My bariatric gastric sleeve surgery was April 6, 2017 so it has been 13 months since my surgery. I have lost 191 pounds so far, regained 26 pounds and relost 15 for a total net loss of 180 pounds.
I an publishing this post as I wrote it over a couple of weeks. It details the journey I had in my outlook and attitude, from total despair to hope. It is very long, but I hope you'll stick with me and follow along as I struggled and eventually overcame my food issues.
This post really began at the end of February when I was at my lowest weight so far - 209. But then, over the course of February and March, I regained 26 pounds. On April 16, I was at my highest recent weight, 235.6.
April 16, 2018
I am a hot mess.
I did so very well in avoiding all non-vegetable and fruit carbs for the first 8 months after surgery, and then I got completely derailed by our Disney cruise in December when I went from professing no carbs ever to eating two crème brulées at one sitting within the first three days of the cruise.
From there, I struggled with cakes and cookies and desserts but thought I was back on track in early February.
And then our house became full of Girl Scout cookies and Easter candy, and I totally lost all resolve and ate junk like I had never eaten before.
I did not imagine, post-surgery, that I would be able to eat a whole box of Girl Scout cookies in one sitting, but I could and did, many times. (Granted the boxes have gotten considerably smaller over the last twenty years, but still, one full box contains more calories than I should eat in a day.)
I did not imagine, post-surgery, that I would be able to eat eight Cadbury Crème Eggs in a sitting, but I could and did, many times.
I did not imagine, post-surgery, that I would be able to consume 3,000 calories in a day, but I could and did, many times.
See what I mean when I say I am a hot mess? My eating has gone completely to hell, and I am struggling like you wouldn't believe to get it back on track.
I want to say that I feel terrible, that all this sugar is weighing me down and making me feel bad physically, but it isn't, and that I think is part of the problem in my continuing to eat it.
Hear me out - I WANT TO STOP AND GET BACK TO MY OLD PRE-CRUISE EATING HABITS.
But I feel powerless and weak most of the time. I feel like a slave to my food cravings, cravings I never had before the cruise. I feel like an addict, and that is the bottom line.
On my third or fourth Instagram confession, a sweet follower sent me a private message asking if I had ever considered Overeaters Anonymous. A cousin to Alcoholics Anonymous, this program has weekly meetings, and its participants work through 12 steps, the first of which is admitting that they are powerless over their food choices.
I did a little research into OA, and it resonated with me. I had a mental block where weekly in-person meetings are concerned, and the weekly phone meetings were at a really bad time for me, so I sought out a Facebook "meeting" group but found it really confusing. You need a sponsor to guide you through the 12 steps, so I reached out to the ones on the FB group's list of potential sponsors, but they all said they couldn't help me because of things on their ends.
That's when I gave up. I wished I could make OA work because I thought the principles would really help me, but I got discouraged by roadblock after roadblock. I bought the OA books for my Kindle and started working through them on my own.
I believed that I couldn't beat my food addictions on my own.
I brought this up with my therapist at our biweekly session, and she strongly encouraged me to try out an in-person group meeting. Before that motivation waned, I looked up meetings on the OA website, called the organizer of one the next day, and told Joe I had a meeting I needed to go to so could he please be home in time to watch the kids.
It ended up causing a big fight because I didn't want to tell him what the meeting was about. I didn't want to talk about it; I just wanted to go and see how it was.
I was expecting the meeting to be a bunch of fat people (like me), sitting around talking about how they couldn't get their eating under control. But it wasn't like that at all. It was a bunch of thin people, sitting around talking about their hope and gratitude and success. They were victorious, or at least it seemed that way to me. There were people who were overweight and quiet, like me, but the meeting was very positive and encouraging.
After the meeting, several people approached me and asked if I had any questions, which I didn't at the time. One lady gave me her phone number and told me to call her if I thought of anything at all. I didn't have any questions at the time, but I've thought of some now. I don't understand what it means to "work the steps" which is something they all talked about. I've been reading about the steps, but I don't know what working them would look like. I also don't really get when you seek out a sponsor and how that process works. I've read that you choose someone who has what you want, but I noticed in the sign in book that not many people are willing to be a sponsor for one reason or another.
Both of the ladies I talked to mentioned a larger meeting that takes place on Saturday mornings, so I may try that one out as well.
This leads me to the main point I wanted to make in this post:
Bariatric surgery cannot fix your food issues.
If you have food issues prior to surgery (and you do, or you would not be a candidate for surgery in the first place), you are going to have food issues after the surgery.
My food issues are all in my head. I have fat brain (that's what my FB bariatric surgery support group calls it), and my fat brain is ruining my life right now. I am allowing it to control my eating habits, and I feel like I can't stop.
For the first eight months of my journey, I would see posts in the FB group something like this:
I have regained X pounds, and I feel completely powerless to food. I eat foods I know I shouldn't eat, but I can't stop myself. Can you help me?
And I judged those people in my head. I thought, Just stop it. You are not a victim. How can you be so dumb? Stop eating the junk and move on.
Then I fell into the same trap and now totally understood those people.
I have, four or five times, resolved to stop eating sugar. Each time, I have done really well (even though it was really hard) for a day or two or even three, but then some form of sugar crossed my path and I gobbled it down faster than you would believe. I even ate my kids' Easter candy, a fact of which I am deeply ashamed.
For a while, I substituted a new issue for my sugar addiction, and that was peanut butter. For a couple of weeks, whenever I was craving food, I would go to the pantry and eat a spoonful of peanut butter.
Peanut butter is protein, I rationalized, and protein is good. Unfortunately, peanut butter is also fat and contains 190 calories in just two tablespoons.
Of course, I was not eating just two tablespoons at a time. I was probably eating three or four tablespoons in a single spoonful and two or three or four spoonfuls at a time two or three or four times a day. So these calories added up very quickly and also contributed to my weight gain.
I realized somewhere along the way that my main problem - even more than an addiction to sugar - is snacking. I remembered that the nutritionist at my last pre-op appointment said these words:
Patients who snack regain weight, so do everything in your power to never start the habit of snacking. Eat three meals a day, have two shakes if you need them, and eat nothing in between ever. Just don't do it.
I had been eating in between my meals, a lot. When I realized this, I did an Instagram story for accountability, documenting everything I put in my mouth that day and when. It was eye opening to see that I had a very hard time restricting my food intake to my "normal" five times: 7 am, 10:30 am, 12:50 pm, 3:30 pm, and dinner, whenever that happens to be. (I have, throughout my post-op months, occasionally eaten a snack at bedtime, when I was starving because dinner was too early in the evening. I have not found this to be a problem throughout the process, and will continue to allow myself this if I really need it, but only then and not as a normal occurrence.)
So here I am, again starting over with not snacking, on April 16. I feel fragile and weak, but I have resolve and feel like I can do this.
April 25, 2018
While researching OA books on Amazon, I stumbled across a book called Never Binge Again which was free and had amazing reviews. I thought perhaps I could use its tools with the tools from OA (some of which were paper workbooks I had ordered from their website but not yet received). I finished Never Binge Again in two days, and it also resonated with me.
Never Binge Again is written by a psychologist who struggled with a severe weight problem. He knows what he's talking about, and he's come up with his own method that focuses on empowerment and personal responsibility.
His method is very simple - you isolate all the fat-thinking parts of yourself, and you identify them as The Pig. The cravings are Pig Squeals, to be ignored or shut down. The foods The Pig craves are Pig Slop, and who wants to eat pig slop?
For the first couple of days after reading, I still struggled. A chocolate bar crossed my path (the kids left it out on the table after making s'mores), and I ate it.
But after eating that chocolate bar, something in my brain clicked. I found my old resolve again. I knew I could do this, this shutting out The Pig and never, ever feeding him again.
It's been 4 days since my revelation, and I have not caved in to the pressure even once. I have been tempted. I have had cravings, some intense and uncomfortable. I have successfully ignored them all.
And I have lost 10 pounds.
I feel amazing knowing that I am not powerless against food. I can maintain my resolve.
The key to my defeating The Pig has been to stack my environment for success. Once the peanut butter was all gone, we did not buy more. There are 2 Hershey bars in my house right now (for the kids' s'mores), but I asked Joe to hide them better than he's ever hidden anything before. I am proud to say that I haven't even gone hunting for them (and I most certainly would have a month ago). Besides those two bars, there is absolutely no candy or junk food in the house.
Maybe someday, we will be able to buy peanut butter and candy again, but I don't know when or if that will happen. I will certainly need many more days and weeks and maybe even months of success before I can even think about that happening.
I still haven't received the books I ordered from Overeaters Anonymous. When they do arrive, I am going to work through the emotional and God-centered aspects of the program without declaring myself powerless to food. I am not powerless, but I do need to address my emotions and cede control over my eating to the Lord. That's all really good stuff, but I decided not to attend any more meetings or seek out a sponsor.
May 1, 2018
The OA workbooks I ordered finally arrived over the weekend, and I started working through them. I know it's not how they are intended, but I feel really good about working through the soul-searching questions in them in my journal while still primarily following the method in Never Binge Again.
I did have a setback yesterday. I found a bag of old candy while I was cleaning. Most of it was totally squashed, but I opened it greedily, hoping for some morsels to eat, even before I had a conscious thought about The Pig and what I was doing. I was like an addict who found a precious stash and needed to consume it. I did find one piece of Hershey's chocolate which was not crushed beyond being edible, and I ate it. This led to a trip to the convenience store for my drug of choice, Reese's peanut butter cups Big Cups with Reese's Pieces in them. I had more than 2 packs, and I was very satisfied. Of course, regret followed, and I felt ashamed of myself.
This morning, I am not beating myself up over my binge, but I am back on track. It happens. I need to be more careful in the future about what I put into my body. I need to stick to my goal of beating the sugar addiction, and I need to spend more time each morning in prayer and meditation for God to keep me strong even in the face of temptation. I know I can't avoid temptation at all times, so I need His help to stick to my plan and isolate The Pig and his Pig Squeals.
I am hopeful. I believe I can do this, and I believe I will do it. I will get down below 200 pounds.
Non-scale Victories - My update is not all bad.
I have had a few successes during the last two months since I posted an update, and my overall results have been nothing short of amazing. I don't want my March and April failures to cast a dark shadow over what has been a very successful journey so far.
I am now walking about 2+ miles a day, and I'm walking a new, much more difficult, course. Whereas before my Fitbit gave me credit for 2 miles and 15 flights of stairs per walk, I now get credit for 2.3 miles and 33 flights of stairs in a single walk. I'm walking faster than ever (about 3.8 mph), even though it's pretty difficult, but I feel great when I'm done and continue to do it.
During the week, when I need to be mindful of my time to fit the whole walk in during my lunch break from work, I only walk 3 laps around the block which amounts to 2.3 miles. On the weekends, when I generally have as much time as I want to spend, I walk 4 laps around plus a little extra, and that comes out to exactly 3.0 miles and about 45 flights of stairs.
Poor Joe struggles to keep up with me and has asked me to go back to my old path, a fact that I find very satisfying. It wasn't that long ago that I struggled to keep up with him (and truth be told, he always slowed down for me which I do not do for him because I need to keep my heart rate up and he is just nicer than me).
The kids are again walking with me, a fact that really irritated me at first since I have come to relish my quiet alone time for audiobooks and podcasts, but my new course takes me past my dad's house three or four times per walk, and they are now walking to his house, going in to harass him and my sister, and then I pick them up on my last pass. So I still get a good 25-35 minutes of quiet time per walk, and they are getting some good exercise (albeit only about 12 minutes), so it all works out. They don't like staying home alone even though they are old enough to do so, and they are getting in some good times with Pappy and Aunt Amanda.
I am down to a womens size 14/16 in most clothing, and I have even worn my very first non plus size shirt. I don't mean my first non plus size shirt since surgery, I mean my first ever non plus size shirt in my entire adult life. I wore an 18/20 when I was in the fifth grade and only got bigger from there. (Note: Because of weird sizing issues in different stores, I can still wear some of my 18/20s and even a couple 22/24s, but most of my stuff is now 14/16.) If you haven't read back to my early posts, I wore a size 30/32 when i started this journey a year ago.
We have gone to three shows - Disney On Ice and Stars On Ice at an arena and a ballet at a smaller theater - and I fit comfortably into the seats in both places. Not only did I fit, but I was able to easily cross and uncross my legs with plenty of room to spare, and I didn't feel squished at all.
I still haven't tried on a size XL t-shirt or sweatshirt because I have a mental issue about that. I am swimming in my 2XLs, but I wear them anyway.
Grace, my almost 11-year-old, and I wear nearly the same size. She's maybe a size or two smaller than me, but she can easily wear most of my clothes. I am greatly distressed by this for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is that I don't want her to grow up with the weight problem that I had. I have been trying to talk to her about weight issues, without making her feel like she is fat, but it isn't going well. She does feel like she's fat, and I am deeply sorry that she feels sound wounded. But, on the other hand, she is pretty chunky, and I desperately want her to make some changes to her eating and exercise habits before it's too late. Fortunately, she still weighs about 80 pounds less than me.
I bought a new Pandora bracelet because I couldn't keep the old one on anymore. It's 2 sizes smaller.
The new underwear and bras I mentioned in my last update post are working out great. I even bought a sports bra because Allie likes to run a little during our daily walks, and that has a band size of 40 which is insane to me. If I get down into the 30s, I don't know what I will do with myself. Also, I fear I may have to soon start bra shopping at a specialty store. What was once a 50C is now a 40DDD. As your band size shrinks, your cup size increases. As I shrink, I'll probably try a 38DDD, but if that doesn't work, I will have to go see my sister's lingerie lady.
Some of my shoes are now too big which is so bizarre but very common in bariatric surgery patients. I put a pair on to go to the ballet, zipped out the door, and didn't realize until we were in the parking garage that they were so big, I had to curl my toes to keep them on and even then, they fell off a lot. I never really wore that particular pair of shoes before because they were pinchy in the toes.
I had hoped to lose 200 pounds before the anniversary of my surgery, but because of the aforementioned food addiction issues, I didn't make it. Even so, I am content with the fact that I had gotten down to a weight of 209 (and will again!) and eager to get back on track and lose more. My first goal is still to maintain a weight of 180 which will be a loss of 220. That's only 40 more pounds.
I know I can do it. I'd love your prayers for my resolve and determination and success.
Looking for other updates? See the whole series here.