Lorraine is 70 year-old grandmother who has been married for 52 years. At an early age she was a victim to her father’s She learned to be a fighter. Putting weight on kept him away from her. She says, “my weight was my protection”. Lorraine began a long journey with diet pills at 10 years old and continued for many years. Often, she would lose 25 pounds only to gain 35 back. By the time she was 325 pounds, she was dealing with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and joint pain. At that point, she decided to take action by pursing bariatric surgery at a time before insurance covered the operation. Having lost 175 pounds, Lorraine has worked tirelessly as a facilitator for post-surgical support groups. She emphasizes how each patient has to do the mental work in addition to physical work to succeed in their weight loss journey.
My name is Lorraine. I'm 70 years old. I've been married for 52 years. We have two children, age, they'll kill me 51 and 49. We have four grandchildren. I am retired but I work as a facilitator and have done that for the last 12 years for a major hospital here in Los Angeles for weight-loss surgery.
Weight became a problem for me probably when I was about 4 or 5 years old. My weight came on because of the abuse from home. My father was physically, verbally and sexually abusive, so I learned at an early age, I guess to be a fighter, that putting weight on kept my father away from me, so my weight was my protection. The abuse probably went on until I was about 14, 15 years old.
Eating became a comfort for me. Food was a comfort. It was my best friend. It never talked back to me. But at the time it was the only thing I could turn to and not be abused. It just became a way of life. I was always looking for comfort because I didn't get it at home.
I can remember in about fourth grade I got up onto the scale and my teacher goes, oh my god she weights 125 pounds. From that point on the name calling started: fatso, fatty, whatever, and of course with that I was always the last one to be chosen to play on the baseball team or whatever we were doing because I could run but I couldn't run real fast. And you're isolated that way. You're made fun of.
At age 9 or 10 I began the long journey of diet pills. The diet pills from what I remember didn't speed me up like you hear people talk about, but I was on diet pills most of my life through school going up and down with weight. I'd lose 20, 30 pounds; gain 35, 40 pounds. So I really got caught into that diet pill syndrome which went through my 20's and 30's, ending up with Phen Phen. I could function normally on Phen Phen. I lost about 125 pounds with Phen Phen. When they took it off the market, I gained about 140 pounds within a year or two. I probably over a lifetime have lost a thousand pounds with diet pills, and probably gained twelve hundred pounds going off of them.
I consider eating an addiction. I do, because it was my drug of choice. I didn't know how to stop it because with food being your addiction, that is one of the only addictions that you live with that you can't totally give up. You have to have food in order to live, so how do you have this drug in front of you every day and not use it. But doctors never understood my addiction; they would say to me, if you would only learn how to control your eating habits. What's wrong with you? if you would lose weight, you would be beautiful. I just began to feel more like a failure that food was an addiction, but I didn't have the control over it nor could I get help.
I believe that obesity is a disease. It's like diabetes; it's like thyroid problems; it's like cancer. Those people can go in and normally have their diabetes put under control. They have their thyroid maintained. And cancer; they can go in and have surgery and today a lot of people are very successful with the cancer surgery. But they are not looked down upon for having surgery. They're fixing their illness. I'd wake up in the morning, the first thing I would think about is what am I going to have for breakfast, and practically before I was out of bed I was thinking, okay, we're having this for lunch, and we're having this for dinner. It was in my thoughts probably 20 hours out of the day.
Once I went over 300 pounds I knew that I had signed my death certificate and that I was never going to be able to go back and that I was going to die. I was already fighting high blood pressure. I was on three different pills for high blood pressure and I was on medication for cholesterol, high cholesterol. I also had acid reflux, which I was taking medication for that, and I'm just looking at all this and thinking, okay, when am I going to die. I was also stressed out from the job that I had and I called the doctor one day to ask him what I could do about the stress, and his only words to me were, Lorraine, at the rate you're going, if you don't stop to smell the roses, you're going to be pushing them up
Life at 325 pounds, for me, I can I was tired all the time; my body ached; my joints hurt. I did do some low-impact aerobics that was probably one thing that kept me going at 325 pounds. I was also angry with myself for being the way I was. I was not angry with everybody else. I was angry with myself.
I was at 325 pounds when I finally made the decision that weight loss surgery was the right thing for me. I had done everything else other than wiring my jaw shut I wanted to have weight loss surgery, but I was afraid to ask my own primary doctor because he was the very one that each time I'd walk into his office and he would weigh me, he'd say, my lord, Lorraine, can't you exercise self-control; you've gained another five pounds. And of course I felt like such a failure. And I wouldn't ask him, but he was also my husband's doctor, and my husband went in and talked with him and asked if there was something else Lorraine could do, and he's the one that brought up weight loss surgery and talked to my husband about it and he told him that that's what I was thinking about it but wanted his approval that it was healthy, safe, to do this.
I was upset with myself that I was putting my husband and I through this expense and that I just couldn't step back and diet again and lose weight, but I knew deep down that I couldn't do that anymore; that I was getting too old; I was 57 years old at the time I had weight loss surgery. Once I went to sleep and woke up I was fine. I had had other abdominal surgeries and with laparoscopic surgery you don't have the intrusive invasion into your body
I woke up not being hungry, which was a total amazement to me, and I often tell people that until you have weight loss surgery, no one can ever understand that because we're always hungry. The next morning after I had had surgery, no one had forewarned me, but I was sitting in the chair, and all of a sudden I'm sitting there and I'm going, Lorraine, what in the hell have you done to yourself? Buyer's remorse set in. You've lost your best friend, food. You're beginning to mourn your best friend and say goodbye to it.
The weight loss surgery doctors, give you a schedule to follow after surgery and it's about a 16-week program. The first few days after you have surgery you're drinking clear liquids, broth. Then you start in on protein. You're instructed to have 64 ounces of water a day along with about 60 to 70 grams of protein. Doesn't sound like much but when you're not hungry it's an awful lot. It's kind of like being a baby. When you bring a baby into the world, they have formula, then they have baby food, then they have junior food, and then they move on up to finger food, table food. So with us we have our liquid protein, then we get to move on to soft foods; we eat that for a couple of weeks
The next couple of weeks we get to move on to soft foods such as scrambled eggs, yogurt, cottage cheese and things like that. Then we get to move on up to grated foods. I instruct our patients that they need to learn to puree their food with their mouth, with their teeth, or they're going to be in trouble. And then you get to move on to table foods, and you go back to eating normal foods within 16 weeks or so and you're trying new foods each day.
I eat when I'm hungry and I do know that I have to get 60 to 70 grams of protein a day. 50, 60 grams of that is done in protein, liquid protein, and the rest of it I eat. I can't get that much food in. Even this far out I can't get that much food in.
One of the after-effects of having weight loss surgery is people will come in and say, Lorraine, do you have dumping; do you dump? Dumping syndrome is when you eat too much fat, grease or sugars and your intestines cannot assimilate all that and you start feeling lightheaded, faint, and sleepy, you want to go lay down. For me over the course of time I have learned to listen to my body and about two teaspoons of ice cream is about all I can eat. If I pick up that third spoonful there's something down in my intestines that say, Lorraine, if you eat that I'll make you sick, and I put my spoon down. I've learned to listen to my body. My tool, my surgery, has over the years taught me to listen to my body.
While I was going through the process of deciding that having weight loss surgery I didn't tell anyone other than my husband, our two daughters, and a close friend, because everybody was so against weight loss surgery. I didn't want to once again have to face people. Now I've had weight loss surgery and I failed this, too. Over the 12 years I've done the support group 50 percent tell, 50 percent do not. I believe that when somebody doesn't want to tell somebody, there needs to be someone close by who knows that they've had weight loss surgery so if health wise they got into an issue they could be there and be their advocate when they're in the hospital. But if they don't want to tell, I don't feel they need to tell.
At about 3-1/2 years out although I had been through about 10 or 12 years of therapy pre-surgery, I began to realize something was wrong; something was bothering me; I didn't know what it was; so I went back to my therapist who sat me down and talked with me; and I was finding that I was no longer the old Lorraine and I had to mourn her; I had to say goodbye to her; I had to write a letter to her and say goodbye. But on the same token I didn't know who the new Lorraine was. And at a thinner weight I was very vulnerable. When I was at 325 pounds, I wasn't vulnerable; who was going to touch me. Therapy pre-surgery is good, but I do encourage therapy after having weight loss surgery. The majority of people do not realize they're coming into weight loss surgery bringing demons with them. When you have weight loss surgery, you're no longer using food to dull your feelings, to medicate your feelings, and you're having to think more about it, which brings up more issues I'm not saying anybody is crazy. You just need to work those things out in order to have a successful weight loss.
I encourage all patients to come to support group meetings at least a month before they're having surgery. I see too many people coming in the day before they're having surgery, wanting to learn everything they need to learn. And you can't learn everything you need to know in a two-hour meeting.
Coming to a weight loss support meeting, you're in among your peers. We've all been there or we're going through it. So we're not looking down upon people. We're there trying to help and answer questions. You need to attend meetings a month or two before you have surgery, and after you have surgery, at least six months to a year you need to be coming at least two to four times a month. After that you need to check in at least once a month. You've got to be accountable to yourself, and by not coming into meetings I see a lot of people becoming unaccountable. They don't understand why they're gaining weight.
When people come into the support group meeting, after listening to them talk for a few minutes or that evening, I can sometimes tell whether they're really going to be successful at this journey or not. They're not willing to make the changes. They believe that weight loss surgery is a magic pill and the weight's going to fall off and I will have to say, yes, that first year when you've gone from many thousands of calories a day three, four, five thousand calories a day to maybe four or five hundred calories a day, the weight is going to fall off. But then if you're still eating a little piece of cake and you're eating potato chips and stuff, when you get out past your honeymoon phase, which is 12, 18, 24 months, you're going to re-gain your weight.
Having weight loss surgery for me was very positive. It did work for me, but I followed my plan on a daily basis. I even to today still learn something new every day about weight loss surgery because it does change. I'm off all medications. I have low blood pressure, and normal cholesterol readings, and I do not have acid reflux anymore. I've been able activity-wise to do a lot of different things that I would never have done before weight loss surgery. I've skydived. I have ziplined. I have ridden in a Nascar. You just don't do things like that when you weigh 325 pounds. As far as my health, I think back before I had weight loss surgery, I was continually having colds, flu and stuff like that. Knock on wood. I've not been sick a day since I had weight loss surgery because I'm in a fairly healthy state. And that's just so amazing to me and I'm so thankful that weight loss surgery gave me that opportunity to have a second chance at life.