Jennifer is a 48 year-old woman who had a long career as a television researcher in the entertainment business. As she likes to say, “I wanted what I wanted, when I wanted it and my drug of choice since I was a little girl, was Coca Cola”. She firmly believes that food is an addiction and decided at 444 pounds that gastric bypass surgery was her only way out. Today she weighs 170 pounds. Jennifer talks in depth about the hidden secret of weight loss…excess skin. She has had a 360-degree body lift, her legs done and just recently; a face-lift, chin lift, and her eyes worked on. Jennifer talks about how difficult skin removal surgeries are but is so glad she made the choice to do it.
My name is Jennifer. I'm 48 years old. I come from Oklahoma. I have an undergraduate degree in journalism and a master's in business. I worked in television research for about 20 years. I'm single, no pets, no kids.
Weight has always been a problem for me. As my father said, I was always on opposite ends of the height/weight chart, always short but always on the heavier side. It wasn't until I was an adult that it escalated. My father died while I was in college and that was when it started getting worse and of course working and stress from work didn't help and it put on weight that I was not able to concentrate getting rid of.
During my high school years I would always be on diets and very resentful for them. I hated being on diets. The food was the one thing I could control and I didn't necessarily control it the good way. I wanted what I wanted when I wanted and my drug of choice was always since I was a child was Coca Cola.
I think food is an addiction, very much so, especially for me. I almost didn't have my gastric bypass because I couldn't have Coke anymore. Seriously I remember thinking the night before, if I do this I cannot have a Coke again, ever, and I'm like do I really want to do this.
Obesity I think is a disease. It is very hard to control, and if it gets out of control it's very hard to rein back in, very hard.
My BMI index was 82 or 84; it was huge. Healthy, normal, is 24. So a lot of math to be done.
I believe my weight held me back socially. I didn't even go there. I just didn't even try to date. I would go out with my friends and that would be fun. I would pre-scout out places I would go, to see if I could get in there, if I could fit in restaurants and booths. I would always, always sit on an aisle at a play or a movie. I would go to movies at off times. Sunday mornings for a show would be my movie of choice because there would be less people there. I mean, there are certain things I kept myself from doing. I wouldn't go to a baseball game cause I couldn't get through the turnstile. Scared to death to fly, that I would have to buy a second seat. So I just didn't do those things.
I pretty much have tried everything. I've done Weight Watchers. UCLA had this fasting program. I tried that several times. South Beach. Atkins. I tried eating baby food. I tried doing the mentality of a gastric bypass without the gastric bypass. I'll just eat what a gastric bypass person would eat. That didn't work. And the best I would do, and I think it happened on the fast and it happened on Weight Watchers, I would lose 40 pounds and then that would be it; I couldn't do it anymore
I loved Phen Phen. Oh my god, my first month I lost 17 pounds and I didn't want to eat. It was the most wonderful thing. And of course I waited to get on Phen Phen, right when they took it off the market.
I started considering the bariatric surgery when my primary care said think about it. I really didn't want to do it. I went through the system and unfortunately the program that I was in, their bariatric weight loss surgery program, was not comprehensive. It was not supportive. I actually had some verbal abuse by people in the program because I only had to lose 20 pounds before they would do surgery, and I had difficulty doing that. And the program coordinator actually said, you're wasting our time.
When I was in this first program trying to lose the weight and have the surgery, I was still working, and then when I lost my job it was devastating to me. I was not in a good place, and then my primary just mentioned you should try this other program, and I went into this program and it was very fortuitous, it just flowed that my nutrition classes would start two weeks later, and I didn't really have to think about it because I was still numb, but I knew I needed to do it in order to get a job again. So it just happened. The classes started and I went through the classes and I lost 60 pounds before I had the surgery I really formulated how I thought about the diet instead of failing if I didn't do twelve hundred calories one day; tracking my food with the apps on your phone; these were all things that contributed to me being able to lose that weight before the surgery.
Because of all my failure I've had with all the diets for 40-some odd years, it was kind of good I was numb, you know, still in the post-losing-the-job depression, that I just did what I was told. I had to be in a medical-supervised weight program for six months and so that's when I did the nutrition class. My doctor never established a goal of you have to lose 20 pounds, you have to lose 60 pounds; that was not done. Which was I think a good thing for me because that would have put an added pressure of a number. I just worked the program as well as I could. I made it work for me as best I could, and by the time just six months passed it was 60 pounds, so, okay, you're ready.
So in March of 2012 I had the gastric bypass. The surgery was great. I did well. I had no complications. However, I was in the hospital four days. I was having difficulty taking enough liquids in but that was more of a mental problem on my part because it felt funny. I was scared it was going to break something. But I wasn't getting enough liquid in so I had to stay another day.
While I was in there, though, I had water retention issues.
Well, I didn't really know about it until a couple weeks after when I started going back to my nutrition classes and I got on the scale then; I was up 10 pounds. It was very frustrating, very scary, and one of those huge points of, oh, did I make a big mistake, but, as soon as we took care of the water issues, it fell off.
After the surgery, about the only issues I had intestinally was gas you have the gas that offends everybody else, but there's also another gas that's really painful for you, and it's kind of more of an upper tract thing, and at that point you go, I don't care if I offend anybody else, just get it out of me. But that was painful towards the beginning it's not that I couldn't do anything; it just was like, what is that? And you just play the surgery card with that; it's like, whoops, sorry, just had surgery! Actually my intestinal issues with diarrhea and upset stomach vastly improved since the surgery.
The program I was in was very specific about your feeding progression; clear fluids at first, then some shakes, which I have difficulty with but I powered through. After a couple of weeks I would move on to cottage cheese and tuna fish and mashed or baked potatoes and yogurt, lots of yogurt, lots of tuna fish. I think since that period of time I have not had tuna fish since. And then just slowly adding chicken, cut up really small and chew the heck out of it; no bread, no pasta for six months at all. So it was just gradually adding through that six-month period, which was a really good thing because it kind of got you off some of the bad stuff I can kind of live without bread. I can live without Coca Cola.
One thing that helped me get me through this is I didn't have specific goals. And if I don't lose another pound, I'm okay. I'm so much better than I was that I'm okay. I would like to lose more weight. I'm at about a 32, 34, BMI right now.
During that time was right when Pinterest came up and I started pinning recipes and looking at these recipes. How can I modify this to make it work for me because like I said I wanted to do things at each meal, 250 calories, 20 grams of protein, and so I became this big believer in muffin tin cooking. I would cook things in in muffin tins and freeze them, and so I still to this day do this, and I would take a recipe I'd put it into an app that tells how many calories and how much protein, and then I would add and subtract things to make it 250 calories and 20 grams of protein. But I spent a lot of time thinking about and looking at various recipes and modifying them, which was just very interesting that at this point I was very food centered, much more than I had ever been.
I pretty much didn't have any side effects from the gastric bypass. The dumping syndrome happens if you have too much sugar or too much grease and then you can get sick to your stomach.
You get diarrhea or vomiting. Other things that can happen besides the vomiting is your heart speeds up and then I'll just have to go lay down, maybe sweat a little bit. But if I'm thinking about it and paying attention, it really doesn't happen.
They said about six months after you may lose some hair, and six months later it was why is all this hair on the floor? It kind of upset me at the time just because is it going to stop and I am very fortunate I have this huge amount of hair. But it was a little disconcerting at the time to see these big tumbleweeds in my room of hair. I was like, oh my gosh, is it going to stop? Is it going to stop falling out? And it did; it did.
I got a lot of skin; and even some fat deposits I can't lose; I just couldn't lose. I lost about 230 pounds after the gastric bypass; that includes the pre-surgery 60. And it's all over. I mean, I have skin hanging down that would cause rashes; very uncomfortable; smelled horrible; very embarrassing. And it was also disconcerting in that you work so hard to lose this weight and you're still not comfortable in all your extra skin.
I met with the plastic surgeon and we talked about all the things he could fix, and in the discussion with him it was decided I'd have a series of five surgeries. At this point I have had three. The first surgery I had was called the 360 degree body lift, and basically they cut me in half, pulled me up and put me back together and cut off all the extra skin. For me he took 35 pounds from my middle. I do have a scar that goes all the way around my middle. About six weeks after that I had my legs done, from my groin to my ankle, and he took 24 pounds off my legs.
Both the 360 and the legs were about 11 hours long each. I healed very well on my 360. The legs were a little more difficult, and I was forewarned. I did have some things that opened up but they healed and they're fine. About three weeks ago I had a face lift. I had the face lift, a chin lift, and my eyes upper and lower done. So I'm still a little bit swollen. In several days, next Tuesday, I'm having my torso done and my breasts lifted. And then once that's healed, I will have my arms done. And then I will be done with all the reconstructive surgery, and if my appendix explodes I don't care. I'm done with the surgeries.
They're not easy surgeries at all but every day I'm so glad I've had 'em. I feel better. I mean my tummy is flat. I have a brand new bellybutton. And it's very exciting. I'm very fortunate I'm able to do it. Some insurances will cover it. Some people do have parts of it covered. I am unlucky in that respect that medically I had reasons, especially for the tummy tuck and the 360, I had rashes; I had skin breakages; I had bad smells; yet they still didn't cover it.
I was very open with my friends because if anybody had seen me and knows who I am it's quite apparent I had something done I was very hermit-like. I didn't go out much during the weight loss period really. When I lost the 230 pounds because I had to stay at that lower weight for a while before they would do the plastic surgery. I do remember meeting up with a friend just casually running into her, and I walked up to her and she just looked up at me and shook her head and looked back down, and I just started laughing. She was like, oh my god, I didn't recognize you, which was just the most fun. I love it when people don't recognize me
Because I wasn't a sports person, in order to get myself to the gym I had to upgrade myself with the executive package. I had a permanent locker in a locked locker room. I had to do anything to get myself to go the gym. But the nice thing about that is what really helped me there is that you become friends with the people in that executive locker room were so supportive. So they just cheered me along and it was wonderful. That's basically all I did was my nutrition class and I went to the gym, you know, five to six to seven days a week. At first I just did the water aerobics because that's all I could do and then I slowly, you know, did the elliptical. I hated the treadmill. I did the rowing machine.
The idea of support groups has always been something I've resisted. I have never been to Overeaters Anonymous. I would just cringe at the thought of going to it. It just wasn't my thing. But I had to go to these nutrition classes which were de facto support classes, and the accountability of going every week and weighing in and seeing the people and talking about problems that you just had that week and challenges that are coming up was so helpful to me that I was just shocked that this was one aspect that was missing from my stressful weight loss journey up to that point. I still go to the nutrition class when I can. But I've also gone with other community weekly support groups I started attending recently, the support groups was a surprise helpful thing that I was not expecting. I absolutely would not have been successful without them.
What I would tell people wanting to lose weight? I'd tell them several things. Try something; if it doesn't work, try something else; don't give up; you've got to find what works for you cause not everything is going to work for everybody. I would never tell anybody you need to go have bariatric surgery. I would never sell that. But I wouldn't say don't have it. I would say, you know, try going to these groups ahead of time. Go to the bariatric support groups with people who've had it; listen to what's gone well for them, what hasn't gone well for them, and make your decision with as much research as you possibly can. Find a program that is comprehensive and that you feel comfortable with.
My greatest recorded weight was 444 pounds. This morning I weighed 170.