For most of my life, I have found myself at varying degrees of fatness. There was the cute, innocuous-enough baby-fat period that we all seem to go through-– that milk-fat, pudgy-cheeked, rolly-thighed stage that we universally find adorable. There was the chubby girl period, where I remained soft as others grew lankily into their childhood bodies. But then came outright obesity– an ugly word that turned what once seemed precious (pun intended) into a clinical problem.
There have been leaner periods. I’ve pulled it together several times in my life, dropping sometimes as much as the 120 pounds that then separated my too-much body from normality. But my default body, much like my personality, has been big and soft. A white, fluffy marshmallow. Too much girl.
Growing up, doctors felt like the enemy. Every annual physical, I would stand on their scales and watch the numbers rise with their words of admonishment and disapproval. I was not a girl who was accustomed to letting people down– I was an overachiever in every other arena. I almost exclusively received 100’s (not A’s, but 100’s) on exams and assignments. On standardized tests, I routinely scored in the 99th percentile. I was in every gifted or honors program at every school I ever attended. Hell, I was even first chair clarinet. The only thing I couldn’t figure out how to do in my younger years was fail, but my body taught me that lesson over and over again as my weight ballooned. I just couldn’t seem to manage it, no matter which diets I tried, or how obsessively I exercised.
Though I have never been great at asking for help, or even accepting it, I first broached the subject with a doctor when I was around 20 years old. “I’m concerned about my weight,” I had told him, deeply embarrassed to, in my mind, admit defeat. I expected him to bring up weight loss surgery, like the adjustable gastric bands I had started reading about in local newspaper weight loss success stories. “I just can’t seem to lose it,” I told him.
He nodded. In his infinite wisdom, he responded. “My advice? Run on the treadmill until it hurts.”
I did, and it did help. Barely.
This May, nearing 31 years of age, I finally met with an endocrinologist, who finally started getting to the root of the problem. After waiting four months for an appointment, I walked in for my consultation. My doctor did a quick once-over of my bulky frame, opened my chart, and got straight to the point.
“You’re morbidly obese,” he told me flatly. His tone showed neither empathy nor judgment. It was purely clinical, which was, in its own way, reassuring.
It’s not like I didn’t know. Being overweight might feel like a uniquely private shame, but fat is anything but secret. Still, “morbid” is not a word you want to hear from your doctor.
“I’m going to write you a referral for bariatrics. You should call this number,” he said, explaining that, given my history and particular endocrine issues, he saw bariatric surgery as my only real hope to lose the weight. I called the next day and made the earliest available appointment.
On May 25, my weight loss journey began in earnest when I stepped through the doors of the bariatric clinic. I arrived roughly 30 minutes early, with paperwork in hand. I sat in the waiting room, which was equipped with bench-like chairs that made me giggle to myself. Well, they certainly know their clientele, I laughed to myself. It was a solitary joke, and I was struck with a lonely feeling as I knew this journey was something I was not prepared to share just yet.
They brought me in and took my history and vital signs, and had me stand on a high-tech scale that analyzed my body mass in at least 15 different ways. I asked for a printout and did the math, calculating the damage from metric to standard. I weighed in at well over double their goal weight for a woman my height. That realization stung, an all-too-familiar pain, an old and all-too-familiar soft spot.
I sat with my nutritionist, who worked with me on initial goals like counting calories (1800 to start), tracking meals at least three times a week, eating smaller, more frequent meals, and drinking at least 2 liters of water daily. After that, I sat with my surgeon, a soft-spoken (and startlingly young-looking) man who explained the two procedures that his practice routinely performs: the gastric sleeve and gastric bypass. He explained the indications and contraindications for both procedures and asked me which I felt would be a better fit for me. “I’m open to suggestions,” I said. “It’s why I’m here.”
He said that, as I’m not diabetic and I don’t have a history of GERD, he was inclined to recommend the sleeve gastrectomy. “It’s less invasive, and there’s less risk of nutrient deficiency after the procedure,” he explained, pointing to the fact that, as a woman of childbearing years, it could make for a less risky pregnancy should I later decide to have children. He explained that I would have to go for a number of tests, and receive clearance from a host of specialists in order to satisfy the insurance company. They would throw out considerable hurdles, but, he laughed, “When they say jump, you ask, ‘How high?'”
It has been a long process. Today, I finally received a confirmed date. My surgery will be performed on December 19 (just in time for the holidays!) Although I might not be able to drink at any holiday functions this year, or eat any of my Aunt Mary’s fudge on Christmas Eve, I could not have asked for a better present than the potential to change my life for the better. Although I’ve faced many challenges over the past seven months, I know that this is merely the beginning. My life will radically change. I am both nervous and excited. I have reached out to a number of people I know who have had bariatric surgery in the past, and although it was not easy, there is near-uniformity in their belief that it was among the best decisions they have ever made.
In my search for answers, I decided to chronicle my own journey so that others might benefit from my experience. If you have stumbled upon this blog, it is likely that you have either been where I am, or that you are where I have been. I wish every one of you the best of luck, whatever choices you decide to make.
Everything is a choice. This choice is a huge leap of faith, but I am confident that I am on the right track. I am ready to bravely meet my future.
Here’s to being gutsy.