Search This Blog

Monday, May 26, 2014

Re-learning restaurants

It always startles me to hear someone say they don't like to eat out alone. Give me a book and a menu in any restaurant anywhere and I'm content.  In 30 years of going to an office, I can count the number of times I ate at my desk or in a lunchroom on my fingers. Even working from home, Charlie and I  still go out for lunch a few times a week.
Given the choice of eating out or doing dishes, I see no choice. I prefer to do my grazing on the open range. 
Yet almost three months since my Vertical Gastric Sleeve, I'm still re-learning how to navigate restaurants. 
Some bariatric patients carry wallet cards signed by their doctor saying they can't eat much and should be allowed to order from the children's or senior menu. While that may work for some,  I'm not comfortable with making my solution someone else's problem. (And my day for those senior plates will come soon enough)
My healthier choice for myself should not mean my waiter or waitress gets a smaller portion of their tip.  Having served my time as a waitress in high school, I know that there are few exceptions to the universal rule that people who order the lowest priced items also (on a percentage of bill basis) tip less. In a perfect world restaurant employees would make a living wage without tips, but that rarely happens. Diners have to hold up our end of the deal. 
So I order from the regular menu and take the remainder home for additional meals, which for me is actually more cost effective than ordering a reduced portion.
I had a pre-surgery brainstorm to order my own box of take out containers from an online restaurant supply company to make the process as easy (and Styrofoam-free) as possible.  There were hundreds of choices but I compared form, function, materials and price to come to a square, clamshell-type , microwavable container made of recycled matter and a lidded cup for soups. I compared features and price and ordered a box of each... without looking at the quantity. I  now have more than 1000 pieces of each item and will not likely re-order in this century. 
With a life-time supply of take-out boxes, a cooler in the back on my car and calorie/protein/carb counting programs on my phone -- I thought I was all set. 
Texas -- where folks still have the freedom to text and talk on their cellphones while driving, as long as it isn't in a school zone-- does not have nutritional reporting rules for restaurants. Federal law is pending requiring menu nutrition information be available on menus and in framed on-site display in any restaurant with more than 20 locations.  The industry is fighting it with the argument of increased costs for redoing menus. etc. I'd be glad to see something scrawled on a napkin by the cook -- as long as I can get the numbers I need. 
I treated Charlie to lunch yesterday at one of his favorite steak houses, which happens to be part of a a large Texas chain.  It was one of those days where I frankly could not face another piece of grilled chicken.  My phone gave me the calorie count for the tenderloin tips I was considering, but had nothing about the sauce served with it - which sounded awfully good and possibly within my range.  I asked the waitress for the menu nutrition information and she went to get her manager. 
"We don't have that. We have to keep it a secret or we'll ruin it for our customers," he said with an awkward, forced laugh. 
Could he give me a list of the ingredients in the sauce so I could ballpark the totals? He said they were not allowed to share their recipes. Again he laughed. I didn't. 
Yes, there are more than enough non-dieters in this world to keep their tables filled, but why turn away the rest of us over something so simple? 
The number of bariatric patients has increased 16-fold in the past ten years. Add in other people on diets or with other medical dietary restrictions and it makes no sense to turn away our dollars. 
I don't expect mom and pop restaurants to have numerical information, but there always seems to be an owner or cook who will gladly tell me about what's in a dish. 
Back at the steak house, I tipped the waitress well anyway. She had no control over the policies.
But my tip for management -- hospitality is more than putting food on a clean plate. 
I need a restaurant I can count on. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Size matters

The clothes in front of the over-flowing bag  pictured will start a second bag for this run -- the seventh in the last month.
The first cull was easy - bad fashion choices made for the single reason that they fit and I needed a fill-in-the clothing-item-blank.  We were never close.
 Then came the size 22s. I thought I primarily wore 20s and only had a few 22s. They filled two bags. Again, only passing acquaintances.
The business attire wasn't hard because I primarily work at home now and liked the idea of sharing interview clothing with the Dress for Success program.  They actually need larger sizes.
Included in that bag were the self-deluded online slack, skirt and blouse purchases that came close enough to fitting that I didn't send them back. But now they are too big. In retrospect, I probably should have left the tags on.
At my end of the scale, clothing that fits OK is rare and wonderful. Clothing that looks sorta good is a treasure.  When I packed the first bag of "good stuff" I drove around with it in the back of the car for a week - passing the Goodwill donation center on a daily basis.  It's hard to say goodbye.
That bag did not celebrate the triumph of weight shed, but a stark and surprising fear of being on a greased high-wire with nothing to cushion the fall.
Eight years ago, I found a pair of black slacks that laundered well, hung reasonably on me and hid all but the most egregrious lumps.  I bought five pair and replaced them over the years as one would milk or eggs as they ran out.  When they were on sale,  I'd stock up. Yes, I realized that co-workers may have thought I was wearing the same pair of slacks several times a week, but those slacks were unremarkable in all the best ways.  They were the journeyman base for all those jackets, scarves and jewelery I "dressed" in. I held one pair back and apologized to the other six individually as I loaded them into that well-travelled bag.
That last black pair sits with the bunch now on the dining room table. These are my most forgiving friends --the workhorses that sometimes made me feel like I could dress like other people.  That pair of denim shorts on the top of the second pile fit every season since we bought the lake cottage. They are magic.
Over the past month, my husband Charlie started dropping hints that it was "time" for this piece or that. But I laundered them and put them back in the closet. When a stylish friend of mine gently offered her "high weight" size 16 jeans I thought she was being overly optimistic, but accepted them for "down the road."
I've read  hundreds of posts on bariatric support groups about big losers (in the best sense) still seeing their former selves. I thought it was bizarre. Although I'm only a medium loser at this point, it is happening to me.
The plus-sized section of most stores is a fraction of the "regular" clothing inventory.  The entire spectrum of  choice is reopened to me for the first time in 15 years.  Two weeks ago, I filled my arms from a "normal"  sales rack and dragged them into the fitting room to see if anything fit. It all did. I didn't buy a thing.
I took inventory of what I needed in transitional sizes for the summer and set out to Kohls and Steinmart to fill the list.  Both times I caught myself back in the plus-size area telling myself that sometimes things run small.
Over the years, more than one "helpful" salesperson has redirected me to the fat clothes when they spotted me in the "smalls and mediums" shopping for my daughters. My inner self says there is no way they are going to let me look at the L/XL for myself.
I love the sags and bags of wearing my older clothing today.  But  dropping the next 50 requires letting go -- in spite of the fact that my current prescription seems to be the opposite of rose-colored glasses.
I once worked on a location shoot featuring a national media figure. She flatly dismissed all the clothing the staff selected on site as too large or too small. A quick wardrobe person cut out the size tags before sending in the next bunch and told her they were all a size smaller than the actual size.
The star emerged all smiles in the "new" selections.
I don't imagine that would work if I did it to myself.

Monday, May 5, 2014

My drinking problem

Back before Earth Day -- when recycling meant giving your old bike to your kid brother  --  my father would carry a battered wooden crate of  a dozen glass quart bottles to our local bottler on Saturday mornings  and we would come home with a rainbow of filled, fizzy bottles we called "pop."
At Visniak's (pronounced Veesh-nock) these wooden crates were stacked twice as high as my first-grade self in a room I now realize was no bigger than my living room.  The first eight refill slots were a given: two root beer, two birch beer , two ginger ale and two cream soda, then the negotiations began for the remaining four. In a good week I'd get one cherry, in a really good week there would be two. Orange, grapefruit, cola and grape filled out the random remaining rotation. There were no diet versions, each bottle was fully leaded. If Mr. Visniak was there, I'd get a 7 oz. bottle of cherry of my very own.  My eyes started scanning the place for him the minute we opened the door. 
My family had pop with every meal we ate at home and usually when we ate out. Around junior high, I started paying attention to the advertisements and realized that if I ever wanted to wear a bikini and surf with really cool guys, diet soda was the way to go. Recognizing my natural level of activity was similar to that of a gerbil on an exercise reel on speed, I jumped on the caffeine-free bandwagon as soon as it was available. Eventually I discovered iced teas, herbal teas, and that  most everyone else calls the fizzy stuff soda rather than pop. 
I had a solid decade of diet soda behind me when I started gaining weight. Most diets encouraged you to drink plenty of low calorie liquids to keep that "full feeling." Fast food restaurants package meals with a soda included--  your choice is only which kind and how large. From my school cafeteria (cartons of milk) to the finest dining ( a perfect vintage) food and drink has been obviously and permanently paired. 
But not anymore.  At least not for me.
Tens of thousands of people worldwide make a good living just by telling people which drink will go best with their food, but for me it's time for food and drink to have conscious decoupling.
There is no chance for a reconciliation, at least where I'm concerned.
Every medical professional I've encountered on this topic has been clear from the start -- no drinking anything for a half hour before you eat and especially for a half an hour afterwards. This demo  makes the reasoning clear.
Two months after my surgery and I'm still struggling with dry eating. I do it. But I don't like it.
If you don't order a beverage in most restaurants various servers will repeatedly come back to make sure someone got your drink order, so I order a glass of water and move it as far away from my plate to prevent unconscious drinking.  Should I get involved in a conversation or even a book I am reading at the table, my hand knows how to find the drink before my mind can say no.
I did a small survey of those I found online who are struggling with regaining weight after surgery. Eleven of 12 said they started drinking with their meals within six months of the surgery.
Rationally, food and drink together are for me a near toxic combination. Emotionally, we've been such good friends for so long.  The balance between yearning and learning is not there yet.
But I'll get to that (parched, arid, desiccated) place eventually.
I was in the waiting area of a medical office this afternoon when my phone chimed. At the cue, I reached into my purse for a bottle of zero calorie, non-carbonated beverage and took a small satisfying slug one-half-hour from my last snack.
The sweet, older lady next to me reminded me that I didn't take a pill, only a drink.  I told her that a  drink was all I needed.
I hope she took that the right way.