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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Surgery paves way for career switch

Originally published Jan. 27 in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

Six years ago, Susan Maria Leach was pushing 40 and tipping the scale at 278 pounds. She felt
imprisoned in her body but didn’t know what to do about her misery. She had tried every diet on the market, with marginal success, and she was tired of it. Then Carnie Wilson’s gastric-bypass surgery success story graced the cover of People Magazine, introducing Leach to a permanent solution to her obesity.

Today, she is feeling fit and fabulous. She’s a published author with a second book on the way, proprietor of an online store — — that features bariatric-friendly foods and has also started her own nutrition company.

“I am at the perfect place in my life with my health, marriage and business,” she declared during a recent e-mail interview.

Her book, “Before and After: Living & Eating Well After Weight Loss Surgery,” is part diary,
part cookbook and considered one of the best bariatric books on the market. Some surgeons
even carry copies to sell to their patients. The book’s success paved the way for Leach’s Web site and online message board, which is motivating an army of bariatric patients to follow her path.

“It never ceases to amaze me that I have influenced so many people,” Leach said. “I tear up at least once a day while reading an email or letter or post on our message board and love seeing that I help so many find their own inner strength to be successful.”

Leach’s path began simply enough. After surgery, she was determined to find ways to continue
her passion for cooking. She focused her attention on creating delicious high-protein, low-carbohydrate meals and desserts that helped her stay on track. She tested her creations on friends, family and support group members. It didn’t take long for her to build a reputation as a bariatric gourmet, which is how she got her book deal.

“Working with HarperCollins has been an incredible experience,” she said. “I happened to be in the right place at the right time with a positive, no-nonsense attitude.”

She created her online store three years ago in an effort to make compliance convenient for post-ops.

“Rather than everyone having to buy (products) from 10 different sources, we gathered all the good proteins and vitamins in one store, so bariatric patients could shop with ease, knowing that everything was the proper nutrition and … actually tasted good,” she said.

She opened a storefront in Pompano Beach, Fla., last year and is now expanding the space for the fifth time.

The other anticipated highlight of this year is the release of her second book, which is in its first round of edits. It’s an update of her first book — complete with newer, easier recipes and new information she’s found since the original printing.

“Even though I wrote the material in the first 18 months after my surgery,” Leach said, “the
basics I outlined are still very solid right now.”

Leach knows about the value of the basics. She’s maintained a loss of 143 pounds over the past six years, despite a discouraging setback about 18 months ago.

“I had a weight gain over the course of a couple of months that put me right out of my new wardrobe,” Leach revealed. “I knew that I ate properly and had not strayed from the path but didn’t know what to make of the situation.”

Leach admits that she panicked, resorting to denial. She didn’t connect her unexplained weight gain with having had thyroid cancer two years before weight-loss surgery. The cancer required removal of the butterfly-shaped gland in her neck along with a large tumor that was choking her. Her doctors stopped prescribing synthetic thyroid hormones after her bariatric surgery, which is what led to her drastic weight gain.

“I dropped almost all of the weight gain in the first month (after resuming hormone therapy),
and I am now back to maintaining,” Leach said.

But it’s taken a long time for her to go public with her struggle.

“I was embarrassed, even though there was a plausible reason, because ‘thyroid problems’ is the
catchphrase excuse for a lot of people who are fat,” she said. “Lately, I’ve talked about it in public a little, knowing there are probably other bariatric post-ops who have undiagnosed thyroid conditions.”

Leach believes the secret to her success is as simple as consuming 80 to 100 grams of high-quality protein per day and limiting her simple carbohydrates.

“If I eat half a slice of whole-grain bread or even a few pretzels, in a half-hour I’m starving and
looking for more food,” she said. “Even if they are whole-grain carbohydrates, or fruits and vegetables that are healthy but higher in carbs, I find that I can create hunger for myself.”

Leach has no patience for those who say they can’t follow her lead because of kids or family members. There are no Doritos or Little Debbie snacks in her cupboard. She cooks for her husband much the same as she cooks for herself.

“I never think of my lifestyle as a diet and do in theory give myself permission to have a taste of whatever I want,” she said. “However, I find that I don’t want to eat bad foods. It’s amazing what happens when you remove the diet stigma and just make it part of your lifestyle.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great post!