What Not Chewing For Six Weeks Taught Me

Last Thursday was a very happy day — my braces came off! If you’ve been following along, I had braces to assist in the process for a jaw surgery I needed. In honor of this momentous day, I wanted to share with you the lessons I learned during the acute recovery when I wasn’t allowed to chew for six weeks. Yup, no CHEWING for six weeks! It was quite a ride…

bracefree

{brace-free, post dental cleaning!}

On May 7, 2015 I checked into the hospital for what would be a five and a half hour surgery to correct some deformities in my jaw. You can read more about what led to that decision here and read here how I felt about 1.5 weeks into recovery. I was excited to get the surgery done, but I knew even going in that the recovery would be a challenge. The hardest part? Not being able to chew for six weeks. Six weeks! The first week I was on a purely liquid diet that I ate through a syringe. Yup, that is not a typo — a syringe.

After that I was allowed to eat any soft foods I could handle that didn’t need chewing. To say it it was a test of will and spirit would be an understatement. I definitely learned a lot of lessons along the way that I wanted to share with y’all.

Lesson 1:  Carbs and Ice Cream Don’t Make You Fat.

I love ice cream — because I’m human and have a pulse. However, it’s not something I buy often in everyday life. During my recovery, though? I probably ate more ice cream and gelato than I have in the entirety of my adult life. And for the record, the Salted Caramel Gelato currently at Trader Joe’s is the best I had.

I also ate tons carbohydrates, and not the complex ones I preach about either. I was eating *lots* of white flour pasta. Why? Because it was easy to swallow. Ravioli was something I ate almost every day from the end of week 2 until week 6.

Hell, I had cheesecake for lunch one day.

Of course, during most of this time I was losing weight, or maintaining a weight lower than I’ve been in months. That’s right, ice cream and white flour were my major food groups and I was thinner.

The lesson? Calories matter. Overeating matters. I do believe that it’s important to have quality calories and to pay attention to nutrients, but at the end of the day your weight is directly correlated to calories first.

Lesson 2:  Chewing is a Gift.

You know what they say, right, that you never know what you have until you don’t have it anymore? That rings true for chewing more than I can ever properly elucidate to you. Being able to eat texture, to experience crispness, to chew kale leaves — it’s not something we should take for granted. It sustains us and allows us to have diverse diets.

One the things that was quickly apparent to me was that a liquid diet is instantly limiting in terms of fiber, particularly non-soluble fiber, which is an important part of a well-balanced diet. It helps keep you full! It keeps you regular!

Lesson 3:  Life Without Enough Calories is not Fun and Can be Scary.

Feeling dizzy when you stand up? Not fun. Waking up in the middle of the night because your stomach is growling? Not fun.

There were days where as much as I tried, I couldn’t get enough calories in. This happened closer to the beginning of my recovery because adjusting to eating out of a syringe was really, really challenging at first. Figuring out ways to get enough calories in to keep my body happy was hard — enter the intense amount of ice cream I ate! But before I figured all that out, I had a few moments where I nearly passed out. Moments where I was winded from walking up the stairs in my house.

None of this is appealing to me. Calories fuel us. And restriction to this point is scary and possibly dangerous — falling is kind of the last thing you want to do when you’ve just had major surgery on your face.

Lesson 4:  Losing 13 pounds in 5 Days Does Not Give you Six-Pack Abs.

At one point in the first week of recovery I realized I was down 13 pounds from my starting weight. As a fit gal, I always assumed that if I lost enough body fat that my abs would be super ripped — because suddenly they’d be visible!

I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but I was honestly a little surprised that this wasn’t the case for me — it made me realize that I’d have to lose a heckuva lot more weight to have a washboard stomach and work even harder in my workouts that I already do to shred my rectus abdominus.

And kiddos, I am likely not going to do that. It’s clear that I don’t have the genetic proclivity for those kinds of abs without a ton of work.

Lesson 5:  Mindless Snacking Packs a Caloric Punch.

Once I got to the point where I could swallow more substantial foods like ravioli and I simply got used to drinking more smoothies, I was finally getting in enough calories. When I did rough calculations, I knew I was getting enough calories in to sustain me. But, eating was such a process I certainly wasn’t going out of my way to eat snacks or mindlessly snack throughout the day. This all made me realize just how many calories can be taken in from snacking and mindless eating throughout the day. I am no bastion of perfection and am just as likely to you to munch on almonds as I work and will sometimes forget what I’m doing. It made me consider that for so many of us, these are truly the excess calories.

Lesson 6:  It is Possible to Change Your Habits So Much That You Honestly Crave Healthy Foods.

This is something I’ve thought about before, but in an intense way this lesson was made ever more true to me. Over the past ten years, I’ve adapted so much to a healthier lifestyle that I genuinely missed my kale salads (just ask my orthodonist and surgeon that I joked about with this constantly!). I missed meals centered around proteins like chicken thighs or wild-caught salmon. I missed feeling energized from what I was eating.

I certainly did my best to power up my smoothies with as many superfoods as I could, but it was in no way the same as my everyday diet.

Lesson 7:  I am Now, More than Ever, Anti-Juice Cleanse.

I have never been on the juice cleanse bandwagon, but now more than ever I am against it. There is just simply absolutely zero reason to subject your bodies to this kind of stress unless it’s medically advised. It’s not worth it! If you want to cleanse, eat clean:  center your meals around protein and veggies and choose low-glycemic carbohydrates. Eliminate alcohol and reduce added sugars. Exercise more.

Trust me when I say your body will appreciate this kind of treatment more than starvation. And heck, if you’re anything like me, a juice cleanse won’t even get you six-pack abs…so really, why even bother? 😉

Now that I am on other side of this process I can tell you it was definitely worth it. While those six weeks definitely felt like the longest of my life, in hindsight it already feels like a distant memory!

The biggest lesson of all that I learned…or rather I re-learned? We can do hard things as long as we keep perspective in mind.