then there’s breakfast on Saturday. For me, that’s the friendliest meal during the conference. I know there will be scrambled eggs and other meats and fresh fruit on the buffet. It’s all-you-can-eat. That’s great if your eating is unrestricted. But I can only have about 6 ounces of food, and the penny pincher in me refuses to pay $25 for 6 ounces of food. So I’m having yogurt again for Saturday’s breakfast.

I haven’t yet figured out supper for Friday. I’ll be on my own, so I can either brown bag it or go to a restaurant for some takeout. Again, this is requiring a good deal of research to see what’s available near the Hilton.

I’ve been obsessed with this trip for weeks, worried mostly. I’m heading outside my comfort zone, which is required to get used to new situations and to practice being “normal.” (To be honest, I’m not sure there is a normal anymore.) I’ve packed three ready-to-drink protein shakes, a bag of unsalted, raw mixed nuts and a couple sticks of string cheese for snacks, and I have two insulated 32-ounce water bottles and Crystal Light inside my backpack.

I’m still struggling with my new diet, and heading into social situations is very stressful for me. But this year, it’s something I need to work on. Getting tips from other bariatric patients will be helpful along the way; I have a small group of friends who have been through it already, and I’m learning some tips, tricks and tools from them.

Learning how to eat in social situations in public is going to require a lot of work and a lot of patience. But I’m ready — at least for Albany. We’ll see where life takes me from there.

(Read more of Andy Flynn’s “Lake Placid Diet” columns HERE.)

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