In the search during my recovery for healthy and sustaining foods that could be eaten with little or no chewing, there was one area which had remained Off Limits. Oatmeal and all its brethren were not even a topic for discussion. More than three decades ago, far from civilization in the backwoods of British Columbia, I decided that I could not stand 7-grain cereal (in spite of not having other options for breakfast), and since then no hot cooked nasty mushy cereal has passed my lips. By contrast, Lorraine recently embraced oatmeal as part of her change in diet, and makes it nearly every day.
I did have a long and fairly healthy breakfast tradition of my own. Thankfully, even through the syringe-catheter diet and the no-chew diet, I was able to continue my decade-long love affair with a daily smoothie, now fortified with protein powder. (Whey, dude!) But, man cannot live by smoothies alone, and while I had always combined the smoothie with two homemade bran muffins in the past, that didn’t prove to be a good option in the post-surgery era. I attempted to eat a muffin several weeks ago, barely chewing – really just ‘gumming’ it – and trying to soften it in my mouth with milk (a messy affair). Because I couldn’t chew it, I had to break apart the crusty edges into very small bits that I could easily swallow with a minimum of gumming. I was watching the clock, so I know I do not exaggerate when I say that single muffin took 20 minutes of concentrated eating – and it was not an enjoyable experience. After that I abandoned the muffins (and most bready foods) and haven’t returned to them yet. I pieced together morning meals with other foods, though I always felt I was missing something central in my diet.
However, a few weeks ago I was faced with a Saturday morning rehearsal followed by a board meeting. There wasn’t time to cook a serious breakfast, but I knew I needed to fortify myself well for the day with something beyond my smoothie. Somehow, the option that arose was a Quaker “Summer Berry” Oatmeal cup – just add water, stir, and wait for a few minutes. I made my bow to necessity, and accepted that I must eat this. While Lorraine drove, I ate (watching in the vanity mirror to make sure it went in my mouth). I ate it all, it fortified me, and I only gagged once! Undoubtedly a victory.
Well, since that time I have – to my own surprise – embraced oatmeal as a regular, nay, a staple food. I’ve eaten several variations on the cup-of-oatmeal summer berry theme. (Umpqua, thumbs up! Fred Meyer Private Collection AWFUL – Where’s the berry?) I’ve made my own oatmeal several times (thick cut) and have learned that I can add all sorts of things to it, because, I must own, the texture still isn’t a great pleasure. So, lately I’ve been adding dried cherries, cranberries, strawberries, and blueberries – great sources of calories and fiber and other good stuff. (I add them early in the cooking process so they plump up nicely.) Just a little bit of brown sugar (Lorraine uses only vanilla, no sugar). I actually look forward to it. Who could have imagined such a turnaround?
In fact, this experience and other food experiences through my recovery have caused me to think about exploration of mindfulness that my counselor has led me through. If much of our suffering is our own creation from the ‘stories’ we tell ourselves about what we’ve experienced, and if we can choose not to create our own suffering by letting go of such stories – then the story I’ve told myself for over thirty years about how I hate oatmeal, and how its texture disgusts me… could be just let go.
Or, the stories I tell myself about foods I’ve never eaten – “I’m not going to like this, because it has a weird name,” or “I can tell by looking at this food that I’m not going to like it.” Or, other stories that cause me to suffer while eating or drinking: “I’m full but I have to eat a full serving even though I don’t want any more of this,” or “I haven’t drunk enough water today and now I’ve filled this glass full and I’m going to drink all of it now in one drink even though I feel like I can’t breathe because I have drunk so much in one go because I’m afraid if I don’t drink it all now I’ll forget later.” Just a few samples; all direct quotes I’ve had in my mind.
As my counselor often asks me, when I’m holding tight to a thought that’s causing me pain, “Who would you be without that thought?” Lately, sometimes, I’m able to let those thoughts go, and surprise myself by liking the food that I knew I hated.
Dr. Adam Burdick has been a professional musician for over two decades. Teaching, conducting, and performing in various music genres, he is also a perpetual student with interest in a wide range of topics. He loves to ponder and share his discoveries with anyone interested!