Making the decision to have weight loss surgery is a…
This article was originally posted over on Beauty Review in August of last year and the lovely ladies from BR are happy for me to repost it here on my blog! Since I decided to start blogging over a year out from surgery I’m not going to cover much of the stages surrounding the actual surgery. The answers to these questions were written by me at six months post-op and is as detailed I will get on my blog about the surgery process and the initial stages of my journey. It’s a long one so get comfy!
You might have noticed that we’re pretty active on Social Media. We don’t just post, we love following our members and seeing what they’re up to. So when we witnessed one member’s incredible journey via her Twitter feed we had to get in touch to find out more.
Melissa has struggled with controlling her weight for years and took the incredibly difficult decision to undergo a Gastric Bypass. She has since lost 40kg in 6 challenging months and she’s agreed to share her inspirational story with us.
BR: Tell us a little about yourself
M: I’m 27 and married with a 2 year old gorgeous little boy. I live on the North Shore in Auckland and I’ve recently gone back to full time work as a transcriber after being at home with my little man for almost two years.
BR: How have weight issues affect your life, what was your weight loss journey before the surgery?
M: My weight has been an issue for as long as I can remember. I was teased all through school because most of the time I was the biggest in the class. I have literally tried everything I came across to lose weight in the past and had been successful.
I lost 30kg while doing Sureslim, just before I got pregnant I had lost 20kg with Jenny Craig. Those were my most successful goes at it but I had done Weight Watchers, numerous exercise/eating plans which I would lose weight on if I followed whatever set of rules they required but I could never maintain it for long and always ended up putting on more weight than I had lost.
It became really disheartening being able to lose weight but not being able to maintain it and hence I eventually gave up which led me to the point of getting to my biggest of 132 kilos. This was my personal limit of feeling comfortable and able and I really didn’t want to get bigger but couldn’t see a way out.
I really felt like I had done everything and that I had reached the end of the road in trying to manage my weight. This [gastric bypass surgery] was an absolute last resort option but I felt I had no other choice if I wanted to live longer and be able to have more babies while not being morbidly obese.
BR: how did you decide that surgery was the right choice for you and when did you decide this?
M: I had heard about gastric bypass surgery mainly from things on TV and had read some things about it online but never imagined I would get to the point that I would qualify.
I had lost 20 kg before getting pregnant and put it all back on by the time I had him. After pregnancy I lost about 12 kgs and maintained it while I was breastfeeding but as soon as I stopped it started piling back on again.
I started to seriously investigate gastric bypass surgery around this point and found that I met the basic criteria to get it done on the public system. To go private its around $25,000 which was not money we had lying around straight after having a baby. I the broached the subject with my hubby expecting resistance and he was very open to the idea because he used to worry about my health and thought this sounded like a good solution.
I spoke to my GP about it and she thought it was a great idea and pondered why she hadn’t suggested it sooner. This was the point I decided it was what I wanted to do and asked my GP to refer me to the hospital to try my luck on the public system.
BR: What did the surgery involve – consultations, pre/post op care etc?
M: The process of getting on the surgical list was a long one. There were numerous letters and questionnaires that the hospital needed before I even got an appointment. Then amazingly I got an appointment letter in the mail to meet with one of the doctors. I had to wait two months to see them and it was one of the longest waits of my life.
At that appointment I was weighed and my height measured so they could find out my BMI and it was 48 which put me in the morbidly obese category. The qualifying BMI for the hospital was 40. Then I was told I had to lose a certain percentage of my body weight so they could see if I was willing to make the changes that I would need to commit to after surgery. I had to lose 8 kgs and they gave me eight weeks to do it in.
During that time I also had to attend a group session with the bariatric dieticians every week for four weeks with others who were going through the process. The group sessions were great and were more focused around educating us what to expect at every stage pre-op and the stages post-op and what to expect and what our new teeny tiny tummies could handle. If I didn’t attend one there was no way I was getting on the surgical list. (I have now been invited back and go along to the groups one of the weeks to talk to the new people hoping to get surgery and it’s really nice to be able to answer their questions being a real life example)
Then I went back to my next doctor’s appointment and I had lost 8.5kgs in the 8 weeks they had given me! They decided to put me on the surgical list but said it could be 3-4 months before a surgical spot opened up and I was not allowed to put weight on before I was called up for surgery. I managed to get through Christmas without putting on weight and I got a call much earlier that I expected with a date for surgery. I think I had about 3 weeks notice in the end. For two weeks before the surgery I had to go on a protein shake diet to help shrink my liver to make surgery safer.
For two weeks I had to live on three protein shakes (Optifast) and two small meals of green non-starchy vegetables. This was the hardest part of the whole process. I was starving for the whole two weeks and completely lost my marbles on day 11 and just wanted to eat something. My hubby was awesome and didn’t let me do anything silly and in that two weeks I lost another 7.5 kgs. So in total before surgery I had lost 15kgs!
I was admitted to hospital the day before my surgery so last minutes tests and things could be done to make sure I was okay to have it done. I had my surgery on the 5th of Feb this year  so I’m now just over 6 months out. Before surgery I had to have blood tests, an ECG (to check my heart) and meet with the team to go over everything including the risks and what was involved in going under a general anesthetic. The day of surgery I was first on the list and I think it only took a couple of hours. I have five little scars on my tummy which with the help of rosehip oil, are much improved now and my internal plumbing has changed forever. I now have a teeny tiny tummy and part of my small intestine has been taken out of action too.
The surgery works on malabsorption (the intestine reconfiguration) and malnutrition (a teeny tiny tummy not letting me eat much at a time). I have to take vitamins every day for the rest of my life to make sure I stay healthy and get everything I need.
Post-op for two days I only had water. Then for three weeks I only had protein shakes. Then for three weeks after that I had pureed food. My first ‘meal’ of puree after surgery was a teaspoonful. Then I progressively moved onto soft foods and have gradually increased the portion size as my stomach has adjusted and swelling has decreased. I now eat between 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup of food at each meal depending on what it is and how much I feel like at the time. My meals are all protein focused with a small amount of veg if I have room. I need to concentrate on my protein though as that is predominantly what my body needs to function and stay healthy.
After surgery I was in hospital for three days and was allowed home when I could tolerate protein shakes. Then I had a checkup at one week post-op where they took my stitches out which was a welcome relief because they were done up really tight. Everything was going well and I lost 4.2 kg in my first week after. I had check ups at 6 weeks, 3 months and 6 months and I have another one coming up at 9 months. My dietician has been incredibly supportive and if I need to ask anything she is just an email away.
BR: What about exercise, do you have to stick to a strict regime?
M: When I was losing weight pre-op I was walking five days a week for around 45 minutes a day. When I was allowed to exercise again after surgery (I think after about six weeks) I had the same routine but was able to increase my intensity quicker and easier as time went on.
Since I started working again I haven’t been so dedicated but we go walking on the weekends and I fit it in during the week when I can. Sometimes I go for a walk around the mall at lunchtime if it’s raining just to fit it in.
I haven’t done much in the way of toning yet but I really should start. A few areas like the tops of my arms and legs and the bottom of my tummy are starting to not look too flash but I’m hoping my age is on my side and things will improve over time.
I have been using Rosehip Oil on the vulnerable areas and I think it’s made a difference. The skin thing is a real worry for most people but honestly if I have to live with a bit of baggy skin its worth it to me rather than being overweight and trying to hide my WHOLE body for the rest of my life.
BR: How much weight have you lost so far?
M: So far I have lost just over 55 kilos. Fifteen of that was before surgery so I have lost 40 kilos in the last six months. I knew going into it I was going to lose some weight but it blows my mind to see how quickly it has happened. I have been going through clothes sizes in about 6 weeks and from starting at a size 24/26 I’m already down to a 14. My goal was a size 12 but I think I might end up surpassing it. I have just over 10 kilos to go to my original goal of 65 kgs which is where my BMI will be in the normal range. I have never been that light as an adult.
BR: How has your life changed since the surgery?
M: My life has changed in so many ways since having surgery. Simple things like I cross my legs over when sitting on a chair and wearing heels is so much easier now because shoes fit better and I’m not carrying so much weight so my feet don’t get so sore. Exercise is incredibly easy now, I used to go for a walk and then want to nap for the rest of the day but now it energizes me and makes me feel good.
I can buy normal sized clothes and had a crazy overwhelming moment in Farmers when I realized I could fit into a size 18 and literally didn’t know where to start because there was so much more choice than I had had before.
But also not having my life revolve around food in an obsessive way has made this easier in some respects mentally because I don’t feel hungry anymore. I eat now because I know I have to get my protein in and if I missed a meal now it wouldn’t bother me in the slightest. I have become more confident in how I look and have really got into beauty as a way to express myself and stand out. I have a thing for a bold lippy now. Before it would have attracted too much attention and I wouldn’t have dared wear it out.
This has been a really hard decision to make and it was not easy. To mentally prepare myself for this I, in a sense, broke up with food because I knew it would not be the same again. Now when I’m tired or bored or stressed I can’t turn to food for comfort and have had to develop new coping strategies like just talking it out to get through the occasional bad day. But I am able to do so much more and don’t have the limitations that being morbidly obese have which until you gain these things back you don’t really notice what you were missing.
BR: So would you say the end is in sight on your weight loss journey?
M: Having surgery is not a magic bullet to end my ever fought battle with my weight. It’s something I will have to keep working on forever but now I have a considerable advantage in being able to manage it.
The restriction side in terms of how much you can eat really appealed to me because now if I eat too much I will throw up – end of story. I haven’t been sick once since and find now I am really in tune with my body and know when I need to stop. In saying that I still measure out my food to make sure I don’t get carried away.
The most amazing thing about this whole thing though has been the almost instantaneous change in how I respond to and think about food. I haven’t felt hungry since the surgery and that has been awesome. That could return one day though so I need to prepare myself for that too. But also now when I see things I used to love eating I have pretty much no desire to eat them which to me is still a bit strange. I loved to bake before surgery and was wondering if I would be able to handle it after and I’m happy to say I totally can. I don’t eat any of it and amazingly don’t want to but I still really enjoy doing it for others. It goes to show you don’t have to give up everything food related after having this done.
BR: Any advice for other people in a similar situation?
M: My advice to others who may be thinking about it hmm… Try and find someone who you trust that is really supportive and who won’t get jealous to be your sounding board through it. My husband has been amazing and sometimes I’ve just needed to get it all off my chest have a good whinge or a cry and get on with it. Look into it and be fully aware of the things you will have to give up at least for a while but possibly forever.
It is recommended that you don’t drink for the first year post-op which doesn’t bother me but I know some people would really struggle with that. Listen to your team and what they recommend for you. There is all sorts of info online and while some of it may sound unreasonable there is a reason your team want some things done in a specific way for example the dietary stages after surgery.
I think it has really helped me to develop an interest and that interest has been beauty and make up. Along the way I have become more confident and have tried things I would not have dreamed of doing 55 kgs ago. It’s been helpful to have something else to think about like what shade of lippy should I wear tomorrow instead of pondering too much about my diet and my weight. BR have been a big part of this!
Getting surgical intervention to manage your weight is a major decision and you really need to have exhausted every other option before considering this. But in saying that I am so glad I made the decision to do this and I cannot believe how my life has turned around in the short space of time of the last six months.
Thanks to Melissa for sharing her incredible (and personal) journey with us and answering our questions so openly and kindly – if you have any questions for Melissa pop them in the comments below!
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