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It's a Guy Thing: It Ain't Broke . . . Until It Is.
Posted by Toni in Health + Beauty
Charlie's pre-op glamor shot

As an adult, I’ve never been overly concerned about what I put into my body. For one thing, I was a fall-down drunk for 15 years—which meant that my four food groups were beer, whiskey, potato chips, and Alka-Seltzer. I did not eat breakfast from 1981 to 1996, unless you count the daily ritual of Coca-Cola, aspirin, Tums, and a multivitamin. In those days, my weight fluctuations depended more on the type of job I had (or didn’t have) than on my eating habits.

Even when I got sober, I didn’t really watch what I ate, figuring that giving up alcohol was my lifetime deposit in the Karma Bank. (I also believed life owed me a pass on the felony of my choice.) So if you held up a food item and asked me how many grams of fat it contained, I’d shrug and ask, "Why should I care?"

Then, last March, I had a stomach pain unlike any I’d experienced before. And considering I’d been a blood-puking drunk 14 years earlier, that’s saying something. There was no nausea, just pain. Lots of pain. I tried conventional therapies: antacids, acid-reducers, and anti-gas pills. Nothing worked. I lay down, stood up, curled into a ball. Still nothing. I even drove myself to the nearest emergency room, but it was a busy night for automotive stupidity, so I decided not to wait and drove home. Then, about 3 hours after the pain had started, it subsided.

Believing it to be an isolated incident, I made no dietary changes and went on as before: take-out, fast food, etc. Then, 3 weeks later, the pain returned. This time, I decided to ignore it, and went out for tacos. That attack lasted 5 hours. Fast forward 3 weeks to yet another attack. Then, on the night following my wife’s birthday cook-out, I awoke with a knifing pain so bad I had to consider for a moment whether I was having a heart attack. After an hour the pain stopped, and I wasn’t dead. So I ruled out a coronary.

I decided to consult that bastion of medical information—the Internet. After wading through miscellaneous anecdotal reports and discounting the extra-horrible diagnoses, I arrived at “biliary colic,” a condition resulting from a gallstone, blocked duct, or otherwise faulty gallbladder. “Hmmm,” I thought. “I should see a doctor.”

My doc examined me and ordered an ultrasound, which showed a stubborn gallstone lodged in the neck of the gallbladder, which (appropriately for me) is shaped like a wine skin. So, it was off to a surgical consult. As you may have guessed, the surgeon recommended surgery, sort of the way mechanics recommend brake jobs. Being a coward, I asked about alternatives. Being a surgeon at heart, he said there were none. The only problem was, the next available slot for elective cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal) was 6 months away, in October. I asked what I should do in the meantime to prevent further attacks. “Eat low fat,” he said.

Fear of excruciating pain is a great motivator. And in this case it served as a wake-up call that I was no longer 22 years old, and that I had to pay at least some attention to what my body was telling me. So I was faced with the choice of counting fat grams or risking another 5-hour attack of stabbing gut pain. Since I had no idea what my daily fat intake was, given a totally unrestricted diet, I figured I should find out. Short answer: 110 grams. I had (and still have) no idea if that’s high or low. But, to be safe, I figured I’d cut that number in half.

I eliminated all fast food and take-out (except for Vietnamese and Indian food) and then took a whack at my home eating habits. No more peanut butter. Peanut butter, when it comes to fat calories, is Satan in a candy-apple red Caddy. And Satan’s girlfriend is mayonnaise. So out they went. Then I just substituted low-fat versions of everything else I ate: low-fat sausage, low-fat waffles, light bread, 2% cheese, pretzels instead of potato chips, Fig Newtons instead of Chips Ahoy, etc. Then I took a recount: 45 grams. I’d actually cut my intake by 60%.

Best of all: it worked. The 45 g/day low(er) fat diet kept me attack-free for 6 months, right until my surgery date in October. As a bonus, I lost 23 pounds, going from about 208 to about 185 lbs, and I dropped a pants size.

The surgery itself was done laparoscopically at an outpatient surgical center. I was in by 1pm and out by 7pm, and my recovery was swift and uneventful. I was off painkillers 4 days post-surgery and was able to eat normally within 2 weeks. Having lost the luxury of willful ignorance, I remain at least partially aware of my fat intake, even if I allow myself the occasional éclair, and I’ve managed to keep 20 of the 23 pounds off. And while it certainly worked for me, I don’t recommend a stubborn gallstone as a weight-loss program.

Charlie O’Hay is a poet whose work has appeared in over 100 literary magazines, including Gargoyle, The New York Quarterly, and West Branch. He currently works as a freelance advertising copywriter and manuscript editor, and blogs at It Ain't All Pizzas and Cream.