“You are going to have to change your lifestyle, my son!”
I understood what I was hearing about embracing change, but as this consulting doctor and I were both middle-aged, and we didn’t look remotely alike, I wasn’t clear on how I had suddenly become his son. His field of specialty was Haematology and Oncology, not Anthropology or the practicalities of reproduction – but It could have been worse, I could have just as easily become his dear old fellow, or an old sport.
“What sort of lifestyle changes do you have in mind, Peter?” I asked.
Addressing him as champ, or big fellah had crossed my mind.
Dressed awkwardly in sagging brown corduroy pants and flaunting deplorable handwriting skills, Peter informed me over the top of his tethered bifocals that I have non alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which can be managed with a new diet and exercise regime, but if left unchecked, could lead to serious complications down the track. After absorbing the news, I wondered briefly if the good doctor dressed himself in the dark in the mornings, because, though far from being fashionable myself, not even I would be caught wearing those pants in public.
“You are going to have to give up a lot of the things in life that you enjoy.”
As he reeled off a list of junk and fatty foods and beverages that I was to ban myself from, Peter also scribbled rapidly on a notepad and sent it across the desk between us, as if, by reading this piece of paper, I would be doubly illuminated. Of course it meant nothing to me. It was just scribble. However, through the unbridled jagged doodling, I was able to make out what looked like the image of a fried dead possum dangling from a power line.
“And whatever exercise you are currently doing, you’ll need to double or triple it.” he added, for good measure.
Our appointment ended, I thanked Peter and left, but not before I told him that he had, in my opinion, the worst handwriting on the planet. He laughed and confirmed that pathologists and chemists all over town agreed with me. I decided not to comment on his pants.
I was pleased that I now knew what was ahead of me. The 3-4 weeks of tests and scans and not knowing was stressful. I knew something was clearly shutting down, with symptoms of extreme fatigue/weakness/nausea etc, but until I knew what it was, I was left to freely google my symptoms and self diagnose every terminal illness ever documented, which was unhelpful.
So fixing things with a new dietary/exercise regime was something I figured I could easily manage. How hard could it be? My wife Susie eats sensibly and slots Pilates and Yoga into her busy work schedule most days. In stark contrast, I eat whatever isn’t nailed down and collapse on the couch after work. I walk our dog Rosie in the mornings, so I guess that counts a little. Friday night fish and chips have been a ritual for me since early childhood, and I am no stranger to pizza, hamburgers, souvlaki, snack foods, biscuits, cakes and ice-cream. I am a pantry inhabitant. A chocolate bandit.
But above all of those things, I am a fresh, warm, crusty white bread lover. I can eat it all day. And although I enjoy drinking good white or red wine, my general alcohol preference is frosty cold beer. I don’t play nearly enough golf (usually a quick 9 holes before work when the seasonal daylight permits), and our garden may feel a sense of abandonment.
Now, I had a long-held the belief that our BBQ would not light unless I had a beer in my hand, but a few nights ago I cooked on it holding a large glass of iced water and miraculously the grill still functioned. That was a turning point.
Breakfast now involves blending fruit and raw vegetables into what my extended family affectionately call “Pond Slime”. It is green and slimy, and looks like something that collects on the walls of a fish tank, but it tastes pretty good. But no crusty white bread.
Lunch is home-made soup and fruit. Snacks are nuts and seeds, no biscuits, no white bread. Dinner is whatever we are all eating, but smaller serves and minimizing the carbs. No beer, wine instead (preferably red) and only socially. No junk food.
It has been 3 weeks since the possum doodling man of corduroy said I’d be giving up a lot of the things in life that I enjoy, and on that point, I think I’d now have to disagree with him.
I have started to gain back other things in life that I truly value, such as energy and vitality, an optimistic clear head, and a healthy functioning body; and on balance, these gains far outweigh the sluggish and fatigued world of fish and chips and beer. Just as we emerge from a dead cold Winter into a warmer, vibrant, and regenerated Spring season, I am finding a new appetite for life. I don’t want to give up feeling this way. Losing some middle-aged kilos doesn’t hurt either.
The garden is starting to get some attention, the dog is getting walked, and early morning golf will hopefully start again in the weeks ahead.
And you know, fresh, warm, crusty whole grain bread (every now and then) doesn’t taste too bad either.