They say that time flies ever more quickly the older that you get. Even knowing this, I was still startled to look at my calendar and discover that this week will be the 18-month anniversary of my Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy. It is tough to believe that I am already a year and a half out from that amazing life-changing decision.
The changes are still overwhelming: everything from my waistline to my plate size has shrunk. Meanwhile, my stamina, physical activity, and interest in life all have grown by leaps and bounds. I hear on a weekly basis how I am “not the same person” that I was two years ago, and I can only nod in agreement. The version of me that sat around the house exclusively eating and gaming is no longer a part of my life.
The Tech Support Trap
Now, I (still) spend quite a bit of time online, mainly following up on interactions with those who are either considering or struggling with bariatric surgery. And I am noticing a trend towards “horror stories” – people reporting all the terrible things that happened to them as a result of bariatric surgery.
Let me say upfront: bariatric surgery is a scary thing. Things can (and sometimes do) go wrong. It is not a shortcut to weight loss by any means. It is a last-ditch, dramatic solution to chronic obesity.
But, it also must be said: it also is not automatically a disaster waiting to happen. As someone who used to work in tech support, I can tell you this: the vast majority of people posting on forums and in chat rooms are those that something went wrong for. When things work, we rarely feel a need to draw attention to them.
So, allow me to shed a little light on what happens when bariatric surgery goes right.
Shiny, Happy Patient
My personal experience with surgery was almost unblemished. (Other than that unfortunate incident of trying to eat sourdough immediately post-surgery.) I obeyed my nutritional guidelines, paid attention to my surgical team, and embraced my new pre-and post-surgical diet. After all, I figured, I was getting ready to have 3/4 of a major organ lopped off…no point in going forward with that if I wasn’t willing to make all the attendant changes that went along with it, right?
And it worked! Waiting in the pre-surgical area, my surgeon, Dr. Tyner, did not recognize me thanks to the weight loss I had already experienced thanks to the pre-surgical diet. (I had already dropped from 302 pounds to 248 pounds pre-surgery.) The weight loss after the surgery was consistent, and I actually beat my personal goal of weighing less than 200 pounds. By August of 2017, I had lost all the way to 175 pounds: nearly 130 pounds of weight loss.
Not only did I lose weight, but there were other, less visible results. I was able to head back to the gym. We began hiking at least once a week, sometimes more. We walked/ran in the Albuquerque “Run For The Zoo” 5K in May of 2017 – an actual “bucket list” item of mine for decades.
For every negative associated with the surgery (loose skin, yuck!), there has been at least one positive (a 34-inch waistline, like I had in my 20s!) And there have been several positives with no negative whatsoever: for example, I can now hike 8 miles. And not collapse for days afterward. This from a guy who, only 2 years ago, could barely walk the dog four-tenths of a mile.
Tough to see the downside to that.
Regular Maintenance Pays Off
So, coming up on two years out, this is where the shine is supposed to start coming off. Many patients complain about creeping weight gain returning at this point in their bariatric journey.
So, just to be sure, I checked this morning: I am currently at 176.3 pounds.
Let me run that by you again: for 6 months now, I have been within a pound or so of 175 pounds. Once a week, every week.
You see, this is also the point where many bariatric patients start investigating “When can I…?” As in, “When can I start drinking soft drinks again?” Or “When can I start eating Oreos and Girl Scout Cookies again?” Or, worse yet, “When can I stop working out all the time?”
See, that is the problem with bariatric surgery. Many folks don’t realize that there is no traditional recovery period from bariatric surgery. All the surgery does is “reset” your weight and metabolism so that you can NOW develop the habits you never did before.
If you are wondering about when you can start embracing negative habits again, the correct answer is: you can’t.
Not if you want to maintain your health and your weight loss, anyway.
I know people who have regained about half of the weight they lost after surgery. Because of this, many claim that surgery was a wasted effort for them.
Now, anything that allows you to lose half of your excess weight can’t be a bad thing, in my book. If you lost 100 pounds then regained 50, you’re still 50 pounds healthier by my calculations.
But I personally would rather maintain the lifestyle I learned pre- and post- surgery, and not have to deal with buyer’s remorse.
As the kids on the Internet like to say: Your Mileage May Vary.
A (Small) Example
Yesterday we got together with Lor’s family for a dinner and birthday party for my niece. As we all gathered at the dining room table, I had a chance to reflect on what our lifestyle changes meant.
For dinner, Lor and I spilt a 6-ounce steak. I also added an ounce or so of shredded beef, and 6 or 7 mushroom slices. Since I was feeling saucy, I even added a tablespoon of mashed potatoes in lieu of fresh corn on the cob.
My nephew, seated next to me, took one look at my plate, and asked: “Uncle, how can you live on that?”
I looked past him to the family portrait on my Mother-In-Law’s wall. Taken last Christmas, it featured Lor’s entire half of the family. Standing front and center in the group, I stood. Smiling.
The same person who, until 2 years ago, made every effort to avoid being photographed for any reason whatsoever.
How can I live on it? A heck of a lot better than I used to live on obesity and shame.
Bariatric surgery: it isn’t for everyone, but it sure as heck has done the job for me.
Though I Do Still Miss Girl Scout Cookies,