So, you’ve battled with your weight longer than you can remember and you feel like you’re losing the fight with every passing day. Perhaps you are now facing obesity related illnesses, like type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure or sleep apnea. Maybe your joints are finally showing the strain they’re under by carrying the extra weight, and climbing the stairs is simply unbearable. Or, you’re trying to conceive and your doctor told you that you have fertility issues caused by metabolic and hormonal imbalances like PCOS, and your baby-making chances are pretty low. Bariatric surgery is a decision people make when they’ve exhausted their weight-loss options and are dodging medical bullets left, right and centre. It is a deeply personal decision recommended by physicians as a last case resort to achieve optimal health. It is also a very lonely journey as most people keep their procedure a secret afraid of being judged as “weak”, or choosing the “easy-way” to weight-loss. There is nothing easy about having your entire gastro-intestinal tract reconfigured in the hopes that your metabolism finally just works the way it’s supposed to. Failure is not an option for people like us because doing so can result in death. The pressure is real and it is always there, at every meal and snack, day and night. We don’t escape it, we can’t, because if we do we’ll end up hugging the toilet bowl and that’s the best-case scenario.
Despite of all of this you decide to go ahead and get this done with a feeling of excitement and a renewed optimism that you’ve never felt before. You research the risks and benefits and you convince yourself that you’re about to embark on a “new you” and swear to yourself that you will bury the “old you”; never to be seen again. Your identity is categorized as pre-surgery and post-surgery you. You fit into sexy clothes that were only a dream and you plan out your beach vacation, strutting your new body in a bikini – for the first time of your life. You go on a mission to completely re-invent yourself and along with the weight that melts off your body, with every pound lost, your inhibitions and fears begin to shed, one gram at a time. You start walking straighter, you put on high-heels and learn to walk in them, with power and confidence. You’ve done it. You look in the mirror, and although the reflection you see is somewhat distorted through your eyes, the affirmation you get from others confirms what that number on the scale reads; even if it takes longer for you to see it. You’re a success. Numbers don’t lie and either do your blood test results. BOOM! All of sudden your obesity-related health issues are magically reversed and your pill-box just got lighter. You are unstoppable and completely in love with yourself.
You finally feel like you’re in the body you were born to live in and it’s a feeling unlike any other. In many ways you are re-born and discovering the world through a brand new lens, experiencing life through heightened senses; taking pleasure in every aspect of each experience like a tourist in your own body. You are embarking on the greatest love affair of your life, and it’s with yourself.
So, what happens when the honeymoon is over and your new “tool” betrays you, just like so many others have before? You find yourself physically able to eat more, slipping back into your familiar, toxic habits that are so deeply embedded in your very being, it’s hard to separate reality from fantasy, and you question whether what you’ve been living was ever really real. You see, almost all patients regain 30% of the weight they lost within 3 years of surgery and 70% of patients regain most of their weight within 12 years post surgery. How does one recover from the devastation of tasting normalcy, only to go back to the darkness? It almost makes you wish you never experienced the ecstasy at all!
There is hope and it begins once you wrap up your pity-party. The first thing that happens once the weight creeps up, is more weight creeping up. Why? Because we begin to give up and feel sorry for ourselves. It’s part of the process and absolutely normal. Go through all the feels and allow yourself the opportunity to just feel sorry for yourself. Stay in your sad state for a couple of weeks, but make sure that you pull yourself up and shake off the cobwebs, because nobody will do this for you. There isn’t a support group out there that will help you flush out the demons that prevent your success. Unless you put in the work and come to terms with who you are in the moment that you’re in, you are doomed.
Self-love stems from self-hate and believe me, those of us who have fought the good fight know how to hate our bodies. You can not feel one without having felt the other, and the love begins once the hate runs its course. You can not continue to hate the shell that holds together your soul. Once you realize just how beautiful that is, you will never dream of being cruel to what houses the core of who you are.
You’ve come to terms with all of this self-discovery and self-realization because by now, you’ve been on this journey for years and have encompassed this whole self-care business to the max and you’re ready to take back control of your life. Great! Where do you start? Well, you need to move. If by now you have not incorporated physical activity in your life ask yourself WHY? Why are you not rewarding your body with what it needs to function properly? I’m not here to pitch you my exercise program, (although it is one of the best and you’re crazy for not trying a class), but, you need to start something. ANYTHING. You must move your body for 30 minutes a day, and if you start on that path then you will increase your chance of success and reverse the inevitable. You can Google the benefits of exercise for yourself, just know that if you are a bariatric patient and are not physically active, then you’ve cut up your gut for nothing. Period.
In order to regain control, a great place to start is by doing a “pouch re-set diet.” There are many options, and websites that explain what this is and if you’re unsure, call your bariatric clinic. This will help you activate your “tool” and hunger cues by mimicking your post-surgery protocol. You see, bariatric surgery works because it shrinks your stomach and restricts your ability to eat massive amounts of food, therefore it takes less food to make you feel full. Over the years, the feeling of fullness disappears, therefore you stretch your stomach by overeating, hereby reversing the effects of the surgery. That’s pretty much what happens when you gain weight and you need to get back to where you started in order to get back to where you were. Following the original instructions given to you by your dietician is the only thing that will ensure life-long success, and if you’re really struggling, make sure you seek out professional help and check-in with those who were responsible for your care; albeit you might face challenges getting an appointment, don’t give up.
At the end of the day, the most valuable resource comes from people who understand, which is why sharing experiences is important. Life is a process of relating and knowing that you’re not alone in your struggle brings you a sense of comfort that no doctor can give you. Bariatric surgery works, and my only regret is not doing it sooner. In many ways, it really did save my life, even though it came with plenty of challenges. Having said that, I’ll never advocate or promote it to everyone. It is not a fool-proof method for weight-loss and it is not for everyone. If you think that you’ll get a procedure done and just lose the weight and that’s that, then you’re fooling yourself. If you don’t put in the work, then don’t bother doing it. Seven and a half years later, I’m still a “success” story, although I don’t really feel like one because I too am part of the statistics. Having gained back around 30 pounds since my coveted honeymoon phase; I struggle. But, I’m strong, healthy, and have reversed my many illnesses, and am living my best life. All of this is not without really low, lows and really hard work. My days consists of planning, motivating, moving and challenging myself. Most importantly my days consist of nurturing my body and soul with kindness and love. Although, I have my moments of despair I make a conscious decision to focus on the light because it’s there, even when it hides behind the clouds, it is there. Honeymoons don’t last forever and they’re not meant to. After all, the most flavourful broth simmers for hours over a low heat and develops a depth of flavour that lingers on the pallet long after you’ve taken your first bite! Slow, patient, consistent and methodical are words I use to describe this journey and it’s worth taking.
No matter the struggle, know that your success is not determined by how many times you fall, but how many times you get up. Cliche? Yes, it is, but it is every bit true, and although you may have some barriers, they don’t need to define you. What you put in your mouth is literally the only thing in life you are able to control. You know this. You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t. So, allow me to remind you to try again. You’re not a failure, you’re human and you’re able to start again – at every meal.
So, start again.