Weight-loss surgery veterans share lessons learned
Pinkie Weesner approached weight-loss surgery with a clear-eyed view of what it could — and couldn’t — do.
“I knew the surgery wasn’t magic; it was a tool, a lift up into the stirrup,” Weesner says. “From there, I needed to do the work. It wasn’t easy, but I wanted it.”
That perspective and her commitment have paid off. Eight years later, she’s lost half her body weight and she’s also shed numerous medications that she no longer needs.
To help stay on track, Weesner attends a support group offered by Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula for people who have had weight-loss surgery. She and three other participants shared their experiences and their advice.
Procedure: Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, September 2011
Why: I’m 5-foot-1. I quit weighing myself at 260 pounds. I wasn’t comfortable sitting up or lying down, in my clothes or out of them. I’m a therapist and I had a client who was demonstrating resistance to therapy. I thought, “Why is this client so resistant to a path of change?” And then I realized I needed to ask myself the same question. I thought, “I got myself into this mess, I ought to be able to get myself out.” Then I realized that surgery was the way to get myself out of this mess.
How did the surgery change your life? I got my life back! I lost 20 pounds in preparation for the surgery, and 130 pounds total — half of me — in nine months. I no longer take blood pressure or cholesterol medication, only thyroid; and I’m religious about vitamins and supplements.
Staying on track: I’m really thoughtful about dessert choices, about which are better for me. And I never shop in the freezer section. Only the perimeter of the store, where food is fresh.
What would you tell people considering surgery? Food is not love, and love is not food. Find as many people as you can and ask about their journey. If you comply with your doctor’s orders, you will be successful.
Procedure: Vertical sleeve gastrectomy, December 2016
Why: I had the surgery mainly because of family history. My father passed away from a heart attack, and everyone on his side of the family suffers from high blood pressure or cancer, as does my mother’s side. I started gaining weight at age 7 or 8. As I got older, I’d lose 100 pounds and then gain 120. I tried every diet, but was unsuccessful and felt really deflated. I was on the fence for about five years about doing a procedure, but was gathering information.
How did the surgery change your life? It completely changed my life. I’ve lost close to 140 pounds and kept it off. I have more energy than I’ve had my entire adult life. At the beginning of my journey, I’d try to walk, but was out of breath in a couple of blocks. My most recent walk covered 23 miles. Some changes are so subtle they’re not even on your radar: sleeping better, having more mobility and the confidence that grows from that. I was on eight prescriptions; I’m now on only one for thyroid. I’m astonished.
Biggest challenges: The surgery was more emotionally than physically taxing for me. I’m an emotional eater; if I’m happy or stressed, eating is my security blanket. My stomach now has a permanent restriction, so there’s only so much I can eat. The first year, it was very important to get all my protein and to hydrate, so I was retraining myself how to eat.
Staying on track: Staying on track: I keep a health journal; I can express how I’m doing and how I feel about it. I also have a program, MyFitnessPal®, to log my nutrition. When I do feel a moment of discouragement, I walk to the grocery store, I fill two bags with groceries that weigh close to the 140 pounds I’ve lost. Then, I walk the mile home, thinking about how I used to carry that weight every day, and celebrating how far I’ve come instead of being critical.
What would you tell people considering surgery? You need to be informed and take time making your decision. You need to hear the real positive and negative.
Procedure: Vertical sleeve gastrectomy, January 2016
Why: I had my daughter and then, three years later, triplet sons. I became overwhelmed and depressed and started eating more, which became a lifestyle. Once I decided I wanted to feel better, to be more active for my kids, I started looking into bariatric procedures to determine which would be best for me. While I was losing weight and going through pre-op procedures, I had a heart attack, which required another two years to be ready.
How did the surgery change your life? I have lost 138 pounds and feel I have a little bit more to go. Now I have more energy and feel better about myself.
Biggest challenges: Getting in exercise is hard; I have an active job, but I need to develop a habit of exercise, a routine that works for me. At first, a big challenge for me was preparing my meals in advance. When I don’t, my eating is all over the place.
Staying on track: I threw away every article of clothing that was big, so I have to stay in the clothes I have now. After all those years of pounds creeping up, I’m trying hard not to fluctuate. It’s also good to have long-reach goals, but some of us just need to make a goal for lunch. I don’t overthink it. I keep it simple.
What would you tell people considering surgery? Do your homework. Make sure this is really something you want to do, to stick to. Read everything, follow everything. What your doctors tell you is key.
Procedure: Vertical sleeve surgery, August 2017
Why: I had been having some fatty liver issues, partly due to a lot of yo-yo dieting over the years. I could lose weight, but I would gain it back. I’ve lost 72 pounds, which was my goal. I am healthier, my liver is healthier. What held me back at first was that I didn’t want to be the person to whom everybody says, “You took the easy way out via surgery.” It isn’t easy.
How did the surgery change your life? The outcome has rejuvenated me, given me a sense of confidence on a personal and a professional level. Losing weight made me more empathic to people in their struggles; in all ways really, but with weight especially.
Biggest challenges: I was supposed to take two weeks off from work, but I took six weeks. I had a vitamin B1 deficiency and had to have shots every day. I also had an abdominal hernia, so I had surgery for that. A lot of people don’t talk about the mental health piece. I’m a therapist myself, so I thought, “I’ve got this.” But I see a therapist twice a month because there’s a lot going on within about why I got where I was. This experience actually led me to work on becoming a certified bariatric counselor.
Staying on track: My support group has become my second family; it’s where I go to be held accountable. I get together with friends who are on the same path; networking helps me. I exercise; walking works for me. I don’t like to live by the scale. People tend to fixate on numbers; I focus on my health.
What would you tell people considering surgery? Prepare for an up-and-down journey. Ask a lot of questions; even the dumb questions. I had great doctors and a great support system. You have to do it on your own terms, when you’re ready.