symptoms

There was a time when I would have crawled across broken
glass for a Diet Pepsi. My friends, who are all crazy Diet Cokeheads, thought I
was the one on drugs, but no. I knew the truth. Diet Pepsi was the greatest
drink on Earth. Crisp, slightly sweet, refreshing. The bubbles scratched my
throat. If I exerted myself, I would go for Diet Pepsi instead of water. If you
sliced open my veins, you’d find that my blood was carbonated and caffeinated.
I drank a lot of Diet Pepsi.

One of the things they tell you, when you go to
consultations about weight-loss surgery, is that a thing you can no longer have
for the whole rest of your life–unless you want to explode like the space
shuttle–is carbonated beverages. No soda, no diet soda, no seltzer, no coffee
into which you have blown many bubbles with a straw. Bubbles could expand your
stomach, make you painfully gassy, possibly explode your entire lower intestine
in public at the mall in front of your 3rd grade nemesis and all your ex-boyfriends. Soda was officially the enemy, and we were the soldiers in the war
against the Fizzy.

I thought about saying, fuck
this
. I can’t live like that. It is amazing how attached you get to the
idea of your life and your habits, and how impossible they seem to break, and
how unfair it is, when you are told you cannot do something any more. It was
like that for everything I put in my mouth, throughout my whole career of
dieting. Unfair that I couldn’t eat as much as anyone else if I wanted to lose
weight. Unfair that I couldn’t always have what I wanted. Unfair, unfair,
unfair that my body was not so much built for speed. Unless it was to speed
toward dessert, oh ho ho ho. Unfair, to have a life like that.

It actually took awhile for me to remember that a life
lived, with Diet Pepsi, at my weight would be a life not actually lived for
very long. Maybe I would make such a pretty corpse in my coffin fashioned from
6-packs, but also maybe I could make a tiny, little baby sacrifice for the sake
of my health. A sacrifice aside from the chunk of stomach and the length of
intestine, I mean. Those were easy–abstract, almost meaningless to discard. It
was so simple to say, "Oh yes, I understand exactly what this entails, this
operation, I have thought it through step by step." Intellectually, it was a
breeze. I could probably also sacrifice a lobe of my liver and a valve of my
heart, if you needed me to. I was lying to myself, I think, being totally okay
with it–blithely explaining the surgery to friends who cringed, who I
reassured.

Despite the unfairness of it all, all the pouting and
whining and grumpiness, I gave in, said goodbye to my viceiest of vices, and I
climbed on the table.

For the first couple of weeks and months after surgery I was
thirsty, and nothing used to quench my thirst like soda (the bubble scratch
in your throat!) and I longed, but I choked down my protein shakes and I sipped my
disgusting plain water and died inside. When we went to the grocery store to
stock up on chicken broth and herbal tea, I made us walk through the soda aisle
and told Guy that someday, I would be able to drink one of those teeny cans of
Diet Pepsi! Do you see? Such a tiny can! Eeny little baby 6-oz. cans, so
sweet and small. I was saving up my whole life for that day. I whined all the
time about how that day couldn’t come quick enough. I hated Crystal Light with
my whole, entire heart.

I healed, and I continued to heal, and I was able to drink
more and more liquids and the time came when the doctor said my staples should be
totally healed and I said Guy, this is the day. This is the day I have my Diet
Pepsi, and my entire body blowing up be damned. Guy was, unfortunately, so not
down with this plan, and for the first time in our entire relationship, I found
myself going behind his back. I toddled painfully to the corner store while he
was at work, sat down on the sidewalk and breathed awhile, then hauled myself
back up and toddled back up. I sat on the couch and I savored the cool
sweetness of the can and I popped it open, and took the tiniest of sips, letting
the bubbles caress the tip of my tongue, and it was disgusting.

Did you see that coming? Probably. I wish you would have
warned me, because I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t realize that it would
suddenly taste so, so terrible to me. It had become a chemical-tasting mess,
harsh and acidic and painful to choke down, and I was furious. I dumped it into
the sink and I complained to Guy, who first made sure my digestive system was
intact, and then, found it fascinating.

We have since found that my tastes have changed
entirely–that I taste sugar in things that I never would have before. The
tomato soup he brought home, I could not eat. That I want whole foods and
fruits and vegetables, and that I would be deeply unhappy, on so many levels,
to eat a Hostess cupcake. The bite I had of Guy’s–it was nothing like the
cupcakes I had so happily devoured at other times in my life. It was another
chemical nightmare. "You have the palate of a superhero!" Guy said
admiringly.

I don’t know if this is a side-effect of the surgery, or
this is something that is happening to me psychologically, or it could be that
when you avoid sugar for as long as I have–it’s been a long time, now–you lose
your taste for it. I can’t believe I’ve lost my taste for sugar. They did not
operate on my tongue, and as so many weight loss surgery patients are fond of
saying, it’s not a brain operation. I got this surgery deliberately, aware that
I was taking away a lot of choices from myself, and okay with that because it
had been a long time since I was really able to make those good choices. That
was something I went into hoping for and needing. What I went into this not
realizing was that sometimes that lack of choice would come back and surprise
you, in unexpected, unwelcome ways. Sometimes, that lack of choice would remind
you that life is unfair, unfair, unfair. This time, though, you know who to
blame.

  11 comments for “symptoms

  1. May 4, 2007 at 10:06 am

    You are really an amazing writer – this is fascinating reading. I’m struggling right now, and this is the first comment even, I’ve been able to make in weeks. I really admire your strength.

  2. May 4, 2007 at 11:22 am

    I truly believe tastes are required. It took me about two weeks to adjust to the taste of Diet soda when I quit drinking regular soda. But now I’m so accustomed to it that the regular stuff tastes too sweet. And a couple years ago I thought vanilla yogurt tasted like ass, but now I like munching on it with some GoLean Crunch on top. I think the brain is very bendable on taste issues.

  3. *S*
    May 4, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    Wow! I didn’t have that restriction at all after my DS. I asked specifically if I could drink seltzer and my doc told me that it was no problem after a week. I’d been off the diet soda thing since Tab had the saccharine taken out of it, so that wasn’t the issue. I drink soda water regularly – about 20 oz a day. Hmm. Different docs have different rules, what can I say?

    And here’s another weird one – I have more of a sense for sweet since about 4 mos out. I’ve never been a big sugar fiend prior to the surgery, but now, around my (ugh) regular period, I crave the shit like a junkie jones for smack. I don’t do much – remember, we’re talking the 80 ml stomach here – but still. I’m with you 100% on the chemical thing. No twinkies for me!

  4. May 4, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    Addicts don’t taste. They suck it down or up for the brain zap.

  5. May 4, 2007 at 1:35 pm

    Losing my taste for sugar and processed food is one of the best things that has happened to me since my WLS. It’s funny that I appreciate and love food more now than I did before. I’ve been exploring all of the fabulous farmer’s markets and produce and meat markets lately. It’s been quite an adventure, this new relationship with food and eating. I have to say that I’m loving it and I certainly didn’t think that I would.

  6. May 4, 2007 at 4:34 pm

    I had the same relationship with diet Coke (sorry). I tried a sip early on and it did, indeed, suck as much as your first taste of diet Pepsi. It *was* an oddly, profoundly disorienting experience.

    Taste buds keep changing through the first year at least, though, and I’ve now rediscovered my taste for diet Coke. I went without it for 6 months, however, and I drink it now far less than I did pre-op. (My surgeon would be happier if I didn’t drink it at all.)

    I now do like sweets again (there’s good news – not!) but I sure didn’t those first several months. That period of taste buds gone haywire did allow me the time, space, and impetus to rewire my reactions to food and learn how to eat again — differently.

    I’m so grateful for that — even though the process of getting there is a seriously weird head trip, an experience you evoke so well here.

  7. May 4, 2007 at 5:57 pm

    If it had been a Diet Coke, this story would have had a completely different ending.

  8. May 4, 2007 at 8:13 pm

    I have found the same exact thing – if it didn’t grow in the ground or come off of an animal, it tastes like a wad of chemicals to me. Hubby brought home that Coke Plus the other night and said it tasted just like regular Coke, did I want a sip so I took one (probably my third sip since surgery) and I immediately spit it out. It tasted so awful, not to mention the horrible fuzzy feeling of the carbonation. I can’t tolerate anything out of a can any more or things like lunch meat.

    For me, I think I used to eat so much sugar and “fake food” and I ate it so fast that I never really tasted anything. Now that I taste every bite for minutes at a time I have discovered what babies must go through when being introduced to new foods.

    I like having my tastebuds back.

    Oh – and you rock so hard! I swear, my day is not complete until I sit here and read your articles each day. You are one of the best blog writers I have ever read.

  9. May 4, 2007 at 10:35 pm

    I took me over 2 years to lose 97 pounds. As a result, I lost my addiction to Coke, fast food, and carbohydrates like spaghetti/ french bread/cereal. Now, I love Indian, Mediterranean and organic food plus I’m addicted to Propel water which is a perfectly acceptable addiction considering I never ever drank water before. I taste slime on my tongue when I eat a McDonald’s french fry. My tummy shrunk way down over the years to the point that I have to ask for kid/senior portions. I had a Twinkie not too long ago and I wanted to hurl afterwards. At 275 pounds, my inner food voice was being squashed by all the insatiable cravings for high fructose corn syrup 24 hours a day. Now I pay attention to the tummy aches, the energy level I have throughout the day, and all the cravings by distinguishing which is physical and which is probably more mental (brought on by the food ads or the wafting smells of fast food). I give my body what it wants and yes, it wants sugar now and then. It also wants lots of veggies too (oh you delectable sweet peppers and sugar snap peas!). It’s all about habits. It really is. Taste is an acquired habit and mine is in full swing, picky as hell, and happy to taste every little spice out there. Who needs ketchup to cover up everything underneath?

    Moderation is the great regulator and I’m so happy to have finally found it. I have a normal metabolism after all!!!

  10. May 5, 2007 at 7:35 am

    It’s like smoking.

    I used to smoke. I haven’t touched one in years – except for once, a few months ago.

    Oh yes, I craved the sweet taste of that stuff – like your “scratch” – I loved the “burn”. And that little rush you get. It was so nice and calming.

    So I gave in one day and had one. Oh my God, it was the nastiest-tasting thing in the world. It was like licking an ashtray. A hot one. I didn’t puke, but I gagged. I had *never* had such a reaction to smoking before in my life – not even the first time I smoked. (I took to it like a duck to water.)

    Taste buds *do* change – they teach you this – in my case, it was culinary school. I had a chef instructor who was an alcoholic/diabetic/heart patient. He was restricted to vegetarian food. This guy, who loved steak couldn’t have it anymore. He said he went through close to the same thing you did with the coke, and I did with the cigarette. Your body grows accustomed to something, and nothing else will “fit”. In his case (and, as I moved through my culinary career, I found this to be true with *anyone* who gives up red meat for a length of time) – you finally bite into that delicious steak…and puke it up all over the floor.

    Your body (and taste buds) are now accustomed to natural flavors. Your palate is clean – scraped free of those chemical tastes that once were natural to you. Now you can actually taste them.

    That’s a GOOD thing. ;)

  11. May 7, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    I am actually sitting here CHEERING this post and the comments! Your tastebuds can absolutely adapt to change like this. I did not have the surgery, but completely changed the way I eat and exercise about 18 months ago, including cutting processed sugar almost entirely out of my diet (fruit is still on the menu!). Things that others consider bitter (like black coffee) now taste sweet to me. I never put sugar in or on anything anymore (tea, cereal/oatmeal, berries, etc.) because it just overwhelms the taste that is inherent in the food. I haven’t eaten at McDonald’s in nearly three years, and anything with an ingredient I can’t pronounce doesn’t get purchased or consumed. Most of the stuff at the grocery store now freaks me out…and I am amazed at the total state of ignorance I previously enjoyed regarding processed food, its origins, and its long-term impact on the human body. I am so glad to be awake now. ;-)

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