Bariatric Surgery Maintenance: Living in Fear of Weight RegainMay 20, 2020
Bariatric Surgery Maintenance from a Long-Term Post-Op
Twelve years ago, at a miserable 305lbs, I decided to get weight loss surgery. Although I experienced many ups and downs throughout my journey, I have been able to maintain a weight loss of nearly 150lbs for the last seven years. But no matter how many years pass in maintenance, I still wake up almost every morning wondering if this is the day I will start to regain all my weight.
I was an overweight child who grew into an obese adult, so the concept of having a ‘normal’ body weight wasn’t something I could relate to. I didn’t have a pre-pregnancy or high school weight to go back to. My doctors wanted me within a certain weight range, but that goal didn’t seem possible considering my history of obesity. I figured if I set an easy-to-attain public weight goal, I wouldn’t have to face the inevitable pain of failure.
At my highest weight of 305lbs, anything below 200lbs seemed doable. Secretly, though, I did dream of one day hitting a healthy weight range.
Although weight loss surgery gave me a fighting chance and a renewed sense of hope, I felt fear from day one. I feared success almost as much as I feared failure. I always knew that the more successful that I was at losing weight, the more tragic the failure of weight regain would be.
But what I have learned over these last 12 years is that fear can either cripple you or it can motivate you, and I get to choose which one.
Fear and Extreme Behaviors
There have been times in my journey where fear has pushed me into unhealthy extremes. Let’s face it, I became morbidly obese because of extreme behaviors, so old habits die hard.
While my bariatric journey has always been very public and I share openly about my struggles, most people just see the ultimate outcome of long-term maintenance and consider that to be a success overall. Unfortunately, on my journey toward maintenance, I have taken myself on quite the rollercoaster of unhealthy behaviors.
Once I hit maintenance a few years out from surgery, I fell into an unhealthy obsession with my scale. I would weigh myself up to five times per day. The slightest increase would push me into a spiral of destructive self-talk and fad diets.
I have tried everything from diet pills, which caused me severe bowel pain, to meal replacements that messed up my gut. I have fasted until I felt faint and exercised until I threw up. I would always try to calm my internal panic with a quick unhealthy fix.
Sure, I was maintaining, but I was always in a heightened state of fear, waiting for the inevitable “last” day. As I saw those in the bariatric community around me regaining their weight, I knew my time was coming. Negative fear led me to abuse my body for the sake of staying a certain size.
Positive Fear and Realistic Motivation
After years of therapy and the support of those close to me who were brave enough to call me out on my harmful behaviors, I am working to use fear in a positive way. The fear of weight regain will never leave me. Instead, it has quieted to a hum. It lingers in the background as a motivator instead of screaming at me every day. When I step on the scale, it’s a reminder to keep myself within a 10-pound weight range. I now feel curiosity instead of fear when I weigh myself.
Weight gain is no longer an emergency or an opportunity to mentally assault myself. It’s just a reminder to stay on course. When I need to course-correct, I make small changes based on rational decisions. I eat fewer calories. I move a little more. I get more sleep. I don’t starve myself for days or go on a protein shake reset.
Admittedly, it’s been a hard habit to kick and I’m still a work in progress. Internally, my gut reaction is to dive headfirst into a fad diet. But now, instead of concentrating on the weight and the way I look, I set my physical and mental health as my main priority.
What I’ve learned to do over the last 12 years
- Act instead of reacting. I am inherently a very reactive person. Over time, I have learned to slow my thought process, talk a situation out with a close friend and pick rational courses of action based on facts instead of emotions.
- Redefine priorities. My priority was always to be skinny, at any cost. And this priority inevitably hurt me mentally and physically. I have taken a step back and redefined my priorities. My priority now is to be mentally and physically healthy for me and my family. The size of my body is merely a consequence of that priority.
- Reality-based maintenance. In the last 12 years, I have read a lot of books on weight maintenance. I root my behaviors in up-to-date facts. I stay educated in the field of bariatrics.
- Act with integrity. Whenever I want to do something, I ask myself, “Is this something a healthy person would do? Is this behavior a good representation of the type of person I want to be?”
- Avoid all-or-nothing thinking. I did not become morbidly obese overnight, nor will I regain everything overnight. Denying this fact allowed me to carry on with my extreme behaviors. I work to have an honest conversation with myself daily about my behaviors and course-correct accordingly.
Bariatric Surgery Maintenance
Maintenance never gets easier. It just gets a little less scary with time. I think fear can be healthy, as long as it’s used for self-awareness instead of self-destruction. Just like most smokers will never stop craving cigarettes, I will never stop being addicted to food.
Because of this, I never allow myself to forget that I’m a bariatric patient who was previously morbidly obese. At the same time, I do not let that label define me. My identity is now rooted in being a physically and mentally healthy individual and I do my best to behave in ways that support and reinforce this identity, all the while staying motivated by the fear of my past.
ABOUT THE AUTHORYelena Kibasova is a 14-year bariatric post-op, certified fitness instructor and professional writer. She has spoken at numerous obesity-related conferences over the years, including ObesityHelp, Obesity Action Coalition and WLSFA. She is passionate about fitness for all levels and sustainable weight maintenance plans that combine physical, mental and social well-being. She coaches clients on habit transformation for weight loss and regain. Website: www.morethanmyweight.com. Read more articles by Yelena Kibasova!