Jenny is a 49 year-old married woman and mother of 2 boys. She works full time at a financial institution. Weight was always an issue for Jenny and her family. It became a significant issue for her when she went off to college and her freshman 15 ballooned to 100 pounds by the time she graduated. Jenny was always looking for a life event to trigger efforts to lose weight but even with happiness, it never happened. She was almost embarrassed about having gastric bypass surgery until a co-worker told her it was the bravest thing that she could do. She speaks to the importance of having a team to surround yourself with, particularly support post surgery because that’s really when all the work happens. Today she has lost and kept off almost 100 pounds.
My name is Jennifer. I am 49 years old. I'm the mother of two boys; one's 10 and one's 14. I have a loving husband. We've been married 17 years. I work fulltime at a financial institution. I work in their marketing department; it's long hard hours; but it's a good job, a good company.
So my father struggled with his weight his whole life and as an adult he developed what he always called it borderline diabetes. And his father had diabetes type 2. And my father had a heart disease; he had high blood pressure; he had high cholesterol; and again those issues, especially because he didn't do anything really to correct them or improve his health, just led to a really poor of quality of life the last few years of his life
I consider myself very fortunate because I didn't grow up a heavy child. My weight problem started when I went to college and I just started putting on weight. They call it the Freshman 10 but mine was more like the Freshman 20 and then it was the Sophomore 20 and the Junior 20 and so when I came home from college I was probably a hundred pounds heavier than when I left for college. I think a lot of it had to do with fear, just kind of being out there on my own, I think. A lot of it had to do with maturing into a young woman, being a grown-up and not being able to function in that world comfortably without a lot of anxiety around it.
I became completely unaware of food in terms of any relation to reality. I don't remember eating.
I do think of obesity and overeating as more of an addiction or certainly a disease in the way that the symptoms manifest themselves. I understand why people disagree and sometimes I struggle with those labels, as well, but the desire to do something even though you know it's not in your best interests and those types of behaviors around it, yeah, I do think they manifest themselves as diseases or addictions.
I always thought that when I got married or when I had children, those would be the things that would trigger me to start eating like a normal person, you know, you always see that on TV shows or magazines where people have spectacular weight loss, and they're like, just one day I woke up and I decided I wasn't going to do it anymore. And that switch would flip, and I thought getting married would do that, maybe having children would do that, because you want to be alive for them and you want to stay in this life, but that wasn't my experience.
I dieted over a number of years. In the scheme of most overweight people I've probably dieted less than most because for me I realized that I don't like to fail and I'm a bit of a perfectionist and I think that I would never start certain diets because I know that I would never be able to maintain them or I would never want to tell people about it because I didn't want them to know that I had failed.
For me my ah-hah moment was I had set a goal when I was 40 that I wanted to lose a hundred pounds over five years, which I think is perfectly reasonable. 20 pounds a year; it's not crazy. And it could be a healthy weight loss; it doesn't have to be a starvation situation. And when I turned 45, it was the year my father died. I was actually heavier than when I made that goal at 40. I weighed more than I ever had. I was up to about 270 pounds. I realized I didn't want to die the way my dad died. That sort of slow 10 or 15 years of poor health into death is something I just didn’t want to do. I have young children and I want to be around for them and I realized I had to do whatever it takes and so I had always kept weight loss surgery as an option in my back pocket.
Carrying a hundred pounds of excess weight is obviously physically difficult. It's hard on your knees. It's hard on all your organs. But it also, for me, led to living a life in a lot of fear because you're afraid to go places in case you can't fit into a seat, like on an airplane. I remember going to my boss's house at one point and sitting in a chair with arms and it was a very narrow chair and when I got up I stuck in the chair; the chair came up with me. Being in a restaurant or even any public place where people judge you, being in a room and you're the heaviest person in the room, and running into someone from a long time ago and thinking that they judge you. Trying on the biggest size you've ever worn and then you realizing it doesn't fit anymore, either.
I've always considered myself capable and intelligent and accomplished but you do operate with a sense of something's holding you back. There's things that you can't do or that you're a little afraid to do. I was afraid to look for a job. I was afraid to date. You're just afraid to be in situations where you might be judged about your weight or what you look like.
You know, I talked about waiting for the switch to flip where you decide this is it. And I think actually weight loss surgery was that switch for me.
When I first started telling people periodically that I had decided to do this, and I remember telling someone I knew that I was kind of embarrassed about it, and she said, why, and I said, well, I feel like it's kind of a cop-out or it's he easy way out, and she said, Jennifer, I think this is the bravest thing you could do, and that really turned things around for me in terms of psychologically, that I think that's actually one of the moments when I said, okay, I really am going to go through this. I was telling people I was on the fence. I hadn't really decided. But when she refrained that for me, that was huge for me, that it was a brave decision to take your health into your own hands and make a change; that it wasn't a cop-out; it wasn't cheating; it wasn't the easy way out. It was brave and I talked to my family, my husband listened and he kind of said, so if I had an opinion on this, would it matter? Basically, have you already made up your mind? And I kind of had by that time and so it didn't. The two people who were the most nervous for me were my mother and my mother-in-law. I think, you know, elective surgery is scary to a lot of people, including me. I mean it wasn't an easy decision.
The journey into surgery was for me more in my head than physical. I decided for me that I needed to be public about this, which is one of the reasons that I'm doing this. I was always trying to lose weight before, I was always trying to do it privately and it was my secret and my dirty shame. And as a result I think I was never successful at it. And so one of my philosophies has been I'm the opposite girl. I do the opposite of everything I did before because what I did before got me to a hundred pounds overweight. So now if my inclination is to be secretive about it, I need to come to this interview because being public about it actually keeps me accountable. I told my family and friends, you know, whom I never told when I was dieting, but I told them I was having weight loss surgery and again I think that was the hardest because not everyone is supportive. I mean, most people are supportive, but people are scared. People operate from their own fear of what it means and I think that was something I had to get over, that what people think or what their feelings are, and I think the biggest part of my pre-surgery journey was actually talking to other people who had had surgery.
So I went to the orientation to learn more about procedures and I went with actually the idea that I would have the band. Someone I knew had had the band and she was having some success and that was the least invasive surgery. And when I went to the orientation, the doctor talked about the various options and the long-term success rate. And one of the reasons I had never had surgery before was because I wanted a guarantee that the weight would stay off, and there aren't any, so when the doctor had said typically with the band people lost 40 percent of their excess weight and after five years were maintaining 40 percent of excess weight loss. And with the sleeve, which is still relatively new, they would be maintaining 50 percent of weight loss. But it was always stuck in the back of my head that he had said that the gold standard of weight loss surgery is gastric bypass and that five years out people tend to maintain as much as 60 to 70 percent of excess weight loss. And that whole gold standard quote always sort of stuck with me so I decided to switch from the sleeve to the bypass.
I don't remember immediately after surgery but I do remember I'm in my hospital room, in recovery, and I had actually been on that same floor for recovery just a year prior because I had the gall bladder removal. And it was very different because they would make you get up and walk around and actually when I checked out they don't bring you a wheelchair like they normally do and I remember saying to the lady, you don't check me out in a wheelchair? She said, honey, you've had weight loss surgery; your job is to get up and get moving. And I think that was sort of eye opening, but I thought it was great, too. It really does make you push yourself.
I didn't have a whole lot of post-surgery pain. I ended up staying another night in the hospital. My potassium level was low so they had to do that. I remember the drinks that gave me made me nauseous so I didn't want to drink them; so that was uncomfortable.
Right after surgery you have a very limited diet and I think as much as you prepare yourself mentally for it, it is shocking and you start realizing things that you can and can't eat and again my goal was to the best patient possible, so I tried to be very diligent and religious. I was very religious about doing the exercise, about taking the vitamins, about what you could and couldn't eat. It’s hard not to eat real food, you know, to be on a liquid diet for a number of weeks and then slowly add in soft foods. I went to the support groups religiously, and that was really critical because you realize there are other people doing it and you get ideas from them and you understand that it's temporary; you can get past it
One of the reasons I shied away from having bypass surgery when I initially elected the sleeve was I was trying to avoid dumping. And I spoke to someone I know who had surgery about 10 years prior to me and he had said I know you don't want dumping but dumping is your friend. He said dumping will keep you honest about what you eat. It lets you know that there are consequences for making bad choices, and he said if you don't have dumping, there's no penalty for eating the wrong foods and that can be a problem, and I think that contributes to people having a hard time. I know some people would immediately. I mean, as soon as you ate two cookies, you'll start sweating and get stomach cramps and spend the next half a day in the bathroom, and that wasn't my experience. What would happen to me would be the next day I would have those symptoms and unfortunately the penalty 24-hours later is not that big of a deterrent. But it's not fun, I didn't have the nausea and the vomiting that some people would get, but I would definitely have diarrhea and stomach cramps.
I tried to be a really good patient so I avoided bread, rice and pasta, and when you test those boundaries you are typically met with your match. I remember being out to a restaurant and taking one bite of spaghetti and I thought I was having a heart attack. It just kind of swells up and lodges sort of center chest and it takes forever to go down, and it's so uncomfortable. I remember the first time I had sushi and I had rice and I remember my husband saying, we'll never go out to a nice dinner again. But those things do pass at least they did for me and I can enjoy a meal, but I still to this day do my best to avoid fried rice and pasta. Those are the hardest ones I think for a lot of people who have surgery. I don't think you have to say goodbye to those things but I think you have to make them very occasional friends. And I remember the nutritionist telling me, your first priority is protein and on any plate I want you to eat your protein first and then if you have room a little bit of salad and then a bite of bread or grain if you need it, but your first priority is protein. And I just tried to be, as I said, a really good patient. That's why I use an app on my phone to track my food. I still do it to this day. They talk about weight loss surgery as a tool and that you have a variety of tools in your arsenal and more so than I ever did when I was on weight loss programs or traditional weight loss programs. And I remember talking to my surgeon about that, too. I don't really care about quick weight loss. I care about forever weight loss. I'm maintaining a 90-pound weight loss, but it used to a hundred pound weight loss, so I know I have to be diligent and I have to be ever vigilant. It's forever. It’s a forever commitment.
One of the most destructive side effects is hair loss and I certainly experienced it. How it was explained to me, though, is that post-surgery your body is in shock, especially you're on such a restricted calorie count that your body just kind of shuts down; it's getting so few calories; it's focusing on just keeping organs working; and so your hair stops producing. So the first few months after surgery you don't notice it but if you're paying attention your hair kind of stops falling out, and then about six months after surgery, I'd say between three and nine months, your hair starts, as your body starts getting enough nutrients and things start ramping up again, your hair starts falling out in insane amounts. And what I was told was you want to be sure you're eating your protein and you're taking your vitamins because that's what creates hair production and so they said, try not to be distressed about it but it is very distressing and make sure you're having protein and vitamins because if you are, your hair production will ramp right back up. And I do believe if you stay on top of those two things that your hair will bounce back.
There's a lot of excess skin. I liken it to being looking a little bit like a melted candle. If money fell from the sky, I'd certainly do something about it but, truth be told a hundred pounds of excess weight isn't pretty with your clothes off, either, so it's not perfect. I certainly have extra skin, it's not beautiful but it's me. I'm happier with it now than I was before.
There are other weird side effects that people don't talk about. You lose weight everywhere so you have weird bones that show up; your shoes, my feet lost weight; you lose weight in private areas; there's breezes; it's very strange and some of it is good and some of it is bad but it's better than it was and given the alternative I'll take it.
So my exercise routine started post-surgery with just walking, gentle walking, about 2 miles, about 30 minutes every day. I built up to 3 to 4 days a week. The doctors are never happy; they always want more. And so then I got up to 5 days a week. I started adding jogging because as you lose weight you burn fewer calories, so you need to exercise a little more vigorously in order to achieve the same calorie burn. And then I do a strengthening routine that also has some balance in it, a little bit of yoga, cause I'm getting to the age where balance is very, very important. Now I will say my regular physician isn't crazy about the jogging. He says to me, you know you carried a hundred pounds of excess weight for 30 years; your knees are probably pretty close to shot and jogging is going to get you there that much faster. I haven't yet given it up, but I do notice that my knees complain a lot so that might be something that I have to re-visit.
I think that one of the things that happened after I had gotten down to a more normal weight was a little bit of sadness about mistreating my body for so long; because my knees are not great; and because your skin is all stretched up. You know, you finally get to the size you want to wear and you look great with clothes on but god forbid you should take them off. And there was sadness around that. One of the weird parts about losing so much weight is I don't always identify with what I look like now and I don't always identify with what I looked like then. It's very strange, like, I'll catch my reflection and I can't believe, wow, that's pretty good, but is that me? And then I'll look at a picture of myself a hundred pounds ago heavier and I think, holy crap, is that really me? And I don't connect with either image and that's a really strange feeling. But you know I'm still getting my head around it. I'm still kind of a novice. I certainly will say that I enjoy the reflection in the mirror now more. But people do treat you differently and one of the weirdest things is that people don't recognize you sometimes. So I work in a large office building in a large office complex and there are people who work in my company who I may not run into for two or three months at a time, and I've seen them walking on the street or in the plaza or the parking lot, and I'll say, hey, and they look at me and I know they don't know who I am. And then a week later I'll get a phone call, and they'll say, was that you? Like I saw you and I knew you looked familiar but I didn't really know it was you; I'm so sorry; you look great. And that feels great but at the same time it's a very strange feeling because I think you sometimes don't know who you are.
I think the team surrounding you, or that you surround yourself with, is vital to your success, particularly the support post-surgery because that's really when all the work happens. So, I mean you want to have a good surgeon and you want to have a good dietician. You want a good nutritional advice. But a lot of that's available for anyone who's seeking it. But to find and take advantage of all the tools to you and I think support is one of them. And I'll tell you the people who have long-term success that I have seen are people who continue to use as many of the tools that are available to them as possible, and one of that is support
I think one of the biggest factors for me was reframing what weight loss surgery was. Instead of being the easy way out, I understand now that one of the bravest things I've ever done is to take my health and make it a priority at all costs. You know, it's the most important thing I have and I have to be responsible for it.
I use a lot of tools. I have been a Weight Watchers person. I've been a 12-step person. And I use a lot of the tools from those programs in my success now. This is the ultimate commitment. If I can't make this work, I'm out of other choices so I have to make it work. I have to do whatever it takes because this is the last stop of this journey.