A Lot Lost, A Lot Gained

First Person

February 06, 2005|By Kasey Jones

In October 2003, I sat in the examining room for my first appointment with a bariatric surgeon. I wanted gastric bypass surgery.

At age 51, I carried 365 pounds on my 5-foot, 8-inch frame -- supermorbidly obese in medical terms. I was diabetic, hypertensive, suffered from sleep apnea and had difficulty walking.

As I waited for the surgeon, I thought about the kind of life I might have without so many extra pounds. I imagined being able to walk more than a block without back spasms and shortness of breath. I imagined not being exhausted all the time.

Fifteen months later, I have that life. I've lost 150 pounds and am still losing about a pound a week. I've taken walking vacations in New York City and London. I no longer have to spend all day Saturday sleeping because I am so tired from lugging around so much weight.

Everything I imagined happened, except I didn't have gastric bypass surgery.

Rather than schedule the surgery -- as I had been told he would -- the surgeon wanted me to lose some weight to prove that I could stick to the strict post-operative diet. In four months, he said, if I proved to be compliant, he would schedule the surgery, which would greatly reduce the size of my stomach and limit the amount of food I could eat.

I was crushed. It had taken nine months to get this appointment, and now the surgeon was telling me to wait another four months. If I could lose weight without surgery, I wouldn't be there, I thought.

But I had my heart set on having this surgery, and getting my health back. With the help of Dr. Sandra Hairston, my internist of 15 years, my psychotherapist of four years, and a nutritionist, I embarked on yet another diet. I also joined two online weight-loss support groups.

Four months later, when I was to see the bariatric surgeon again, I had lost 70 pounds. Why have risky surgery when I had lost so much weight without it? My diet is simple -- eat no more than 1,500 calories a day. I keep track of my calorie consumption on www.fitday.com.

I meet more or less monthly with the nutritionist, and every three months with Hairston for a physical. After losing about 100 pounds, I started walking in my neighborhood. Now I spend 60 minutes to 90 minutes, five days a week, exercising at the YMCA at Stadium Place.

Hairston says I should weigh between 140 pounds and 168 pounds. I just want to get below 200 pounds, so I have about 16 pounds to go to reach that goal.

Losing is not easy. I was hungry a good deal of the time during the first several months. More difficult is not being able to eat what I want and as much as I want. I will be struggling with keeping my desire for unlimited sweets under control for the rest of my life.

But there are rewards. I no longer take medication for diabetes, and I no longer need a machine to help me breathe while I sleep. I have a tremendous amount of energy.

I've shrunk from a pants size 32 to size 18; I've had to replace my wardrobe several times over. If it weren't for eBay, I'd be naked.

But it's not all smaller clothes and surprised looks. The massive weight loss has left me with a lot of redundant skin. Without my clothes, I look like a SharPei, the wrinkled dog. Reconstructive surgery is an option, if my health insurance will cover it.

Morbid obesity is such a literal and figurative burden that there is a tendency to think that if one can just lose weight, life would be good. But bad things still happen; I just don't comfort or distract myself with food.

For now, the tradeoffs are worth it.

Kasey Jones is a journalist with the Associated Press.

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