Friday, September 18, 2009

What you can get away with.

The list on the silver bulletin board on my refrigerator door reads
fun in its many forms
If I had to narrow it down to what's necessary for survival, I'd put
. . . much as I love fun, you can go a whole lifetime without it. Some people do.

(Strictly speaking, you don't have to exercise to stay alive, but if you find yourselves comatose in a hospital, someone will move your limbs around and massage them, by hand or mechanical pumps, or before very long you'd be quite unable to stand or use any muscles. As for meditation, many people never do it after infancy when it seems to come naturally in the form of rapt absorption in an object, seeing the world in one's toes, or repeating endlessly a mantra, such as "mine, mine, MINE.")

Many people recognize Eat, Pray, Love as the title of a best-selling book. I haven't read it, but I imagine the author also rested and moved about. I don't think that book's about survival. More like "finding happiness," I guess, which we Americans believe in profoundly, that happiness is an object, a treasure, that can be found somewhere. Somewhere else. Like an Easter egg hunt.

What gave rise to my little list was a decline in my happiness last night, a muzzy, bored mood, a fatigue coupled with insomnia, and a desire to eat all kinds of things at 1:00 in the morning. That could read "things I should not eat," which is most everything for someone with kidney disease. Certainly on that Don't list are cashews and all the potato chips in the house. Fortunately, there weren't too many.

Faithful readers know I have kidney failure, and am very close to needing dialysis or a transplant. Kidneys are really the center and soul of your body, in charge of your cells getting the nourishment they need. Whatever you eat, the kidneys sort out, and send the excess along the trash conveyors of your elimination system. A piece of this is keeping your electrolytes in balance. To do this, healthy kidneys discard extra salt and phosphates (as found in Dove ice cream bars) and potassium (as found in potato chips). Pathetic little kidneys like mine do their best, but can't keep up at all with the standard American diet. So my body informed me this morning when I woke up with a familiar headache and a salty taste in my mouth.

Thus we have again a new vow, yes, maybe it's deeper than that - maybe it's a realization that there's no way to get away with eating the way I've been eating lately.

I don't think any of the sweet and spiritually advanced people who read my blog would at this moment feel haughtily superior to me. We all know about problems with food. I myself once knew an eating problem intimately, when I gained a lot of weight, so much that I decided I had to "go on a diet" to even stand being around myself.

I believed, and still do, that to lose weight I have to burn more than I eat. Back then that meant eat less than I burned, because I was as far from physically active as you can get and still climb stairs. I went on that diet rigidly. That was it. No "cheating." I knew that every mouthful actually counts, including the crumbs in the Oreo package. From somewhere I had gleaned a slogan:
A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.
I set myself to eat 1200 calories a day, which meant I was always hungry. I was obsessive about measuring and writing down what I ate. I carried lunch to work - I recall peanut-butter and applesauce sandwiches. A yogurt for breakfast. I counted the tablespoon of cream I used in the coffee I drank a lot of back then. I allowed 150 calories for the one treat of the day, 1/2 cup of ice cream before bed, which I ate with a reverence I have seldom brought to prayer. I did.not.ever.cheat. Living like this (and smoking cigarettes) I lost 1 1/2 pounds a week. Taking off thirty pounds was thus very very slow. But I did it.

Wouldn't you say a person like that could manage a renal (kidney) diet? It is not even calorie limited. You can have all the organic shortbread cookies you want. All the white bread. A lot of vegetables, if you're careful to check their potassium level - no binging on guacamole, for instance, very little tomato, no potatoes. Even in chip form. Especially in chip form, dusted with salt. Did I say, no salt?

That radical dieter was the person I was some thirty years ago. Rigid systems suited me more at that time, a personal preference that has melted around the edges. Now what I have to count on to keep me on track is an understanding of cause and effect.

That about sums that up. Today I am back on the renal diet with a new ferocity, aware of another decline in kidney function on my last labs, as well as my subjective experience. Maybe meditation practice can help me stay in touch with the reality here.

In one of his recorded talks, Jack Kornfield says that a student summed up karma pretty well: "You don't get away with nothing."

When I first heard that I laughed. I thought it was a joke.

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