There are some really common questions that you get asked…
I am so excited to hand the reins over to Michelle today. She’s the second awesome person to let me interview her for my interview with a bypasser series. I have been following Michelle’s journey on Instagram for quite a while now I love how straight up and honest she is about life post-op gastric bypass. It’s seriously inspiring how dedicated she is to her training and damn this woman can smash out a workout. Michelle’s Instagram handle is a fantastic play on words and is the first clue to just how cool she is. Head to Instagram and look her up @optifastandfurious if you want to follow Michelle see how she’s getting on.
I’ll introduce you to Michelle quickly and then we can get to her interesting story. Michelle is 33 years old and grew up in West Auckland. She has recently moved to London on a five-year ancestry visa! Michelle had her surgery with Michael Booth through the public system in Auckland.
I was referred by my GP after years of him witnessing my weight loss and weight gain and coming to a breaking point. I also had severe reflux issues (from childhood through to surgery) as well as PCOS and infertility which alongside my high BMI, qualified me to have a publicly funded gastric bypass.
From my highest recorded weight, I have now lost 75kgs in total. I lost 19kgs prior to the seminar, from the time I went in for the first seminar and the day of surgery I lost a total of 14kgs. From the day of surgery to today, I have lost 42kgs and have 5 more kilos to lose to get to my “goal weight”. I am 11 months post op.
Michelle’s pre-surgery photos
Melissa: What’s your story, how did you arrive at the decision to have weight loss surgery?
Michelle: I was always a “chubby” child, I don’t ever remember being slim or feeling slim, ever. There was always a feeling of something that I needed to do about my weight, a constant anxiety and obsession with food – whether I was eating too much of it or not enough of it. This extended into my pre-teens, teens and then adulthood. I went on my first diet when I was around seven years old and this carried through up until I came to the decision to have surgery. I essentially spent most of my life dieting – losing and gaining weight and punishing myself in the gym.
In 2016, a close friend of mine had a gastric sleeve. I had never considered surgery before then and had come to the conclusion I would spend the rest of my life at weight watchers, Jenny Craig or on some diet and that was my lot in life. I literally watched her transform across the course of a year and it was incredible, amazing and fascinating to me.
I am very close with my younger sister and she had watched me literally struggle my whole life so she was the first person I said, “What do you think about this?” to.
She was incredibly supportive and positive and did a lot of research on my behalf.
She discovered ‘Melissa Loses It’ blog and read every blog post.
I then read every blog post.
From here I started researching the differences between the gastric sleeve and the gastric bypass initially thinking I would go for the gastric sleeve. I watched surgeries online, I looked up diagrams, I started reaching out to other people who had had WLS years ago and gathered as much information as I could. This was about a years’ worth of research.
At the end of 2016, I reached out to Stephanie Ulmer who performs WLS privately in Auckland. The costs were high but I had made the decision and this was my last resort, a new start. I scheduled an appointment to see her for a consult and at the same time scheduled an appointment with my GP to advise him that I was considering doing this surgery. When I went in to see my GP and tell him about my decision, he immediately said to me “reschedule that appointment”; With my BMI, my reflux issues, PCOS and infertility he believed that I would qualify to have WLS within the public system. He also told me that the surgeons within our district were incredible and that he had two patients who had gone through publicly a few years back and had great ongoing success.
By December 2016 I had my first letter advising me to come along to a seminar to learn more about WLS and the options available in the public system and the rest, is history!
Melissa: What did you do to prepare yourself for surgery? Do you feel like your preparation paid off?
Michelle: In terms of physical preparation, when you go through the public system you need to lose a certain amount of weight before you are approved to have the surgery. I had actually already lost 19kgs by the time I went to my first seminar and after I had gone to see my GP to talk to him about my decision to have WLS. I wanted to prepare my body as best as I could and after a lifetime of dieting and exercise, doing it again was nothing new to me. We were weighed at the first seminar and given a goal to lose weight by the second seminar, my weight loss goal from the team on that day was to lose 6kgs and due to changes in the WLS surgery public system, we had 4 months to do this.
In terms of the mental preparation, the fact that you are given this time is a good thing in my opinion. Looking back, had I gone through the private surgery, personally for me I don’t think I would have felt as prepared. This is not to say it is the incorrect decision for other people, but for me, I like to take my time with things and I thrive off structure. Being given a task to do and having the time to think it through was really good for me and I believe has contributed to my success post-surgery.
Because I had spent about a year researching WLS and reading blogs, watching surgeries and asking people about it, it kind of felt like I had done a lot of the mental preparation – however, now that I am nearly a year post op, NOTHING can prepare you for what is an absolute rollercoaster ride. While I believe all of this preparation did pay off, I also believe it is a difficult one to gauge because there are so many other factors to this life after you have had the surgery that you don’t even know BEFORE you have it.
For example, prior to surgery I had this vision that I would just easily lose the weight, that every week there would be quite a big loss and that would continuously happen, I had also expected of myself to get to my goal weight by about 9 months post-op. This is definitely not the case for me. In fact, I have found I am more of a slow and steady loser (something that honestly I have found incredibly frustrating at times). I have also found coming to nearly one year post-op, the weight loss stalls and then I have a large drop in weight suddenly.
I can honestly say, as prepared as I thought I was, nothing really can prepare you for this and you have to use the knowledge given to you by your surgical team, your dietitian/nutritionist, the knowledge you have gained yourself and put that to use as best as you can.
Michelle at six-weeks post-op
Melissa: Have you had a significant post-op learning that you wish you knew beforehand?
I absolutely have.
As I said above, nothing can prepare you for this life. I genuinely believed that I would adapt very quickly and very easily and that this would be easy. Yes, I said it – I thought this was going to be easy.
The only advice I will ever give out to people is this: Surgery is only a tool.
You have to put in the work to get the results. This might seem obvious to a lot of people but in all honesty, I didn’t really get it until recently.
Your surgical team, your dietitian/nutritionist can tell you this information constantly but this did not register for me until about 6 months post op. I initially had quite a lot of trouble with eating post-surgery. For me, I enjoyed the liquid stage and actually found it easy because it was very structured – drink three Optifast shakes a day, drink two milk drinks in between and 2L of water. Getting liquids in was not difficult – asides from it making me incredibly full I generally had an easy go of it (which is not the case for all of us post-op).
Once I got to the soft food stage I really hit a wall. I found it so incredibly uncomfortable and became almost scared to eat, it became a real chore and I remember thinking “Wow, I never knew eating could be so awful”. This lasted until about the 6 month mark for me.
After this point, eating actually became enjoyable again and I started actually looking forward to my meals. A few bad habits from my pre surgery days started to creep in as the advice from my team started creeping out. One of the rules they set for us was that we eat three meals a day, at least 20g protein in those meals and if that couldn’t be achieved – to include two milky drinks in between but the main takeaway was “Do not snack”.
I knew I shouldn’t but at the same time I was making excuses, “I need the extra protein”, “I think I’m hungry”, “Maybe I need it”. At my six-month post-op follow up I brought this up to my team. Firstly, they were really great about this. It is hard to break a lifetime of habits. But they explained to me, if I am genuinely having feelings of hunger it is most probable that I am dehydrated and need to drink water. If I am having cravings for sweets, I probably need to have some protein. After this, I adjusted my habits again – but I do feel like this will be ongoing for me and it is not so simple as “don’t snack”.
Understanding the science of the Gastric Bypass more definitely helped as well and is something that I will re-read on the internet. We do not need a lot of food to be satiated. if we eat nutrient dense food then we will become fuller faster and stay satiated for a very long time while getting in the nutrients that our bodies require. We do not get hungry and have the same hunger cues as we used to, so the advice from the team is not them just being bossy and trying to ruin our fun – it is them using the science and research conducted over many years to give us the best chance of long term success. I really think this is valuable to know, to understand and for me, definitely helps me on a daily basis post-surgery.
This whole process is going to be a continual learning curve, so for me, it is a case of combining what I have learnt and what I know to come to a comfortable place in my eating. I truly believe I will be learning and adjusting for many years to come – and I am totally OK with that.
Michelle at five-months post-op
How interesting is Michelle’s story? I love how much work she’s done to figure out what suits her and has adapted her life, while constantly re-evaluating where she’s at, post-op. If you want to hear more from Michelle, fear not! I had a few more questions for her and they will be coming in another new post next week. Michelle has done an incredible job with her WLS tool and I hope you find her as inspiring as I do. So many of us now are choosing WLS and I find it endlessly fascinating the similar but at the same time vastly different journeys we all take in getting to the same point.
If you’re interested in sharing your WLS story here on Melissa Loses It please get in touch. You can comment on a post, send me an email from the contact page here on Melissa Loses It or you can send me DM on Instagram or FaceBook. I really want to use this platform I have to share a diverse range of stories because we can all learn so much from each other. Even if you’re not sure get in touch and we can have a good old chat. Make sure you come back next week to hear the rest of Michelle’s story!