Living with the Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy (VSG)March 9, 2016
I can’t remember a time in my life when my weight was not an issue. As early as first or second grade, I was smitten with other kids’ treats in their lunch boxes. As far back as the 1960's, and all through the 80’s, my dad was into Gorp, natural foods, making his own bread, Mueseli, and making powdered milk to save a buck.
My First Diet Was at 7 Years Old
By the time I was seven, I started to get a bit chubby - probably a growth spurt in the making. Being overweight in my family, however, was also taboo. Outward appearance was overly valued and readily judged. Once I was officially chubby, I was put on my first diet at between 7 or 8 years old. All I remember about it was that I ate dry toast smeared with tomato sauce sprinkled with garlic powder and oregano with a slice of processed, pasturized low fat Swiss cheese (you know, the kind wrapped in plastic) for breakfast while my brother sat at the table with a bowl of Life cereal getting to eat as much as he wanted.
At 13, I joined Weight Watchers for the first time. I lost weight, but was up and down about 20-30 pounds my entire teen life. At 18, I went on the Cambridge Diet (3 shakes a day, no snacks, 330 calories per day) and lost 30 pounds going from 185 down to 155 and was skinny. Slowly the weight crept back on plus a few more pounds. In my mid-20s, I weighed in at 196, and tried Weight Watchers (once again) and lost 30 pounds. I looked great, but again, the weight came right back on.
When I turned 30, I started a new career as a teacher, became more sedentary and enjoyed the plentitude of treats available practically daily in the teacher’s lounge. I went from about 185 to 230 during the first 3 years of teaching.
My Mom's Death Bed Wish for Me
I was once again dieting when my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I stopped dieting. While I focused on “being there” for my mom, dad and family, I started to regain what I’d lost and then some. On her deathbed, my mom took my hand and told me to lose weight. I know she meant well…I do. Still, the mention of my weight while she was so ill really bothered me. (Strangely, she did not voice the same wish to my brother who was also morbidly obese.)
Over the next few years, I gained more weight and became heavier and heavier. My highest weight that I know of was 278. Once I saw that number on the scale, I got serious and lost weight down to 200 pounds. I may have even seen 199 for about 5 minutes! Within two years I was back at 270. I stayed between 270 and 280 for the next several years.
During my annual physical in July of 2011, my doctor sat with me and basically had a heart to heart with me about my health. He showed me a program he had on his computer that dealt with variables for disease risk and longevity. He put in all my data with my current weight, my smoking habit, and sedentary lifestyle. The results were frightening!
I had over a 50% risk of suffering a major cardiovascular or coronary event within the next five years. My life expectancy was only 20 more years. My risk for colon cancer, lung cancer and emphysema were ridiculously high.
Next, my doctor added the data as a non-smoker with a history of smoking, leading a mildly active life (walking 1-2 miles a day 3-4 times per week) and as a mildly overweight person. The program came back with a normal risk of cardiovascular and coronary events, a life expectancy closer to 90, and only a minor increase in cancer risk. He urged me to stop smoking and prescription for Wellbutrin. I quit smoking on July 28, 2011, and have remained tobacco free ever since.
The words that came out of his mouth next absolutely floored me: “I think you might want to consider weight loss surgery.” He told me about the positive results some of his other patients had with WLS. He was very positive about it and explained that my history proved that being healthy mattered, I had tried losing weight multiple times and that he thought surgery might be the answer. I left the office with an appointment already made by my doctor for an introductory seminar to weight loss surgery. I left my appointment filled with excitement, hope and extreme fear and trepidation.
Researching Weight Loss Surgery
I became focused (perhaps obsessed) with researching weight loss surgery. Since my PCP had mentioned gastric bypass, I studied everything I could about the RNY. I wanted to know everything I could learn. By the time I went to that first seminar I was pretty well versed in RNY. It was at the seminar that I learned about the “Sleeve”. After the seminar I went home and did two things. First, I emailed my doctor and asked for a formal referral to the bariatric surgery clinic. Next, I began researching the Vertical Sleeve (VSG). The more I read about the Sleeve, the more it appealed to me.
In September 2011, I was accepted into the bariatric program at Kaiser Fremont. Their bariatric program referred me to ObesityHelp.com. My surgeon and I discussed the surgeries and he told me I was a suitable candidate for either RNY or the Sleeve. I chose the Sleeve. I had my VSG surgery on December 7, 2011.
I probably had the most unremarkable recovery of anyone. I had no issues with water, gagging down shakes, transitioning to new stages. I was up and walking within hours of surgery and even travelled by plane just 10 days later for a weekend of judging in Long Beach. I stuck to the recommended 600-800 calorie plan focusing on low carbs and high protein. I got to goal in 7 months and 11 days. I lost a total of 108 pounds from start of the process.
OH was my daily companion throughout the entire process. I joined OH in September 2011 and have been here pretty much daily ever since. I can’t begin to express how valuable OH has been during my WLS journey. I have met wonderful people on OH. I’ve developed a great support system here and have come to depend on my online community. OH connects me with people who understand the intricacy of obesity and the hope and wellness possibilities that WLS provides us. On OH, I'm known as kairk. Staying connected and giving to this community are integral parts of my journey.
I had significant regain that started about a year after I hit goal. In the end, I regained 40 pounds over my adjusted goal weight. My time on the road to regain was a tough one fraught with anxiety and depression. Yet, I never lost hope. I knew I could manage the regain somehow. That “somehow” was seeking outside help. Therapy has been a tremendous help allowing me to learn about who I am in regards to food.
Regain Has Been a Valuable Gift
It was the regain that brought me to the understanding how disordered my eating really was (is). Without the regain, I would never have sought to understand the driving forces behind my eating – both the emotional and physical triggers. Regain brought about the understanding of my diet mentality and the self-abuse I put myself through for years. I’ve worked hard to put that behind me and really enjoy peace when it comes to food.
My issues surrounding regain have allowed me find my individual food program - one that works for me. I can now eat with pleasure and self-trust.
I know what foods trigger me and what value off-plan foods have for me. I can now make food choices that are truly mindful choices. If I choose to eat a soft, gooey cookie, I know what I’m in for. So, most of the time, I choose not to eat that cookie.
During my initial weight loss phase, I became a dedicated gym goer. I’ve kept up my fitness level the past four years, even during my regain phase. I have recently introduced biking into my exercise plan. I love being strong, flexible and active. I am more active than I have ever been. I am healthier at 51 than I have ever been.
Today I’m close to being back at goal weight. VSG has been a life changer for me. I have grown in so many ways because of my WLS. The journey has not been easy, but it is the journey I needed to take.
ABOUT THE AUTHORDevon, known as Kairk on OH, has struggled with weight since early childhood. In his 30s, his weight skyrocketed and became a serious health issue. After his VSG in 2011, he's lost 108 pounds and has been an active member on the OH VSG board. He is passionate about nutrition for WLS patients and an advocate of working to heal the emotional scars left by obesity. It is this work he credits with his successful weight loss after regain.