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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.

So, I’m 38 years old. I’m going to be 39 in a couple of months, and you know what that means? I’m just about 40 years old. For the past 20 years, I’ve been beset by weird ailments: massive hives in university; random seizures; depression; more depression; ulcerative colitis; osteoarthritis; and the list continues. I’ve taken so many prescription medications that I’m the local pharmacy consult for my friends and family.

I’ve had a fairly great life, marred by periods of bad health luck. And I am determined to turn 40 healthier than I turned 20, 21, 22, 25 (actually, I was very very healthy that year – the side effect of having no medical benefits!).

So, last August I started the process that will help me get to my goal of health. In four months, I’m having a gastric bypass, with the hope that I will lose between 70 and 90 pounds around the time I turn 40. The impact of losing that amount of weight should be as follows:

  • Reduced impact on my joints 
  • Increased ability to play higher impact sports with less pain
  • Reduced inflammation
  • A large amount of excess skin. 

Why surgery? Because I was born screaming for food, and I have basically never stopped. And because a gastric bypass shuts off the hormone that causes you to feel hungry. And for about a year, your brain believes it. (Apparently the brain is a tricky bastard and finds a way to make you feel hungry again, after time.)

You know what a year gives me? Time to figure out what real hunger is versus emotional hunger. It’s hard for me right now to tell the difference. It also gets me to reset what my idea of normal food portions is. And to re-establish some really positive habits. Also, to see what I look like when I’m “normal” sized. I transitioned to adult clothing as a size 12, and I giggle when I look back at those pictures because I thought I was so fat. I was so not fat.

Anyway, there are things you need to do to get ready for gastric bypass surgery. Weird things. Things I never thought about. For instance, did you know that you can’t drink when you eat after surgery? You need to stop drinking 30 minutes before you eat and 60 minutes after you eat you can start drinking again.  Apparently the fluid can flush the food through your new stomach too quickly for you to feel full. Which causes you to eat more than you should and then you regain weight. 

You know what else you can’t do? Drink carbonated beverages. The acid that makes the drink fizzy can cause your new stomach to, well, the way they described it at the info session was a little gross, but basically it can eat through the tissue that’s attaching your new stomach to your small intestines. And then, only once a day. Caffeine is also bad – most people can’t have coffee for six months or so after their surgery. Same with alcohol. 

So, I’m in the process of saying goodbye to my beloved diet coke. I’m experimenting to find out what I need to eat in order not to choke on my food if I can’t eat and drink together. And I’m trying to set myself up for success by buying smaller food storage containers and lots of pretty water bottles. And smaller plates and bowls. Because one cup of food doesn’t look like enough on a regular plate, you know? 

I’m looking forward – mostly to not feeling hungry for what will be the first time in my life. But I’m looking forward to feeling less pain from shlepping around this body when I play squash or hike or do a triathlon. I’d like to play soccer. I’d like to go on a trip and have small clothes that fold up into small packages.  I’m looking forward to having  a healthier second half of my life than the first half. 

Yes, surgery is a dramatic option. But I’ve gained and lost the same 40 pounds five times. I’ve never weighed within 40 pounds of the high end of the normal BMI for my height. With this surgery, I could legitimately see my normal BMI. (More likely, I’ll still be 10-15 pounds heavier, but close.) 

And if that means I have to give up diet coke, I will. 

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