I’ve been eating out a lot for the past two or three weeks. Trying to make a conscious effort to get together with good friends to enjoy the food that I enjoy most, since I know that I can’t do things like that so much after my upcoming gastric bypass surgery. I’ll admit that it has been fun, but also bittersweet. As I was sitting there eating my favorite appetizer of cheese-stuffed ravioli at Angry Italian in Bristol, it tasted so divine. Simultaneously, I found myself thinking about how that can’t be a regular part of my life anymore after June 19. It’s like saying goodbye to dear friends, this parting of ways with foods that I know are not good for me.

I found myself one afternoon wanting a drink while I was out doing errands. And facing a tough decision – what would I miss most? Icees from McDonald’s, or Jamocha Shakes from Arby’s?

Food has been a friend and a foe to me my entire life. My family, by and large, let me eat what I wanted to, not what was good for me. All through elementary school, I took Chef-Boy-ar-Dee Ravioli, Beefaroni, and Spaghetti for my lunch in my lunchbox thermos. And Kool-Aid in an extra thermos. Sometimes I took little personal-sized pizzas. I had a teacher in third grade – who I absolutely adored, Miss Durham – who made me try the peas on my cafeteria tray the one time I bought a regular lunch tray at school in elementary school. I told her that I didn’t like peas. “Have you ever tried peas?” No, but I don’t like the way they smell. I don’t want to try them, I told her. She insisted that I try some. I immediately threw them up all over her white tennis shoes. I was mortified. But no teacher ever made me try anything again. My family never made me try things, either.

Every year at the Appalachian Writers Workshop in Hindman, KY, they tend to have one night where they have soup beans and cornbread. With the exception of two years in Michigan when I was very young, I have always lived in the South. Everyone in my family ate – and loved – soup beans and corn bread. To this day, at almost 52 years of age, I’ve still never even tasted soup beans. I’m not a huge fan of cornbread but will eat it in a pinch. On that particular night at Hindman every year, I typically drive over to the Dairy Queen and have a hot dog and fries. That’s what I was raised on.

My “Last Meals” took me to some great places to have some delicious things: Luke’s in Abingdon for their amazing meatloaf and twice-baked potatoes; Olive Garden more than once, the last time, featuring my all-time favorite, the Tour of Italy; Cracker Barrel for French Toast; Pizza Hut for their lunch special – a personal pan pizza and cheese breadsticks; Mad Greek for lasagna and the most decadent dessert I’ve experienced in a long time, baklava cheesecake; a new-to-us place over by King College, called Valentino’s, where I had the most amazing manicotti I’ve ever tasted; Dairy Queen for a hotdog and an ice cream sundae; Aubrey’s for their 4-sides platter – two loaded baked potatoes minus chives, cinnamon apples, and sauteed mushrooms; Outback for prime rib and loaded baked potatoes minus chives, plus a cute little Pina Koala cocktail – I won’t be able to have alcohol after the surgery, either; Angry Italian for Chicago-style deep dish pizza and toasted ravioli; Blackbird Bakery for pink almond cake; and, last Sunday, all the way up to Marion, VA, to meet me best buddy, Lynne, at Macado’s, for my favorite Build-Your-Own sandwich – chicken breast, turkey, bacon, three kinds of cheese (not American, because I do not like it), and portobello mushrooms on a kaiser roll. At almost all of those places, I had leftovers to bring home because I’ve been cutting portions for months now. And I’ve not really been that “into” eating leftovers – poor Russ has had a lot of leftovers in the past few weeks. There were a few others that escape me now, but you get the picture.

I loved my last meals, but I was also exhausted by the time last Sunday rolled around. Meeting up with dear friends is always fun. Fitting that many meals into a 2-3 week period, though, is a lot of work, both physically and mentally. I wouldn’t trade any of that time for anything. Especially knowing that that part of my lifestyle will change dramatically after June 19. A meal from now on will be no more than one cup of food at a time, from a mostly set-in-stone list of approved items. For the rest of my life. My relationship with food will be quite different than it has been the first 51 or so years on earth.

And that’s okay. I knew it when I started this journey back in November. I knew that what I eat, and how much I eat, would have to change. And even though I’ve read about it for months now, living it day-in and day-out will pose different challenges, I’m sure. I know that I will fail sometimes. And will likely pay the price for it. (Look up “dumping syndrome” sometime – in short, that’s what happens to a bariatric patient who does what they’re not supposed to do, and it does not sound like much fun to me.) But I will also continue to learn as I go. And, I believe, as I see the differences and enhancements in my life that this surgery will help bring, I will realize that everything I have “sacrificed” has been worth it. Those last meals, though, and that amazing time spent with people I love and hold dear, will carry me through a lot of tougher times, I believe. And when I can start meeting my goals — like fitting on roller coasters again, bending over to tie my shoes, working out longer than as asthma attack after a workout lasts, getting on an airplane and not needing a seatbelt extension – I hope I fondly remember those moments, those last meals, and that the sweetness of my newfound success in a healthier lifestyle brings even more joy than those restaurant outings in my last weeks pre-op did. Here’s to 60-80 grams of protein a day, one-cup meals, not drinking 30 minutes before, during, or 30 minutes after a meal, and eating foods from a pre-approved list. I know the big picture will be worth it, no matter how I might miss my old ways in the beginning.