In my introductory post on my blog I briefly touched on the fact that since age 11, I had been on a diet. Obesity has been part of my life from an early age. I started off with Weight Watchers in the 70s where I learned about #3 and #4 vegetables, way before points, or whatever disguise of calorie counting have going on today. I spent my middle school years trying to get to a goal weight of 89 pounds, which, by the way, I never reached.
What did this do? Did it set me up with a knowledge of good nutrition and healthy weight goals? Nope. It set up a history of disordered eating — food as reward, withholding food as punishment, binge eating to drown out emotions, frustration with gaining and losing over the next few decades. Did I mention my father was the Weight Watchers instructor? All my life, I kept hearing that it’s “not a diet, it’s a lifestyle” and “nothing tastes as good as thin feels” and all the other marketing crap that was in at the time. Let’s just say that it didn’t do much for my relationship with my dad either.
Years went by, and while I did get really good at losing weight, I was never able to maintain my weight loss. In my thirties, I was probably considered medically obese when I found out I had a pituitary tumor. Although it was benign, it caused me to overproduce the hormone prolactin, so it had to be medically managed and monitored. I went to an endocrinologist who told me I needed to “eat less and move more.” So continued the compulsive hamster wheel of logging food, burning calories at the gym — but it wasn’t working.
Fast forward past a mounting list of co-morbidities ranging from arthritis, to high cholesterol, to high blood pressure, the pituitary thing and then a thyroid thing, and my weight at its highest shot up to 230 pounds. My primary care doctor gave me a tough love lecture and recommended that I look into a medically managed weight loss program, which was actually a VLCD (very low calorie diet) consisting of high protein shakes for months along with group behavioral counseling and weekly check-ins with a doctor. The good news is I had great success on this program and lost about 80 pounds, but I was never able to maintain the weight loss, even with the continued behavioral meetings and regular accountability. I was exercising — in fact running half marathons — and logging everything I put in my mouth and staying under 1100 calories and averaging 100-120 grams of protein. I was doing everything right. But I was still gaining weight.
Stress, anxiety, depression were all factors — but I was always sure there was something else going on. I felt broken.
In a moment of frustration, the doctors told me that there wasn’t much else they could do for me, as I tried all kinds of medications to support weight loss and to manage the accompanying anxiety and depression which I always associate with my weight and my lifetime of failing to lose and maintain. So they referred me for bariatric surgery.
I actually went to several orientations for different surgeons and did a ton of research about what was entailed and what would need to change after surgery. I chose my surgeon because during her presentation, for the first time in my life, I understood that it wasn’t my fault. I learned that obesity is a disease, that I probably had a genetic disposition for obesity, and that my body was fighting to maintain a higher weight. But also learned that bariatric surgery is a powerful treatment for obesity and related conditions. I knew it was right for me. I was approved for surgery (after a couple of denials and appeals, which is a story for another day) and I had gastric bypass on July 5, 2016.
Fast forward to 2017 – after the first six months of maintaining my goal weight, I came to the sudden realization that I, for the first time since I was 11, was not on a diet. I have rules to follow — I have to take vitamins daily, I need to meet certain macro goals, I cannot eat sugar or fried foods to avoid the dreaded dumping syndrome. My small pouch that replaced my stomach handles all the restriction for me, so I always feel satisfied after meals. I also have made serious adjustments to my thinking — I have learned how to tell when I have reached fullness, and I’ve also learned when I am NOT hungry, just bored or thirsty or some other emotion that I used to quiet by eating. Just the freedom of not being ruled by the scale, calorie counting, and calorie restriction is so empowering.
Diet culture is what set me up for a lifetime of disordered eating, feelings of failure, and a constant battle with the scale and with my own feeling of self-worth.
A few weeks ago, Weight Watchers announced they were going to offer free membership to teens and the Internet blew up. The hashtag #WakeUpWeightWatchers got some major Twitter screen time and the whole response really struck a chord with me. It brought me back to feelings of failure at 11. But it also made me realize how far I had come. My measures of success go way beyond the scale. And it helped solidify my mission to help people struggling with obesity to free themselves from diet culture and set themselves up with healthy lifestyle and nutrition choices. Progress, not perfection. Small changes, small victories, and big celebrations. Everyone’s journey is different, but being your best self is the best reward of a total transformation. And you get to define what that means.