Jenna, 30 “A Balanced Life”

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ContributorJenna, 30Read Full Bio


Jenna is a 30 year-old single woman who owns and operates her own beauty and fashion salon. As she says, “I was born a size 14 and have struggled with weight all my life”. Having used every possible weight loss program, she equates “diet to a bank account: you can blow through $15,000 in a month and then to pay that out takes a year or more. It’s the same with calories”. She frankly admits to being addicted to food, which should come as no surprise as addiction runs in her family. Every daily decision, whether going to the gym or going out with friends, was impacted by her weight. She chose gastric bypass surgery because she wanted to have the gold standard in bariatric surgery to give her the best opportunity to succeed. In three years, she has lost and maintained 130 pounds and today lives a balanced life.

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ContributorDr. Adrienne YoudimRead Full Bio


Dr. Youdim specializes in medical weight loss, medical nutritional therapy and nutritional and metabolic support of bariatric surgery patients. Dr. Youdim received her bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles and her medical degree from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. She completed her internship and residency at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center as a well as a fellowship specializing in nutrition and bariatric medicine. She is currently Associate Professor of Medicine at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Dr. Youdim is very open about the issues associated with trendy diet medications of the past like Phen Phen, but is optimistic about new developments in this area in the near future. She does not shy away from discussing bariatric surgery with her patients and warns that obesity is second only to tobacco for cancer diagnoses today.

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Jenna is a 30 year-old single woman who owns and operates her own beauty and fashion salon. As she says, “I was born a size 14 and have struggled with weight all my life”. Having used every possible weight loss program, she equates “diet to a bank account: you can blow through $15,000 in a month and then to pay that out takes a year or more. It’s the same with calories”. She frankly admits to being addicted to food, which should come as no surprise as addiction runs in her family. Every daily decision, whether going to the gym, heading to dinner or seeing friends, was impacted by her weight. She chose gastric bypass surgery because she wanted to have the gold standard in bariatric surgery to give her the best opportunity to succeed. In 3 years, she has lost and maintained 130 pounds and today lives a balanced life.

My name is Jenna and I own a salon and I've owned it for ten years now and love the beauty and fashion industry. Three years ago I decided to have gastric bypass surgery and I've lost 130 pounds.

I struggled with weight all my life. I think always growing up my mom was always mindful of what I was eating. I two brothers growing up and they both are beanpoles to this day and so my mom was always force feeding them, like, here, have two cheeseburgers and, no, only half for you, Jenna, you know, take off the bun, so I always saw that difference growing up.

You don't notice it so much as a child; you get used to it. But I think it did do something psychologically. I think that I equated food to love, like, they got more food than me so they must be loved more.

I'm not a competitive person but I think you compete with other girls, you know, I want to wear what's she's wearing; she looks cute in that and I want to look cute in that; and they don't make that in my size; or even if they make it in my size, I don't look as cute as her. I think I struggled more with I want to look like her rather than I want that boy to like me

I equate diet like a bank account, you know, we can blow through $15,000 in a month and then to pay that off takes a year or more and it's the same with calories. You can gain weight in a week and it can take you six months to take it off. I got really busy with the business and went through ups and downs with money, was investing a ton of money, was taking money away from my food budget, eating on the dollar menu, didn't have time and didn't have motivation to work out on top of it. Needed a trainer, really, because I needed direction in the gym. I didn't know what I was doing. Couldn't afford that. So it's a trickle-down effect, and two years went by and I gained 60 pounds on top of my already not great weight and now you're looking at trying to take that off and it's hard.

Prior to my surgery I did think that I was addicted to food. Addiction runs in my family. I've never touched a drug in my life and I don't drink so this made perfect sense, that I was addicted to food, and I needed the surgery, I mean, to get it under control. The surgery changed a lot for me. I don't have the same relationship with food anymore. With the particular surgery that I chose, gastric bypass, there is a chemical change that happens in your brain through something that they did in the surgery. It does change your relationship with food, and that is actually why I chose gastric bypass versus the other options. I said I need that change in my brain to happen. I need this to stop. And this was, like, oh, I had a bad day, let me eat; oh, I'm happy, let me eat. It was a need for everything and so I don't have that anymore. I eat for nutrition.

I was healthy in every way. However, because I was young the probability of me, running into trouble, diabetes, difficulty pregnancies, and if I was at the weight I was already, what was my future going to look like with pregnancies and baby weight it didn't look good.

At 130 pounds heavier it was more difficult to move around.

It impacted many of my decisions, whether or not I would decide to go to the gym today. I loved working out on holidays when no one was there. Friday nights the gym was empty. And honestly I didn't want to have to walk around the gym and squeeze in between people and machines and, you know, bump into something because the image in my head of how big I was did not match up with the view in the mirror. And you get embarrassed really easily. These things become heightened and you begin to alter the way you live your life. I would only like sitting in booths in restaurants because I felt like I could be more concealed. I hated walking into a room whether it was a meeting or a classroom because I didn't know what seat was going to be available. I would go early so that I could choose my seat in the back corner usually and it limited me.

I was really trying to come to grips with my life. My weight was one of my biggest struggles. I was depressed. Nothing was working. I was feeling defeated and you have to eat to live so it wasn't something I could just quit all together. Let me just quit eating cold turkey and see how long I can do it. I just was at a loss. I had a very close relationship with my primary care doctor, and I had seen him a lot in that year. He had tried to put me on this is what I want you to eat; this is the gym I want you to join; this is what I want you to do. And I had followed everything to a tee. I can honestly say I was putting in effort. I was doing everything. I needed guidance; he was giving me great guidance; I was just doing whatever he told me to do. And it wasn't working; it wasn't working and I couldn't try any longer and not get results. So he finally said to me, I think it's time that we look into these options. And it's crazy cause I remember that day; I had never considered anything like the surgery. I think mostly because the image in my head, which was very different from the mirror, it didn't need surgery. That was like way too drastic, too crazy, you know, I can't afford that; my parents would never go for that; like, surgery is just not for me. When he said, I think you need to look at these options. It was like a lightbulb! I saw the solution and I said what do I need to do, and he said, go home; think about it; call your insurance; bring me back a list of hospitals or doctors that your insurance approves of; and we'll talk again.

I went back to my primary care doctor and I said, here's my list, and he circled which ones he approved of and I went home that day, made phone calls, made my appointment, went to an orientation meeting. I said, how quickly can I get this done. And, you know, then they take you through the pre-qualifications; they check out your health, see where you're at; see what your insurance will cover, what they won't. They send you to counseling. They took extra special care what is your home environment like, what is your work environment like. Is your life set up to support you in this decision and to support the changes that you will be making? They ask personal questions all the way down to, you know, who do you live with; who are you in a relationship with; how do they feel about it; are they going to sabotage you; are they going to be jealous; are they going to do anything that's going to make this more difficult for you. And so I really felt like we had looked at all angles of it and personally I was in a good position to do this. I lived by myself. I could control what food was in the house. I could control what schedule I had; when I was going to fit in my workouts. My family was super supportive. I felt well cared for with the support groups at the hospital. I was making friends that also were dealing with similar things to me and making choices in their life, both surgically and non-surgically. I had people to turn to. I had somewhere to go.

So the moment being rolled into surgery I was of course filled with emotion, happy, scared, excited. Mostly because I had never had a surgery before in my life and all I knew was that there was no hesitation. This surgery was the easiest thing I had ever done. I mean, if I had to do it over again, if they said do you want to have surgery or do you want to go to a kickboxing class surgery all day long. You're pampered. You're being taken care of. You have no worries. You wake up and you're on the road to losing weight. I mean, it didn't get much better than that.

Coming home from the hospital, it was a big change. You're then on a liquid diet. You have to take tons of vitamins and supplements and everything in liquid form for the first six weeks. I thought it was going to be really hard and the truth was it was really easy because the minute I woke up from surgery I still to this day, and I'm three years out. I don't get hungry. I'm not hungry. I have clues now when I know I need to eat. I know it's been four hours and you need fuel. But I don't get hungry. I wasn't like, oh my god, the realization that you can't have pizza right now? I expected that and I was nervous about that. What's it going to be like when my friends are ordering pizza and I can't have it. I was afraid, like, then I was going to have the, oh my god, what did you do? I never had that. I don't get cravings. There's signs that I know when it's time to eat but just for nourishment.

They prepare you for what side effects are possible after weight loss surgery and I have to say in my case I've had a pretty easy time with it. The one thing that was a significant side effect for me was hair loss. I'm not losing hair anymore but my hair never did come full blown like it was before. I used to have big old Texas hair and loved every minute of it so that's been a difference for me.

When my hair started falling out I wasn't shocked or upset or anything because I was prepared for it. I work in the beauty industry so we cut it real cute and just went with it. So it really wasn't that big of a deal but they said it would fall out for the first six months and I swear to this day in six months it stopped falling out.

So, dumping. That also was a key thing in why I chose gastro bypass. I wanted there to be a consequence for cheating, as you will. I wanted this to work. I wanted to dump if I ate something I wasn't supposed to eat, and I can honestly say three years out the number of times dumped. I can count it on one hand.

I think everybody experiences dumping in different ways. For me, it just makes me go to the bathroom. I've never thrown up, not one time through this whole process. I've followed the rules and it's partially because, my obsession with food, my relationship with food, changed so drastically after surgery that I don't push the limits. I do know patients that pushed the limits, that don't seem to have such a chemical change in their brain that I did that they're not following the rules and they're dumping all the time.

Dropping a lot of weight pretty rapidly is a rollercoaster of emotions. And for me, it was different than what I thought. It was very exciting to finally be getting results. The whole working-out world changed for me because before I would work out and wouldn't get any results so it was just hard and you're sweaty and miserable for what? And now it was, like, oh, this is why you work out.

The struggle that I came across was people's comments. You know, all of a sudden I was losing too much weight in their eyes. So for someone to tell me that I'm too skinny at this point that I've struggled my whole life being on the other end and now they're going to tell me I'm too skinny I want to slap them, you know. I mean, you didn't tell me I was too fat before. so don't tell me I'm too skinny. I'll be the judge of that. Comments like, oh, yeah, you were really heavy, like, I know that. I knew what I looked like, you know. I wasn't oblivious. And so I think that some people felt that it was now okay; it was laid out on the table; it was now okay to say these things. And it's not. It's hurtful. You're not being helpful so that was a struggle.

Now three years after I'm meeting new people; you didn't know me back then; you would never know that I ever struggled with being heavy unless I pulled out my family album and you saw past pictures. I'm now in an amazing relationship and it was one of the first things I thought about. Like, I'm very open about my surgery; I'm very candid about it; I'll talk about it with anybody. I know that there are some people that want it to be more secret; that didn't even share it with their family, until after they had the surgery.

This is not something I am ashamed of and it was not easy. I didn't tell my boyfriend about it I think maybe until our third date, and I just thought it was something that would come up naturally. It's not something I need to, you know, tell someone, like, I have no children, I've never been married, and I had gastric bypass surgery. But it actually came up because I do love to eat, of course. I love to cook and I have a deep appreciation for good food. And I'm curious about, you know, other kinds of food and everything. And I met a man who shares that love and so we went to some fun restaurants on our very first few dates, and he just kept saying, you're not eating, you're not eating, here, try this, and I was, like, no, really I can't, like, I'm done, you know, I get full very easily, which is great cause I can still taste and appreciate and enjoy. So appetizers were great for that reason because you can have a little bit of everything. And recently when we've gone to restaurants with family and I don't order anything and I literally take a bite off of every person's plate, and it's the most fabulous thing.

One of the concerns that I had was, what is my skin going to look like after losing so much weight. You know, what is my body going to look like? What are my boobs going to do? These are very important things in life. Again, I thought about it. I didn't spend too much time thinking about it because, no matter what, I'll deal with that. No matter what, you can deal with those things better than you can deal with being overweight. And it's true. I don't have a huge problem with saggy skin, although I'm still not going to wear a bikini, but I feel like I look great in clothes. Anything that does bother me is, you know, only one person's ever going to see it. And I do feel like everything is fixable if I chose to go that route. Nothing at this point bothers me that much that I would choose to correct it but I'll wait and see after I have a couple of kids; see what the situation is; and then, you know, there are always options.

Having my support group around me has been everything. My mother just was my rock through this whole thing. I got amazing support from everybody, really. I didn't really have anyone that I had to deal with for very long that was against this and I know that's not true for everybody and I was very fortunate. And I've learned how to be a better support to other people, in weight loss and in any aspect.

There is not a single support group that I ever to that I did not gain tremendous information and my personal support cup filled up. And that is invaluable, and I do need to continue to make time in my life for support groups, in any capacity, whether it's checking in with my nutritionist over the phone or scheduling a meeting with some of my other friends that have been through this that I've met along the way. Anytime you can plug into those other sources you gain information.

My insurance covered a huge portion of the surgery. I did have to pay a little bit out of pocket the most expensive part of this entire process was buying a new wardrobe, and I had to buy a new wardrobe I think four times, but writing a check to the hospital is quite different from writing a check to Nordstrom so it didn't hurt as bad and you could kind of spread it out. But your shoes don't fit anymore, your underwear, your bras, jackets; you know, my purses seemed to big for me anymore; it's just crazy. I have one pair of pants from my previous life and I just keep them as a reminder, but I don't have any piece of clothing that can still work with my new body.

So I ranged at my heaviest from a 14 to an 18 and I range now from a 4 to an 8, so these pants are size 4.

Choosing to do the surgery was the best decision I ever made and not from a losing weight standpoint but it gave me a life. It's something I did not expect. The new me is more spiritual; it's closer with all of my relationships in my life; I am more open; I am more fun; I am more comfortable. I have a full life. My life is balanced.

You know, a lot of people, most people don't experience both sides of anything, and if you can if you can experience being poor before you're rich, you have that much more appreciation for when you're rich. You just enjoy more. You're more cautious. You know, at this point I'm going to be a lot more cautious about gaining five pounds because I know what that five pounds can turn into, so I don't know, just my appreciation level for life in general is invaluable to me and that's what I got out of the gastric bypass surgery.

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