Why I Chose To Have Weight Loss Surgery
I wasn’t always “obese”, I don’t think I was even always overweight. I think I was a pretty average baby, and I was a fairly active kid. From second grade through sixth, it was baseball in the spring, soccer in the summer, football in the fall and basketball in the winter. I wasn’t a star athlete, but I did ok. I remember in fifth grade I led our baseball team in home-runs. Yet while I was active, I was never really “fit”. Every year I remember dreading those Presidential Fitness challenges. I couldn’t do a pull-up to save my life, and I was getting teased about it. And this was by some of my “best friends”.
My first memories of “dieting” are from around sixth grade. I remember going to Weight Watchers with my mom. I don’t know how long it lasted, or actually even how/why I started going. I suppose I should ask her one of these days.
I remember in 8th grade gym, we were supplied uniforms. I was given the largest shirt they had, and it was tight on me. And it wasn’t because I was one of the tallest kids in class, having hit my growth spurt by then, and was nearing my final adult height of just over 5ft10 already. It was a new school, and the teasing seemed to follow. This was when the nickname “Porky Portinga” started.
I tried Weight Watchers again in 11th grade. By this time, most of my classmates had caught up to me in height, and while some were matching my 200+ pounds of weight, those were the jocks that spent all their spare time in the weight room. I had tried football again in 10th grade, I made it through the season, but that was it as far as sports went.
If I had to guess, I would say I was around 220 by the time I graduated high school.
Over the course of the next 10-15 years, my weight slowly crept upwards. Some might say I am blessed in the sense that I have never looked as heavy as I was. I think I’ve always had a fairly decent amount of muscle mass (everywhere except my arms!), so that dense muscle made my body size a bit deceiving. So even as I peaked 300 pounds, the few folks that actually new that never believed it when I told them.
Sure, I would try a few different diets here and there trying to stem off the increasing weight. I would lose 30, 40, even 50 pounds no problem. But then I would hit stalls, get frustrated, and lapse back in to my old habits. Those pounds would find their way back and bring buddies with them.
During this time, I spent a lot of time in denial. Sure, I had been on and off medication for my blood pressure since my early 20s. Sure I went through periods where I was popping Rolaids a few times a day to keep the heartburn under control. And sure, I was increasingly popping pills to help deal with knee pain, but It didn’t matter. I loved eating, and eating in large quantities. A large pizza and a 2-liter bottle of pop from the local delivery spot was often a dinner for one as far as I was concerned.
Despite all that stuff, I still considered myself pretty active. I could easily walk or go hiking for miles, roll around on the floor with my niece and nephew, and when it came to paintball my motto was “I ain’t built for speed-ball”, but I loved being out in the woods playing. But a few years ago, something happened. I turned 40.
Ok, it wasn’t the age itself that got to me. But I started to realize I wasn’t doing those things I loved anymore. I couldn’t walk far without lower back pain. I dreaded getting on the floor to play because of the struggles involved in getting back up. And when it came to paintball, I wasn’t playing. Getting out to the field, let alone making my way around it was… exhausting.
I had never considered weight loss surgery before. In fact, I always felt that if I really wanted to lose the weight, I should be able to do so without doing something so “drastic”. But the reality was, I couldn’t do it on my own. I needed help. By this time I had come to know some people who did have bariatric surgery and it had helped them, including my aunt.
So after a few weeks of doing some pretty intensive research online, I decided that this may be the help I needed. I talked with my doctor, and he was glad to hear I wanted to make some changes and had a positive outlook on surgery as a weight loss option. Turns out his nurse has had the surgery herself. He gave me a referral to Unity Hospital, which he felt was one of the best in the area, and I had my first appointment with their office the following week. My weight at this first appointment was 377.
This was early November of 2008, and as I started getting everything in order between their office and my doctor and the insurance company, I started making a few changes on my own. I stopped drinking soda… and that one change in my diet helped me lose about 5 pounds that month. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving I met with a dietitian, and she put me on a 1500 calorie a day meal plan. As part of my requirements to have the surgery, I would have to lose 10% of my excess body weight before surgery, in my case 21 pounds.
I was emboldened and motivated by what I was learning that this procedure would help me do. The idea that I might get back to under 250 (based on statistics of losing about 2/3 of excess body weight, I figured I would end up around 230-240) was thrilling. By the time Christmas came about, I had lost nearly 30 pounds.
I won’t deny, by the middle of January 2009, I was having second thoughts. I had lost about 40 pounds, feeling better than I had in years. But then I looked back at how often I had done this in the past, only to have it come back in spades.
Sure, by this time I was really was making some significant changes in not just how much I was eating, but in how I was eating. But then I realized something. While I can’t say I was “always hungry”, I don’t believe there was a time in the last couple of months that I had actually felt full. I was being diligent about my portion sizes, keeping under my 1500 calorie a day allotment. So yea, of course I was losing. But I knew sooner or later, that hunger was going to get the better of me. And eating better doesn’t cut it alone if you just keep eating too much.
In the next few weeks, I relaxed a bit. I was probably eating closer to 2000 calories a day, and there were days here and there I could say that yea, I felt full. But not every day. The weight still trickled off. And overall, my habits were continuing to change, I went through my psychological reviews, continued to meet with my doctor, and finally I was approved for surgery. I had laproscopic roux-en-y (also known as gastric bypass or RNY) surgery on April 8, 2009 and when I weighed in that morning I was down to 323, the lowest I had been in close to 10 years.
You can’t help but lose weight after having weight loss surgery. Initially it pretty much does all the work. I think the drastic weight loss people see in folks that have had a surgery like RNY cause them to feel it is the “easy way out”, and that it doesn’t address the reasons why a person became so obese in the first place.
None of it’s true.
Yes, RNY helped me lose the weight. But I’ve discovered that is is only through maintaining a healthy lifestyle will I be able to maintain that loss. I need to eat right, get exercise, and just plain take care of myself better. That includes mentally as well as physically. I still attend support group sessions with the psychologist I first saw to help as I continue to battle with the mental and emotional reasons behind my former obesity.
Now, nearly two years later I’ve been maintaining about 180 pound loss for over a year. The acid reflux was gone before I even had surgery. I haven’t had any medication for my blood pressure since the day of surgery, and it’s at a better level than it ever was when I was on them.
Does this mean I think surgery is the only option? No. I do know that statistically speaking, it really does give you a huge edge in maintaining long term weight loss. But no, I don’t believe it’s the only way. But that’s why it’s important to work with professionals to help explore your options. That’s why it’s important to learn how to eat better. That’s why it’s important to get exercise.
See, when I went to that first meeting back in November of 2008, I was so ready for this. I went in there hoping I would be under the knife in a matter of weeks. For a variety of reasons, those weeks turned in to months, and now I’m glad they did.
I played more paintball in the summer after my surgery than I did in the couple years prior to it. My niece and nephew are only becoming more and more active as they grow up, but not only am I keeping up.. there are times where I’ve worn them out. Walking is no longer a problem, and I’ve taken up an activity I haven’t enjoyed since high school, biking. I put over 700 miles on my bike this last year, and if I had my way it would have been triple that. But I had to work once in awhile.
In looking back can I honestly say, knowing what I know now, that I couldn’t have made it this far without surgery? No. I can’t. But those early months were critical for me in building the foundation I now have. A foundation I’ve continued to build upon.
And now, it’s even leading me down a path to a new career. One where I can continue to learn more and more about eating better and nutrition, not just for myself, but in the hopes that I can share it with others. That I can help others build that foundation of their own. That I can help them down their own paths towards a lifestyle that is positively healthy.