Evan is a 23 year-old college student who remembers her first experience with diet programs at the age of 11. Living with her working single mother, she became accustomed to the easiness of fast food. At her heaviest weight, she was 309 lbs and had hit rock bottom. She asked her mother if she could seek advice on Bariatric surgery and had gastric bypass surgery at the age of 21. Evan talks about the advantages of pre-surgical counseling as well as learning her relationship to food changed after surgery. She reminds us that the surgery is just a tool for success and that it takes hard work to achieve losing 164 lbs.
I'm Evan. I'm 23 and I'm a full-time college student right now. I work part-time and in between that I'm just juggling my new life.
I was around 11, 12, when I joined Weight Watchers. I was the youngest one in the group. I went with the mom because my mom had been overweight all her life and it was exciting because I felt like, oh, I'm going to be able to take control of this. But then you go to this group and you notice there's something very wrong about a child being here. And the bigger I got the more I isolated myself. I didn't want to hang out with people my age cause no one else my age was my size.
We lived in San Diego and you have to do a certain amount of miles during PE in a certain amount of time. I was never able to do that. It's hard cause after that you want to go home; you want to be by yourself; you don't want to talk about it; you don't want to deal with.
My mom was a single parent and we did have help with family but she's juggling a bunch of stuff so there are times where convenience is an issue. I gotta pick up dinner; it's gotta be quick; and it's gotta get going now. So I think maybe around late elementary school is when I started noticing if mom thinks we don't have time, I can get McDonald's. I would say mom, don't worry about it; let's just run through McDonald's; let's just do this. And then I started learning how to like this. I want this more. I loved eating out. And I remember even like being upset if we didn't get to eat out before the movie cause that was like the celebration; that was the event. I really wanted the food as much as just that instant gratification.
I do think obesity is an addiction and the reason I think so is because there was a certain point where I was eating and I knew I was full and I knew it wasn't my last meal, but I thought I cannot leave that sitting there, and I didn't even want to take it home as a leftover because I was, like, I can experience it right now, why wait That's how it was at every meal.
In high school I was 185, at least that's what I said when I was getting my license. I know within a year I must have gained at least 50 pounds. I wouldn't say I had a ton of confidence because I did know that I looked different and I didn't like it. I couldn't shop where all the other women my age were shopping. Plus-size clothing is very frumpy looking so I wouldn't go out on a girls' night because I didn't look like they did; I hated it.
But then I go to this college and I have this confidence because it's a new year; I'm an adult; I'm really ready to start my life. My first day of school I made it into a desk but I thought, oh my gosh, when I get up I don't know if it's going to be a struggle, and I felt everyone watching me and I went home and I just knew this is going to be hard.
My highest reported weight, and I say that because I didn't like the scale, so the highest weight was 309 and that was because I was at a doctor's office. And the odd thing is it shocked me but not as much as it should have. And I don't know if that was because I was trying to cheer myself up or I didn't want to just face it so in my head I was just like, oh, well, a lot of people lose weight; you know, 309, that's doable. I was very active. I never had high blood pressure. I never had diabetes. I played sports. I worked at Disneyland where I was on my feet all the time, and I didn't feel exhausted but I did feel aches and pains.
Once you start having issues with putting a seatbelt on in your own vehicle you notice people see you differently and treat you differently. There was a point where I interviewed for a job and I could tell during the interview she's not going to hire me. The manager would make statements like do you feel that you're clumsy? It was for a store that sold pottery and she said do you feel that you might get in the way? As soon as I left that interview I knew there's no way she's going to hire me; she saw me as this person who's going to run around the store causing havoc just because of my weight.
There's emotional eaters. We ate for everything. We ate because we were in love. We ate because we were sad. You know, how bad is this one meal going to hurt us, but it's another meal, another meal, another meal.
My mom was always really supportive of me and she always wanted me to have confidence. But I hated going into a dressing room knowing nothing was going to fit, and my mom was always, like, that's okay, you'll find something else. You know, she was perky about it and she was always my main supporter. So when I told her, like, this is rock bottom; I need help; I don't either of us really right away thought of surgery because we didn't really know anyone who had it. We were trying to figure out how we were going to afford this because surgeries are expensive and I really believe that things happen for a reason. My mom put me onto a health plan. I had a consultation with a bariatric surgeon. They sent in my paperwork. Two weeks later it was approved, which is, like incredibly fast.
I went to the support groups before even saying yes to the bypass. I went from the lap band to thinking about the sleeve, but when I looked into the bypass the benefit of having what they call dumping, which is when you eat something you're not supposed to, high-end sugar, high-end carb, you feel kind of like you're having a heart attack. I needed that and I knew it because I'm the type that will say, let me just try it, let me just try it and once I get it out of my system then it will be okay. So I went to the doctor and he said the bypass is what I suggest and I was right on board for it.
I was ready for surgery because I knew I had hit rock bottom; my doctor approved it; this insurance approved it; it was ready to be done. When I woke up I knew I don't do well with medications that put me out and I looked to my left and there's a window and it was nighttime, and the first thing I did is I started crying, and I said, no one's here for me, and the nurse came in and she's, like, they're all downstairs. And after that it was just about the pain because they were afraid to give me pain medication due to the amount of time I was asleep with the anesthesia. So I was, like, please give me something; please give me something. We have to call your doctor. Call him right now. Go to his house. Figure it out, please. Once that was done it was just worrying about getting out of the hospital.
The main thing is you have to be able to walk before they could let you go home. So that night I asked them if I could walk and they were, like, no, you will try it tomorrow, and the next day I was on pain medication, which made me really dizzy but I went down that hallway, bumping into walls; it's, like, okay, send me home, I'm ready. And I think I only spent two days there and I was able to go home. And that's when it really hit me that this is my new life.
The first two weeks it's just liquids, which wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. The hardest part was the protein shakes. Week one was fine but once you had a week's worth of protein shakes it feels like they're force feeding them and then it was like this mental association that even smelling it made me sick. Week two I had a breakdown and I thought this was the wrong decision. I just spent a ton of my family's money on something that I completely regret. I hate these shakes. I can't force myself to drink and that was even before the vitamins. After two weeks you start taking your vitamins and hour apart. I had to take seven vitamins. That's my whole day. And I thought I don't want to be controlled like this. It's too much. It's too hard. And for me it was really hard to get walking again. I lived in a lot of pain. I slept on a recliner for three weeks so that it could help me get up and down.
One thing that was hard is in the beginning is I had issues with water. I kind of used that a little bit as an excuse to not take the vitamins, as well, along with just not reminding myself to take them and not making a conscious effort to take the vitamin. You know, set a timer. There's something you can do. There's always something you can do. I just didn't want to have to deal with it. And the same goes with the protein shakes. I just didn't want to try. I didn't want to force myself to do it.
I called my doctor and what you're supposed to do is take chewable vitamins but not necessarily gummies, and I hated the taste of ones I had, so I begged him, can I please take gummy vitamins, and he approved it. And then I found a vitamin case that is ginormous but it holds a week's worth, and I thought if I can keep this with me and remember at the end of every week to fill it, it should be easy.
That's when I went online to look for support because I wasn't going to the groups as much as I was in the beginning, and I went on Instagram and I did the little hashtags of, you know, weight loss surgery and things like that, and thousands of people came up and I was getting suggestions of an app that would remind you when to take your vitamins. So I started taking my vitamins regularly and I felt the difference instantly. Within three weeks I could tell. I wasn't moody anymore. And then I started dedicating to one shake a day and then I actually started enjoying the taste of the shakes which I was told throughout the process of the surgery, you taste does change, and sure enough after that hiatus I was able to tolerate the shakes.
In October of 2014 my boyfriend and I moved out and that was a whole new game because now I had my own kitchen and I can have whatever I want in it and whatever I don't want in it. So I started cooking, which was remarkable because I don't cook at all; I don't enjoy it; it's very stressful to me. And I started enjoying it because I was making things that I like to eat and they were good for me.
Now I'm to the point where I go on Instagram with all these people who support me on a daily basis and I'm letting them know I just came up with a protein pancake recipe; if you want to try it out, let me know. And not only is it support, but it really helps me stay accountable because these people know what I'm doing and they know where I am. And I post my weight. I post that I had my surgery.
As far as my family, they were all very accepting of the surgery. You can have your opinions and it doesn't bother me at all. As long as you're not going to bring negativity into my life, I don't care. You know, I'm not going to push my lifestyle on anyone. I still go out and eat. I eat a lot differently. I'm very picky and I'm probably super annoying to the server but, I'm not harming anyone and I'm definitely not going to be pushy about it with anyone else. To this day I get people who say can't we go eat somewhere normaI. I mean, if you want to go to McDonald's, I'll go with you. It doesn't mean I'm going to eat something but I'll hang out with you there. I always bring snacks with me. I always bring protein shakes with me so there's never an excuse not to let live and not to be eating what I'm supposed to be eating.
Rapid weight loss really affects you in numerous ways and I didn't really take that into account. I went through meltdowns. I don't even think until a year out that I really noticed the weight loss. I could tell my clothes were obviously bigger and I did take before pictures, but even looking in the mirror I could not see a significant weight loss. And everyone always goes you're skinny. I wish because I woke up every morning thinking this is not what I want to see. I still pause when I see two chairs that I have to walk between and I'm looking at them thinking am I going to totally knock everyone over, and then when I'm able to clear it, it's like amazing to me, I can't believe it.
Right after surgery for about six months straight I had my menstrual cycle. It affected everything. I didn't want to work out feeling icky like that, and it came with bloating, with feeling emotional, with everything that a menstrual cycle does. I have a new doctor and she said, well, a lot of your hormones and everything that has to do with that is stored in your fat; rapid weight loss is going to throw that off and unfortunately you just dealt with it on a very extreme level. And she said, you know, you might still get some irregular menstrual cycles and things like that but once you're goal weight and you maintain it, you'll be fine. And it's regular now and everything is normal now.
One thing that's great about support groups is you share everything, so everyone knows, oh, I'm at the weight, I've lost this much. The hard part especially with someone who was obese is in your head you're comparing yourself to everyone already, but then you get the surgery and you think, oh, we have the same surgery; why does she lose more than me; what am I doing wrong? Or why did I lose more this month and not last month? And you start knit picking everything. You're comparing yourself to everyone. And I think I let that get to me a little too much because everyone is different. Some people lose a ton in the beginning and it slows down or a ton at the end. I mean, it varies, and you have to take it as your own journey, and I wasn't doing that.
I had my surgery in April of 2014 and it's been about 16 months. I started at 309 pounds and I'm 149 right now. I'm not at goal and I say that because my personal goal is 125 and that's 125 before I have skin-removal surgery which I hope one day I can have.
I'm assuming that I will be at 120 after the skin removal because I do have a lot of skin. The first thing my surgeon told me was you're young; you'll snap back; and I was thinking maybe a little bit but that's not going to happen. And luckily, you know, my back looks okay but you can see it definitely in my stomach, in my thighs; for sure in my arms. That would be my arm normal and that's what I have now. And it definitely messes with confidence. And then on top of that, having the extra skin on your stomach, when I'm looking down I'm not seeing weight loss; I'm seeing what's left which some of that I'm not going to be able to lose, so I'm going to have to learn to accept that what I'm looking at is just my past and part of my journey because until it can be surgically removed, I have to accept it. I weight train and all that good stuff that's supposed to focus on tightening the skin and things like that. And I don't expect a miracle, but I wish I could wake up and look in the mirror and say, wow, I really am looking the way I want to look, and it's hard when I see everything that's hanging. Socially it's not necessarily hard to deal with because I am an open book about it.
When I go to birthday parties, I don't say, oh, no cake. I'll have a bite and then I always get that question, what's wrong? Did it not taste good? And sometimes I'll just joke no I just have a really tiny stomach; I'm done. But for me it's not hard to deal with because I don't want to make it a secret.
However, the one place I notice that you will get those snippy remarks is at work. Being overweight, oddly enough you're invisible. As soon as you lose weight, you're no longer invisible. You're a threat. And as much as it doesn't make sense, in work, looks matter. I had a manager who was getting married and she was in the lunchroom with us and she said something about that she wanted to lose some weight. And someone said, oh, Evan lost a bunch of weight, why don't you talk to her. And I was sitting right there, and she asked me how I did it, and I said I had the gastric bypass, but even so I am on a very strict diet and I work out, just like anyone else would have to. It doesn't mean that the surgery did everything. It was definitely a tool. And a few weeks later she wasn't happy about her results and she was talking to some of us about it and she made a snippy remark to me, and she said something like, well, not everyone can afford to get the surgery like you. And you're going to have to be strong about it because no matter where you go you're going to see that. That being said, when you're at a point in your life where you hate the way you look, you don't want to go out, you don't want to make friends, you don't want to do anything except the necessities in life, and you're 20 years old, you have your whole life ahead of you; that's not living.
I remember thinking I'm going to have the smallest wedding if I ever get married because I have no friends and that was awful, an awful thought, to think there is no one who wants to celebrate life events with me. When you get to that point, you can't let people say, oh, bariatric surgery it’s the easy way out, or you should do it my way, you should do it with hard work. It's going to be hard work. You're going to have to work out. You're going to have to go through pain of surgery along with emotional pain of excess skin, of changing your whole schedule and lifestyle, but it gets easier like everything else.
But getting into it know that you're signing up for this for the rest of your life, and even though it's going to be hard, and you have to make tons of adjustments, it's going to slowly become your new life and it's going to feel so good all the time because when you become good at it and it's second nature you start feeling pride which is something new usually for people who have been overweight their whole life.
Bariatric surgery is just a tool, just like any diet or medication; it's all a tool. You're not going to get anywhere unless you put the hard work in. And they have a honeymoon stage that they talk about, but you will even see during that honeymoon stage you have to put the work in, and once you slowly do little things, you're going to want to do the rest. It becomes easy.