Before and after

One week to the day before I was packing my bag for my short hospital stay, I was posing for my “after” photos for the Burn the Fat Summer Challenge that had been one of my central activities since Memorial Day weekend.* One week I’m proudly showing off my toned, lightly visible abs. The next, I’m getting ready to have those abs sliced clean through with a surgical scalpel. It’s a good thing I appreciate (or at least respect) life’s little ironies.
I had less than 48 hours between making the decision to have surgery and actually checking in to the hospital. I kept a running checklist of things I would need. Sleep mask and earplugs? Check. Magazines? Check. Going home clothes? Check. Toiletries? Check. iPod? Check.
I was on a clear liquid diet for more than 24 hours before check in, so thoughts of eating actual food weren’t far from my mind. That, combined with a touch of “woe is me, I’m having surgery” syndrome [cue violins] made me immediately think of all the indulgent things I might have Jeff bring me. Chocolate. Ice cream. French pastries. Milkshakes. Dan Dan noodles from P.F. Chang’s.

[Cue sound of needle scraping across vinyl record]

“Wait a minute? What the heck am I thinking?” I asked myself. This surgery would put my fitness efforts on hiatus, there was no reason why my healthy eating habits should also fall by the wayside.
Post-surgery, I was allowed clear liquids, then “full” liquids. My initial choices, including cream of rice cereal and a small chocolate milkshake, ranged from flavorless to disgustingly sweet. No happy medium to be had. A turkey sandwich. Oatmeal. Scrambled eggs. English muffin. Tapioca pudding. Yogurt. Juice. Hot tea. It all sounded better in theory than in application. Still, I ate what I could, because my body needed nutrients! It needed to heal!
My appetite returned nicely when I returned home. I  had a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup for lunch (my request), and Jeff had chicken cacciatore bubbling away in the crockpot for dinner. I transitioned right back into my healthy eating routine, asking Jeff to prepare foods that sounded good, but were within the parameters of healthy eats.
My concession to comfort food was to bring whole grains back into my diet. Our little household “no grain” challenge will have to be revived in a future month. Under my supervision, Jeff baked a double batch of our favorite banana espresso muffins (we had a lot of really ripe bananas to use up). Lightly sweet, and chock full of banana, yogurt, eggs, nuts and whole wheat flour (there is butter in there, too), these are about as healthy as a muffin gets. And, I’m sorry, but when a girl gets cut open, sometimes she just needs a bowl of properly prepared steel-cut oatmeal.

My nutritional goals for my recovery are to:

  • Support general healing
  • Prevent digestive issues from narcotic pain medication
  • Counteract any damage to the good bacteria populations in my intestines (I was given antibiotics during surgery)
  • Bolster my potassium and iron levels (both tested low in the ER), especially since I lost a unit of blood 

I’ve been eating

  • Lots of veggies and fruit (this is the cornerstone of my diet)
  • Protein from chicken, beef, whole eggs (from my own chickens) and whey powder
  • Healthy fats (nuts, avocados, egg yolks, grassfed beef)
  • Fiber from produce, whole grains and dried fruits
  • High-quality plain yogurt with live cultures (to nurture my colonies of intestinal flora)
  • Lots of water to help everything work right, and hopefully flush out those general anesthesia drugs!
I’m snacking on nutritious goodies like green smoothies and hummus with raw veggies. The biggest changes to my diet have been the inclusion of more dried fruits (these are calorie-dense, but they do help prevent the need for laxatives that often comes when taking narcotic pain meds) and more juice. I rarely drink juice, but I have been having a few 6-ounce glasses a day. This practice will end in about a week.
Oddly, my produce- and protein-heavy diet is very similar to what I was eating when I was working intently on burning body fat and building lean muscle. This surprised me at first, but then I realized the clear connection: When you weight train in order to build muscle, you are constantly damaging the muscle tissue (micro tears). It’s the process of rebuilding and repairing that causes muscle growth. That’s why the body can make use of extra protein.
Similarly, when you are healing an injury (from being in an accident, say, or having surgery), your body is strongly in repair mode. Repair is made easier when your body has a ready supply of amino acids (the building blocks of protein) in it’s “amino acid pool.” Your body can also recycle amino acids from existing protein, but why make it work harder when it’s already working so hard to heal?
So, I think that’s enough for now. Tomorrow I’ll talk fitness in the face of post-surgery restrictions, and on Monday I’ll talk about my motivation for getting back into fighting form.

* I did not win, by the way. Wouldn’t that have been ironic if I had? (Paging Alanis Morissette.)