BY JEN GIBSON
At my heaviest, I weighed 282 pounds. I wanted to throw the stupid, good-for-nothing scale across the room. My body was a reflection of my soul—sad, depressed, neglected, and emotionally drained.
It was two years after my son, Eli, passed, and I was disappearing into food addiction. Attempting to fill the hole in my heart, I ended up filling out my waistline instead. I could not get a handle on my life, my emotions, or my stress, so I reached for the two most poisonous things for a girl with polycystic ovary syndrome: sugar and carbs.
The Roller Coaster
To be honest, Eli’s passing did not make me obese. I have been struggling with my weight since I was ten years old. I can clearly remember the first time I was called "bubble butt" in fifth grade—harsh words for a developing little girl. That label kept my weight in the forefront of my mind for years to come.
Participation in dance through my school years, along with lots of walking in college, helped manage my weight. However, the college lifestyle of junk food and lots of beer turned into a regular habit post-graduation as I found my "bubble butt" parked in an office cubicle daily. Without the regular long walks across campus, I found myself experiencing massive weight gain. I tried exercising. I tried eating healthy. But this was the start of a decades-long roller coaster ride of gaining weight, trying to lose weight, getting depressed when the scale’s numbers weren’t moving downward, and ultimately gaining the weight back.
I hated that ride more than anything else. I was ashamed of ever getting on it, let alone riding it over and over for years and years.
Getting Off the Ride
Then, in 2014, two years after Eli passed, with the scale saying I was the highest weight I had ever been, I was D-O-N-E! Done with the ride. Done with depression. Done with the guilt. Done with the shame of obesity.
But how on earth would I overcome this insurmountable weight loss?
The thought of bariatric surgery was terrifying and never discussed, except for me to say, "I will never do that!" I didn’t walk into the weight loss clinic even wanting to hear a surgical option. I was going to climb the mountain by myself. I was going to do it the "right" way this time.
Well, "never say never" fits appropriately here.
After hearing the newest weight loss techniques from a nutritionist, my husband, Tim, and I requested a meeting with the head doctor of the weight loss clinic. The technique they wanted me to try would cost $800 out-of-pocket with no guarantees that it would actually work. That was a lot of money for us to throw to the wind, especially when it was me, the one who rides the roller coaster, we were talking about. But the doctor we met was also a bariatric surgeon and one of the best in our area. He is the one who asked us to consider gastric bypass surgery and invited us to attend a free weight-loss seminar, so we could gather more information and know all of our options.
The seminar was packed with people of all ages seeking a solution to their insurmountable mountain. I took notes and listened to the options, the possible side effects, the possible success stories, and walked out feeling like maybe, just maybe, I should never say never.
Tim and I went through my notes and the clinic’s informational binder. We researched our hearts out before making the call to our insurance company to see if this surgery was covered. Our insurance would cover 100% of the cost if I did six months of medically managed weight loss with my regular physician. We discussed, we prayed, we researched more, and then I made the necessary calls to put my first steps in motion.
Preparing for a New Life
Over the next six months, my journey to gastric bypass was not taken lightly, flippantly, or with my usual jump-first-ask-questions-later philosophy. I met with my regular physician every month to address my unhealthy habits, tackling one or two per month. It was all to prepare myself for life after surgery. I would be on a strict food protocol: no sugar, lots of high protein, and strictly low carbs—definitely not my current lifestyle.
I gave up soda, consumed less alcohol, and started taking nutrient capsules and protein shakes. I brought salads and healthy snacks to work and started cooking more while eating fast food less. In those six months, I lost twenty pounds and qualified for full coverage from the insurance company.
On September 14, 2015, I entered the hospital as an obese, slightly depressed woman and walked out with a new chance at life. I say "chance" because everyone has heard or knows those people who had gastric bypass only to gain it all back. It is a chance to live a healthier life. It’s a chance to finally get off that frustrating roller coaster ride. It’s a chance to not have diabetes, heart disease, or a shortened lifespan—all threatening factors lurking in the ditches of the original road I traveled.
I knew this surgery was a huge risk, but so was my lifestyle at the time. I was at a crossroads, and I chose option B. Option A just wasn’t working, and boy did I try option A for a very, very long time.
Since my surgery, I have lost 108 pounds and have been deemed a success by my surgeon. I stick to the rules, take my vitamins religiously, and for over a year now, I have continued to stay sugar-free.
But it’s not all unicorns and rainbows—Sylvia does have a mind of her own, and sometimes, even with following the rules, I get sick. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention I named my stomach Sylvia, and she is a cranky, old wanker with very specific preferences, preferences that aren’t always consistent with the rules. My version of "sick" comes in the form of suddenly needing to sleep—most likely from consuming food too fast and jamming up the funnel to Sylvia. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve run to the bathroom to vomit. Those experiences and memories help keep me adhering to the rules. (I won’t be trying a bite of beer cheese fries again.) I haven’t had many complications, just the common side effects that occur when you surgically change your internal anatomy. My blood work looks great, which I attribute to my daily regiment of vitamins and nutrient capsules.
I have to add that losing the same amount as what my oldest daughter weighs is definitely a mind-fuck. I needed a counselor to help me work through all the reasons I allowed myself to get and stay obese in the first place. A few months of intense counseling and journaling helped me keep my head straight, so I could fully enjoy the new, skinnier version of myself.
Overall, I feel great! I finally feel like the version of myself I always knew was inside. I can do things with my family I never could before: ride roller coasters (the fun, exciting kind, that is), bike ten miles without huffing and puffing, get comfy in an airplane seat, snuggle into my husband, and fall in love with skinny jeans. I do not regret my decision, but it’s only been a year, so ask me (and Sylvia) again in five or ten.
A Lifelong Commitment
The question I get asked the most now: Would you recommend this surgery to others?
My surprising answer: No, I would not.
This surgery is like childbirth. You can research, you can ask other moms, you can have a plan, but your body is going to do what your body is going to do, and you have no control over that. Like pregnancy, there’s really only so much you can control with this surgery, and the rest is based on how your body reacts to it. Only you can make that choice. Only you can stare at the crossroads, weigh the pros and cons, look at the risks, and make a choice. If you choose option B like I did, then you'd better be ready for a drastically changed lifestyle.
Today, my everyday life includes daily vitamins, drinking lots of water, carefully choosing food, making sure I eat enough protein, and mustering the willpower to say "no" at a lot of restaurants, parties, and social gatherings. Exercise is no longer an option; it’s mandatory. So is eating six small meals a day. Slipping up in any of these areas could mean a trip to the ER, a major complication, or in some very extreme cases, death.
This surgery was not a quick fix—it was a lifelong commitment to a healthier me, and I could never make that choice, or even recommendation, for someone else.