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Last fall

Two weeks ago

So it’s been almost five months since I had my gastric bypass. Everything went swimmingly well – no complications, out of the hospital in 36 hours, very little pain, lots of walking right away, etc. I had some issues with protein supplements after the surgery – they caused some pretty nasty gastro upset. I learned how to eat again one teaspoon at a time, first with applesauce, then eggs, then mashed potatoes, then yogurt. I was pretty excited to go back to work again after four weeks.

Man, that was such a mistake. I should have taken another week off. When I went back, I was only eating 330 calories a day. I needed to nap behind my desk twice a day to survive. Luckily, I have an awesome boss, and she let me leave early twice so that I could nap in a bed instead of on a floor. I walked a lot, drank a lot, and the Ottawa nutritionist asked me to start eating peanut butter so I could get my calories up. Instant increase to 500+ calories a day. Slow increases in food density and more snacks got me up to 1200 calories a day about 3 months after my surgery, where I stay today.

Has it been easy? No. Last week I actually cried a little over salted caramel macarons. I bought two while in NYC and was so excited about them. And yet, I took one bite and hated it. Same with pineapple, once one of my favourite foods. There are foods that I used to love that I now despise, like crunchy peanut butter, or peanut butter cups. Regular peanut butter is awesome. Other peanutty goods? No.

Why did I cry? Because over 39 years I developed an emotional relationship with food. Food never let me down, and now it does. I craved a skor blizzard from Dairy Queen all summer. It has been the only food since my surgery to make me vomit. Ask me how upsetting that was! (I was devastated.) On the other hand, regular popsicles have been awesome to me this summer, and that’s something I never thought I’d say.

When I went for my three month checkup, I was right on target for “perfect” weight loss. What does that even mean? They gave me a chart at my one month checkup that said that after three months, they think I should have lost 53 pounds. At 2 months and 2 weeks, I was not there. I was freaking out. I was losing my marbles. I mean, I was close, but not close enough. My Ottawa doc kept trying to get me to think differently. The weight’s going to come off, he said. Let it come off slower and keep it off!

But you know, my body does what it does. On the day of my three month checkup, I had lost 55 pounds. And then, I relaxed. You see, studies demonstrate that long term, my weight will be 70 pounds less than when I had surgery. The surgeon’s office predicts that my end weight will be 76 pounds less than when I had surgery, and that I will get there sometime in April next year. I would like it to be 85 pounds less than when I had surgery and get there around the same time. But, my body is going to do what it does.

Today, I have lost 71 pounds. I have gone from a size 20 clothing to a size 10/12. (For those of you who have never done this, that’s a lot of clothing sizes – 20W, 18W, 16W, 16, 14, 12, 10 – there’s a duplicate size in there when you move from plus to straight sizes.) In fact, I’m wearing the same clothing size (accounting for vanity sizing) that I did when I graduated from “pretty plus” girls clothing at the age of 12. Except now I’m 4 inches taller, which helps.

People tell me that I look great. They say I look younger and taller. I say that’s all optical illusion – I’m less wide, so I look taller. And you can see my eyes better, so you can see my youthful sparkle. Apparently it will take up to two years for me to actually see myself differently, as other people see me now. I’m very lucky – because I didn’t have so much weight to lose, I don’t have a lot of loose skin – some around my neck, a little on my thighs, some on my upper arms. But definitely not enough to be removed, and not enough to cause any kind of health problem.

Some things I’ve learned the hard way: medication doesn’t work like it used to. Controlled release meds don’t work over a long time period because they’re in and out of your stomach right away. My birth control pill doesn’t work anymore (which might be the most irritating thing about this experience, since I really got used to only having a period when it was convenient). My anti-depressant only comes in a controlled release format – if my depression gets worse, I’m going to have to find another one.

Something that frustrates me a lot: it’s absolutely no easier to workout today than it was when I was heavier. I thought I would fly up my first hill when I went hiking. You know what? That didn’t happen. Holy crap, did it ever not happen. I sweated like a beast! And swimming? Also still wicked hard. Lifting weights? Hard. The only thing I do that’s easier? Squash. Oh man, I am a MUCH better squash player. Turns out that running in 3-5 second intervals when you’re 70 pounds lighter is awesome.

I’m pretty active now – it took a few months to get back into it. I walk between 7000 and 10000 steps a day. Saturdays I play squash, Sunday I try to hike, Friday nights I swim (I am truly a weekend warrior), one other night I try to play squash, and starting in two weeks, I have a soccer clinic on Thursdays. I have a hiking trip in Utah planned for late May, and another one in the Canadian Rockies for early August. (I bought hiking pants last week. It was very exciting.)

The most important thing is that I’m happy. In fact, I have never been happier in my life. Last fall, my friend Danielle took the first photo you see on this page. I hated it. It’s a great photo, technically, but I hated who I was in it. I was sad and upset and uncomfortable in my skin. I was bored and uneasy. I wasn’t sure where I fit in the world. (And let’s remember, this was after I had officially climbed out of a terrible bout of depression.)

Two weeks ago, Danielle took the second photo. I’ve lost half my hair, I have no idea how to hold my new body, and I am actually pretty stressed about my dad’s upcoming heart surgery. I’ve got a new job with a great boss and team, and I understand where I fit in my organization. I have a wonderful little dog named Charlie who has become my fur-kid. I fully believe that I have a great life. Look at that photo – I am happy.

Having a gastric bypass isn’t easy. It isn’t fun. You need to be committed to the opportunity to relearn your relationship with food. You need to be okay with intense pain when something you eat doesn’t go down the way you think it should. You need to be ready to grieve your lost food loves and be ready to embrace new ones.

I’m really glad I had this surgery. I’m really glad I got a new job. I’m really glad I got a dog. I’m really glad I’m happy.

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Blah blah blah no activity blah blah blah tough on the mental health blah blah blah good lord those range of motion movement exercises suck blah blah blah 10 days later my back feels better and I swam tonight.

Oh, it was an ugly swim. I only used the pull buoy. I tried to breathe every other stroke. I was chopping that water. I was swimming a bit like a polar bear, actually. It was ugly ugly ugly.

But, I swam. I moved. I got in the pool. I swam, then I frolicked, then I stretched, and now my back feels okay. Not amazing, but okay. I’m hoping it feels okay tomorrow, and I’m getting back in the pool on Thursday.

Back at it, slowly. Making it happen, one day at a time.

 

So, in my ongoing quest to try physical activities I’ve never done before, I’m signed up for a dragon boat team. BMI provides the opportunity to participate in a bunch of different things, like triathlon training, nordic walking, running, and yes, dragon boating.

BMI has two teams, one co-ed, and one women only. Did you click on the link for BMI? I think we can safely say that these are two of the heaviest teams in the competition. Possibly two of the strongest, mind, since every single person on these teams works out regularly, and mostly with weights. (Working out is a core component of the BMI program).

I’m on the co-ed team. We had a first, disastrous practice where we were suctioned to each other and almost tipped the boat every single time someone breathed. So, in the interest of safety first, our drummer (and BMI’s fitness director, whose 8 year old son kicked my ASS in the triathlon last year) petitioned to let us use one of the old, wooden, and most importantly, wide and deep dragon boats. Dear Dragon Boat Festival: Thank you. I love you.

So, we’ve had a couple of practices in the new boat. I have the following observations about dragon boating as a result:

  • Um, totally different from canoeing. The whole motion is, well, totally different from canoeing. It’s like a sit-up while tilted to one side and with your arms up or out straight and over to the side. Think about that for a minute. You practice the motion while sitting on the side of your sofa and holding a broomstick. You lean forward and sit back up.
  • Everyone follows the lead of the front two people in the boat. Those two people must stay in sync, or the boat lurches from one side to the other.
  • Our front people are white guys who aren’t very rhythmic. This causes a lot of paddle clashing. And a lot of splashing.
  • Our drummer (who’s sposed to call the strokes) is also not very rhythmic. Her calling often conflicts with the paddling that’s actually happening.
  • The pace that you’re aiming for is 58-60 strokes a MINUTE. Can you do 60 situps a minute? With the resistance of water against your paddle?
  • You’re in the race for about 6 minutes and paddle about 500 metres in the race, and probably another 500-700 before and after, to get to the start line. Let’s have a moment here, shall we? I’m not like the world’s greatest arithmetician (that was for my friend John, who’s an actual mathematician), but I’m pretty sure that’s about 360 situps during the race, and another 350-500 or so on the way to and from the race.
  • And you do it twice on Saturday with several hours in between races.
  • The top 75 co-ed teams and 25 women’s only teams make it to Sunday. Dudes. We’re not making it to Sunday. 
  • I know we’re not making it to Sunday because even though we are entertaining, we’re 22 people whose average weight is well over 200 pounds (including our 90 pound drummer) and whose boat is at least twice, if not three times as heavy as the fiberglas competition boat.
  • But that’s okay, because I find it fun. 

My best friend and I were discussing one of her kid’s lack of ability at a team sport the other day. Some people are not designed for team sports, and that’s okay. I’m not really designed for any sports, but that also really doesn’t matter.

I think the main point of physical activity is that you’re going to do it more often if you do something that you enjoy. You’re also going to do it when other people are there waiting for you to show up. You’re going to participate when people holler your name when you arrive and who do a wave when you do something better than normal.

So yeah. I’m in a tournament. A tournament where if we don’t come in dead last in two races I will frankly be considering a total win. And I will take my advil between races (cause I really am not good at situps and cheat by using my shoulders and back and damn, that’s hard). And I will hydrate and cheer people on and enjoy myself.

I spent about $100 on this activity, and I consider it to have been totally worth every penny. Any time you try something new and you like it, you open yourself up to doing it again. And that’s pretty cool. I’ve heard more than one person at the start of their BMI journey telling Kelly that they just don’t like [insert activity name here]. Or that they can’t [insert movement here]. I get that. I do. But I wonder how much of that is fear?

Someone in my life asked me if I knew anyone who was selling a treadmill. He wanted to lose some weight, but didn’t want to join a gym because that would just end up in lifting weights and getting hurt, and didn’t want to run outside because he didn’t want anyone to see him run. I think this is why BMI activities are so awesome. It’s a bunch of people who have been on your journey, who have the same struggles as you do, and who’s fighting it. We are living our best lives.

And for those of you on this journey who aren’t comfortable enough to work out in public, I encourage you to read this blog post. I hate the title, but I totally appreciate the sentiment. There are women at my gym (loaded with athletes and tight, toned women) who I high five when I see them there, because they are gutting it out, red faced and sweaty like mad, every time I’m there. 

I am not skinny, but I am strong and I am fit. My belly jiggles when I run. My knees ache after squash and my feet are always stiff. And you know what? I am proud of myself because I am moving.

Be proud. Be active. Live your best life. Explore. Find your dragon boat activity.

 

 

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