Life After Weight-Loss Surgery: A New Series
In June 2011, I had weight loss surgery to aid in my journey towards losing half of my body weight. Having peaked at 406lbs in college (maybe more, but that was the last recorded weight I knew), I was morbidly obese and at risk for serious long-term health problems. When I was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes at age 23, I did what I could to try to lose weight, but my efforts did not pay off long-term; my issues with food and emotional eating were beyond simply going to the gym and "eating right". After a decade of trying every diet in the book, every support group, every effort I could try to lose 150+ lbs, I finally gave in an decided to have weight loss surgery.
I say that I "gave in" because I resisted the procedure for the longest. Like many others, I felt that I had to "do it on my own", or whatever that meant. I was one of those who believed that having weight loss surgery was "cheating" and that it was for lazy people. After all, most of the people I knew who had has some type of weight loss surgery loss a bunch of weight then regained all if not more than what they lost. It seemed like something that was not worth the effort or cost.
Me at ~ 370lbs
Image: Feminista Jones
After my mother passed away at the young age of 51, after becoming a mother myself, and after recommendations from several doctors, I decided to look into having weight loss surgery. I opted for the newer procedure, Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy, because it was said to have the longest success rates, with 80% of patient sustaining significant weight loss over several years. It also was minimally invasive and involved no bypassing, reattaching, or anything like that. Simply, the procedure removes 80% of your stomach (and accompanying hunger hormones) and turns your stomach into a tube-like sleeve which makes eating massive quantities of food at one time impossible without extremely bad side effects.
I blogged about the journey but then I stopped writing. I'd achieved my goal weight and felt like life was exactly what I wanted it to be.
Progress made through Year One
Image: Feminista Jones
Life has been little like what I expected, at least on the positive side. At best, I have more access to opportunities both because of my smaller size (and ability to actually fit into places) and because of the new privilege I have of not being fat and being judged by my size. Let's call it "Pretty Privilege". At worst, I've battled intense psychological stress, namely Body Dysmorphic Disorder/Anxiety.
I decided to blog, now, about my life after weight loss surgery because I realize that there is SO much that people don't know about or don't talk about. People who have had weight loss surgery are often shamed for their decisions by both people in Fat Acceptance communities and by the Fitness/Healthy Eating Community alike. Actually, people who have weight loss surgery are shamed by nearly everyone-- let's keep it real. I felt the heaviest weight of this when I created a social media-based healthy eating and fitness program to support those trying to live healthier.
The responses were often, "How can she advise anyone on exercising and healthy eating when she cheated and has weight loss surgery??" or "Yeah, easy for her to say since she has permanent portion control" or other things like that. The comments hurt, but they didn't deter me. The entire point of starting the program was to help maintain the loss I achieved with the help of the surgery. What people don't realize is that you have about 6-8 months post surgery to lose as much weight as possible and then you're basically on your own. Your stomach begins to expand again, your metabolism evens out, your body gets used to the weight loss and plateaus, and you basically have to "do it yourself".
At lowest weight of 216lbs
Image: Feminista Jones
I think of weight loss surgery as a tool to aid those trying to lose significant weight and who face other barriers. I'm a social worker (MSW) and CASAC and I work with substance abusers and people in substance abuse and mental health recovery. I recognized the parallels in the process of recovering from food addiction and emotional eating. As one might go into a 28-Day in-patient program to get "clean" (go through detoxification and receive support and counseling away from triggers and influences), or as one might use Nicorette or Chantix to help quit smoking, one might use weight loss surgery as a launch pad to get healthier. Eventually, though, you will be "on your own" and you will have to figure out the best ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle, free of addiction and physical harm.
So maybe by blogging about battling with body image issues, food choices, fitness motivation, changes in socializing, mental health struggles, and all of the other things that often go with living life after weight loss surgery, I can help others who are considering it or who have had it engage in discussion about what our lives are like. I can also help myself work through the ups and downs and get back on track to living my best life. Having gained 25lbs back after hitting my goal weight, I admit that I've been anxious, depressed, and scared about going back to how I was. This is my own accountability tactic, if you will. I hope it helps others.