August 28, 2006 to August 28, 2007: First anniversary Reflections
My earliest specific memory of my body is one of embarrassment. I was in the 3rd or 4th grade standing in a line with my classmates when I noticed that I was the only one whose stomach stuck out below the belt. I had one of those little round stomachs that I associated with fat comedians or villains in the movies. From then on, even when I managed to be fit and trim for nearly 7 years in my twenties, I have felt self-conscious, uncomfortable and apologetic about my weight. Since I was 9 or 10 years old I have never been completely “at ease” with my body. As a result, all of my life from then on—that’s right all of it— has been spent trying to be thinner, resenting advice from “well meaning” friends and family, rationalizing that I did not mind being “big” or that I was healthier than a lot of my thin friends, and on and on.
I’ve been on so many “successful” diets that from 1975 to 2006 I ballooned from 195 lbs which I thought was huge in 1975 to 345 lbs which I had more or less gotten used to by July of 2006. For most of my 50s, I weighed more than twice as much as I should have. By the time I had my RNY, I was wearing raggedy patched pants. No joke. I had come to hate clothes shopping so much that I had my dry cleaners patch pockets, seams, etc. until I looked like something out of a patchwork vaudeville act.
Besides being grossly overweight, I was never very tall (I am now down to 5’7”) and each time I lost weight I regained it and then some as my “chest” sank lower and lower so that as my shirt size decreased my waist increased. I ended up with a 60 inch waist and very short inseam due to the fact that the big & tall manufacturers all assumed a guy with my girth had to be about 9 ft. tall. (The one bonus was that I had great huge pockets—knee-length pockets.) Shirts were no better. Necks were the size of normie-guy’s waists and the chests were huge and baggy.
Through all this, I never “gave in” to being obese even if it seemed like it. I hung on to 30 years worth of clothes ranging from 38 waists to 60 and large to 5XXL shirts. So by the time I had my RNY I was set for the first 100+ lbs. loss. Today, down to 217.5 (a thirty-year low) I may not be the height of fashion in my 1980 polyester Levi Action slacks, but, hey, they’re slimming (and shiny, shiny, shiny).
I almost had an open RNY in 2003. I thought I had finally had enough and was approved for surgery at Pacific Bariatrics, a fine program in San Diego. Plagued by doubts, I ultimately elected not to have surgery 700 miles away from my home in northern California. I wanted to be closer to doctors and to a support group. So after much agonizing, I cancelled that surgery two weeks before the scheduled date.
Besides fear of having surgery so far away, my decision was influenced by watching Dr. Phil’s Ultimate Weight Loss Challenge on TV. As you may or may not know, Dr. Phil sometimes implies (it seems to me) that weight loss surgery is a cop-out. In any case, watching the series made me feel guilty that I had not done absolutely everything I could to lose weight “like a man”—without bypass surgery. And I really hadn’t.
Oh, sure, I qualified for surgery because I had a BMI over 50, high blood pressure, GERD, and a 25-year documented history of trying to lose weight (and about 15 years undocumented, beginning with prescription diet pills in 1967). Since the early 1980s I had been on Optifast twice, Nutrisystems a couple of times, tried OA and a private bariatric specialist, gulped liquid protein, tried Atkins, etc. I even joined a gym now and then. BUT . . . I never exercised AND ate wisely at the same time. I would exercise OR starve myself. And then slip back up to a higher weight. An old story, I know.
After I cancelled my 2003 RNY, I tried the Dr. Phil approach and began an exercise program that included lifting weights 2 or 3 days a week at a gym. This significantly improved my overall strength and stamina but did not lead to any significant weight loss. For that I needed RNY, which I finally had on August 28, 2006.
Having weight loss surgery is one the best things I have ever done—second only to marrying the right woman, who has been a major support and inspiration for me. My whole family has been enthusiastic and supportive as well. The people I love are part of the reason I am so grateful for RNY. When I was at my biggest, I did not participate in things like I wanted to. I was there but not “there.” Everyone else had to accommodate me—we could only dine out at places where I could find a seat that would fit me. Theatre seats were uncomfortable and plane seats, well, let’s not go there . . . I couldn’t play with my nephews and nieces and grandchildren easily. I was always “on guard” waiting to be insulted or embarrassed. I was “estranged” in a sense although we all pretended (more or less) that everything was okay. But it wasn’t.
I felt like a failure even though my professional life went well. That didn’t matter nearly as much as being fat. Being fat literally and metaphorically outweighed just about everything else in my life—at least to me. It was always there, like a dark shadow—a huge, rotund shadow, of course.
As I got physically larger but weaker and I grew increasingly fed up with getting advice even from strangers and with hearing my friends and family comment about how fat so-and-so was and ask, “How could he let himself go like that?” When I asked if that’s how they really thought of me, they insisted that they didn’t. But I was never at ease because I knew that even if they didn’t, much of the rest of the world did think of me like that.
So finally I “hit bottom” as they say (don’t say it . . .) and got up the courage and gumption to admit that I had had “Enough!” Modern medicine was offering me what was likely to be my last, best chance for a fuller, richer, healthier future. The questions I asked myself were, “Do I want that better future? Am I brave enough to reach for it? Am I willing to work for it?” At long last, I was honest enough to admit what I think I had long been afraid to acknowledge: I was discouraged, disappointed, and unhappy with what I had settled for from myself. Worse yet, when offered a realistic chance to change that, I balked out of fear that I might be one of the tragic cases who failed at weight loss surgery, just as I had failed at sustaining every prior diet and regimen change.
Fortunately, I now felt something besides fear. I felt a glimmer of hope. I had studied up on weight loss surgery and followed the stories of Carnie Wilson and Al Roker. Best of all, I knew 3 very successful, happy RNY patients, each of whom encouraged me, and my friends and family knew of others. Their stories encouraged me. I figured that I would fail for sure if I did not have the surgery. Better to try and fail, if I had to fail, than not to try at all.
And deep down, I really did not think that I would fail this time. Even before the surgery, something felt different, changed. this was unlike other attempts to lose weight. Maybe the change was due to letting go and admitting that I was powerless to fix myself by myself. Maybe it was admitting that I was desperate for a real life, sick and tired of being sick and tired, fed up with thinking so much about food, bored to tears with unsought advice and ill-fitting clothes and being a spectator. Fed up with the whole fat lifestyle. And willing to go any necessary lengths to get well.
And so here I am, one year after my RNY, down 120+ lbs, stronger, healthier, and happier than I could have predicted. I have a new kind of life because I no longer have unrealistic expectations about weight and because I am willing and eager to work at being a healthier and happier person. My surgery has given me a way to once more “participate in my own life,” given me the courage to more easily and unselfconsciously say “yes” to my wife, to my family and to my friends when they want to include me in trips and activities that I would have long ago enjoyed if I had not had to worry about not fitting in chairs or seatbelts. I can play with my grandchildren and do things with my brother and sisters without having to be accommodated and without being anxious so much of the time. Most of all, I look forward to more time with my wife and family and however long that time is, it is already better time than it would have been had I not been lucky enough to have a successful surgery and be part of a supportive program at Shasta Regional Bariatrics in Redding, Ca.
I believe that my RNY surgery has given my body a chance to recover itself and given me a chance to make amends to my body by taking better care of it. In one year, I have cut my bp meds in half, my BMI has gone from 53.7 to 34.1 and I’m only 33 lbs from a BMI of 29, I have gotten rid of my GERD, I enjoy weightlifting and strength training and—gasp—even my regular walk. Who knows, if my hips and knees hold up, I may even be able to progress from sauntering to jogging in another year.
I hope that I have learned something about myself and about morbid obesity in my fifty-year struggle to be “normal,” beginning with the acknowledgement that my body has not been “normal” for five decades and never will be “normal,” but that does not mean it cannot be stronger and healthier. I see weight loss surgery as a miracle of modern medicine, a gift I do not take for granted. I am fortunate to be as healthy as I am at my age considering the weight I carried for so long. I have been blessed with a chance to lose the feeling that I am on the sidelines of my own life and also blessed with a chance to lighten the burden my obesity put on those who love me.
If I have one still unfulfilled wish, it is that somehow, sooner rather later, no one else has to suffer from the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual weight of being the “fat kid” or the “fat guy.”
Thanks for reading my profile and a special thanks to Rick A. for turning me on to the OH Men’s Forum.
Weight Loss To Date