Follow by Email

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.