It’s Not About Limits, It’s About Needs

Like many gastric bypass patients, I had a challenge reintroducing foods to my new stomach. I threw up a lot. Not all the time. Not every meal. But enough that it was easy to see that the following three issues would usually result in me losing what I had just eaten: It happened if I ate too much, if I ate too fast, or if I ate certain foods.


My new stomach had a hair-trigger. One ounce of one food or another might sit just fine in my stomach, but 1.1 ounces was over the line, and everything came up. It also reacted poorly if I fed it too fast. Once it reached a certain point, and without much warning, it rejected everything I had eaten. If I took 20 minutes to eat a salad, I would be OK. Eat it in 18 minutes, and I would see it again under less pleasant circumstances. Sometimes it was the type of food I ate. Bread, meats, starches, tomatoes and fried foods all gave my stomach fits.


People would see this happening and say, with the best of intentions, “You’ll just have to learn your limits.” It sounds like good advice. It sounds logical. But it’s only good advice if your goal is to find and then eat at the limits of your new stomach – to eat up to the edge of throwing up.


After much reflection on this subject, it occurred to me that a better goal is to learn to give your body the fuel and nutrients it needs to perform for you. In doing this, you will likely need nowhere near the ‘limit’ of your new stomach.


In fact, knowing your ‘limit’ isn’t really useful at all. Back when I weighed 404 pounds, I used to know my limit: six Big Macs! Knowing that limit didn’t help me at all.


I don’t need to know my limits to know and manage my needs. These days I manage what I eat – how I fuel my body – by planning for 50 to 80 grams of protein every day. Additionally, I plan and carry out a diet that provides 1000 mg of Calcium, 2000 IU’s of vitamin D3, 2000 mcg of vitamin B-12, and 30 grams of dietary fiber, while limiting my intake of saturated fats, sugars and sodium.


If there are any limits that I track, they are caffeine and alcohol, as these are not substances that my body needs, and can quickly cause my stomach – in fact my whole digestive system – to revolt in the most unpleasant way.   However, I do enjoy these things, so it is very important to manage my intake of them. In my case I know I can drink two or three caffeinated beverages a day with little likelihood of having any stomach trouble. I don’t drink carbonated beverages, so my caffeine comes mostly from coffee. A couple of cups of coffee spread throughout the day are fine for me. I can enjoy a couple of glasses of beer or wine over the course of an evening without any troubles, though I cannot tolerate any distilled alcohol (not even my old favorites such as a Gin & Tonic or a Southern Comfort Manhattan). It’s all about planning and managing myself.


I have found a great level of success in reintroducing foods into my system, not by learning my new stomach limits, but by learning to give my body the fuel and nutrition it needs to work as I now ask it to. And because I feed it what it needs, it has responded by allowing me to once again ride my bicycle, snow ski, run 5ks, take part in kickboxing, study Tai Chi, take aerobics and weight lifting classes, ride a jet ski, and sit in restaurant booths and movie theater seats.


Don’t set out to learn your limits after gastric bypass. Instead, learn what combination of foods will give your body what it needs to work as you’d like it to, then manage your daily eating such that you meet those needs.


Rather than “Learn your limits,” I would like to propose a better motto for the gastric bypass patient: “Learn how to give your body what it needs.”

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