I’m a Recovering Food Blogger

Hi, my name is Mara, and I’m a recovering food blogger.

“HI MARA”

This post has been a long time coming, and years in the making.

Over five years ago, I started my food blog, What’s for Dinner? with the hopes of chronicling losing “those last 20 pounds” after a successful stint in Weight Watchers. Friends were always asking me for recipes so I figured “what the hell?” and started writing them down.

The recipes gave way to pictures of the food.

Which then gave way to bringing a camera to every meal out…

…which then gave way to a more expensive camera at every meal out.

I think months went by and I didn’t eat a hot meal because I had to get the photo “just so.” There were eye rolls when the camera came out. People started passing me their plates before they started eating so that I could get a picture. I’m apparently the only one who didn’t find it ridiculous.

Being a food blogger was a huge contributor to my weight gain.

When I say huge, I mean “in the top ten reasons I piled on over 80 pounds in a few short years”.

At first, I was sharing healthy recipes, measuring my portions, and if I remembered to photograph them, great.

Then things changed. I don’t know if it was the advent of Pinterest, the insane competition that started happening between the “bigger bloggers” and the “smaller bloggers” to get as much blog traffic as possible, or whether I used these things as an excuse to make deep-fried appetizers, cheesy pasta-filled main courses, and decadent (I now shudder at this word) desserts. I got a kick out of people loving my food. I also loved my food, way too much and way too often.

When I started my Optifast weight loss journey, I abruptly said goodbye to this way of life. I think in the whole 14 weeks of the intensive program, I took one photo of one shake one morning. ONCE. They just weren’t interesting.

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See? Boring.
I used food blogging to fuel my food addiction, which I wholeheartedly accept and acknowledge as a real thing. The difference, as they say, is that one needs food to live, unlike other addictions which can be 100% cut out of a person’s life. I couldn’t just stop eating. I could, however, take away the parts which made it anything more than a necessity. I stopped cooking. Stopped planning. Stopped shopping. Food became fuel only.
I vowed to myself to only take photos of food for my own accountability. Thai spicy broth for dinner instead of Optifast? Photo. First sashimi dinner after 14 weeks of no real solid food? Photo. I would not, however, break out the good camera and set the plates out just so and make the photos look perfect. I used my phone and some Instagram filters and shared my food with my followers there, and watched my attitude about food continue to be that of fuel and not my primary source of success or pleasure.
I realized during our trip to Barcelona that there is a huge difference between photographing a meal for the memory of it, and photographing a meal “for the blog”. I have dozens of photos of food from that trip, and I also know there was plenty of food consumed that was not photographed. I also realized that the sheer act of feeling like I “had to” photograph a meal can be likened to putting an alcoholic in a bar, or a gambling addict in a casino. I found myself overeating, over-drinking, and under-thinking
One thing that absolutely has not changed is my appreciation for the beautiful. I take a huge amount of pleasure in eating a beautifully prepared meal, and even indulge in the occasional dessert (preferably made by my über-talented sister). Yes, I still take photos of meals occasionally, but only because I feel they are too beautiful to not be recorded, or too delicious not to share.

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Pan con tomate and mussels on the Mediterranean, saved for posterity in my iPhone

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I told you my sister is talented!
While one of the most important things to come from this is my now 97.5 pound weight loss, I truly feel that THE most important thing for me is my change in attitude regarding food. Sure I eat to live. Sometimes, I live to cook. But I truly and honestly feel that I no longer live to eat… and that’s something that took me 33 years and some months to learn, and will take a lifetime to reinforce.

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Recovery & Milestones

Ever since I lost my gallbladder, things have been a little bit different around here.

I spent the first week home from the hospital doing a lot of nothing, eating bits and pieces of high-protein foods, and trying to heal. Week two of recovery was spent at work. I noticed that I hit an energy wall at about 1:00 p.m. every day. Apparently, this can be a side effect of having anesthesia (a first for me) and recovering from surgery (another first). Who knew?! I’ve noticed, though, that I haven’t had ONE headache since the surgery, which makes me think that things have been funky for a while… I’d had near daily headaches for months.

The hardest thing has been not being as active as I had been. I never thought those words would ever be a sentiment I truly felt, but seriously, I feel so lazy. I’m still sore on the inside after I eat, and I’m not supposed to exert myself for another 2 weeks, and I can’t lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk for another 4 weeks. Apparently post-surgical hernias aren’t too pleasant…

In weight loss news, I lost 5.8 pounds in the week before and after surgery, and gained one back in the week after. It was hard to not let the gain get to me, but I was reminded time and time again that my body had been through a trauma, and the week before I’d had days where I’d eaten next to nothing. So, my grand total of weight lost so far is…

drumroll please…

74.1 pounds!!!!! I did hit 75 pounds there for a week, and hopefully I’ll be back there this week.

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I’m a lower weight now than I’ve been since 2003. I feel better than I have in years, even with the surgical recovery.

When I hit my 70 pound mark, I knew I needed to do something for myself that I’d wanted for a while. Originally, I’d said I’d get a tattoo at 50 pounds, but since that happened a) quickly and b) in the dead of winter, I opted to hold off until 70.

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I’m in love with it, and am so pleased with how it turned out. I went to Metamorph Tattoo Studio in Chicago, in the Wicker Park neighborhood, and would recommend Zac to anyone who needs ink done. He was awesome!

In other news, the sun finally showed its face here after months of clouds… so I put on my prescription sunglasses. I noticed how differently they fit my face than before, and in shameless selfie comparison tradition:

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I’m hoping to heal quickly and get back to activity soon, and I’m continuing with transition to food, and eating anywhere from one to three meals/snacks a day. I’m supplementing with Optifast products, and noticing the change in my feelings about food. Sure, it’s great to have a great meal… but I don’t need to stuff myself to the point of pain. One big sushi roll with no rice, and I’m good to go. And now I want sushi. But in all seriousness, I’m still in shock as to how different I feel about eating. I’m not going to eat things that don’t taste good, but I’m also not eating ALL THE THINGS!

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I eat some of the things. In small quantities. And only when I’m hungry. This is an important part of this whole resetting thing. Food is fuel…delicious fuel, but still fuel.

The Day I Lost an Organ

Monday, March 17 was an ordinary day.

Ok, that’s not true. It was the first day of a new term, so I had an entirely new batch of students in my class, and I’d had a headache for going on four full days. I figured that it was due to the constantly changing weather, the end of the term, the stress of doing grades and my general malaise thanks to this eternally gray and cold winter.

I’d made this delicious Mexican crock pot pork dish which I’d planned on eating atop giant salads for the course of the week. A bit of relaxation had made my head stop hurting, so I made my salad, and decided to go to bed early to hopefully avoid a fifth day of a headache.

Fast forward to 12:30 a.m.

Have you ever wondered what Iron Man feels like? (I swear I’m going somewhere with this) I’m not talking about his cool gadgets or suit or anything, but that whole “messed up heart so there’s a machine cutting through the front of his chest almost through his back” thing? I woke up feeling like that. There was this intense pain in the very center of my chest right under my sternum straight through to my back. I initially thought it was horrendous heartburn, but then next thing I knew I was sweating, exceedingly pale (according to Adam) and throwing up all over the bathroom (sorry for the visual).

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Adam convinced me that I needed to go to the ER. Pain like that wasn’t something to mess around with. Apparently, I’d picked the “perfect” time to go to the ER, as I was the only one there and seen right away. Within two hours, I’d had pain medication, anti-nausea medication, an ultrasound, CT scan, and more pain medication. They’d determined that I had gallstones which were causing gallbladder attacks, which explained the pain, vomiting, and possibly the general feeling of ick I’d had over the last few weeks.

But, because my blood pressure was super-low (I’m talking 76/54 low) they wanted to admit me for observation before I could be assessed for possible surgery. So up to the 6th floor I went, drugged up for pain and finally slept.

At 8 a.m. I was woken up by my wonderful nurse, who explained that before they would make any decisions about the next steps of my care, I would need to get a HIDA scan performed. There was a catch though: the scan couldn’t be performed until I’d been off of all pain medication for 8 hours. This meant that I had to be pain med-free (as well as food and drink free) until 1 p.m.

I don’t do well when I’m hungry. I’ve eaten every 3 hours like clockwork since I started my OptiFast plan… so seriously? 8 hours without food? It was really good that I wasn’t dealing with too many people. 1 p.m. turned into 2:45, and then the test was an hour (in which I was radioactive!) They determined that it would be in my best interest to have my gallbladder (and its stones) removed. After a major panic and lots of tears, I made the decision that I would rather deal with the surgical recovery than EVER have to deal with the pain and discomfort of another gallbladder attack.

Adam went with me into the surgical prep room, and the anesthesiologist explained what she would be giving me and how anesthesia worked since I’d never had it before. I remember being wheeled into the operating room, then next thing I knew I was waking up in recovery. I asked for Adam and my sister, and they were there in a minute.

So now, I’m sans gallbladder. I have four holes in my belly, one of which is in my belly button and is annoying the crap out of me. I’m sore in my muscles too, as if I’ve done about a million crunches. Apparently they had to shove my muscles around in there when they were removing my gallbladder through my belly button.

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The upside of all this is that I know that I won’t have another gallbladder attack, and it’s in my best interest to continue eating a low-fat, low-carb diet to avoid the side effects of not having a gallbladder.
The downside? I had to cancel my trip to Arizona for spring break. I’ll reschedule I’m sure, but I’m still beyond bummed. The surgeon and general physician both suggested that flying might not be in my best interest. At least I’d thought ahead and bought the travel insurance…
What’s interesting is that when I first signed up for my OptiFast program, I signed paperwork acknowledging that gallbladder problems are a possible side effect of rapid weight loss. I was asked if I regret doing the program and losing the weight so quickly. My answer? Absolutely not. I’m relieved that, if this had to happen, it happened now when I’m in the best physical shape I’ve been in years, and not when I was 70 pounds heavier.
I’m on the mend now, and I feel significantly better than I did even 24 hours ago. I’m lucky I have the most understanding principal on the planet who instructed me to stay home for the week (even though I was worried about it) and that spring break is this coming week, so I’ll be up to working once that’s over.
I’m off to rest and recoup… I’ll check in next week!