by Todd Fulginiti
I was on a gig, as a freelance trumpet player, subbing for a friend in a regional dance band one Saturday night. I had scarfed down a falafel sandwich and a few other things in the car and had just entered the venue to get set up. Within twenty minutes, I was in what had become my normal post-meal state. Bloated. Seriously gassy. Belching toxic fumes.
As we played the first set, all the deep breathing and exhaling I was doing into my horn was making me feel even worse. I was dizzy, nauseated, and could show-up a dragon by spewing fire either by mouth or tailpipe. These episodes had become routine over the past year or two, but things had been getting increasingly more intense. This night was definitely the worst yet. I survived the set, and during break, went immediately into the bathroom where I locked myself into a stall and let my body do what it needed to do. I felt bad for the few people who came into that bathroom while I was still in business, as they quickly gasped and choked their way back out. Hey- it was no picnic for me either. But I did finally realize something important during that episode. I really needed to get myself together.
What did that mean? I didn’t know. I did know that I had not been digesting food well for some time. I knew I was about 15 pounds over my usual weight, and my usual weight was about 10 pounds over my recommended weight. I knew that I lacked energy and strength. I knew I had grown used to wearing what my kids called “old man” pants. The ones with an expandable elastic waistband. I needed them because my waist in the morning was two inches smaller than what it would expand to during the day, especially after meals. I knew that I was in an almost constant state of mild anxiety which blossomed into something close to full on panic in certain situations. I knew I was a mess.
I am impatient by nature and was tired of feeling miserable. So I did what any logical person would do and abruptly made several major changes to my diet and lifestyle. All at once. Booyah!
Vegetarian for over 20 years, I started eating meat again. Turkey, chicken and I saw each other almost daily. I increased my intake of the green leafy vegetables I had always loved. I paid attention to serving sizes and tried to abide by them. I nearly eliminated gluten, which of course wiped out the tremendous amount of breads and cereals I had been eating. I got as close as I could to eliminating processed sugars. That killed soda, my beloved granola bars, cakes, cookies, ice cream and a surprising amount of other foods that I had no idea were full of sugar.
I treated high fructose corn syrup like a poison. I got much more consistent with my running and exercise routine, making sure I got out every other day. I started to slow down at meal times, thinking about what I was eating and trying to listen to my body as it told me what foods it needed. I stopped taking prilosec and began taking time each day to clear my head and relax.
After about 2 weeks, the changes were amazing! I had committed to eating appropriate portions of only the most nutrient dense, high quality foods I could find. The family grocery budget became even more bloated than I had been on that Saturday night gig, but it was all good. I had lost about 10 pounds already and little did I know that was just the beginning. I was running stronger and faster than ever and did not feel like warm molasses afterwards. I had great energy and felt mentally sharp. My mild state of constant panic had given way to calm confidence. I was in my mid forties but felt like I was in high school again; at least until I saw my hairline in the mirror.
Eight months later I was 30 pounds lighter yet stronger than I had been in years. I was contemplating a half marathon run. My elastic-waisted, old man pants were gone. The guy who obliterated the bathroom that Saturday night was, himself, obliterated.
The point of this whole saga is to set the stage for this three-pronged reminder. Number one is that, just as mom, dad and grandma probably told you growing up, you really are what you eat. You also are how much you eat, and the mood you’re in when you eat it. There is a big difference between real food and “food-like substances”. There’s a big difference between healthy portions and those that waiters serve us at restaurants. And there’s a big difference between a slow meal with family and friends versus fast food eaten quickly as we drive down a congested street. Unless they are sick or highjacked by a gut imbalance, our bodies will tell us what foods we need to eat, when and how much. But in order to hear what our bodies are saying, we need to slow down and pay attention to them, which brings us to prong number two.
That is to simply to calm down and slow down. Literally, stop and smell the roses. Turn off your phone for a few hours. Refuse to believe that everything is monumentally important and worthy of round-the-clock outrage, despite what our social media newsfeed says.
Lastly, prong three is that exercise is crucial. Our physical system is made for movement and to deny it that is like denying a fish its right to swim. So get off the computer or the couch and give your body a chance to show you what it can really do. Cliche or not, the human body really is an incredible machine.
As simple and basic as these three ideas are, they are very easy to forget. And in case I forget them too often, I did save one pair of old man pants to scare me straight again.
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