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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.