Chubby, plus-size, fat, obese, heavy-set, fatso, they’re all words that still make me cringe, and that’s the short list. When you’ve felt the pain of ugly comments whispered, said aloud, or insinuated (real or imagined), the memory takes up residence within you.
I’ve seen a lot of television shows showing the results of weight loss surgery (WLS), most have been extremely negative with a little on the positive thrown in for good measure. I thought it was time that I offer my story.
Looking back at the pictures growing up, I’m surprised I considered myself fat. I was borderline chubby at best. I was eight years old when I discovered baton twirling and without knowing it, the aerobic exercise enabled me to keep the weight at bay. Once puberty hit and I was blessed with a bust and waistline, it was hard to tell I had ever had a weight problem.
Now don’t get me wrong, at 5 foot 7 inches, I only weighed 150 pounds, but I was the biggest one on the high school majorette squad with thighs suitable for a weight lifter, or so I thought. Perception is indeed reality and my perception was that I was fat, no matter what the pictures said.
The older I got, the more I knew that I was a slave to food and seemed to be incapable of controlling my compulsion. Did I need to learn to eat right? Sure. Should I have exercised more? Absolutely. Did I just need to say “no thanks”? Not in this lifetime, or so I thought. It was a vicious cycle that I lived for 48 years.
It wasn’t until I married someone who also loved to eat that I found myself in a sedentary lifestyle and I began to pack on the pounds. Shortly after we married, we moved from the D.C. suburbs, to West Virginia. I spent a lot of time alone and homesick and quickly found solace in food. I was an adult, now capable of unleashing the food-crazed part of me, and I did.
Before I knew it, I was 48 years old and topped out at 287 pounds. I’d been on the lose-gain, lose-gain roller coaster more times than I cared to admit. The 300 pound monster-like mark on the scale was peeking around the corner and it just made me want to turn and run. I had tried just about every diet and diet pill there was, some with success, but not for long.
Health problems were beginning to crop up and it was getting scary. The weight was slowing me down more and more and had at least once, threatened my life. My job could be a physically demanding and stressful one at times. I knew in my heart that I had to lose the weight if I were to keep up.
Overweight people have tried it all. Diets, exercise programs, hypnotism, acupuncture, diet pills, prayer, you name it. I’ve done all of the above and some with temporary success. I lost 30 pounds in six weeks on Fen Fen. It was the greatest, but lucky for me, they took it off the market before it could kill my heart.
The biggest rip off I encountered was the acupuncture in my ears. The doctor stapled my ear and handed me a thousand calorie per day diet. He instructed me to pull up and down on my ear if I felt any hunger. Now there’s a plan! That might explain the size of my ears, but hunger never was an issue for me in the first place. I rarely allowed myself to get hungry and when I did, I overate.
Esophageal cancer took my dad’s life after a yearlong fight and shortly after he died, the medical community was telling me what I already knew. It’s suspected that chronic indigestion contributes to esophageal cancer. His weight and passion for food was linked to his acid reflux and there’s the key. I decided it was time to find a solution to my problem, inherited, acquired, environmental, or otherwise.
I had heard in the news that weight loss surgery was making a comeback. I saw Carnie Wilson on “Good Morning America” and read her book. Her story sounded a lot like mine. There’s a common thread of feelings and life experiences amongst overweight people.
I prayed for years for help with my obesity and while prayer seemed to work in every other aspect of my life, I couldn’t gain control over my eating. I failed every time. That’s a tough thing for an overachiever to take. Failure controlling your weight is a failure for the world to see, every day.
When my mother died from cancer six months after Dad, I came to know the true meaning of the word “co-morbidity”. The ultimate, the big “C”, Cancer. I didn’t realize until then that obese people stand a 20 percent higher risk of developing cancer. Given my family’s medical history, that statistic alone was enough to convince me that the possible benefits outweighed the risk of WLS. Reality is, there are some real risks and possible complications that can occur with WLS. Every patient needs to know the risks and decide if it’s worth it for him or her.
Other co-morbidities are gallstones (been there), sleep apnea and narcolepsy, stroke, pulmonary embolism or blood clot (had one), heartburn, arthritis (that’s me), to name a few. (Written 2005)
I didn’t need a crystal ball to convince me that I was on a course named Disaster. ”Where’s your faith? Why can’t you lose weight on your own?” I asked myself time and again. Unable to answer those questions, I’d run out and join Weight Watchers. This organization is terrific and maybe one of these times it would work for me and not just for a little while, but I was beginning to wonder.
Time was running out. If I had to wait much longer, I’d be too old to be a WLS candidate (when you’re approaching fifty, you begin to think that St. Peter could show up at any minute). He’d already knocked once with the blood clot and I wasn’t going to sit around and wait for him to show up again.
My family physician recognized the health issues I was facing and referred me to a bariatric surgeon. I was nervous because of the blood clot issue and associated surgical risks, but the doctor explained that he would have an IVC filter placed in my leg a few days before the surgery. The filter would, more than likely, catch any clots (that normally form in the leg) and prevent them from traveling to my heart or lungs again. Nothing was one hundred percent certain, but I decided the odds were in my favor. “More than likely” was good enough for me.
The insurance company approved my request to have the gastric bypass. Was this my answer to years of prayer? I certainly believe that it was.
My decision to have WLS brought different reactions from friends and family members. Most of them had seen me struggle with yo-yo dieting over the years and were supportive, but there were others that weren’t so sure.
I was scared too and not just by the surgery. I wondered how I would handle not having food to rely on when I was stressed. What would I do? Smoke? Not a chance, I’d had enough trouble quitting that the first time. I imagined what normal sized people did instead of eating for comfort. Maybe I’d have to allow my treadmill to once again, see the light of day.
I would get nervous sometimes, not so much about the surgery, but possibility of being sick afterwards. I didn’t mind really, and felt it would be worth it, but I needed to be up and going so I could get back to work within a few weeks.
My insurance approval went amazingly smooth and I could not help but think that I finally had the answer to all the prayers I had sent up for years.
I attended the WLS support group a few times before my surgery. There were twenty-seven of my doctor’s patients there. They each told their story, the good, the bad, and the ugly parts, and there wasn’t one person there that regretted having had the surgery. That was a pretty good recommendation. I’d gone with less.
The surgery came and went and I survived it well. I learned to drink and eventually eat again, taking it very slow. I actually enjoy the protein shakes that are now a part of my life forever. Getting in enough protein and fluids early on is the hardest part. For me, every new food was an adventure and I was luckier than most, nothing gave me any big problems. Some people get sick and can’t keep some things down, but food always liked me and it still does.
I’m now one year post-op and have lost 105 pounds with about 40 to go. Losing the pounds has slowed down and I’m learning to enjoy exercising. I can honestly say, I never thought I’d write those words.
I’ve learned a lot in the past year, lots about nutrition, habits (they don’t go away with a surgeon’s knife), people, and most of all, myself. It’s a journey that took 49 years and I doubt I’ll have 49 more, but I thank God because I do know that I’ll be able to enjoy the ones remaining more than I’d ever hoped.