The Thing About Weight Loss

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In June 2017, I underwent bariatric surgery in Tijuana, Mexico. After over a decade of struggling with my weight, I knew I had to do something about it. In a previous post, I mentioned how I had “done it all.” Literally: Weight Watchers, ear stapling, low carb/high protein, personal training, supplements, visits with nutritionists, and more.

I jumped into something I never said I would do (bariatric surgery), in a place people believe you shouldn’t go for surgery (Mexico). But, when your insurance probably won’t pay for a $30,000+ surgery because your only condition is obesity, you have to take matters into your own hands. That’s what I did. The Saturday before my surgery, I went received the Sacrament of Confession and went to Vigil Mass. The next day, June 18th, I boarded a plane with my mother and flew to San Diego, crossing into Mexico later that evening.

I never looked back.

I was at the end of my rope, which apparently led me to a Tijuana hospital room while watching cars line up at the U.S./Mexico border. Finally, on the night of June 19th, as I was wheeled away for surgery, my heart was pounding out of my ears. I could see blood coming into my IV from my rapidly accelerating pulse. As the doors on the elevator closed, I repeated in my heart like a record, “All you saints and angels, pray for me.” As the surgical tech helped me onto the operating table, I begged Our Lord to get me out of the operating room alive. I knew it was too late to back out. Once the anesthesia hit, I don’t remember anything else.

Nearly $5,000 and six months later, choosing bariatric surgery (sleeve gastrectomy) for my health needs was one of the top five decisions I’ve ever made. I’m happier, healthier, and there’s a bounce in my step that wasn’t there before. As of the writing of this post, I am down 72 pounds from my pre-surgery weight. Am I now a paragon of perfection regarding nutrition and exercise? Absolutely not. When the surgeon took out 75% of my stomach, he didn’t bother take out the part of my brain that craves enchiladas.  It’s still a daily struggle, but not as much as a fight as it used to be.

In all of my success, I’ve particularly enjoyed buying new clothes. For someone who’s been the same size for most of their life, this phenomenon may be hard to imagine. But, for someone who has been a size 24 in pants and dresses, it’s a whole new world. In a matter of months, clothes that were always off limits to me were now within my realm. From June 2017 to November 2017, I had dropped 10 sizes, going from a 24W to a 14 regular. I could now wear “regular” women’s clothing. I walked in the nearest Macy’s and walked out with a haul that cost more than I care to think about. It was a wonderful, terrific, feeling. Who knew size 14 could be so fun?

In the midst of all of my positive transformations, I started to notice other changes as well. Not positive, not negative. Just changes.

For example, I had updated my social media photos to newer head shots. Nothing racy or revealing, just pictures at festivals or out in the sun. Within days, I received unsolicited messages on Facebook and Twitter from men inquiring about my marital and relationship status. Just today, my “other” inbox in Facebook lit up with another lonely heart looking for a connection. 72 pounds ago, this rarely (if ever) happened. Guys openly flirt with me now in public. It’s bizarre. Still, another change is the attitudes of the people around me. When I venture beyond my home, those who would rarely speak to me now go out of their way to make conversation. Formally cordial acquaintances now say little-to-nothing at all. It’s not everyone, though. In fact, it’s a handful of people. Maybe it’s in my imagination. But, it’s noticeable.

Also, I’ve noticed a change in myself. Now that I’m thinner and nine pounds away from my goal weight, I treat myself with more respect and dignity. I think more highly of myself. When I was nearly 300 pounds, thoughts about myself weren’t as respectful and dignified. While I didn’t hate myself, I hated my body. I hated my eating habits and I hated how I had let stress take my body to a place it shouldn’t be.

While I didn’t frequently read women’s magazines, I hated how I didn’t resemble those women in the pages (even the token plus-size models). Even though I wouldn’t admit it, I had been trapped by society’s expectations, if but in a small way. It took losing nearly 75 pounds for me to realize that I was in a cycle of distressing thoughts and practices. I was like a fish in water: I didn’t know how I had been hooked by secular standards. For me, it was normal.

Finally, the thing about weight loss is that it’s not just your body that changes: it’s your life and your world. Some changes are wonderful: your health improves, your outlook is more positive, and your body is at ease. Some changes, not so wonderful: friends and family may treat you poorly because they think you’re a new person (and they don’t like it). Maybe others are threatened by your drastic transformation. You may realize that maybe you weren’t the best to yourself. It’s normal, and I’ve been there.

Yet, given my success in my journey, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Dear Lord,

When we believe that our bodies don’t fit the mold the world offers us, it’s easy to despair. We forget that we were thought of and created by You in Your infinite wisdom. Forgive us when we fail to recognize that our value comes from You, not the size of our dress or a number on a scale. Help us to take care of the bodies You have given us so that we may glorify You more and more. Thank You for creating me.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 

 

A Very Good Body: Romans 12 and Weight Loss

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.

Romans 12:1

Since this summer, I have dropped a significant amount of weight with the assistance of bariatric surgery. The decision to undergo a major, body-altering operation came after years of frustration: multiple stints at Weight Watchers, a round with inner ear staple acupuncture, visiting nutritionists, flip-flopping between gyms, and simply abstaining from food for a set period of time.  I was tired, and I knew something had to be done. I couldn’t climb the steps at my office without losing my breath. My body and my mind couldn’t take it anymore.

From my surgery date, I’ve dropped nearly 60 pounds. I’m at my lowest weight in nearly 15 years. In 40 more pounds, I’ll be at my ideal weight for my height. This is very, very good news for my mental and physical health.

In today’s second reading in the Mass, we read a small part of Paul’s letter to the Romans. As seen in the quote above, Paul exhorts the Romans to offer their bodies as “living sacrifices” to God. This also ties into today’s Gospel reading where Jesus tells his disciples that in order to follow Him, they must die to themselves first. However, in our culture, sacrifices and giving up anything is a foreign concept. Our culture promotes self-preservation and the promise of unlimited happiness if you buy enough of the right products.

Sacrifice is not a cultural value. Yet, over and over again we hear Jesus, and later Paul, admonish readers to die to self and to transform their minds and physical bodies for the sake of holy living. Upon hearing these parts of Holy Scripture, I ponder how the Physiotherapy, Weight Training, Dumbbellalteration of my body has led me to become more dependent on God for my daily nourishment.

Before the surgery, food was my primary coping mechanism. Not in times of doubt and negativity, but also in times of happiness and celebration. Food is everywhere, and unlike drugs and alcohol, is not illegal and can be found almost anywhere. Therefore, I relied heavily on food for my emotional and mental support. I would, of course, pray and read my Bible, but food was a much more pleasant and sensory experience.

Immediately after surgery, this all changed. I now have a stomach that can hold anywhere between two and five ounces of food when I eat a meal. As I am still in the recovery mode for the next week or so, my intake is still restricted. I eat soft foods in portions that would better suit a toddler. I can no longer binge eat because one, my stomach can’t hold it and two, my stomach can’t handle it.

Yet, I still struggle with the infamous “head hunger” that haunts many patients of weight loss surgery. You may know the feeling: You’re full, but due to some external force, your brain still says you’re hungry. So, more often-than-not, you eat to satisfy the mental urge. This was me for many, many years. Now, with my surgery, while I could still cave in to the head hunger, I know it will provide physical side-effects that can be unpleasant or even painful. Ultimately, this has forced me to rely on God rather than food.

This switch, while beneficial, has sometimes wreaked a small amount of havoc in my life. For years, I knew food would be there for me. All I had to do was go through the drive-thru at a local fast food restaurant or stop by a gas station for my emotional fix. Now, I have to deliberately tell myself that I am not hungry and my body doesn’t need what I want to put in it. I also have to say “You’ve just eaten, you don’t want another thing. You’re at capacity. What you want is bad for you.”

Instead, I will find my first instinct after avoiding the urge to eat is to simply pray. Or, if I’m at home, I will read my Bible or other inspirational readings. Sometimes I will close my eyes and just think. Anything to reorient my body towards Christ, to live as a living sacrifice. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, this is hard. It’s hard to be a living sacrifice in an imperfect body that’s trying to shed old, detrimental eating habits. Sometimes, I fail. And I remember, that there’s always tomorrow. And unlike the days of old when the tomorrow of new eating habits never came, I have many new tomorrows to reset my dietary routine.

Dying to self, living as a sacrifice is against our own nature. Refusing temptations such as abusing food, alcohol, and drugs (or illicit sex, lying, theft, and poor treatment of our neighbors, to name a few) is a difficult to overcome due to our original sin. Yet, in Christ, there is mercy, grace, and forgiveness. When we drop the ball as living sacrifices, when we abuse ourselves and others: Christ is there, time after time. Sometimes, we may have to rearrange our bodies physically (as I did) to understand this grace. And in our darkest instances, when we believe there is no other way to rearrange our lives and bodies, Christ shows up to teach us again how to walk and live in His blessed way.