In the year leading up to my 30th birthday, I set myself an ambitious goal to lose 100 pounds before I turned 30. It was the first year of my life that I consistently worked out, but the progress on the scale was nonexistent. The entirety of my effort focused on adding activity, not shifting my eating habits.
In 2018, I did Whole 30, mainly as an experiment to see if I could drastically change my eating habits. For 30 days from October to November, I cut out added sugar, grains, dairy, legumes, and preservatives. The goal of this wasn’t to lose weight–in fact if you follow the program strictly you’re not allowed to weigh yourself–but at the end of that month I had lost 20 pounds. The entirety of my effort here was focused on controlling what I was eating.
While of course this evidence is anecdotal, I learned an important lesson through this. At least for me, if I wanted to lose weight, I needed to go to the kitchen, not the gym.
The truth to this has been proven to me time and time again since I started the process of getting approved for bariatric surgery in 2020. In the time between October 2020 until May 2021–in a time where I wasn’t going to the gym thanks to COVID–I lost 60+ pounds solely by controlling my eating.
Since having surgery in May 2022, I’ve had to focus on both the kitchen and the gym–plus so much more. It’s been a period of adjustments–new rules, new foods, new responses, new vitamins. So much new all at once. There have been times where I have mentally compared myself to a new mom AND a new baby. The mom has got a whole new thing to take care of that has a schedule all of its own and there’s a lot of new information for her to take in, but life goes on for everyone else. She’s tired, disoriented, and afraid to make a mistake. But on the other hand, I also felt like the baby, who has *feelings.* It doesn’t know what it wants, but it wants you to know it’s not happy. As someone who has not had a kid, this is the closest analogy I’ve been able to come up with to what life is like post bariatric surgery. Everything is new. (FWIW, I’ve named my new stomach Her Majesty.)
A little after the two month mark, I started feeling like I was finding solid ground. I’d been progressing out of all of the various stages of post-op diets and finally could eat, within reason, normal foods. I was starting to see progress both visually and on the scale. As a creature of habit, I was finally starting to feel settled after 2 month of straight up upheaval.
Right around the 2.5 month mark, I had my first post-surgery trip. After the first leg of my trip was done, I realized that travel itself had been worrying me more than it had in the past; another familiar thing made a stranger by this experience. Before surgery, I could just go and get food wherever. Now, there are certain goals I have to meet: get the requisite amount of protein (80g per day), drink the requisite amount of water (at least 64 oz), take all of my vitamins (way too many). Also for the first time since May 2022, I wouldn’t be fully in control of preparing my own meals–I would be a guest in someone else’s home. It was a lot to process and preparing to travel had me very nervous.
Fortunately, the trip was incredibly affirming and as per usual my anticipatory stress was unfounded. I was supported by those I was visiting. I felt at liberty to get what I needed and was able to adapt what was available to me to fit my needs. Even better, I was able to judiciously sample foods that I had not had before within reason. For example, one evening dinner was spaghetti and meatballs–I was able to eat a protein-packed dinner of ricotta, meatballs, and sauce AND try a few bites of pasta. The best part of trying these old (problem) foods was to see just how little would satisfy me. I was able to try pasta, bread, and even bites of bagel and brownie in the perfect environment. I did not need to bring these troublesome treats into my home and I was stealing bites from those willing to share.
The feeling of empowerment this trip gave me was a huge boon–to my mental health and to my overall satisfaction. I am no longer feeling quite like the new-mom/baby combo; rather, I know I’m in control. The week I got back, I had my 3 month post-op appointment (2 weeks before the actual 3-month mark). I told them about my travel and what I had eaten–slightly fearful they would tell me I had done something wrong. I had also been concerned because I have had very few poor reactions to food. However, they told me I was doing everything ‘correctly’ and the reason that I hadn’t had any poor reactions was likely because I wasn’t eating too much of these foods. Problems–quelle surprise–usually happen when eating these foods in excess.
Beyond these non-scale victories (NSVs), my travel also made me aware of many other such victories. I am able to move my body more easily: I navigated NYC subway turnstiles with my fat body and a suitcase with so much more ease; I did not need a seatbelt extender when I flew; in general, I felt like my body took up less space and attracted less attention from those around me. I gloried in each one.
All of these positive realizations seemed to spawn even more. Since then, I have been able to do more in barre, achieving positions that I had not been able to do previously. I haven’t had a nap in ages. I have energy and concentration the likes of which I haven’t had before. Then, this week, I achieved one of my goals that I wanted to reach by 3 months post-op: I have lost 100 lbs from my highest weight, when I started this journey in October of 2020.
100 lbs seems such an incredibly large number of pounds to have lost. For comparison, here are some things that weigh 100 lbs: a baby hippo (55-120 lbs); grown Rottweilers (95-120 lbs); a 2-month old foal; around 12 gallons of water; 119 cans of soda; and a mother effing cheetah. The mind boggles. In my appointment, I marveled at the doctor about how much easier I was finding every-day things. She remarked that people–especially those who have been morbidly obese for a while–often drastically underestimate the toll that the weight makes on the body. (She did note that not all bodies are built the same and have different limits. I know this seems contradictory to a lot of fat people’s experience in the world of medicine, but some of the best–most humane–treatment I’ve received by doctors has been in the bariatric space.)
The past 3 months have not been easy, but I feel like I’ve turned a corner. I’m not suggesting it will all be sunshine and puppies from here on out, but I feel in control and excited to test out this new normal. I’ve done something I honestly never thought I’d be able to do–the majority all on my own without the help of surgery. All of the NSVs, and to be sure, the scale victory, too, have given me an unexpected boost of confidence.
I’m looking forward the victories and challenges that the next 3 months will bring.
May of 2022 will perhaps go down in history as one of the impactful months of my life. To sum up, I started the month in Bloomington after a quick visit to see some of my BTown loves. About a week or so later, I went to NYC for a conference, and ended that trip by seeing THREE BROADWAY SHOWS with one of my besties (blogs forthcoming on both her blog and mine), and then immediately upon returning home, I began my pre-op liquid diet.
Before I knew it, it was May 23rd the date of my scheduled Roux-En-Y gastric bypass. On of my besties Ashley agreed to be my person at the hospital and I asked her to aggressively document and to contribute to this blog with stuff I couldn’t or wouldn’t remember. Thanks, boo.
Ashley’s stuff is in teal.
The 7-Day PreOp Liquid Diet
On May 15, I had my last Before meal. It was nothing exciting—I definitely gave a tasteful goodbye to food in NYC. It was strange to think about how something as routine as eating food would not be part of my next month or so and how my habits, hopefully, would never be quite the same.
In order to prepare for my surgery, I had to follow a very strict liquid diet for seven days. On this diet I could only consume protein shakes (4-5 times a day), broth, water, sugar free popsicles or jello, and decaf coffee or tea. THAT IS IT. NO VARIATIONS. Drinking off that strict list could put my surgery in jeopardy.
I was expecting this week to really suck. I spent a long time prepping mentally for this week as well. I convinced myself that it was going to be a fun experiment in not having to do dishes for a week (that def worked, yay laziness). I had heard wild stories about this phase—the one that sticks with me is a woman who was cooking dinner for her kids and just desperately wanted to lick her kid’s pizza just to taste the salty cheesy grease. This phase seemed to be the one that people struggled with the most.
I didn’t have a terrible experience. The first day was not bad. The second day, as my doctor warned me, was AWFUL. I was tired, achey, and emotional. I cried in front of my boss. I had a headache and felt like literal and physical shit.
Day 3 through 7, however, felt totally fine. A creature of habit, I quickly developed a routine that worked. Put some decaf espresso in my first protein shake in the morning for a delicious faux latte. Drank another protein shake at noon and at dinner time. Depending on how I felt, I’d usually have one in the afternoon or at night after dinner.
Weirdly, I’m a little nostalgic for this period now because it was SO EASY to drink that fluid. I also can’t stand the protein shakes I had pre-op. Now, post surgery, drinking liquid and getting protein is a struggle. It was so easy to get that protein!
One of the most emotional days of this process was the day before my surgery. I was nervous, excited, and pondered whether I was crazy to be doing this. It was a Sunday so I cleaned my house and made it as ready as I could to not really be cleaned for a few weeks since I didn’t know how long it would take me to recover. I read a book. I cried. I pondered some more.
It ended on a high note, though! I went to get Ashley, who was going to be my person at the hospital. We watched a movie I’ve needed to watch for a LONG time and then tried to go to bed a decent hour since the next day we had to be up EARLY.
I can’t even say it was BRIGHT and early because it was pitch black dark as night when we left the next morning. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t sleep well. I had to chug a thing of gatorade before leaving, but we managed to leave my house at about 5:15 AM to get to the hospital at 5:30 AM. I checked in, then waited for maybe 20 minutes before getting called back to the pre-op prep area.
This is where my anxiety really started to climb. I had to don the operating gown; pee in a cup; got my IV hooked up; people asked me my name, birthdate, what surgery I was having precisely 100 times; chatted with my surgeon, nurses, anesthesiologist, etc.
You did NOT seem overly anxious! You seemed very calm and matter of fact about everything.
Everyone was so nice, and efficient. What a seemingly well-orchestrated machine they have going on.
I may be projecting, but sometimes when people asked “And who do you have with you today?” it felt like they were expecting “partner” or “sister”, but I was just “friend” — and not that they had a LOT of surprise on their faces, but there were moments where I got the impression that wasn’t the answer they were expecting?
(I also got this impression.)
Remember we thought the anesthesiologist may have been attractive? He was nerding out with you about art history, seemed about our age, maybe a tad younger, had kind eyes. And then I found him on the hospital website….. and it was NOT a flattering photo. At least he turned out to be good at his job!
He totally WAS nerding out with me about art history. He had an MA in art history and you could tell he still really loved it. I called myself a “failed art historian” and he said, “well, in that case we both are, and we’re not doing too bad.” Or something like that.
Eventually, it was time. I don’t actually remember saying goodbye to Ashley, though I’m sure I did (she says we high-fived!), or being rolled down the hall to the surgical suite. I DO remember being in the surgical suite and remarking “IS THAT THE ROBOT?” (I had a robotic laparoscopic procedure) and having it confirmed that it was the robot and that one of the nurses showed me where the surgeon would sit to control the robot. And that’s all I remember of before.
The older nurse, with the long hair, very hippie dippie, was soooo sweet and was just bragging on you when I got to recovery. She said you were basically a model textbook patient. Gold stars across the board. Great pre-op weight loss, a perfectly tiny liver, no issues at all going under or coming out (though you were slow to come off it). She was VERY pleased and told me all about it 🙂
Your face looked like grumpy cat for a solid hour.
Apparently, I took a while to wake up afterwards, but my first memory was having two nurses fussing over me and not being very happy about it. I think slowly I realized Ashley was there too. I think I became moderately happy that yay, I hadn’t died on the table (a small risk, but nevertheless one that had worried me). The pain was not too bad, but I was definitely uncomfortable. They had placed an abdominal binder on me and I wanted it OFF. I felt a lot better after it was off, but I still was pretty grumpy in recovery.
Embarrassing/funny story: So after surgery, before they admit you to your room, you need to pee. They pump you full of fluids so usually after surgery your bladder is full. However, since they essentially temporarily paralyzed you for a few hours, your bladder doesn’t always get the message, so they have to drain your bladder with a catheter. WELL. This happened to me. I tried to pee IN FRONT OF THE HIPPY NURSE and it just wasn’t happening. Well, as they were situating everything they asked me to lift my hips and I did, apparently really well—because the nurse said, “nice hip lift!” And I—grumpily and somewhat arrogantly told them “I DO BARRE.”
After recovery, it was time to be admitted. Two nurses came to transport you and I followed with all of our stuff. We chatted with them along the walk, about all sorts of random things including hairstyles and how much they walk around in a day.
We had to trek pretty far and I would have gotten lost if I wasn’t walking with y’all. They pushed your bed manually, until we got out of one of the elevators and to a very long, UPHILL hallway. They pushed the bed into this motorized contraption that pushed the bed for them and we slowly made our way from one building to the other, to go into the children’s hospital… which was REALLY nice and like a total scene change. The nurse you were assigned over there was kinda sassy and reminded me of our friend Lin in her speech patterns and mannerisms. I could tell you were in good hands with her!
Bladder drained, I moved to my room, which was a lot nicer and more private than I was expecting. My room was in the children’s hospital (I later found out that they keep adult patients who are stable there—bariatric patients, orthopedic patients and the like). Not too long after getting to my room, Ashley headed back home and I was in for the night. It was a continuous cycle of sleeping, getting woken up every few hours to be poked and prodded and get meds, drinking water, peeing, and walking around.
In order to go home, I needed to demonstrate that I could keep myself hydrated, that I could walk, and that my pain was under control. Walking wasn’t hard. I wasn’t in too much pain, though I definitely had some discomfort on both of my sides. The hardest bit was honestly getting in the liquids. They gave you four little 1-oz cups and you had to try to drink four of those cups in an hour with tiny little sips repeatedly. It was DIFFICULT. They also brought soup and jello (no thank you) at dinner, breakfast, and lunch time—though I was not interested in any of it.
For my first ever hospital stay, it really wasn’t that bad. I wasn’t in nearly as much pain as I expected, walking around was easier than I thought, but I was a little frustrated I couldn’t just sleep. The nurses were a delight. My last nurse didn’t want me to go home and said I was a “good one.” I got to go home around 1 PM.
Home & Recovery
The ride home was honestly one of the most painful things so far, largely thanks to NASHVILLE’S VERY BUMPY ROADS AND CONSTRUCTION. #potholeseverywhereallthetime
COME ON NASHVILLE FIX THE GD POTHOLES
At home, my cats pretty much immediately glommed onto me and I developed a very lazy routine where I wore the loosest fitting clothes possible (soft dresses and nightgowns), tried to get my water, vitamins, and protein in, and mostly failing that first week (as expected). However, before my one week post-op appointment, I had already stopped taking my pain meds and generally was feeling great. I tired easily, but all in all, I wasn’t feeling too bad. I began wondering if surgery wasn’t so bad, and the first week wasn’t so bad, maybe the transition to soft food is the super hard part?
After two weeks, I moved on to soft foods. I could now eat yogurt, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, refried beans, vegetarian chili, tuna (YUCK), and vegetables that could easily be cut with a fork. I didn’t have any problems with this transition to soft food–the only thing that occasionally makes my stomach hurt is water–it’s sometimes hard to remember that I can’t take as big of sips as I used to do.
Right now, I’m about a week into the transition to solid/normal food. I was excited to eat a vegetable, something I have not had since May, but I still struggle to eat all my protein. From here on out, I will eat my protein first, then veg, then carb and I will have to pay close attention to my portion sizes and make sure that I listen to my body as I eat. I am starting to wonder if THIS transition from such a strict diet to “regular food” is the hard part—and it’s going to last for the rest of my life! Again it came with a learning curve, but so far it is progressing, slowly but surely as I learn my new limits.
On June 23, I reached a month post-op and am officially cleared to do fun things like zumba (yay!) and get into pools and hottubs! I need to wait a little bit longer for core-centric activities like barre and water aerobics (I love the outdoor classes at the Y in the summer!), but I’m fine waiting a bit on that.
Surgery Done: As I’ve been prepping for this for so long, it’s been wild to actually experience it and be done with the “surgery” part of the journey. It’s done and in the past—no longer something to anticipate.
Physical Restriction: It’s strange to feel the physical restriction. It changes something as basic as how you drink water. This makes it really difficult to get the appropriate amount of water in—at least 64 oz of water a day. It’s gotten easier over the past month but every once in a while I forget and gulp down a sip of water and OW. It does not feel good.
I have decided to name my stomach “Her Majesty” because when she has opinions she demands that you listen to them.
Habit Changes: Both my liquid diet and my post op experience so far has really highlighted how much of what I considered previously as hunger was mind hunger. I imagine this too will be a continuous journey and process of learning. I am physically not hungry and that in and of itself is a weird sensation.
Before, I habitually would eat my meals in a fashion that would save the “best” bite for last. The one that had the perfect combo and ratio of ingredients. Now, I 100% eat that bite FIRST.
There are times where I feel like a teeny tiny baby that’s on a very strict feeding schedule, and sometimes that baby doesn’t want any more protein, but that baby really doesn’t want to lose more hair than she has to (as is typical for most bariatric patients 3-6 months post op, because of the surgical trauma and lack of protein, but then it comes back). And that can be frustrating.
All in all, I am incredibly glad to be done with the surgery part of this journey. But so much of this is still mental and it’s going to be a process and I have a lot to learn about myself and my new tumtum.
A huge, huge thanks to my sisters-from-other-misters, Ashley and Tina, and my Nashville family, Sherra, Winn, Justin, and Arthur, for checking in on me and making sure I had all I needed. Your support was so valuable and I love you all to pieces. Thanks too to my family and friends who were far away–experiences like this really do show a person just how lucky they are.