I love it when I hear people comment that gastric bypass surgery is taking “the easy way out”.
Can you see the sarcasm dripping off your screen yet?
Quick, long-lasting results?
Actually, HELL no.
There WAS really good photography involved, but it’s pretty much how I ended up.
Did not always look like this.
(And still don’t. Again, REALLY good photography.)
14 years ago, at the age of 20, I had gastric bypass surgery . This is my story. Well, a tiny fraction of it, anyway.
I get quite a few questions about this and a lot of people wanted to know more about it when I called for questions to be answered, so I figured it was time to write. Keep in mind that this is mainly about my life before surgery and what led to it. I do touch on long term recovery and my life since but the main focus is living with obesity and things I wish I had known about gastric bypass before undergoing it.
I was a pretty normal looking child but I was TALL and big boned. I wear a size 10 shoe if this gives you any indication of what I mean. My twin sister was always a little bigger than I was, but normal until about first grade and then she began to put on weight. A lot of weight.
My parents were understandably concerned about my sister’s weight. I think she was on every diet known to mankind and so were we all to an extent.
Home life could be very…volatile. It didn’t help.
I will be blunt that I am not a very active person, even post surgery (and I know it contributed and still does.) It was not always like that .
I loved to run as a kid. I won lots of races and was pretty fast. It came at a huge cost, though. I would cough and spit up ropes of mucous for hours and hours afterward. Childhood asthma was not as looked out for as it is now, but that is absolutely what I had. It went untreated. As the years passed, the pain of running won out over my love for it. I started to equate physical exertion with little oxygen and crushing chest pain. I still do.
This doesn’t help control weight gain.
My childhood was kind of tough and very lonely.
I got a lot of grief being attached to my twin sister. She was not only obese but very emotionally erratic and unpredictable. We didn’t know what was wrong with her. We know now that most of this was because she has brain damage and a serious seizure disorder that has worsened over the years.
It was a fairly miserable way to grow up, though. I really think it contributed to how I looked at food and coped in later years.
It wasn’t just her. I wasn’t “Fat” but I WAS BIG. I was 5’7 and 120 lbs in the 5th grade and far bigger than any boy in my grade. It made me very aware of my size and a lot of shame and ridicule was heaped on my head.
Middle school came and along with it? VENDING MACHINES. Finally, I had a way to get my hands on food that was bad for me that I could also use to mask what a lonely kid I was. I would use my lunch money to have 2 ice cream sandwiches and a cherry Coke every day. I was still Ok at the end of the 7th grade but started putting on weight.
My nickname was “LardassLee” and because the movie “Stand by Me” was huge, I had a devoted group of
assholes people that would follow me down the halls at school saying, “Boom-bamba-boom-bamba-BOOM!” when I would walk.
I just got heavier through high school.
Being an obese teenager was much rarer then than it is now. And it was pretty much hell. To say that I had less than zero self-esteem is putting it mildly. Shopping for clothes was bad. I could never find gloves or pretty rings and bracelets that fit. Lane Bryant was the only real option for clothes at the time and they were not exactly hip on junior wear.
I shopped in the men’s section a lot.
Thank god for Grunge, is all I can say.
I still faced a lot of teasing. One was particularly memorable:
At the final senior choir concert, someone (I don’t know who to this day) thought it would be hilarious to change my size 18/20 dress with someone that was a size 0/2. At first, I couldn’t figure out what was going on…until she came out DROWNING in my green taffeta sailboat cover while people stood around laughing at me.
I had a solo that night I had worked very hard for, but that is the thing I remember the most…the feeling of my cheeks burning and feeling like I wanted to disappear into the earth.
My social life sucked. I was extroverted and did have some good friends but the love life area was pretty sad, desperate and icky. Any crushes I had were unrequited to say the least.
My first kiss at was PERFECT and totally unexpected. It was at girls choice Christmas dance and we kissed by a Christmas tree. I was in heaven. I liked him so much. I thought that it meant we were going to date. That someone wanted to be with me.
I called. I gave him a Christmas gift. I wrote him notes.
Nothing was reciprocated.
I was so confused and heartbroken.
He did kiss me. He liked me…right?
Finally he sent a friend of his to talk to me because he was dating my best friend at the time. He told me (in a crude, blunt, teenage boy way) that the guy was just trying to give me a good date and to sum it up…he “felt sorry for the fat girl” so he made out with me, even though “he thought I (and it) was gross and kinda scary” and that he really didn’t want anything to do with me. I wasn’t his type and it was true. His girlfriends were half my height and the size of my pinkie.
Devastated is a kind term for how I felt.
I did get asked to one dance in high school-homecoming. It was probably the very best, most magical night of my teenage life and I will never forget it. Even though I had to buy my dress in the “Mother of the bride” department, HE thought I WAS BEAUTIFUL. You could just tell it was sincere.
I had one perfect, normal, exciting and wonderful date that every single young person should have the privilege to experience.
I will be grateful for it forever.
It was the ONLY date I got asked out on.
The rest of my dates were definitely in the “girl’s choice” category.
I did go to prom senior year with a decent guy who agreed to go with me, but I paid for everything. Nobody knew because I was too embarrassed to cop to wanting to go to prom so much I basically paid someone to take me and he was too nice to tell anyone. It was all too “Can’t buy me love” for words.
I had one on-and-off-again boyfriend through the years that I was totally, freakishly, destructively obsessive about adore and love to bits and pieces.
He didn’t seem to mind my weight and we had amazing chemistry.
He made me feel beautiful for the first time in my life.
(Yup. He was the sweetheart who took me to homecoming. The kid took me despite having no job, car or money from his mom because she didn’t approve of me. He took me anyway and got grounded for life for coming home hours after a curfew I didn’t know he had. He gets many brownie points for giving me that memory.)
But it was a complicated relationship. We were best friends and he was the sweetest boy in so many ways but both of us also had huge issues. Two very damaged kids don’t have a lot of potential for making something work well. My total lack of self-esteem and need to have someone love me at any cost did not help. Every breakup was horrible and though it wasn’t true, I blamed a lot of the repeated failures we had on my huge disgusting-ness.
On never being good enough to keep.
When you are completely starved for love, affection and being desired, it is a difficult, if not impossible thing to let go of when and if you get it. It set a lot of really bad patterns, expectations and things in motion. I was an emotional mess. (My issues are NOT all due to weight by a long shot and I need to be very clear about that, but man…IT DID NOT HELP. )
Shame is profound and key in my life if you didn’t pick up on it. Heh.
I did let 2nd base happen, but that was IT. I would have died of shame to let it go any further and luckily…no one really tried.
Food was always reliable. It never left me, cheated, laughed, mocked, screamed, yelled, cringed or ran away.
College came (along with 2 car accidents and being trampled by a horse that left me with permanent back injuries that added to my natural slug-ness and inactivity) and I put on a huge amount of weight.
It certainly didn’t help my health, the way I looked at myself, relationships or ability to handle things very well. College was kind of a repeat of high school only with more serious repercussions and with harder classes.
This was me roughly 2 years before my surgery. I *think* I was around 220 lbs here, which means I added an addition 60+ lbs to my weight. I wish I had more photos to show you, but most of them were lost in a flood. (Some might comment that they don’t think I was “that” heavy. I WAS. I don’t have photos of how bad it got or I would post them. Also, keep in mind that I did not keep horrible photos of me so these? Are the best of the best. I look smaller than I was.)
I take FULL responsibility for the weight I gained. There were lots of “Reasons”. The main being, um, I LOVE FOOD. My inability to drop the weight was mainly due to severe asthma that was heart rate induced. I would walk up the stairs and need to suck on an inhaler. I landed in the ER many times the first two years of college due to it. I tried for several years to take the weight off on my own.
Summer was usually my “Gung ho” time because I didn’t have school and performing, etc. to deal with. I always hoped that if I worked hard core in the summer, I would be able to continue during school. One summer I dropped 40 lbs because I worked out twice a day, drank 2 liters of water and ate no more than 1,000 calories and 10 grams of fat per day. I hated working out. It just left me aching and with lungs full of fire, no matter how many inhaler puffs I took. When the colder weather came? I ended up with pneumonia that would linger for months. End of work out efforts. Hello, weight gain.
It got to the point that I was sick and tired of feeling…so sick and tired. And putting my heart and soul into something and having my body give out.
I think I have adequately illustrated the emotional and psychological toll it took.
My sister was in the same boat. It was really tough on my mom…she wanted so much for her kids to have a good life and be happy. So, she took me to see an internist who reviewed my files and questioned me extensively. He told me that I had gallbladder disease and stones, my joints were under tremendous stress, I had bleeding ulcers and one of my lungs was partially collapsed. The biggest problem is that I would work my lungs to a point and then they couldn’t DO anymore and I would develop pneumonia and the cycle repeated.
I needed help getting more weight off so there was less stress on my lungs and he was very clear about that and that this would ONLY happen with surgery.
So, I had gastric bypass and my gallbladder removed. (As did my sister. She outweighed me by about 60 lbs. but had many less weight-related issues, surprisingly.)
I was in a lot of pain.
I had a very difficult recovery.
I think some of this was due to not having laser surgery. It wasn’t common when I had it done and I was left with a huge, stapled incision that hurt every time I moved for weeks and weeks.
Stepping on the scale a week post-op to a weight loss of 30 lbs. did a lot to cheer me up, though.
I lost weight pretty quickly. Which is no surprise as I went weeks and weeks just sipping on a little lemonade or water through a straw I would bite down on. It was the only way to monitor the speed of liquid consumption and not vomit it back up. I still bite on my straws when I’m drinking liquid to this day.
This is me in transition. I believe I was about 180 lbs and this was taken sometime in the summer (3 or 4 months post op)
By October of the same year I weighed in at 150 lbs on my wedding day to my first husband.
(And yes…I totally think that all of this history led to bigger mistakes in my life. I am just not free to write about them. I would write on and on and ON about some times if it were just me involved in the story but I don’t because well…things are rarely JUST about US.)
Christmas Day we found out we were pregnant and it ushered in a vomiting hell that even I, seasoned to barfing from the surgery, was unprepared for. Many people asked if my surgery added to my hyperemesis and the honest answer is that I don’t know.
I know that I am much more fatigued because of mineral absorption problem. I also think that my severe weight loss with James was because of the surgery but I have managed to pack on 20 freaking lbs with this pregnancy and I’m just entering my 3rd trimester. So, while I still get horribly sick all through my pregnancies, it does seem to be better than years ago.
When James was 2 weeks old about 16 months post-up, I hit my lowest weight at 125. I look awful.
I ended up averaging between 150-155 lbs and am fine with that.
My health is so much better (I know, I know…but can you imagine me now with an additional 120 lbs on me?) I think I have used my inhaler 10 times since I got to a normal weight.
I ABSOLUTELY believe that this surgery saved my life and I would do it again in a heart beat.
However, there are many things that I wish I had known before my surgery because it would have been much easier to problem solve and deal with some of these issues and side effects if I had the information beforehand. (This will tend to be looking on the negative side. Forgive me for that, but honestly? The positives are SO OBVIOUS, I don’t feel the need to dwell on them. People can get so desperate for this surgery the very real negatives can be glossed over, skimmed or thrown in the back seat.
If you are considering having gastric bypass there are some things you need to think about and consider:
• You will still have problems, just different ones. I got very tired of people telling me this, but it is true. You will still have problems, they will just be different. Frankly, I found those problems easier to deal with because while I still had all the problems that come with life, I didn’t have to have add being morbidly obese on top of it.
• You will have an extremely restricted diet for a year and it could take many years before your eating resembles anything “normal”. The first year is tough and the regime is strict: liquids and then soft foods for a few months, very low-carb meals, no soda or carbonation, and required water consumption, though you cannot drink liquid right before or during your meals. You will only be able to eat 2-ounces for quite awhile. I still eat light, but I am now at the point that I can go to a restaurant and not have the waiter keep asking me if there is something wrong with my meal. It took years to get there, though.
• You will not be able to absorb minerals and nutrients easily. Anemia is a big problem with a lot of gastric bypass patients. You will need to take vitamins daily for the rest of your life. With some it is a supplement, with this surgery it is a necessity.
• There are unpleasant side effects. You subsist on very little calories and nutrients after the surgery and it will take its toll. You will probably have Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms that swing from cramping and diarrhea to constipation. You may lose hair from the lack of nutrients, be anemic and exhausted and then there is “Dumping Syndrome”. Because your digestive system has been rewired, sometimes the sugars from food will “Dump” too quickly into your intestines and send you into a bit of insulin shock. It will make you feel shaky, sweaty, nauseated and ill after you eat. Fortunately, if you take your vitamins and once the weight starts dropping off, your energy will often skyrocket, your hair will grow back and the effects of “Dumping Syndrome” will lessen and the IBS symptoms often get better after a few years.
• Hydration is a big issue and it is difficult to maintain. The most difficult thing for me was not being able to drink during meals or fast enough to quench my thirst because the surgery doesn’t let you gulp water. You have to take tiny, slow sips of liquid. There were some days it drove me so crazy that I would stand by my sink and gulp ice water knowing it was going to come back up but I DID NOT CARE.
• You will throw up. A lot. You cannot eat or drink quickly or you WILL throw up. If you eat something too fatty or sugary, you will throw up. Sometimes if you eat NOTHING, you will throw up bile or dry heave. Thankfully, this gets better and usually stops. You will also learn what triggers it for you and so you can do some things to help.
• You will have saggy skin. Skin sag is a BIG issue. Because I was very young and had not been morbidly obese for a long period of time, I did better than most in this area. My skin rebounded fairly well, but I have very jiggley underarms and thighs. Others are not so lucky and are horrified by the massive amounts of loose skin that they have to deal with. Working out helps, but there really is no cure for it unless you undergo more surgery to have it removed. Tissue loss in the breast is also a huge issue. Every woman I know lost their chest with their weight. (Think post-nursing only much worse.) Losing my breasts was one of the most traumatic things for me. I went from lovely mounds of awesome to looking like a Caucasian cover model for National Geographic. I had little confidence in the bedroom. I chose to have breast augmentation to surgically “reclaim” the girls and it was the best decision I could have made. It changed everything for me. (Boobies are magical, yo.)
• There is emotional fallout for you and those around you. Not everyone is going to be thrilled for you. Some may feel threatened by your weight loss, or are scared of change and this may cause trouble in your relationships. Your relationship with your spouse or significant other may change. You may resent the fact that they find you more sexually desirable now that you have lost weight. You may not gain the confidence in the bedroom you thought you would and worry about being attractive to your partner because while you no longer have rolls of fat, you have saggy skin and breast loss. You will probably still have body image issues, just different ones. It’s important to have a strong support system and to make sure you communicate openly about struggles and issues you may have.
•It may be a struggle to see how differently you are treated and dealing with your old vs. new self can be hard. It is sad that it is so obvious, but it is the sad truth that I am treated a million times better now than when I was heavy. My husband would not have asked me out and knowing that is difficult to swallow. (He would still love me heavy and he isn’t an ass, but yeah…he was not into big girls.) It took well over a decade before I could cross a cross walk and not feel that the people in the cars were thinking how hideous and fat I was.
It can take a very, very long time to heal from the scars of being morbidly obese. If they do heal. I still have plenty of things I am dealing with from my past that weight played a huge part in.
• YOU CAN GAIN WEIGHT. And you WILL if you do not monitor and make lifestyle changes. Many people gain a lot of their weight back. Keep in mind you can’t eat much at a time but you can eat OFTEN. So what you eat DOES matter. After a very stressful period in 2006, my weight crept up to 172 lbs. I freaked out, and dieted and worked out like mad until I the weight was gone. I had the extra incentive of having a big solo role and needing to look killer in this dress:
Despite the drawbacks I have just listed, I would have this surgery again. If you and your doctors truly feel like surgery is your best option, the go for it. Just be as informed as you can be and know it is a long, but worthwhile journey.