This is my 2002 FordExplorer. Having traveled quite a few miles, the paint is chipping, it now squeaks, thuds, locks and unlocks randomly, and sets its own alarm off when the weather turns hot or cold. While I would still love a new car, last year I made a choice to invest in my health first. On September 11th, 2019, I celebrated the first anniversary of my gastric sleeve surgery. On that day, I weighed in a pound below my goal weight. While I’m proud of my weight loss “stats,” the focus of this blog is not about those. I share this part of my journey for three reasons, none of which are needs for congratulations or compliments:1. To offer HOPE. You (or someone you love) may need hope because you have tried over and over to lose weight and doubt things will ever change. Perhaps your doctor has told you to lose weight (which you already know). Nothing seems to work for long and you feel frustrated. Weight loss surgery (WLS) may not be the right tool for you, and I am not here to convince you it is. However, obesity is a complex disease, and finding a doctor who will support you in your weight loss efforts rather than simply advise you to “eat less” is a good start. I don’t know which tool will be the best option for you, but be hopeful that something or someone can help you.2. To EDUCATE. According to a 2015-2016 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the obesity prevalence rate was 39.8% and affected about 93.3 million adults in the U.S. The problem is not going away, nor are obesity-related conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, some cancers, etc. I did not want to be a statistic. Diabetes was a disease I had managed to elude, but given my family history and the up and down scales I dealt with for years, it was right around the corner. I have been on no less than 20 diets, plans, or “lifestyle changes.” Working out has been a regular part of my adult life. I’ve lost between 30-74 pounds at various times, but it found a way back on. The reality was this: the more I lost and gained, the more my body worked against me to maintain my weight loss. My set point did not want to change and my metabolism was less effective because of the previous weight loss. I have worked with weight loss patients and administered pre-surgical bariatric psychological evaluations for years. I understood the process from a medical standpoint, but I still researched and made an educated decision before I underwent the procedure, fully understanding the risks, potential benefits, and probable outcomes. WLS (also known as bariatric surgery or, more appropriately named, metabolic surgery) is an effective tool in the fight against obesity. Despite some people’s perception, it is not an easy way out. Don’t be discouraged by others that may not understand the surgery or your personal “why.” If you want to educate yourself about this topic and available options, visit this bariatric surgery resource. There are many reasons why someone may not be a good candidate, but ignorance does not have to be one.3. To DESTIGMATIZE. I’ll say it again in case you missed it above: WLS is not easy and is not a quick fix. It is not cheating, and there are several misconceptions about WLS. It is a tool. Consider this: Is a builder a craftsman simply because he uses a Milwaukee or DeWalt tool? Or, is he a craftsman because he has learned to use good tools effectively to create what he sets out to build? Many WLS patients question whether to tell others about surgery for fear it might be perceived as a failure or inability to achieve weight loss on their own. Some patients are afraid others won’t see it as their own victory. If you struggle with this mindset, let me tell you why it is your victory. You own it all: the disappointments, pain, poor choices, fears, and risks. You also own the choice, changes, positive outcomes, hard work, and victory. This is what a victory looks like: riding a rollercoaster ride with your son without questioning whether you can fit in the seat, being able to wear your wedding ring from 15 years ago, shopping in any clothing store you choose, moving from the morbidly obese category to just overweight, walking up a flight of stairs without becoming winded, leaving your arms down to your sides during a flight because you fit in your seat, reporting your actual weight to the DMV (who even does that?), sitting down in a chair without fear it might break, or attending your daughter’s sporting event that you would not have attended in the past for fear of embarrassment. There will be people in your life who will not understand. It’s okay, they don’t have to. Their ignorance does not change your victory. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Don’t give away your victory.
As for my choice to keep driving my old, beat-up Explorer ... I had to personally finance my weight loss surgery because my insurance plan did not provide coverage. (Unfortunately, many times the insurance provider or employer plan would rather pay for diabetic medications than the prevention or remission of the disease). There were only so many expenses I wanted to take on, so the idea of paying for a vehicle and a surgery was not a good one. I had a choice to make. As I imagined buying another car, I could picture my future self in a new-to-me Toyota Highlander, tear-stained face, sitting uncomfortably with tight pants and back pain, eating fast food as I waited at the pharmacy to pick up Metformin, insulin, or a second blood pressure medication. A new car would not give me more life or more time with my family. The choice was easy. I would rather have my health than a new car. As old and crappy as my Explorer is, it is a reminder that I chose the life I want to live. That is my victory.