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Saturday, December 31, 2005

Nothing tastes as good as being healthy feels

Originally published Dec. 31, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

As the year comes to a close, it’s a good time to reflect on the past while looking forward to the future. For me, that means it’s also a good time to clean up the office and go through the notebooks collecting dust on my desk.This week’s column will be devoted to the questions I’m most commonly asked that I never find the space to address here. I’ll skip the champagne this year, and instead toast the new year with the following odds and ends:

How do you feel?
The short answer is: GREAT. But I find that’s usually not enough for most people. The long answer is that before I had gastric-bypass surgery, I had no clue how unhealthy I was. I know that sounds odd, because I had the surgery to improve my health. But the truth is that when you’ve been obese all of your life, you don’t understand the definition of healthy and can’t imagine what it feels like. My world was so small before that I didn’t realize what I was missing.I take pleasure in the little things that most people take for granted: having a seat belt fasten easily around me, rolling around on the floor with my niece and nephew, stooping to pick something up that’s fallen on the ground. These are simple tasks, but they are ones I spent a long time avoiding.

What do you miss?
Nothing. There was nothing so remarkable about my former life that’s worth missing. I’ve have talked to other post-ops who miss the ability to gorge on food or to eat whatever they want on a whim. I went through that stage briefly the first three months after surgery. But I barely remember what I thought I missed back then. I know I don’t miss the things I thought I would, such as ice cream and fast food. I don’t crave Jack in the Box anymore, and I’m not tempted by the smell of the Golden Arches.

Do you have extra skin?
I’ve avoided this issue in my column because I think it’s become cliché. It seems that every news story or talk show that discusses surgical weight loss brings up issues and concerns with excess skin and the cosmetic surgery that’s often needed to eliminate it. Personally, it’s not much of a concern for me at the moment. Sure, there are parts of me that aren’t that pretty uncovered, but that was true before I lost 155 pounds. I look better now in clothing than I ever have before, and that’s good enough for me.I might feel differently 20 or 40 pounds from now, but for now, I can accept the results of my weight loss.

Would you do it again?
In a heartbeat. Nothing has ever tasted as good as how I feel right now. Even when I’m in the throes of a dumping episode, I don’t regret my decision to have gastric bypass. This is the best decision I’ve ever made. As I’ve gotten healthier, I’ve become a better worker, a better wife and a better person. I’m more productive at my job because I don’t get sick as often. I’m more available to my husband because I’m not tired all the time. And I’m easier to be around because I’m in a better mood and have a more positive outlook on life.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Nursing a war wound

Originally published Dec. 24, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

Life has certainly changed for me in the last 10 months. Before having gastric-bypass surgery, I was more likely to pull a hamstring from jumping to conclusions than from actually moving. When I started writing this column a year ago, I took the elevator every day to my second-story office. I was 27 years old, but I felt like I was 70. In fact, a 75-year-old woman in the office often ran circles around me.

Fast forward to now: I’m nursing a still-tender nose from a workout accident that occurred earlier in the week. My workouts are far from dangerous. I haven’t yet realized my dream of rock climbing. My exercise partner isn’t even sure my hand-eye coordination is advanced enough to attempt racquetball. But I am more adventurous than ever.

As my weight loss has slowed over the past couple of months, my motivation has moved from the numbers on the scale to what I accomplish at the gym each morning. I’ve stepped up my cardio workout by using the Cybex Arc crosstrainer. At first, the Arc felt a little awkward to me, because I was accustomed to the elliptical trainer.The Arc is more of a glider and feels deceptively easy because there is little strain felt in the knees and hips. Yet a 20-minute mile on it leaves me dripping with sweat. Going the same distance in the same time on the treadmill or elliptical trainer would have me barely glistening.

My strength-training program is still focused on using free weights, but my ab workout has gotten more interesting. My abs have never been strong, nor have I concentrated on them much in the past. It’s hard to get motivated about exercising muscles hidden under layers of flab.I started focusing on my abs before surgery, because I had heard that strong abs would lead to an easier recovery from the incisions. I adjusted my workout a few months ago to include exercises beyond the standard crunch, which gets boring day in and day out.

At first, I incorporated a big balance ball. I would do crunches from atop the ball to increase my range of motion, making the exercises more effective. Then I went to doing stabilizing exercises while balancing on it to help firm up my whole core.

Lately, my ab workouts have incorporated a Bosu balance trainer and medicine balls. A Bosu looks like someone hacked off the upper quarter of a balance ball and attached it to a platform — the end product being an inflated mound that can be used to activate the core muscles during all sorts of exercises.

One that my partner and I enjoy is playing catch with a 6-pound medicine ball while each of us stands on a Bosu. It looks likes we’re just playing a schoolyard game, but our abs, obliques and back muscles are working overtime to keep us from falling off the Bosu while we catch and throw the weighted ball.

Medicine balls also come in handy to intensify the standard crunch. But be forewarned — using medicine balls also requires paying more attention while exercising, as I learned this week.My partner and I favor a particular exercise where I lie on the ground while she stands across from me. I try to keep my shoulders raised as she throws a medicine ball at my face. The goal is for me to catch the ball and crunch upward while throwing it back at her. The hope is that my shoulders never touch the ground. The body’s instinctive tensing as the ball rushes toward my face keeps my muscles engaged the whole time. I was feeling so good at my ability to complete this exercise that I suggested we go from using a 4-pound ball to using an 8-pound ball.
However, I misjudged the amount of effort it would take to actually catch an 8-pound ball flying at me. On the first try, the ball went through my hands and crashed into my nose, leaving me to see nothing but stars for a solid minute.

My partner and I were reduced to hysterical laughing once I realized there was no blood and my nose was still as unbroken and adorable as always. I did have to explain the mysterious red line across my nose to numerous people throughout the day, but it was a great workout and one I can’t wait to do again.

I wouldn’t have laughed off such an incident before. A handful of people saw my display of klutziness and ribbed my partner for abusing me. It was all in good humor, and I consider the fact that so many of us got a good laugh out of the incident to make it worthwhile. It’s a fun story to tell.

The old Tonya would have had trouble seeing the humor in the situation. I would have been too embarrassed to think it was funny, and I might have not returned to the gym because of it.I’m glad I’m a different person now. I enjoy life more — both the good and the bad — than ever before, and I think I’m a better person because of it.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The honeymoon is over

Originally published Dec. 10, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

Nobody ever said this trip was going to be easy, but that doesn’t mean I can’t whine about it.

Complications? Nope, not a one. Regrets? Not at all.

So what is my problem? In a nutshell, it’s that I’ve started to face the same challenges I’ve had every time I’ve tried to lose weight. The issues I’ve had with dieting before have reared their ugly heads, and I’m not happy about it.

I’ve mentioned in recent columns the phenomenon of old habits creeping up. I am as honest in this column as I can be in a family newspaper. I stay honest because I want people to understand that losing weight isn’t easy regardless of the method used. I never thought this would be a quick fix, and I want to make sure readers understand that.I

compare what I’m going through to running into an old flame. You know where the person lives and where the person works and have done a decent job of avoiding him. But one day, you’re strolling down the produce aisle, and your carts collide. Face-to-face, the past hits you like a ton of bricks.The meeting is awkward, and later at home, you find yourself analyzing the relationship all over again. What went wrong? Are you really over him? The questions grow more frustrating, the answers more confusing.

Realizing food issues have re-emerged is no different. Over the last few weeks, I’ve done a variety of things. I’ve had nightmares about gaining all my weight back overnight. I’ve berated myself for dropping my guard. I’ve tallied up every “bad” choice I’ve made. And last but not least, I’ve hit the gym with a vengeance to counteract the effects of those choices.

I’ve haven’t fallen as far off the wagon as it may sound. It’s not like you’ll find me at Cold Stone Creamery ordering a large-size Creation. I haven’t had ice cream since I dumped on sugar-free Breyers three weeks after surgery. I’m not frequenting fast-food chains. In fact, I passed up the chance for Jack in the Box while writing this column (though the deep-fried tacos did sound good). My slip-ups are subtle. I might absentmindedly grab a caramel-filled Hershey’s Kiss from the candy dish on my way to the women’s restroom at work. While baking up a small batch of cookies for my husband, I’ll toss one into my mouth without thinking. Once I’ve swallowed, I’ll realize what I’ve done, but it’s too late.

I’m not an idiot. I see the trend in my behavior. I’ve been on autopilot for the last few weeks, and that’s always been my weakness. Sure, my eating isn’t anywhere close to what it was before surgery. It’s not like I’m eating half a pizza without realizing it. But even if I eat only a slice now, isn’t that just as bad? I’m still sabotaging myself.

Before I had surgery, I told my doctor I often overate on autopilot. She explained to me that it was a survival mechanism. At the time, she told me not to worry about what I ate or why I ate but to focus on how I felt when I caught myself zoning out. She said figuring out what prompted my survival instinct to kick in was the key to snapping myself out of it. She also said that it was something I would struggle with for the rest of my life because my brain was hardwired to react that way.

I hate that she was right.The honeymoon is over. I have lost 150 pounds, and I feel great but life is not perfect. I never thought it would be. But I’d be lying if I said I haven’t enjoyed the half a year I spent not battling compulsive eating. I

t took me almost four months to experience hunger pangs and four more to even consider eating between meals. But I knew that was all temporary. Every class I’ve sat in and every post-op I’ve talked to has warned me about that.I credit that education and knowledge for arming me with the self-awareness that I share now. That information has also given me the keys to getting myself back in check. I need to take advantage of the awesome support system that surrounds me. I need to start eating on a schedule again, writing down everything that I put in my mouth and cleaning out all the junk food in the house that I thought I could avoid.In a sense, I’m lucky. For the first time ever, I’ve recognized my self-sabotaging instincts before regaining mass amounts of weight. I see what I’m doing while I still have the power to stop it. I chose this surgery because I knew it was the only way I could force myself to confront my eating demons. Now that it’s time to do that, I’m going to make good on my promise to myself.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Ready for a marathon — in stages

Originally published Dec. 3, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

I’ve never been much of a runner. In fact, when somebody talks to me about jogging, my stock answer is always that I only run when being chased — and even then, I’d rather find a hiding place.But my aversion to running doesn’t stop me from feeling inspired when I read stories of marathon runners. I dream of having the level of commitment necessary to train for such a long-distance endeavor. Sometimes I even research races to enter. Eventually, reality sets in, and I remind myself of my running policy. But the idea is always in the back of my mind.

I never would have guessed that I would find the answer to my conundrum in my own backyard. But the city of Tracy has come up with an activity that will help me fulfill my interest in marathons without having to undergo intensive training or even actually run. The city’s Winter Activity Guide, which was mailed to local homes over the weekend, advertises the first-ever communitywide progressive marathon. Billing it as the answer for those who would love to participate in marathons but don’t have the time — or energy — to run the race all at once, My Own Marathon allows participants to cover the distance gradually.

How it works is that participants have from Jan. 1 to April 28 to log 26.2 miles of walking, running or a combination of the two. Participants are encouraged to attend the city’s annual Summer Activity Showcase on April 29, when everyone will gather to complete the last quarter-mile to mile of the marathon together.

The marathon fits right in with the city’s new Healthy Habits campaign, and recreation coordinator Laura Johnston said locals can expect to see more programs and classes that fit the theme.To make logging the required miles even easier, the Winter Activity Guide offers marathon mileage breakdowns for many of the classes offered. Tennis lessons and tap and ballet classes are all good for one mile each, while children who participate in the 8-week soccer program will log six miles.

“We hope that this progressive marathon can motivate Tracy residents to instill their own healthy habits,” Johnston said.

Johnston added that city staffers plan to promote My Own Marathon at the local hospital and schools as a great way for families to become active together. The marathon’s timeline of almost four months ensures that even the busiest family will be able to make time to participate.

My husband and I are looking forward to signing up Dec. 7, the first day the city accepts registration for winter programs. Entry fee is $5 per person or $10 for groups of two or more. That’s cheap, considering entrants receive a goody bag filled with a water bottle, T-shirt, sunscreen, pedometer, mileage log book and tip sheets.Besides signing up for a fun way to be active together, my husband said the pedometer is what sold him. He’s interested to find out how many miles he logs in at his construction job each day. I’m pretty excited about the pedometer myself, if only to use it as further confirmation of my newly active lifestyle.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Settling into maintenance mode

Originally published Nov. 26, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

It’s been nine months since I had gastric-bypass surgery, and this is the first month I’ve logged less than a 10-pound loss. Though it was a jarring realization when I first stepped on the scale, I’ve been expecting this.

The rate of loss typically begins to slow sometime between six and 12 months post-op. The slowdown occurs for a couple of reasons. One is that, as a person gets closer to his or her goal, the body naturally slows down in preparation for maintenance. The other is that, after six months, a surgical weight-loss patient’s dietary restrictions are reduced and “normal” eating resumes.

“Normal” does not mean “same as pre-op.” Resuming the bad habits that led to obesity is a bad choice at best. Normal is merely a label describing how the patient should eat for the rest of his or her life. And as somebody who is going through the process, I can tell you that normal is scary.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve made some discoveries that disturb me. Not only can I eat more in a single sitting than before, but cravings and “head hunger” have returned. For the uninitiated, head hunger is when you think you’re hungry even though there is no possible way your belly could be empty. I find head hunger most often occurs for me within a couple hours of eating a low-protein meal or during times of stress. The head hunger attacks are different, depending upon their cause. When I’m stressed, I feel that I’m famished, even if I have just eaten. But when I haven’t had enough protein, I just feel peckish. It’s as if I go all day long without ever being satisfied by what I eat. I’m not necessarily hungry, just not full.I imagine these phenomena didn’t develop overnight. They’ve probably been quietly lurking beneath the surface for the past couple of months. But now that I’ve recognized them, I have to work hard against them.

This is proof to me that there is no magic pill when it comes to weight loss. Even having my digestive tract rearranged didn’t stop me from having to come to terms with my brain’s ability to sabotage my efforts. The only difference between my current struggle and my weight loss attempts in the past is that surgery enabled me to lose a substantial amount of weight before my mind could interfere. In my old life, I would have lost 20 pounds at this point and felt so far from my goal. But now, I am closer than I have ever been to a normal weight. I’ve lost 150 pounds, and my goal is 35 pounds away — so close I can almost taste it. My goal will come within the next six months, provided I don’t let myself get sidetracked.

Though I still struggle with my eating habits — primarily not going back to my old ways — I am more focused than ever. I work out harder at the gym than I have in the past. Every day that I’m on the treadmill, I’m pushing myself. Last week, I went from walking 30 minutes at a pace of 3.5 miles an hour Tuesday to 30 minutes at 3.7 on Friday. It may not seem like much of an improvement, but it’s made the difference for me from glistening after 30 minutes to being drenched in sweat. I also push myself more on the weight machines. I’m more apt to increase the weight now and then, if only for my last couple of reps.

For some reason, pushing myself so hard at the gym makes me more attuned to my eating habits as well. I’m not perfect, but I find myself paying more attention to my portion size and making better choices on days when I’ve had a tough workout. In my old life, I would have considered a hard workout reason to reward myself with a Carmelo Sensation from Barista’s. Now, I reward myself with a shot of wheatgrass juice from Jamba Juice. I figure if I just finished burning 400 calories, I’d like to keep them off — not invite them back for a visit.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Say nothing at all

Originally published Nov. 19, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

Writing this column about my experiences with gastric-bypass surgery has made me an expert of sorts when it comes to the subject of obesity.

Every now and then I get an e-mail or a phone call from a reader wanting advice. Occasionally, the person wants my advice on how to approach someone about having gastric-bypass surgery.

The request takes different forms. Sometimes, it’s a simple, “There’s somebody I want you to meet. I think they could get a lot out of hearing your story.” Other times, it’s a more direct, “There’s someone I know whom I think would benefit from the surgery you had. What should I tell him?”My response is usually, “Nothing.”

Having struggled with my weight most of my life, I know what a personal battle it is. It’s hard enough going out into the world every day with a visible weakness, knowing what people think when they see you.

Having someone approach you with their answer to your problem is insulting at best. Apply it to a different situation and the insensitivity becomes more apparent. You wouldn’t approach a hirsute woman and tell her that laser hair removal would be the perfect solution to her unsightly beard. Nor would you tell Uncle Charles that a little lipo would take care of those love handles in a jiffy. So why would you suggest major surgery to an overweight coworker?

The answer to that is simple.

In our diet-crazed society, obesity is the one shortcoming that isn’t taboo to discuss in public. Under the guise of showing concern, we are free to tell Uncle Charles that his big belly is bad for his heart, and insurance just might cover gastric bypass. We don’t think twice about asking a coworker to join us at our next Weight Watchers meeting. We freely assume that overweight people are unhealthy and unhappy.Though that was true for me, it’s not true for everyone. I see plus-sized individuals at the gym every day who could run circles around most skinny-minnies — and they are proud to boast low blood pressure and cholesterol. And then there are people like David Letterman, who despite his slender physique, had emergency heart surgery just a few years ago.

Gastric bypass seems to me to have become the latest fad in the quest to overcome obesity. I think it’s an important tool, but it’s one that should be reserved only for those who truly want to make the lifestyle changes required. It can be a dangerous procedure that carries a laundry list of possible complications. It’s not a decision to be taken lightly or one that should be thrust upon someone else. It’s very personal, and I think those who are most successful after surgery are the ones who came to the decision on their own — without prodding from well-meaning friends or relatives.

Having said that, I would be remiss not to mention the other side of the coin.

Local life coach Monika Villasenor, who had gastric bypass about five years ago, believes that it’s OK to address destructive behavior in those close to us, provided it’s being done for the right reasons.

“Giving unwanted feedback to someone usually is not well-received,” she said to me during a recent chat.

Besides, Monika adds, it’s lot easier to dissect somebody else’s life than it is to face one’s own reality.S

he says it’s important to be clear before you approach someone that your intent comes from love and true concern as opposed to being a distraction from the pain that may exist in your own life.

“Is it serving you or serving them? There is a very fine line,” she said.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Old habits die hard

Originally published Nov. 12, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

Whenever I think my old life is behind me, something comes up to remind me that I’m still at the very beginning stages of an amazing life change. Sometimes I worry that no matter how hard I work, I’ll never overcome the habits that led to my morbid obesity. I know Rome wasn’t built in a day and all, but it would be nice to just rest on my laurels every now and then.

Stress is my downfall
Before having bariatric surgery in February, my biggest issue was stress. Actually, stress wasn’t the issue so much as my reaction to it. In times of stress or heavy burden, the first thing to go for me would be diligence in taking care of myself.

Exercise has always been the first thing to go. I would skip workouts, thinking that the time I generally spend in the gym would be better spent on commitments at work or home. But it was rarely the case that it would be enough. Sooner or later, I’d find myself skipping meals or grabbing a 99-cent heart attack on the run, all the while telling myself there was no time to fuel my body properly. After a couple weeks of that behavior — along with not sleeping enough — my energy would be zapped and I’d start frequenting cafés for blended triple-shot espresso drinks. Between the sugar and the caffeine, I’d be jolted into semiconsciousness for at least half a day. I’ve known this type of behavior is self-defeating for some time, but I could never figure out how to curb it. I just hoped that having my digestive system rerouted would make such behavior impossible. Boy was I wrong.

Still a struggle
It’s been almost eight months since my surgery, and for the most part, I’ve stayed on the narrow path. I skipped the gym for the better part of a month or so, but that was it. My tender tummy (or pouch, which is what it really is now) wouldn’t allow me to scarf anything, much less gulp a caffeinated drink or eat a Big Mac. Besides that, I didn’t suffer from head hunger yet and I had no trouble sticking with only eating three meals a day. Sometimes, it was even a struggle to eat more than two in a day. But over the last month, I’ve noticed the capacity of my pouch has increased. This is nothing to be worried about. It’s common for the tissue to relax around this time and start accommodating more food.T hat’s not a problem, so long as I stay on program and use that extra room to fit in more healthy protein, vegetables and some fruit. The problem is that staying on program is really hard for me when I’m frazzled.

Mindless eating
At first I noticed my hands reaching for crackers when I was confronted with problems at work. If I didn’t stop myself fast enough, I’d know the error of my ways within an hour when a killer stomachache would set in. The too-full feeling is miserable after gastric-bypass surgery. There is abdominal cramping, accompanied by the feeling of having a stitch in your side as well as chest pain. The worst part of it all is that nothing can be done to alleviate the problem; you just have to wait it out.

Every time this would happen, I would chastise myself and vow to be more mindful.

Of course, if I could be mindful all the time, this wouldn’t be a problem. Now, I’m aware that this problem of mine still exists, but I still have no solution. At least I don’t skip workouts as much anymore. I have my workout partner to thank for that. She is ever diligent about picking me up four days a week, and she doesn’t let me slack off one bit at the gym.

As for my eating habits, they are a work in progress. I used to keep on-program foods at the office in case I was too buried with work to leave for lunch, but then I found myself mindlessly munching on those items between meals. I know from experience there is such thing as too much of something good. But now that my office is devoid of snackables, I run the risk of skipping meals, which is bad for me on many levels.

Lack of protein still makes me weak, and my blood sugar is prone to getting too low. Though I don’t have the answers to this problem, I’m working on it. I know there’s a solution, and it’s important to me to find it. I don’t want to wake up five years from now at the same weight I was eight months ago. That would make having surgery irrelevant, and I worked too hard for that.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Soaring to new heights

Originally published Nov. 5, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

I’ve never been a fan of the outdoors. My fair skin burns easily in the sun, and watching “Jaws” one too many times as a young child has ensured that I never feel entirely safe in water that’s not contained in a bathtub.But before I had gastric-bypass surgery in February, I realized that liking the outdoors was never really an option for me. The only hiking I ever did was at science camp in the sixth grade. As the biggest kid in the class, I spent so much time trying to keep up, I never got the chance to really appreciate the sights. That experience shaped my feelings toward the outdoorsfrom then on.

As my surgery neared, my husband and I started compiling a list of things we thought weight loss would help me accomplish. It included places we wanted to go that I didn’t feel comfortable visiting when I was more than 300 pounds. One of the big goals I had was to go hiking. My husband enjoys camping, fishing, water skiing, snow skiing and just being out in the fresh air.He feels a sense of renewal when communing with nature. It became important to me to at least try to share in his love once I was healthy enough to do so.

First hike leads to future plans
Our original plan was to go to Mount Diablo during the summer, but I still had a lot of trouble tolerating the heat, so we never went. In September, my husband and I joined his family on a picnic in Knights Ferry. It was a warm day, but I found the area to be pretty. We went back last weekend and enjoyed a short hike along the Stanislaus River.

Nestled between Oakdale and Sonora, Knights Ferry seems to stay fairly cool. We started with a walk from thepicnic grounds across the 365-foot-long covered bridge — reportedly the longest of its kind — and headed away from the town’s ruins toward the hills. Our hike took us from golden foothills to the rocky riverbank. I clambered up rocks that my husband, at 6-foot-4, easily leapt upon. I slipped a time or two, sliding on my backside, but all in all, it was loads of fun. I got dirty and sweaty but enjoyed the time with my husband — even when the only sound was that of my panting.

After the hike, we went back to the picnic grounds and talked about how much fun we had. We both agreed that our sneakers were too slippery and that we’d need actual hiking boots before trying another jaunt. At my husband’s urging, we left the grounds to check out a store he saw along the way in Oakdale that specializes in hiking boots. About $80 later, we left the store with a pair of boots for each of us and plans to tackle Mount Diablo this weekend.I n Danville, the park is expecting cool weather this weekend and we hope to take advantage of it to explore Rock City and Fossil Ridge. Maybe this time I’ll remember to take a camera so I can bring back proof of our trip.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Trying to heal the inner child

Originally published Oct. 29, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

It’s official. I now weigh less than I did when I was 10 years old. Click for stats.The first day that I weighed in below 199 pounds, I was in shock. After a week, I was excited.But once the excitement wore off, I discovered a new emotion: anger.
My husband would say that my anger is nothing new. He thinks I’ve been angry quite awhile. It has something to do with no longer being able to squelch my feelings with food. But this new anger is different. It’s immature and unreasonable.

Angry little kid
Every time I look in the mirror, I become a mad 10-year-old. I’m angry with adults in my life who looked at me and didn’t see anything wrong. I’m angry with my pediatrician for not telling my mother that having such an obese child was a problem. My bariatric doctors warned me before I had this surgery that as the weight dropped, emotional issues would surface.

Though I worked hard to prepare for what might arise, this is one issue that I never saw coming. I thought I had made peace with the events of my childhood. The adult in me says that my mom did the best she could with the knowledge she had at the time. My doctor was no miracle worker. When he looked at me, he probably saw a kid with the deck stacked against her. He knew there was a family history of obesity, and he probably knew that lecturing my mother wouldn’t do any good. I presume he gave the best advice he could in such circumstances. I remember him telling my mom that it wasn’t such a bad thing, but it might be a good idea to have me try not to gain any more weight. I was in the fifth grade then, but I remember it all clearly. I also remember crying myself to sleep after the first day of eighth grade when I weighed in at 203. I had maintained my weight for three years, but somehow over the summer, it crept up on me. That’s when I began dieting in earnest.

As an adult, I think I should probably thank that doctor for saving me from the yo-yo diet routine for three years. After all, if he had done what I wish he had — required my mom to help me lose weight — it probably would only have served to start me on that path so much sooner. That should count for something. But the sullen 10-year-old rants. All she can remember are the taunts and teasing that made walking to and from school seem unbearable. She remembers having to wear ill-fitting clothing because manufacturers at the time weren’t in the business of creating stylish outfits for plus-sized children.

Going back in time
I’d love to go back in time and have a talk with the 10-year-old me. I’d tell her that she might feel powerless, but as an adult, she’d be in control of her own destiny. I’d tell her about the power of making good choices. I’d talk to that girl’s mom and tell her how her daughter’s size was a prison, and that she should do something about it. I’d encourage her to take daily walks with her daughter and develop an active lifestyle. I’d visit the doctor and tell him his complacent attitude wasn’t helping anyone. I’d encourage him to be more proactive when dealing with overweight patients and their parents.

Of course, going back in time is impossible. All I can do is acknowledge that it’s normal for me feel this way. When the angry 10-year-old makes an appearance, I try my best to listen to her. Maybe through this process, the little girl inside of me will heal her heart.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Keeping an eye on the goal

Originally published Oct. 8, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

When I first decided to have gastric-bypass surgery, I set a modest goal for myself. I decided that I wanted to weigh 200 pounds after one year.I picked that goal because it’s the average of what I weighed from the age of 10 to 18. I figured if I could maintain that weight for eight years before, it would be realistic goal to maintain for the rest of my life.The only problem is that when I weighed 335 pounds, it never occurred to me I could be in the ballpark of 200 pounds seven months after surgery. And when that happened, I realized it was time to revisit my goal weight.
Obviously, my body is capable of being thinner, and I have 12 months left of the “honeymoon” period to lose more weight. All gastric-bypass patients have an 18- month honeymoon period to lose as much excess weight as possible before their bodies get wise and figure out a way to consume more food and absorb more nutrients from the food ingested.My new goal weight needs to be low enough that it accounts for regaining 10 or 20 pounds (common after two years) without significantly hurting my health. After much thought, I’ve settled on a goal weight of 160 pounds.At 5-foot, 3-inches tall, weighing 160 pounds puts my body mass index at 26.9, still considered overweight. A normal BMI is between 18.5 and 24.95. However, it’ll be the closest to normal I’ve ever been.This goal may end up being temporary. I’m about 40 pounds away from my goal at the moment. Twenty pounds from now, I plan to revisit this goal. I may decide that I want to try for a more normal weight. If I do, then I’ll change my goal again at that time.One thing I’ve learned since surgery is the importance of being flexible with my goals and expectations because one never knows what will occur.As I often say, every day brings a new challenge and a new reward. I’m just enjoying the journey for what it’s worth.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Is that what I really look like?

Originally published Oct. 1, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

As the excess weight melts from my body, I’m surprised by the form that has begun to emerge. One coworker said the other day, “Who knew you had such a little person hiding in there?”I sure didn’t, and I’m glad I’m not the only one in shock.Before surgery, I resembled Humpty Dumpty in my roundness. I looked broad. I was almost as wide as I was tall. I credited my Azorean heritage for my “big bones.” Well, I may have inherited a lot of traits from my Portuguese parents, but it seems big bones weren'tamong them.My shoulders have narrowed, my waist and hips have slimmed down, and as I’ve written in the past, bones seem to be poking out all over.
Stepping into the GapI even went shopping at the Gap outlet store here in Tracy for the first time ever over the weekend. I wasn’t there to buy anything, but I wanted to gauge what my size would be in a “normal” store. I took a variety of items into the dressing room, mainly XL tops and size 18 bottoms.The tops were fitted but looked good to me. The pants, on the other hand, did not. I had no trouble getting them on, but they weren’t as attractive as I had hoped. I spent a good 10 minutes examining the softest pair of jeans ever to cover my behind. I thought the mirror or my eyes might be playing tricks on me.My shopping companion said she thought they looked good. When I told her I didn’t like them because they made my thighs look wider than my hips, her response floored me.“Well, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Besides, that’s how your body is shaped.”Excuse me?! Since when?I don’t recall ever having that body shape. My hips have always been the widest part of my body, though at my heaviest, my stomach was quickly catching up.I put the pants back and left the store without buying anything.
'Measurements don't lie'The next day, I decided to take my measurements to see if my friend was right or if the jeans were just evil.Measurements don’t lie. In fact, many weight-loss professionals recommend using measurements over body weight to monitor weight loss/muscle gain because they are more reliable.I wish I didn’t know that.At my heaviest, my hips were 64 inches around — yes, that means my hips were about 5 feet 3 inches, and that’s equal to my height.Imagine how excited I was to measure them now at 48 inches. A loss of 14 inches in seven months is pretty exciting, even if it was helped along by gastric-bypass surgery. Then I measured my thighs. The left one is 27 inches around, and the right one is 26½, down a bit from 33 and 32½, respectively.So, the combined measurement is 53½ inches, and that means my hips are now about five inches smaller than my thighs. If only I could blame the jeans.
A plan of actionThough my findings are shocking to me, I’m not losing sleep over this. Getting worked up over one’s body shape is akin to fighting the color of the sky — not worth the effort. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to work hard to see if this new body shape might be temporary.To achieve that goal, I’ve increased my cardio to 35 minutes four days a week. I’ve also switched from using the elliptical cross-trainer to the treadmill, just to see if that might make a difference. But I’ve been careful to keep my intensity high to ensure I’m getting the same level of workout as before.I know some women fear weight training bulks up the body, but I know better. Building muscle burns fat, and I want to burn all I can. And that means I’m lifting weights five days as week as well, but I’m making sure to give each muscle group 48 hours to rest before working it again.
Not aloneAs I work with this new challenge, I must say I find comfort in knowing I’m not alone.Reader Pat King, a 59-yearold Patterson woman who works at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, has also noticed unexpected changes since having gastric bypass about 6½ months ago.Earlier this week, she e-mailed to tell me about the thrill of receiving a bag full of cute career clothes from a daughter who just had a baby.“Now I just have to sit down and shorten all of them, because not only has my weight gone down, but I’ve also shrunk a couple of inches in the past two years thanks to osteoporosis,” she wrote.Though I’m sure Pat would love to have those two inches in height back if possible, I like her attitude. I’m going to make sure I keep the same frame of mind as I go through my own changes.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Another year older — and wiser

Originally published Sept. 24, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

I turned 28 this week. Not a milestone birthday by any means, but it’s given me reason to reflect.This time last year, I weighed about 330 pounds. I was patiently awaiting my preoperative orientation, scheduled for October. I hadn’t yet decided if gastric bypass was something I wanted to pursue for weight loss. I was working hard to eat right and exercise while weighing the pros and cons of surgical weight loss.
A trip to the cityFor my birthday, I visited the wharf in San Francisco with a friend. We had planned to spend the day shopping till we dropped on the piers. I wasn’t able to do much shopping before I dropped. I didn’t have a lot of energy. I was hot and sweaty and generally didn’t have that great of a time.My family joined us for dinner at Tahoe Joe’s, a steakhouse in Modesto known for its gigantic portions. What I remember most about the evening is trying to educate the hostesses on why our party of six (three of whom were large women) could not squeeze itself into a booth.Finally, I compromised with a hostess that we would sit outside if she could provide armless dining chairs for the table instead of plastic patio furniture.Aside from that, the evening was pleasant. Most of us ate too much, drank too much and complained about it as we were doing it.
A very different birthdayThis year’s birthday was markedly different. There was a weekend picnic that involved me traipsing up and down a steep grade to travel between the picnic grounds and bathrooms more than twice. We had water-balloon relays, some people went fishing and others took long walks. Most attendees enjoyed KFC chicken and a potluck of side dishes and appetizers. I was perfectly happy to have a few Wheat Thins with sliced turkey and cheese.On my actual birthday, my husband and I went out to dinner with my mom. I had a craving for prime rib and horseradish, which led us to Black Angus in Stockton. I enjoyed a cocktail shrimp off the appetizer platter, a spoonful of the baked potato soup, a few small bites of the prime rib and a nibble or two of zucchini. And I was done — not too full but satisfied. Our dinner came with a huge slab of gooey chocolate cake, but I had no trouble asking the server to box it up so I could take to work the next day for my coworkers to enjoy.
Quality of life improvesAs I think of the changes I’ve experienced in this past year, I realize that my weight may be the most obvious, but quality of life is the most meaningful.A year ago, I was scared to have gastric-bypass surgery because I thought it might mean that I’d have to give up everything I thought I loved in life — like chocolate, good food and socializing. Yet I find I enjoy life so much more now that I can ever remember before. I see how small a role eating and drinking without limits played in my happiness. Or maybe those were keys to my happiness before because I was trapped in a prison of obesity. Not any more.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The true meaning of free

Originally published Sept. 17, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

It seems that every week I write about some amazing new discovery on my journey toward a healthier me.Sometimes I worry that I sound like a broken record. I hope that’s not the case. The truth is that every day brings a revelation.Take last weekend, for example.
My husband and I decided to celebrate our fifth anniversary with a trip to Monterey. It was our first getaway since our honeymoon. I was excited about the trip because I knew I could be so much more active than I’ve ever been during our marriage. After all, I’m thinner and healthier than I’ve been in that time.We booked a hotel room at one end of Cannery Row and didn’t use our car again for the next three days. We traipsed up and down Cannery Row, walked along Fisherman’s Wharf and had a great time shopping downtown.Despite logging miles on foot each day, my knees and feet never gave me any trouble. By the second day, my thighs were a little sore from all the stairs, but I didn’t let it stop me.In fact, I groaned the one time my husband insisted that we take an elevator because he was tired of bounding up and down the same set of stairs so I could compare prices at different shops.It seemed I had limitless energy. We spent close to five hours at the aquarium, and I never felt the need to stop or sit down even once.But beyond my level of energy, I had another, even more profound realization.
Food not the first thoughtMy old life had practically revolved around my next meal. Whenever I would travel somewhere, I’d plot my route by the eateries along the way. Driving through Los Banos was always a treat because it meant we could visit Woolgrowers, the best Basque restaurant I’ve ever tried. Meeting people in Livermore was great because we could have lunch at Strizzi’s on First Street. We’d search for reasons to shop at the Stoneridge Mall in Pleasanton just for an excuse to eat at Todai, the mall’s Japanese buffet.Once, I even traveled all the way to South Lake Tahoe with a cousin just to eat ribs at Hoss Hoggs.But food played a very small role for me in Monterey — and I still had the time of my life. I didn’t feel compelled to eat saltwater taffy just because we were in a coastal town. I didn’t feel obligated to eat at every restaurant that looked appealing or offered a “buy one, get one” coupon. The idea of where or what to eat didn’t cross my mind until my tummy started rumbling. And even when we did get hungry, we just shut our eyes and pointed in the general direction of a restaurant to try.We chose restaurants based on the ambiance and what was offered on the menu. I never once felt deprived because I couldn’t order everything that looked good. I took my time perusing the menu and picked dishes that sounded flavorful. Though I could eat only a few bites at each meal, I wasn’t upset or disappointed. I took my time eating, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying my husband’s company.
FreedomFood no longer held the power over me that it once did. For the first time in my memory, my life didn’t revolve around food. Food has become to me what it’s always been intended — necessary to survival.Not only did I have an amazing vacation with my husband in a romantic place by the ocean. I learned something about myself — both the person I used to be and the person I’ve become since having gastric-bypass surgery in February.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Best friends — through thick and thin

Originally published Sept. 10, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

There’s an inside joke among people in the bariatric community that the second most common side effect of surgical weight loss is divorce.Before surgery, doctors and mental health professionals spend a lot of time talking with bariatric patients about their relationships with their spouses. The doctors try to drive home the point that any problems in the marriage before surgery will be even more glaring after surgery.Unfortunately, the same attention isn’t given to all relationships.
I’ve sat in countless support groups and listened to post-operative patients address unexpected changes in relationships.Sometimes, it’s about coworkers who used to be friendly but have become snippy as the patient has lost weight. Other times, it’s about relatives who discount the person’s weight loss because it was helpedalong by surgery. But most often, it’s about friends — and that’s when the situation seems to be most hurtful.Gastric-bypass surgery was a big decision for me. First, I had to decide that it was the right solution to my weight problem. Then I had to figure out how my size played into my marriage and how drastic weight loss would affect that.Once I figured that out, I turned my attention to my circle of friends, particularly my best friend.
Long friendshipI’ve known Amber since the eighth grade, though our friendship didn’t develop fully until after high school.At 18, I supported her in the delivery room as she gave birth to her son. I held her bouquet when she married his father, and I held her snotty tissues when she went through her divorce.She’s been there for me during tough times, too — when my husband and I had to live on separate coasts while he finished his military work, and when I found out I may not be able to conceive a baby.Despite all the changes we’ve gone through over the years, there has been one constant: I’ve always outweighed her by 50 pounds or more. Whether we were 12, 22 or 27, I’ve always been bigger — even when she was pregnant.
Preparation is keyWe spent a lot of time before I had surgery discussing that dynamic. We agreed that it would be different for me to be the thinner one, but as Amber said, “We’ve been friends too long to let something as petty as weight get between us.”Now I find myself amazed at me how right she was. Of all the relationships I have, ours has changed the least since surgery. Amber would say that’s not true; it’s just that our relationship is always changing, which makes it less noticeable. Maybe she’s right.She’s handling the situation much better than I thought she would.She gleefully gave me a couple pairs of slacks a month ago that were too big for her, but she’s just as excited to shop in my closet to pick out shirts that are too big for me. On the other hand, I’m not handling it as well. Though my weight loss isn’t straining our friendship as I expected, it’s causing me to dig deep inside myself to find out why being the same size as her is unnerving. I have no real answer to that question, except to say that I’ve never had friends bigger than me. I’ve always been the “fat friend.” And for the most part, that’s been a comfortable role for me. I’m embarking on new territory in my journey toward a new me, and the terrain is rough but not impossible.If anything, I’m learning that each day brings new experiences and challenges. Some I’m prepared for, but others I’m not. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m learning to accept that.Instead of pondering the hows and whys of my relationship with Amber, I should count my blessings. Not everyone is so lucky to have a friendship that can remain true through thick and thin.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Sizing down

Originally published Sept. 3, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

OK, it’s official. I am thinner. I know it seems I’m stating the obvious, but I feel obligated to admit that I’ve finally noticed the changes in my appearance.Until recently, if someone commented that I looked thinner, I would respond with “Do I?” or “Do you think so?” I wasn’t trying to be coy; I really couldn’t see a difference.However, that all changed when working on last week’s column.
At first, it just had to do with comparing the “before” picture with the one taken last week. I included many of the differences noticed in that column. However, I still didn’t notice them when looking in a mirror. I just looked like Tonya. No different from before.It wasn’t until trying on a pair of size-16 twill pants in a Kohl’s dressing room last weekend that I truly saw a difference.I didn’t expect the pants to even go over my hips, but they did. And then I stood there in front of the mirror, telling myself that they wouldn’t zip up, but they did. I tried them on with a large-size knit top, which also fit. And it was at that moment, looking in the mirror, that I saw the physical changes that everyone else has been telling me about.At first I thought the color combination (wine-colored top with black pants) was playing tricks with my eyes. But the more I looked at myself, the more I noticed. What first struck me was that the tummy bulge that seemed a permanent part of my appearance was less noticeable. As I turned to the side, I realized my thighs have actually gotten smaller.Before surgery, I feared that my whole body would shrink except for my thighs, giving me the world’s worst body shape imaginable.Looking up from the side, I realized my back had no visible fat rolls.There was no flesh bulging over or under my bra strap, no “love handles” flopping over my waistband.Feeling under my arm, I realized there was no flab pushing against my bra at all. That doesn’t mean there isn’t any there, it’s just not so much that it can’t be held in.After looking at each individual body part, I took a minute to take in the whole picture once again. And I couldn’t help but marvel at the realization of being 120 pounds thinner than I was a year ago.At 215, I’m about the same weight I was when I graduated high school. I didn’t have as many stretch marks back then as I do now, and my skin was a lot more supple and youthful. But I think that’s true for many women in their late 20s. Sure, they may have had babies and stuff, but it’s still true.I’ve gone from wearing a too-tight size 28 in February of this year to a snug 16 or loose 18 on bottom, and large or XL on top. And, for the first time ever, I weigh less than what my driver’s license says I do. How’s that for a strange situation? I look forward to getting it renewed next year and taking a new picture and recording a new weight. I might actually dress up for the occasion.It’s been a good six months, and I look forward to noticing more changes in the weeks to come.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

After six months, much has changed

Originally published Aug. 27, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

My, how time flies. It’s hard for me to believe it’s been six months since I had gastric-bypass surgery. I think I’ve said this before, but bear with me: It feels like another lifetime.Every month, something seems to take me by surprise. This last month, I tried to stay on top of things by keeping a list of new experiences. I didn’t expect the list to be quite as long as it is, especially considering that these are only new experiences that have occurred since July 24, but I think it shows that the body can go through changes even when the scale doesn’t seem to move much.
I’ve lost 10 pounds in the last month, which brings my total weight lost to 120 pounds since last year. I’ve lost close to 95 pounds in the past six months. As one coworker frequently points out to me, sometimes my body changes dramatically independent of weight. For instance, he swears I have dimples in my cheeks that have only appeared within the last week or so. In that time, I’ve lost 3 pounds. I doubt 3 pounds would make the difference between having dimples or not, but this coworker assures me they are there when I smile.There are days I wake up to find my pants are too big, when I would swear they were still snug on me the day before. Or somebody will comment that I look a lot “narrower” suddenly, when I know I’ve dropped just a couple of pounds. This isn’t a complaint, just an illustration of how marvelous the body can be. I expected to lose weight at a rapid pace, but I don’t think I fully appreciated all the changes my body would go through.
Speaking of changes, here’s a list of my new experiences in the last month:
Fitting in chairsThroughout the last six months, I’ve discovered my rear end fitting better in certain chairs. First, it was my office chair that was a little roomier. Then I noticed I was able to sit in a movie theater seat without the arm rests cutting into my thighs and hips. Then I noticed patio furniture didn’t feel as if it would break beneath my weight. My recent experience is that of just sitting down in the nearest chair without ever thinking of whether it would support me. Talk about a new freedom.
Towels fit around meI discovered this while staying with a friend one weekend. As per my usual routine, I lugged all of my clothes into the guest bathroom before showering. Bath towels haven’t fit around me since I was in high school, and even the bath sheets at my house stopped fitting around me a couple of years ago. However, when I got out of the shower and was trying to do my hair, I absent-mindedly wrapped the bath towel around myself and knotted it to free my hands. I dropped my hair gel when I looked in the mirror and found the towel covered me. It didn’t overlap much, but I’ll take what I can get.
Wearing my husband’s T-shirtsThis is the most recent discovery. After a long day at work Wednesday, I took a short break to run home and change clothes before heading back to the office. I put on a new pair of red workout pants and was rummaging around for a T-shirt to wear with them. Red is not a color that goes well with most of my T-shirts. My husband pointed to one of his shirts and suggested I try it. I looked at him sideways and asked if he really thought it would fit. After all, he’s a beanpole. He reminded me that it’s a men’s extra large. I tried it on to humor him and about fell over to find that it fit. We were equally shocked. Of course, my husband now regrets his suggestion. Suddenly, he’s afraid I might take a liking to more of his shirts.
Being coldI almost froze my rear end off last week at the Double Funk Crunch concert in Lincoln Park. My wonderful husband ran home to get me a sweatshirt. I used to sweat every moment of every day, whether I was indoors or out. Now it has to be in the 90s or I have to be doing something active to break a sweat. We still keep our place on the cool side, but I’ve started to keep a second blanket on my side of the bed for nighttime.
Running up stairsI caught myself doing this one day at the office when I was in a rush. I surprised myself so much that I stopped halfway up the flight, thinking, “Did I just run up half a flight of stairs? What the heck am I thinking? I could fall.” After my senses took hold, I finished the flight by walking, but just knowing I could run up and down the stairs if I wanted to without suffering chest pains makes me smile — a lot.
Sitting in my husband’s lapSpending much of the last five years being twice the size of my husband, I’ve become quite conscious of my ability to hurt him without realizing it. I wouldn’t usually put any part of my body on him for fear of my weight crushing his legs or something (yes, I realize that sounds ridiculous, but I’m allowed to be silly and insecure if I want). One day, while sitting behind me, my husband decided to pull me into his lap. It was quite a comfortable seat, but then it occurred to me that I might be too heavy. I asked him if I was hurting him, but he said it didn’t. Now I sit there more often.
Hand-me-downs from friendsNever in my life have I been able to share clothes with friends. In the last 10 years, I don’t think I’ve ever had a friend who wore clothes the same size as me or bigger. But just last week, a friend of mine gave me about 10 or 12 shirts that she can’t wear anymore. All of them were misses XLs from ether The Gap or Old Navy. While they don’t exactly “fit” yet, I can wear the button-up shirts open over a camisole. And I know it’s only a matter of time before I’ll be wearing those same shirts buttoned.
Whew. I think this might be the most eventful month I’ve had thus far on this life-changing journey. There’s not one thing I take for granted. As I read over what I’ve written, I’m yet again amazed by how small my world was when I weighed 315 pounds, and how much it’s grown as my body has gotten smaller. I can’t wait to see what the next month has in store.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Convenience counts when it comes to protein

Originally published Aug. 13, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

Open my file drawer at the office, and you’ll find a veritable plethora of protein supplements and convenience foods geared to helping me meet my protein requirements.
The vegetable bin of my refrigerator has also been converted into Protein Central. That’s where I keep all my ready-to-drink protein supplements.
If I seem a bit obsessed with protein, that’s because I am. With protein being the body’s building block, it’s important that I make sure to get enough of it. Protein is the key player in cell development, so not much happens in the human body without it.
I’ve been more focused on protein lately for a couple of reasons. One is the hair loss I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. The body needs a sufficient protein supply to build hair and nails, as well as repair tissue. Not getting enough protein could prolong the hair-loss phase, and that’s not OK by me.The second reason protein has taken center stage for me is because I’ve discovered a host of convenient products to help me make sure I meet my daily requirement. Like most people, the easier something is for me to do, the more likely I am to do it.
How much is enough?According to the University of Iowa’s Hospitals and Clinics, we need 8 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight. For me, that equates to 88 grams a day.Some doctors advocate using the formula with your ideal weight as opposed to your current weight. However, in the case of gastric-bypass patients, everything consumed is not necessarily absorbed. My doctors recommend that their surgical weight-loss patients consume at least 80 grams of protein a day in hopes that about 60 grams are absorbed and used by the body.The constraints of a 2- to 4-ounce stomach pouch make getting in 80 grams of protein a challenge, to say the least. Most protein sources — eggs, cheese, poultry, beef, fish, etc. — provide about 8 grams of protein per ounce. I don’t know anyone in the first post-operative year who can eat 4 ounces at every sitting. Most of us eat two very small meals a day and one larger one. For example, I generally can consume 2 ounces at each sitting. But at lunchtime, I’m often able to eat 3 or 4 ounces, especially if I’ve exercised that day. That means I fit in about 8 ounces of food each day. Even if I were to focus strictly on protein-rich foods, I’d be able to get only 60 grams of protein a day. That’s where supplements come in.
Protein supplements may not sound appetizing, but they are a great way to get in 30 or 40 grams in one shot. It seems supplements are getting tastier and healthier all the time.
Zero-Carb IsopureMy newest favorite is Zero-Carb Isopure’s ready-to-drink protein supplement. Similar in appearance and taste to Gatorade or Kool-Aid, Isopure boasts 40 grams of whey protein in each 20-ounce bottle — all for about 160 calories. My favorite flavors so far are alpine punch and mango peach, though apple melon isn’t too bad.Isopure is best when served well-chilled or over ice, and I like it because it’s not thick or milky like most protein drinks. Tracy gets too hot in the summer for me to stomach a thick, creamy shake in the mornings.Isopure’s punch-like consistency makes it something I’m able to drink throughout the day, instead of having to chug down all 20 ounces in one sitting. It’s even great to take to the gym in place of water, though I find it gets too warm too quickly in that environment.
Achiev OneAnother yummy, ready-to-drink supplement is Achiev One’s coffee drinks.The fact that they are made with coffee and contain caffeine makes them unsuitable for most bypass patients, including me. But I have tried a couple of their flavors, and I can attest to their tastiness.For 120 calories, Achiev One offers a fat-free, sugar-free version of the Starbucks Frappucino drinks you can buy in stores. The only difference is that the Achiev One drinks also provide 20 grams of protein. Not a bad way to get your daily coffee fix.
Convenience countsAside from providing a much-needed protein boost, supplements such as the two mentioned above also make getting needed nutrients convenient. When I followed Weight Watchers a few years ago, I discovered that I never had trouble eating healthy foods when I had time to prepare them. It was when I got busy that I’d get myself into trouble. Having gastric-bypass surgery didn’t change that about me. I’m still more apt to shelve good eating and exercise habits in times of stress or when I’m busy.Protein bars and ready-made drinks have become my salvation. If I oversleep, I grab a drink from the fridge to sip when I get to work. If I get too busy to take a lunch break, I reach into my drawer for a protein bar. Having such options helps me make sure my body gets what it needs and keeps me on the path to success.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Not the only one getting thinner

Originally published July 30, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

I have begun to lose my hair. It’s not as dramatic as it sounds.As opposed to hair loss, I think a more accurate description is that I’m experiencing extreme thinning.I’ve been dreading this for about two months.Most doctors tell their patients that the hair-loss phase begins around 12 weeks after weight-loss surgery. However, most people I’ve talked to say it sets in between the fourth and fifth month. As for how long it lasts — well, opinions vary on that as well. I’ve heard everything from three to six months.But knowing that it was coming did nothing to ease the shock of it happening.
At first I just noticed that a few hairs would stick in my hands after I ran my fingers through my hair. Then I noticed that my pillow was covered in strands. But the most troubling experience was after washing my hair in the bathroom sink one morning.I generally wash my hair in the shower. But on this day, after rinsing my hair, my fingers were tangled with it.I looked in the sink, and if not for the color, I would have thought I had just finished washing the cat there. My chestnut-colored hair was matted in the drain and covered the sink’s porcelain.I was taken aback, but I think I handled it pretty well. I didn’t cry or act weird. I just rinsed off my hands, grabbed a wad of toilet tissue and wiped out the sink.I towel-dried my hair and took a long look in the mirror. No bald spots, no noticeable thin areas. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I would have thought my eyes were playing tricks on me.I credit preparation and perspective for helping me not to overreact to the situation. The preoperative classes I took helped prepare me for the inevitability of losing my hair. Some people naturally lose hair after major surgery. The trauma to the system is just too much for the fragile hair follicles.But with gastric-bypass patients, the body has to deal with a drastic reduction in nutrients, as well as massive weight loss — and those combine to make the follicles freak out and release hair.My awesome hair stylist helped me choose a short haircut that I love so that the thinning and regrowth would be less noticeable. I didn’t want to be one of those women with inch-long sprouts poking through shoulder-length hair.But perspective actually came after I noticed the hair loss.I was eating lunch with a friend and told her about this new development. She was concerned and asked how I was handling it. I told her that I was trying to keep a good attitude.To prove it, I said, “Wanna see something cool?” as I ran my fingers through my hair to show her all the loose strands that came out.“ Please don’t ever do that again,” she pleaded with a shudder. “It reminds me of my mom when she had chemo.”For a second, I stopped. Her mother was my godmother.I remember her bouts with cancer from the time we were in junior high until college. I remember seeing my godmother with no eyebrows and a wig. I remember seeing her with her natural hair again when we thought the cancer was gone. And I remember coming home on break to notice she was wearing a wig again.And that put me in my place. What I’m experiencing is insignificant compared to that.Yes, my hair is thinning. Yes, it’s disturbing. But I know it’s not a permanent affliction. I’ve been taking my vitamins and consuming protein so that my body has what it needs to regrow hair when the time is right. Until then, I will continue to sport the stylish haircut, and I’ll keep a lint brush handy to lift the strays from my clothing before leaving the house.And most people won’t even have a clue.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Changes from the inside out

Originally published July 23, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

Before having gastric-bypass surgery, I felt aged beyond my years.When I decided on the option of surgical weight loss, I did it to improve my health, not because of vanity.Sure, the improvement in my appearance has been a welcome side effect. But I measure my success each day by how I feel.For most of the last five months, I’ve felt great. I feel as youthful as the calendar tells me I should.But for the last few weeks, I’ve noticed a couple of nagging pains. At first, it was just when driving. It took me a while to realize it. But when driving for more than a few minutes, I would get a strange numbness low in my back.I figured that it was time to adjust the car seat. I had been driving with it in the same position I did before surgery. I spent a week altering the seat position with no relief. Then I started waking up with my upper back hurting.“Now this is ridiculous,” I remember thinking when getting out of bed one morning.I remember telling myself before surgery that I was too young to feel as old as I did at the time. But it seemed like it was happening all over again. The aches and pains really started to annoy me, so much so that I considered seeing a doctor.Before scheduling an appointment, however, I decided to whine to my husband one day after work.It had been a long day, and I was beat. My lower back was numb from sitting at my desk without moving for so long.My upper back was hurting to the point that touching the flesh behind my shoulder would make me wince.My husband offered to rub my back in the hopes of relieving my discomfort. As he started on my lower back, the numbness began to dissipate.“Not so bad,” I thought. And I let him try the same thing to my shoulders.“Ow, not so hard, please,” I begged when he began. “Can you feel that knot?”My husband did not feel the knot. He decided to explore this pain of mine a bit further. His exploration consisted of pressing hard in certain areas while asking, “Does this hurt? How ’bout this?”My answers fluctuated between “no, not at all” and “If you do that one more time … .”Perplexed, my husband asked me to show him where I had the most pain. Feeling over my shoulder, I quickly pointed out the hard knot behind my right shoulder that had me so cranky.“Do you feel knots anywhere else”? he asked.Gingerly moving my fingers around the general area, I found that this knot of mine was much larger than I realized, and it seemed more inthe shape of a ridge.“Weird. Do you think it’s a growth of some sort”? the hypochondriac in me asked.My husband lightly ran his fingers over the same area.“This is the knot you’ve been complaining about”? he calmly asked. “Um, honey, that’s your shoulder blade. It’s supposedto be there.”I don’t know what my expression looked like, but I have to give the guy credit for not bursting into laughter. He then showed me how I had a similar ridge on the other side, and he assured me that many people share the same anatomical phenomenon without writhing in pain.Feeling like super-doc, my husband went in search of the source of my lower back pain.His diagnosis?“It’s a thing we like to call a ‘tail bone,’” he slowly explained, with all the sarcasm he could muster.At this point, I was incredulous. My husband is about 6- foot-5 and weighs all of 160 pounds soaking wet. Obviously, he has bones that jut out all over the place, and I’ve never heard him complain about them.He admits that he can’t figure out why sleeping on my back makes my shoulder blades hurt, but he knows exactly why my tail bone has been giving me trouble.“Why do you think I stop the car to walk around so much when we travel?” he asks.“Sitting for a long time really puts pressure there, and it doesn’t feel good.”His advice?“Don’t worry, babe. You’ll get used to it. Everyone does.”Thanks a lot.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Meaning well matters most

Originally published July 16, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

Compliments are meant to be a good thing. The idea of a compliment is to make someone feel good about him or herself.
We’ve all run into people who aren’t very good at accepting compliments. They don’t realize that a simple “thank you” is the best response in all cases. However, since having gastric-bypass surgery, I’ve also run into an entirely different population — people who aren’t very good at giving compliments.
For the most part, I receive positive comments. “You look fabulous,” “You look amazing,” and “Wow! I can’t believe how much you’ve changed,” are among the comments I’ve heard that give me immediate warm fuzzies. And then there are the ones that don’t.
My sister-in-law is an example of someone who tends to stick her foot in her mouth when complimenting others.She loves me, and I know she’s proud of me. But that doesn’t stop me from wincing when she sees me and says, “Wow, Tonya. You’re starting to look really good.” Ouch. The first thought that comes to mind is, “Gee, how bad did I look before?” Then I remind myself that she’s sincere and she means well. And that’s when I smile and reply, “Thank you. That means a lot to me.” That’s not a lie, either. I know that coming from her, that’s a really big compliment.
Unfortunately, she made the mistake of saying the same thing last weekend in front of her brother. My husband didn’t take the compliment as graciously as I did. Instead, he said, “Starting to? I think she’s always looked good.”
Trying to play interference, I told her that he’s sensitive to compliments that imply I didn’t look good before. Of course, she tried to backpedal, but everything just sounded worse.The best one was, “I just meant that you’re starting to slim down.” I wanted to say, “So the first 50 pounds I lost made no difference? I must have looked really bad.” But I opted instead to say, “I know exactly what you mean, and I appreciate that you notice.”
Someone asked me last week about the type of comments I’ve received since having gastric-bypass surgery. He wanted to know whether I run into people who notice that I’ve changed but can’t seem to put their finger on how.The answer is that I have. Aside from writing this column, I don’t walk around announcing to the world that I’ve had weight-loss surgery. And though I wish it weren’t true, there are a few people in this town who don’t regularly read the Tracy Press. That combination makes for a decent-sized local population that doesn’t know I’ve had gastric bypass.And it’s those people — like my favorite checker at the grocery store, or the night-shift worker at the convenience store I usually visit during the day — who notice a change in me but aren’t sure what has changed.It doesn’t bother me that they don’t notice I’ve lost weight. I don’t make it a point to tell them about my weight loss, either.
Yes, I’ve lost 100 pounds, and that’s a big accomplishment for me. But I didn’t have gastric-bypass surgery just so people would notice. Sure, I love compliments and probably will never tire of people passing them on. But I did this for reasons other than attention, most of which pertain to my health. Those are changes that can’t be seen by others, but they are the ones that matter most.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

No such thing as perfection

Originally published July 9, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

It’s been about 4½ months since I had gastric-bypass surgery, and I have a confession to make: I’m not perfect.Sure, you might say that nobody is perfect and that it’s no big deal. But when it comes to weight loss, I think a lot of us obsess with being perfect. And I also think that’s why most diets fail.
When dieting, many of us classify our behavior as “good” or “bad.” If we order the grilled-chicken salad with fat-free dressing (on the side, of course), we’re good. But if we instead choose the fried-chicken salad with ranch, or — heaven forbid — order dessert, we label ourselves as being bad.Often, one “bad” meal is blamed for throwing us off the wagon, and we end up on a bender of sorts. We stop watching our portions, we skip the gym, we stop asking for nonfat milk in our morning lattes. After all, if we were bad at lunch on Monday, how could we ever make up for it?With weight-loss surgery, perfectionism is moot. Everyone has a different experience with gastric bypass. And depending on where surgery is performed, rules for each patient may vary as well. But that doesn’t mean that the perfectionist attitude is miraculously removed during surgery. If anything, I think it can be made worse.
Within the WLS community, perfectionism is pervasive.On online message boards, I’ve seen people be chastised for eating a slice of pizza or carbohydrates or desserts. It’s not because people who’ve had surgery are mean. If anything, the WLS community is filled with people who take it upon themselves to help others on the same journey. But that also means that they can take it a little personally when they hear of someone eating things they think should be off-limits.
For example, before I had surgery, doctors drilled into my head that I should stay away from rice and pasta forever. But I know other patients who had doctors tell them pasta would be fine after three months, and rice would be allowed after six.I hear some of these patients telling me about trying rice and getting sick, and I cringe inside. After sitting through numerous nutrition classes, I can’t imagine why on earth any bypass patient would even try rice. But I don’t say anything, because I know there are others out there who have no trouble tolerating it.
And whenever I catch myself feeling superior to other bypass patients, which isn’t often, I remind myself that I do things that others wouldn’t approve of as well.
So, here are my confessions:
I don’t exercise enoughI’m really good about exercising twice a week, whether it’s at home or at the gym. And I make sure I keep active on the weekend, even if it’s just walking quickly around the mall. But my doctors want me exercising at least an hour a day, six days a week. Since surgery, I’ve met that goal for a total of three weeks.
I’m terrible about taking my vitaminsI don’t know when it happened, but I’ve fallen off the wagon with my vitamins. I think I might have taken an iron pill last week, but I don’t really remember. This came to mind over this weekend because I discovered a batch of nasty bruises appearing all over.
I eat too fastEating too fast leads to eating too much, and that could stretch out my pouch. Eating slowly is the hardest thing for me to do. But I work very hard to pay attention when eating. I also pay attention to how I feel after eating. If I feel particularly good after a meal, I’ll make note of what I ate, how long I spent eating and approximately how much I ate. And I’ll try to mimic that experience again. If I feel bad after eating, I’ll take the same notes.
I have tested my boundariesI have tried — and liked — Domino’s crispy thin-crust pizza. I have enjoyed a glass of white wine a few times since surgery. I have tried a bite of cookie and tiramisu. And I’m not sorry about it one bit. I’ve been very careful not to overindulge in sweets — my Achilles’ heel before surgery — and I realize that every time I try something with sugar in it, I could have a bad reaction. But I fear discovering that sugar doesn’t bother me at all and feeling able to eat as much as I want.
I don’t confess these things to garner sympathy or support. I do so because I think it’s important to point out that we are all human. Having gastric-bypass surgery did not give me superhuman willpower. All it has done is provide me with a little more strength. As I’ve said many times, it’s only a tool, not a cure.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

The hidden price of weight loss

Originally published July 2, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

Losing weight is expensive, regardless of the method used.Eating less might mean fewer groceries purchased at the store, but eating healthier often means those few groceries cost a lot more as well. And then there are the hidden costs that seem to creep up without notice — like a new wardrobe.This is especially true for gastric-bypass patients. After surgery, the grocery-store bill might drop anywhere from $200 to $400 a trip, depending on the size of the patient’s family. But for most people who’ve had weight loss surgery, the grocery store isn’t the only place to buy food.
Sugar-free protein supplement bars and powders are often bought from specialty stores and Web sites — and they don’t come cheap.Zero Carb Isopure is a popular supplement powder among gastric-bypass patients. A 3-pound canister of the powder is about $40 at MuscleGear on 11th Street. There are 44 scoops of powder in each container, which is enough for 22 days of supplementation for gastric-bypass patients.
Spending $1.82 for breakfast or lunch every day is pretty frugal, but few patients have just one method of supplementation. It’s common for those who’ve had surgery to keep a variety of powders and supplement bars in supply.
Vitamins are another necessity for anyone who has had bariatric surgery. Prices depend largely on the brand chosen.VistaVitamins, created specifically for bariatric patients, costs about $50 a month, not including calcium supplementation. Calcium supplements add another $20 or $30 each month.Vitamins from Bariatric Advantage, which are all chewable, cost around $60 a month for everything from multivitamins to iron to B-12 to calcium. Either way, that’s another $60 to $80 to add to the grocery bill.
Surgical weight-loss patients who are serious about achieving long-term success consider gym memberships and personal-training appointments as necessities rather than luxuries — and their doctors often agree.
Gym memberships in this town are pretty cheap, about $40 a month. Personal training is billed by the hour —about $400 a month.Suddenly, all that money saved at the grocery store — and then some — is missing from the checking account.
Still, it’s the hidden costs that are more surprising. Though most doctors repeatedly tell patients that they will experience rapid weight loss, it doesn’t always hit home until it becomes a reality.Losing an average of 10 to 20 pounds a month means a new wardrobe about every six weeks. Life goes along swimmingly while one is shopping in one’s closet. But eventually, the closet runs out of smaller sizes, or at least clothes that are still in style, and a shopping excursion is necessary.
Shopping trips must be well planned, because it’s easy to get excited about being a size smaller and overspend. Sales and clearances must be the first stop. After all, a similar shopping trip will be needed in a few weeks for even smaller clothes. Everything must be tried on with the question, “Is this loose enough to be presentable in public but tight enough to last at least a month?”
Then there is the checkout, which, if the shopper is lucky, will end with a total under three figures.Other hidden costs often are attributed to newfound addictions. For example, a new love of sandals might necessitate regular pedicure appointments all summer long.
The desire to leave the house looking as good as possible each day might mean more money spent at the salon and makeup counter, too.However, there aren’t many people who choose surgical weight loss in the hopes of saving money. The fact is that, regardless of the costs associated with rapid weight loss, the benefits are immeasurable.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

‘Morbidly obese’ means progress

Originally published June 25, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

It’s been four months since I had gastric-bypass surgery, and life just keeps improving.
I’ve lost about 74 pounds — 100 pounds since my highest weight last summer — and the sense of accomplishment is almost indescribable.
As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, I was never able to lose more than about 30 pounds with other weight loss methods. Though I knew that gastric bypass boasts a 95 percent success rate, in the back of my mind, I thought I would be among the 5 percent for whom it didn’t work.
Instead, I’m amazed every week I step on the scale. I’ve gone from a body-mass index, BMI, of near 60 — considered “super obese” — to 41.6 — the low end of the no-less-scary “morbidly obese” distinction.The BMI is a number often thrown around by health-care and fitness professionals to determine whether a person’s weight is healthy for his or her height. I had originally reported my BMI in this column as being 56 before I had surgery.
Unfortunately, that was at a time when I thought I was taller than I really am.
The funny thing is that even after losing a total of 100 pounds, my BMI is still high enough to qualify me for surgical weight loss and have the procedure covered by most insurers. Talk about putting things in perspective.
I continue to be amazed by people’s reactions to me. A woman at the gym the other day told me I looked like my sister. Not that I have a sister, but she said my features have changed so much that I look like a relative of my former self.
I get asked a lot if I’m considered a success. I generally say that success is relative. If I had dropped 100 pounds through standard diet and exercise modifications, my physician wouldn’t mind if I chose to stop losing weight right now. After all, anything is better than where I was before, and maintenance is the hardest part of weight control.
Having gastric-bypass surgery changes that perspective.Doctors have varying opinions on what constitutes success with this surgery. Most insurers are happy if a patient loses 50 percent of his or her excess weight. But some doctors set higher goals to put a patient’s BMI closer to the “normal” range. The accepted average is that surgical weight loss can help patients lose about 65 percent of their excess weight.
I’m on track to lose 75 percent of the extra weight I carried at the time of surgery.
Because I am 5-feet-3-inches tall, insurance charts say I should weigh 130. Rounding my pre-surgery weight down to 309 pounds, that means I’m on track to weigh 175 pounds after 18 months, for a total loss of 134 pounds. That gives me 14 more months to drop 60 pounds.
Chances are, I’ll lose more than that over the next year, but at least I have an idea of the weight at which my body may decide to rest. And I hope that knowledge prevents me from obsessing over the fact that 175 pounds on a 5-foot-3-inch frame is still considered obese.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Feeling reformed

Originally published June 18, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

Exercise can be a tedious chore. That’s probably why so many Americans don’t do much of it. In bigger cities, health clubs recognize this and try to offer unusual options to attract members. Spinning, kick boxing and even stripper-cise are all examples of recent fitness trends that professionals have tried to cash in on.
I started doing yoga when the most-recent craze hit town about five years ago, and for two years, I was a yoga fanatic — who knew you could get such a great workout by breathing and stretching?
Classes have never been my thing. I always find that I’m the least coordinated or fit person in the class, and I rarely have the stamina to make it to the end. But when I was in my yoga craze, I craved more instruction. I tried every class related to yoga offered by my gym — cardio yoga, power yoga and even something called Pilates.
Sadly, the experience wasn’t as rewarding as I hoped. The yoga craze had created a monster, and most of the hybrid classes weren’t really yoga at all, at least not the type of yoga I learned and was growing to love.
I had been told Pilates was the same as yoga, only it focused more on the core muscles of the abdomen and back. I didn’t have any luck in the Pilates class either. The moves were very difficult and fast. I tried the classes twice a week. But after a month of leaving with a sore neck and back, I gave up and figured I was just too big to do it.
It wasn’t until I started reading more about Pilates that I realized that the instructor I had wasn’t teaching true Pilates. Created by Joseph Pilates, a performer and boxer in the early 1900s, the exercise form has been widely used by dancers. His goal was to give people who were injured the ability to exercise their muscles. Pilates incorporates controlled breathing with controlled movements to offer a total-body strengthening workout with minimal risk of injury.
Part of the reason the risk of injury is low is that Joseph Pilates also invented an array of contraptions to help people do his exercises correctly and safely.
When I was preparing to have gastric-bypass surgery, I picked up a Pilates DVD. Many gastric-bypass patients swear by Pilates. Patients who have open procedures (a 4- to 7-inch midline incision) aren’t usually allowed to do standard abdominal exercises, because they are at risk of incisional hernias. Pilates is a way to exercise their abs and back without injuring themselves.
Though I could tell the instructor on the DVD knew what she was doing, I still had difficulty. Controlled breathing is very important in Pilates. It’s so important that if you can’t breathe properly, there’s really no benefit to doing the exercises.
My problem with the DVD was that if I was concentrating on my breathing, I couldn’t figure out the moves. But if I concentrated on my movement, I couldn’t maintain the breathing. I turned off the video and shelved what I figured would be another $20 down the drain.Fast forward four months. Bored with my exercise routine, I started to feel that no matter how much I was exercising, my fitness level was dropping.
I decided it was time to visit my personal trainer to see if she could help me rework my routine.She asked me if I wanted to try something called the Reformer. The Reformer is an exercise machines invented by Joseph Pilates.Apparently, the gym had recently bought one, and the trainer was eager to use it. I looked at it, gulped and told her I would. To be truthful, I wanted to say no. The machine looked like a medieval torture device. But just recently I wrote a column about wanting more adventure, and the Reformer seemed like a good place to start.We started by taking off our shoes, and the trainer showed me how the machine worked.
Joseph Pilates constructed the original Reformer by taking apart a hospital bed. The platform glides back and forth. Springs attached to the base govern the resistance provided for each exercise. There are a variety of straps and pulleys that attach to the springs as well.At first, I just sat on the platform to get a feel for its movement. Once I was comfortable with that, I laid on the platform, and my trainer coached me through Pilates breathing. The breathing technique can be difficult to master. It involves pulling in your navel toward your spine and breathing into your lower belly.
Once I seemed to have a grasp on that, and keeping my spine in a neutral position, I actually started doing some exercises. The exercises were difficult because of the level of control needed to perform them as slowly as the Pilates method demands. When breathing correctly, I would be dripping with sweat. When my body began to cool, I realized that I needed to correct my breathing.
After the workout, I was spent. I’m sure to those around me, it didn’t look like I did much. But I felt it for six days. It was truly an Abs of Steel workout.
Since the exercise session, I have become like a convert, preaching the Gospel to the world. I tell everyone that Pilates done right is the best workout around. It’s a mental and physical challenge that leaves you feeling rejuvenated and exhausted all at the same time.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Adjusting to a whole new world

Originally published June 11, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

Before having gastric-bypass surgery, I loathed placing myself in the category of being overweight. I considered myself more active and more nutritionally educated than most of my peers, obese or not. I also thought I had more confidence than other women. I had a husband who never complained and thought I was gorgeous. I paid attention to my appearance and tried my best not to be slovenly.
Of course, the bigger I got, the less those things seemed important or even possible and the more I saw myself as a hopelessly obese person. I felt that there was no point trying to improve myself because it wasn’t possible or even worth the trouble.
Taking the elevator to my second-floor office became more of a necessity than an example of laziness. My knees just couldn’t handle lugging all 300-plus pounds of me up a single flight of stairs. Even getting out of my office chair to walk across the room to the printer seemed an impossible feat.
At home, things were no better. I stopped painting my toenails because I couldn’t reach my feet. Shaving my legs stopped being an absentminded shower habit and started requiring advanced planning. When would I have time to lock myself in the bathroom for hours as I tried to contort myself to reach hairy patches of skin with a sharp blade? To be truthful, I lost the energy to even think about shaving.
While others spent their weekends planning hiking, skiing or boating trips, I preferred to be a homebody who would rather go to dinner and a movie than the lake or anywhere outdoors. It’s not that my husband doesn’t enjoy the outdoors — he does. It’s that I have never had the self-assurance to actually enjoy the outdoors. Anyone whose thighs rub together can tell you how miserable being outside in the summer can be.
Beyond that, I’ve never felt comfortable using outdoor furniture. I would avoid picnics and barbecues because the white or green plastic patio furniture most people have wouldn’t fit me or, even worse, would break under my weight.
Being the life of the party is one thing, but being the person who gets laughed at because she broke a chair and fell to the ground is entirely different.
I know from experience.
So as I got bigger, my world became smaller. Now the reverse is occurring.
I’m losing weight at what feels like a rapid pace, and the world is opening up to me just as quickly. My husband and I are making plans for activities and getaways that I only dreamed about before. We’re talking about flying to New England in the fall to visit friends and see the leaves change color. That’s possible, because I won’t have to worry about fitting in an airplane seat anymore. And I hope to spend some time on a friend’s houseboat this summer. I’m even going swimsuit shopping this weekend to prove my willingness.
I know we’re going to be a much more social couple this year than ever before, and the prospect is equally scary and exciting. Doors are wide open for us, as if there’s a whole new life waiting for us out there.
It’s as if I have a chance to be a child again.Now that I don’t have to be as concerned about social catastrophes related to my size, I’m more willing to attend those backyard barbecues, picnics and houseboat parties. And who knows what that will lead to? For the first time in my life, I’m open to new adventures.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

The side effects of weight loss

Originally published June 4, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

I’m constantly amazed at the differences between the person I was before surgery and the person I’m becoming. I say “becoming,” because I’m changing in various ways all the time.
I’m not the first person in the world to lose weight — nor am I the only person who has ever undergone weight-loss surgery — so most of the changes aren’t unique to me. And yet, for me, they are unique. In fact, they’re shocking.
Every woman's dreamEvery women’s magazine features stories that tell of better body image, increased self confidence, new-found energy and a general improvement in quality of life after weight loss. But few of us get to experience those feelings for ourselves because, as the media frequently points out, dieting has a 95 percent failure rate.Having spent much of my life among the 95 percent, I would read those articles and dream that I would one day have similar success. I could probably recite the basic formula for those published success stories on demand.
Giving upI was a loyal subscriber of both Shape and Self magazines from the time I was 17 years old until late last year. I spent so many years reading the magazines because they provided what I considered to be balanced information regarding diet and exercise, and I was hooked on the readers’ success stories featured in every issue.
I stopped subscribing because I realized those magazines negatively affected my self-esteem. Every issue featured a new eating plan that I didn’t have the money or time to start or stick to and a workout plan that I didn’t have the physical ability to follow.Every month, I’d feel like more and more of a failure, until I eventually stopped reading them all together.
A new perspectiveI hadn’t so much as glanced at a fitness magazine until last weekend, when I picked up a copy of Shape at the newsstand. I grabbed it because it had a workout plan that I thought could help me add a little variety to my exercise routine.
Flipping through the pages, I found myself easily sucked in to the success stories, as always. The difference now was that I didn’t look at those stories to be a measure of my failure.
As I looked over the workout plans featured, I saw quite a few exercises that I would be comfortable incorporating into my routine. The most useful feature I saw was “Remodel Your Butt,” which professes, “Big butt, no butt, droopy butt? Reshape your assets just in time for swimsuit season with our six super-effective moves.”
I know it won’t get me to my “best bikini bod” in 30 days, as the magazine promises. But the exercises shown are an appealing addition to my workout routine.
Aside from my new outlook regarding fitness magazines, I have an ever-changing outlook on myself.
A month ago, I was jumping up and down because I could reach my feet to paint my toenails. Last week, I indulged in a pedicure, because I finally wasn’t afraid of being “too big” for the pedicure chairs. Of course, the fact that my feet don’t swell up like potatoes anymore makes me a little more interested in their appearance.Speaking of appearances, I’m rarely willing to leave the house anymore without at least a little makeup and some attempt at styling my hair (what little I have).
In the months before surgery, when I felt like I was choking on my own fat, I would have said that I just wasn’t vain enough to worry about trivial things like makeup and hairstyles.But the truth is that I don’t think vanity — in healthy doses — is a bad thing. And though I wish I could have felt this good about myself before gastric-bypass surgery, I’m thankful I’m experiencing it now.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Different worlds: Life before, during and after gastric-bypass surgery

Originally published March 28, 2007, in the Tracy Press.

A couple of years ago, my husband and I stopped at a diner on Highway 132 for breakfast on the
way to Turlock. We were seated at a dinky table because I had outgrown the diner’s booths years before. Two tables over was a middle-aged couple. While I was perusing the menu, I couldn’t help but notice that the couple seemed to be talking about us. I ignored it, thinking it was just my insecurity.

My husband and I ordered our beverages and breakfast, and he excused himself for a moment.
He had been gone about five minutes when the man from the other table got up and approached me. He introduced himself and told me he had once been like me.

Unsure of what he meant, I smiled and let him continue.

He told me he had recently undergone gastric-bypass
surgery and that it had changed his life. He encouraged
me to do the same. He said he had wasted too many
years of his life in an obese prison and that he couldn’t
bear to see someone as young as me do the same.

Shock treatment
Floored, I managed to stammer out some pleasant-sounding questions. Inside, I wasn’t sure if I should burst into tears or punch out his teeth. He told me he had been disabled and unable to walk or drive before the procedure.

He talked about having a new lease on life and feeling that God compelled him to talk to others he saw struggling with their weight. Not sure how to respond to such passion, I quietly thanked him for his time and cursed my husband for leaving the table. I was sure the man wouldn’t have had the nerve to approach me had he been there. But even if he had, my husband surely would have punched his teeth out.

The man and his wife left soon after our talk, and my husband came back to the table just as our food arrived. As I picked over my food, my emotions ran the gamut from anger to shock to despair to shock and back to anger. I tried to numb the emotions by eating the oversize platter of eggs, sausage and hash browns I was served. It didn’t work; instead, my stomach just started to hurt.

Finally, I told my husband. Though he took my side and said the man was either delusional or
just so happy with his own results that he couldn’t help his eagerness to share it with the world, the man’s words stuck.

It wasn’t something I ever said out loud, but I was miserable. The truth was that I was bloated and swollen and feeling like a stranger in my own body. But I didn’t know how to admit it.

Reality sinks in
About a year ago, as I sat on a cold exam table in a paper nightgown, my doctor told me I had obesity-related infertility.

I was crushed.

I fell into a depression. Not the kind of depression that’s diagnosed by doctors and medicated, but the kind that makes you hate everyone and everything and become a general pain to be around. My weight quickly jumped from 280 pounds up to 335, and I would bet I went as high as 345.

Finally, I began to consider surgical weight loss. It was one thing when the only miserable person was me, but now my husband was sad because we couldn’t have that family we wanted so badly.

Feb. 23
Tonight, the day before I have gastric-bypass surgery, it’s the man in the diner who is on my mind. I’ve been pretty stoic today, but my mind has gone a million miles a minute with the idea of going through with this.

Everybody has a different way of coping with stress. I spend some time with family and friends, but I really crave time alone. I manage tonight to get about an hour of it. My husband, on the other hand, prefers a six pack of Corona to the company of friends or to being alone.

Once he returns to the room, the floodgates open. As we cuddle in bed, I begin to cry uncontrollably. As is typical for my man-of-few-words husband, he just holds me and hands me tissues at the appropriate times. Once my sobs quiet, he asks if I am OK.

I tell him I’m worried that I won’t be able to adjust to the lifestyle that this surgery
requires. I’m sure he thinks the comment was ridiculous. After all, I can tell from the look he’s worn all day that he is more worried about becoming a widower than anything else.

But he doesn’t mock me.

Instead, he responds with the type of comment that reminds me why I married him in the first place.

“You can do anything you set your mind to; this will be hard, but you’ve handled much more difficult challenges before. You’ll do great.”

And with that, we both fall asleep.

Feb. 24
It’s about 7:30 a.m., time to say goodbye to my family. Ihug my best friend, my husband, my mom and my mother- in-law, all of whom caravanned from the valley to South San Francisco.

I’m taken back into a large room with gurneys lined in rows that have curtains separating them.
Behind curtains, I’m told to remove all my clothing and put on thin socks, an extra-large hospital gown and a blue paper shower cap. I put all my belongings into a plastic bag that will be given to my husband when I’m sent in for surgery. They let me keep on my glasses until the last minute.

I’m surprised at how cold the operating room is. I guess that’s one way to control a patient’s bleeding — operate in sub-zero temperatures. Once on the operating table, a pillow is put behind my head. My last memory is that of reaching back to adjust it.

I wake up in ICU two hours later in terrible pain. I tell the nurse it feels as if I’ve been kicked by a cow. She doesn’t realize I’m speaking from experience.

I’m asked my pain level, and I rate it a four out of 10. Actually, it’s an eight. I just can’t think clearly enough to make sense of the question at the moment.

The nurse asks if I want visitors, and I bark at her.

“I don’t want anybody to see me like this.”

She turns the lights on; I make her turn them off. She hands me a control to the morphine drip. She tells me that I’m already getting morphine in my IV, but that I can hit the button every 10 minutes for an extra gram. I squint at the clock because I don’t have my glasses. Fifteen minutes later, I open my eyes and press the button.

The nurse tries to point out everything in the room, but I tell her I can’t see without my glasses.
She asks if she can get my husband to bring them to me. I want to say no because I don’t want him to see me in pain, but I’m overcome by the need to see. I hit the button
again. It’s about 11 a.m.

Find my husband
I manage to give the nurse a detailed description of my husband, “He’s really tall and really
blond, and please don’t call him Mr. Luiz. He hates that; we have different last names.”

A few minutes later, I hear her talking to him.

“She’s doing great. She’s in a lot of pain, but she was alert enough to describe you to a tee.”

My husband walks in, kisses me and gives me my glasses. He looks like he hasn’t slept in days. I ask him if he’s been pacing.

“I think I took the floor down five inches,” he answers.

I tell him he looks worried; he says he feels better now. I tell him that I feel like I’ve been kicked by a cow. He laughs. He’s been kicked by a cow before, too.

The nurse asks if I’m ready for more visitors. The answer is still no. My husband leans close and says that my best friend and mom want to come in. My best friend, who drove from Modesto, won’t leave until she sees me. I agree to let her and my mom in because I don’t wantmy friend to hit traffic. I tell my husband to send them in.

“But tell them they can’t stay very long,” I call after him.

Anodyne and love
Right before my mom and best friend enter my room, I press the morphine button again. I don’t even look at the clock this time. I let them both hug me, and I tell them I’m fine, just in a little pain. My mom tries to rub my feet. I beg her not to touch me. I tell them I want to sleep and that I want to see my husband again. They leave, but more people are waiting to see me.

When Beau returns, I tell him how much I love him. I’m so tired. I tell him I really want to go to sleep. His mom still wants to come in, but she promises not to stay long. He tells me that I
can sleep after that, and he and my family will go to lunch. After my mother-in-law comes in and gives me a hug and a kiss, I fall asleep.

The sleep isn’t incredibly restful. I’m intermittently interrupted by visits from the anesthesiologist, surgeon, health educator and other medical professionals I don’t remember. But when I wake up at 1:30 p.m., I feel like a new woman.

Four weeks later
I don’t feel like I’ve had major surgery. In fact, when I’m not eating, it’s easy to forget that anything has been done to my digestive system. But something has, and I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been a major adjustment.

Spontaneity is no longer in my vocabulary. Every time I plan to leave the house, I have to have an itinerary. I need to know how long I’ll be gone, where I’m going and how that will affect
mealtime. Most times, I pack an ice chest before I leave. Regardless of where the day takes me, it ensures I won’t have to worry about cutting my day short to forage for food. It also adds a good half hour of preparation to my day.

I have to make sure the ice chest has foods I can eat that add up to 80 grams of protein — my daily requirement — in case I’m out past dinner. Of course, most of the food has to be ready to eat because I never know whether I’ll be somewhere with a microwave at my disposal.

A clockwork diet
Once the food situation is figured out, then I have to organize a travel pill box with my vitamins. I have to take a multivitamin twice a day, iron once a day and calcium six times a day. None of the vitamins can be taken with the others, and they also must be taken no fewer than two hours apart.

Then, there is the water. Drinking 64 ounces of water isn’t easy anywhere — especially when the size of my mouth is more than double the size of my new pouch — but it’s even more difficult when traveling. I keep a stash of liter-size water bottles for traveling. I also keep extra bottles in the car, just in case I’m stranded somewhere.

After I’ve done all that, I check the clock. Let’s say it’s 10 a.m. Generally, I finish my breakfast at 8:30 a.m. That means I have to have lunch at 1:30 p.m. and dinner at 7 p.m. If, for some reason, I miss my mealtime by 30 minutes or an hour, my whole day will be thrown off.

I also have to plot my water consumption around my meals because I have to abstain from fluids for 10 minutes before a meal and for an hour afterward. That means I have 3½waking hours when I’m not allowed to consume fluids.

Aside from day-to-day logistics regarding meals, vitamins and water, I have to be diligent about getting my exercise. I have to admit, this and water consumption are my weakest areas. I’m still easily exhausted. I am not consuming more than 500 calories a day, and I’m trying to balance work and a personal life on that minimal amount of fuel.

Me first, by necessity
When I overdo it and get exhausted, exercise suffers. At the moment, I need 10 hours of sleep just to function. Before surgery, I easily operated on four . If I don’t get 10 hours now, it’s very hard to get out of bed in the morning for work, much less to go tothe gym. However, that’s no excuse.

My husband reminds me that
gastric bypass forces a person to put him or herself first. And that getting enough exercise is one of the main ways I can focus on myself. I’m lucky to have him for a reality check.

In the past four weeks, I have lost 30 pounds. Not too bad, if I say so myself. But, I’d be lying if I said I’m not still self-critical. I know a few people who weighed the same amount as me before surgery, and they dropped 50 pounds the first month. It’s hard not to compare
myself to them. But part of the reason I had this surgery is that I’m not typical.

My body has never responded well to weight-loss programs, so I don’t know why it surprises me that it would be slower than most to lose weight after bypass surgery. If anything, I can say every day is a lesson for me. I’m more in tune with my body than ever before. And though the adjustment hasn’t happened overnight, the fact that it has happened at all amazes me.