The Incredible Shrinking Chef: Part II

Chef Nookie talks liquid diets, the temptation to cheat, and the social network that has buoyed him post-surgery.

nookie postal

Photos Provided

In Part II of “The Incredible Shrinking Chef,” Steve “Nookie” Postal’s running diary of his time in Mass General’s obesity treatment center, the chef talks about his progress two weeks after surgery, his father’s legacy, and the countless visceral temptations he faces when visiting his team back at Commonwealth. —Edited by Christopher Hughes

I’m addicted to salt. Crispy, gooey, crunchy, salty, umami…everything. But it’s gone. And frankly, I’m depressed.

I stopped by the restaurant [Commonwealth] the other day, and everywhere I looked, there was something I wanted to eat. Ellie was slow braising a bunch of kale with shallots, garlic, and butter. I wanted that. Pedro was slicing mortadella. I definitely wanted that. Sylvia was frying pork belly. I wanted to take that, dip it in the avocado puree, and eat it.

I don’t know what the future looks like for me. I don’t have a crystal ball. But I know what it doesn’t look like, and that is me taking a piece of mortadella, spreading avocado mousse over the top, laying on some fried pork belly and braised kale, then rolling it up like a fatty. Those days are gone, and it’s left a gaping void. I need to figure out who I will become, what will bring me pleasure, and what will give me satisfaction outside of just food.

I’m on a very regimented diet with scheduled “eating” times, vitamins to ingest, medications to take. The list is endless. And look, I know some people are asking why I went through this whole ordeal. “Why didn’t I do this without surgery?” they ask. Well, I tried that. Ten years ago, around the time of my wedding, I was desperately trying to lose weight. I weighed 235 pounds then. So, this has been a losing battle for over 15 years.

Is it going to work? That I can’t tell you. But I do know what won’t work: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. This was not a snap judgment; the people at MGH don’t do that anyway. It has been a long, painful, all-too-thorough process that has led me here.

nookie checklist

Nookie Postal’s daily regiment of vitamins and medications.

Here I sit, two weeks out from surgery, and I’m eager to get off this damn liquid diet. Basically, my meals have consisted of yogurt, protein shakes, and tomato soup. I used to love grilled cheese and tomato soup on a cold, snowy day. Now, if I ever see another cup of tomato soup, I’ll choke.

I can’t wait for tomorrow when I enter Stage 2 of my diet, if only for a change of pace. MGH doesn’t tell you what it will consist of beforehand, so I have no idea what it will even look like. But I’m desperate for variety.

Strangely, I feel like I’m in a state of mourning. I used to look forward to meals. But now I’m realizing my biggest problem: at those meals I was inevitably trying to figure out where I was going to eat the next one. And the next one after that. With this surgery, as opposed to the number of diets I have been on before, I can’t cheat. Still, I catch myself—like a drug addict—trying to weasel my way around to the next fix.

This is a powerful program, and I’m learning much more about myself. For instance, I know I look and act like my father. I own a business just like him. My father was also overweight like me. He loved food and work. He died of a heart attack when he was 46.

I’ll be 40 in a couple of weeks and I don’t want to end up like him. Changing 25 years of bad habits is hard, but the alternative is worse.

I’m down close to 30 pounds, but I don’t see a difference. I actually feel fatter than I did before, yet my clothes are fitting much better. Baby steps, I guess. And the support I’ve been getting has been helpful. Not only from my wife and kids, but also my mother, and all the people I’ve known over the years—from Ridgewood High to the College of Wooster to the chefs at my restaurant. I turned my phone off before I went into surgery, and by the next day I had over 100 texts and what seemed like a million Facebook likes. The amazing outpouring of support keeps me going, and I’m not going to stop until it’s done.

The main reason I wrote this, and am continuing to write this, is to show others that it can be done. I’m not saying everyone should go out and have gastric sleeve surgery. Not at all. What I’m saying is, if you want and need to make a change, but are scared to do so, it’s okay to go talk to someone. No one will judge you, or any of that bullshit. Six people have already reached out to me who have decided to make a change in their lives. That’s cool as shit! Together, we can all get healthier, live longer, enjoy a more fulfilling life, and hopefully drive our colleagues even crazier than before.