I had a health scare.
Actually, I had one before that I ignored. Early in 2019 I had to go see a gastroenterologist with pains in my stomach area. Suspecting either a stomach ulcer or inflammation of the stomach lining, he ran several tests. It all seemed fine, except for one thing: I had fatty liver, he said. Foie gras, I thought. Looks good sizzling in a hot skillet. Sounds disgusting talking about my own organ. It wasn’t serious, he said (he may have said ‘yet’). But I should try and lose weight, exercise more and change my diet. “Lay off the coke and fast food,” he added.
Coke? Fast food? Oh we’re good then: that’s not in my meal plan. I’m a farmers market shopper, from-scratch cook, good-wines drinker. In the absence of words like “alarming” and “unless you change”, I didn’t take the fatty liver seriously. I mean, I did watch my portion-size for a bit, and exercised more, for a bit. But then, but but but. There was my Houston Cooks book launch, shortly followed by the holidays, and then there was a conference trip, and a skiing trip, and then it was March. March 2020, to be precise.
Back away from the fridge, you are not hungry!
I am guilty as sin when it comes to Covid-eating. I baked more, cocktail-shook more, uncorked more, “curb-side” supported local restaurants more. I piled on another 10 pounds instead of losing 20.
Self-deception is a strange beast. Whenever someone snapped a photo with me and someone else in it, I thought it was just a weird angle because I looked so inflated. Even though XL was tearing at the seams I refused to buy plus-size. New purchases just hung in the closet, waiting for a miraculous fit.
Then came July. By now we had made it to our house just north of Montreal, Canada, in the beautiful Laurentian mountains. It is an outdoor paradise with gorgeous lakes and trails to tramp. I’ve always loved hiking but then I got into my own head thinking I wasn’t fit enough. Fortunately, people around me didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Warning my fellow hikers that I’d slow them down, I ended up surprising everyone—not least myself—that I could keep up. I’m no deer dancing up the mountain but not an asthmatic rhinoceros either. As the weeks progressed, hikes got longer, steeper, more intense. My fitness improved and I was hiking with a big smile on my face, cherishing my sore feet at the end, loving the energy. Self-deception over? Not really. I still lived by the credo ‘fat but fit’ and continued to indulge.
Revenge of the fatty liver
On August 5, 2020, I landed in hospital, exactly 20 years to the date I was in hospital the last time. That time was to deliver a bouncing baby boy. This time… not so joyous. The long story is in a next post, the short here: gallstones blocking the bile ducts caused a serious infection that impacted the liver. While the gallbladder was the root cause, it was the liver that was crashing. Six days on IV-fluids, no food, waiting for the liver to improve, for the pain to subside, for the jaundice to go: it was the loudest wake-up call.
I am wide awake now. It is amazing how a health scare like that shifts the focus. I have been on a #weighlossjourney since I got out of hospital on August 11. Not a desperate diet, no crazy stuff like eating nothing but potatoes for a week. For me, steady does it: less in than out. I eat well but pick foods that are low calories, with a big emphasis on vegetables, whole grains, and lean (and often plant-based) protein. Also, at least until the doctor is done with the gallbladder: no fried foods, no alcohol. I spread my meals to five a day, and hike (or walk) daily.
I am writing this a month after I landed in hospital, and ten days before my gallbladder surgery. I raked up an average of 100,000 steps (equals an average of 40 miles) every week since August 11, and lost close to 10 pounds—but that is including the no-food week in hospital.
In my life in the food lane there will always be good, delicious food. In many ways, I don’t have to change that much in the way I shop for and cook food. Ultimately, when weight and time prove I am on the right track, my body copes well without its little pear-shaped bag of bile, and my foie reduced its gras, the remaining change in lifestyle will be all about moderation: less in than out, always.
Wish me luck! And try out the Chickpea Flatbread following below, one of many recipes to follow!
Recipe: No-Fat Chickpea Flatbread
1 cup garbanzo flour
1 cup water
½ teaspoon each smoked paprika, ground cumin, turmeric
1 teaspoon sea salt
A few grindings of black pepper
Put the flour in a bowl and whisk in water gradually. Add the seasoning and whisk once more to incorporate. Cover and leave for 6-8 hours or overnight (kitchen counter is fine).
Tricky bit: I don’t want to use any fat and am counting on the frying pan to help me out. You can always lightly brush the pan with some vegetable oil.
Heat a small (8-inch) nonstick skillet and add enough batter to cover the base in a ¼ inch layer. Cook over medium-heat for about 2-3 minutes, or until the batter on top is dried. Gently push a spatula under the flat bread and when it feels free from the pan, flip it. Cook for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and let it slide onto a board.
I love it topped with guacamole & ripe, sliced tomatoes. Or mix together feta and chopped tomatoes, season to taste, put on the flat bread and melt it under the broiler.