Monica Muñoz: Weight-loss warrior
Monica Muñoz boarded the plane and buckled up, grateful that she didn’t need a seatbelt extender and pleased that she wasn’t taking up more than her seat. Yet the passenger in the seat beside her was not pleased. After sizing up Muñoz, he implored a flight attendant to move her.
The flight attendant encouraged him to take his seat. Although he finally did, Muñoz stood and prepared to move. When he reconfirmed that he now was willing to sit next to her, she replied, “Perhaps, but I am not willing to sit next to you.”
Muñoz had recently undergone weight-loss surgery, a procedure called bariatric vertical sleeve gastrectomy. The stomach is reduced to about 20 percent of its original size; people feel full more quickly, so they don’t eat as much and lose weight.
She had already lost some weight by the time she boarded that plane, but her seatmate couldn’t see that. More importantly, he couldn’t see that the core of who she was, at any weight, was worth getting to know.
Muñoz, who was born and raised in Salinas, was 12 years old when she developed agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder that caused her to fear and avoid places and situations that left her feeling panicked, trapped, helpless, or embarrassed. For months, she was unable to leave her home. She also began to gain weight.
By her late 20s, Muñoz had tried every diet and exercise program she could find. A personal trainer told her she must be eating wrong. Weight Watchers® told her she must not be exercising.
“I had reached the point where I could not continue on the same road,” she says. “It was scary to watch my weight continue to climb, and to wonder how far it was going to go.”
In 2016, she met with Dr. Mark Vierra, a gastrointestinal surgeon who founded the bariatric surgery program at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. By then, she was carrying 310 pounds on her 5-foot-2-inch frame.
They discussed her history, her health, and surgical options. He explained the available procedures, their potential benefits and risks. She was apprehensive.
“I said, ‘If I were your daughter, what would you tell me to do?’ I could tell he cared about me,” she says. “The most important message he gave me was that my success would be based on my willingness to change. I could want to change, but unless I was willing to do so, it wasn’t going to happen.”
Muñoz approached her surgery and weight-loss journey the same way she had addressed her agoraphobia. “I realized, with any journey, you have to learn to be OK with being uncomfortable, pushing yourself more than you did before.”
It’s important to love yourself at any weight, but had I accepted myself at 300 pounds, I wouldn’t be where I am today: so much happier and healthier. — Monica Muñoz, patient
“I know everyone’s experience is not the same,” says Muñoz, “but my recovery was very easy. When you’re in a good place, and everyone knows what they’re doing, it tends to go smoothly.”
The surgery marked the start of what Muñoz calls her journey toward health and wellness. She has modified not only the amount she eats — her stomach can accommodate only a little at a time — but also the quality of her diet.
“I create balanced meals for a balanced life. I eat natural, healthy, wholesome foods, with enough proteins, fruits, and vegetables. Instead of focusing only on what tastes good, I pay attention to what nourishes me. Before, I didn’t really taste my food. Now, when I can eat only a little at a time, I set up the perfect bite and savor it.”
Muñoz also incorporates a diverse exercise program into her daily routine. She works out at a gym. She hikes local trails. And she set up a backyard “warrior” routine at home, with a kettle bell, agility ladder, punching bag, and battle ropes, with plenty of room to run. In May she completed a spartan race, a grueling obstacle course.
“I used to fall into the trap of comparing myself to others,” Muñoz says. “Now when I work out, it’s just me against me. Or maybe for me. Every day I’m learning and trying to better myself. I’m proud of myself, but I want to keep challenging myself. It’s important to love yourself at any weight, but had I accepted myself at 300 pounds, I wouldn’t be where I am today: so much happier and healthier.”
Two years after her surgery, Muñoz had lost 108 pounds, more than a third of her weight.
“Having weight-loss surgery is a very personal decision,” she says. “I am very open about mine, and I am happy to share my story with others if it will help them in some way. But people need to make their own decisions. When you do this for the right reasons, it works better.”