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Monday, February 21, 2005

Rock Bottom: Was WLS a huge mistake?

Halfway through the phase of rapid weight loss – six months out – I hit rock bottom. No matter what I ate I threw-up or dumped. I was tired, depressed and discouraged. I felt victimized by my damned tiny tummy. I felt punished by my obesity and punished by the treatment I’d carefully selected. Life just didn’t seem fair. There was no light at the end of the tunnel.

So I attended a support group meeting, the first in several weeks. The meeting forum that night was an open discussion for post-operative patients. I was determined to find someone to identify with, someone who was as much a victim as I.

I found my peer in the third woman who took the floor. She was still very heavy, but said she had lost 75 pounds since surgery more than a year ago. Her weight loss had stopped. Her hair was brittle and thin; her skin sagged and was deathly pallor, her eyes cloudy. And she was in a very bad mood. She was angry that so many patients thought they should follow a regimen – the four rules – after surgery. Thumping a chubby hand on her cottage cheese thighs she rallied her troops: “We did not have surgery so we could spend the rest of our lives following strict diet and exercise programs – we didn’t like that before surgery, and we don’t like it now!”

Surprisingly, we applauded her because we all hated eating bland protein, not snacking, exercising and drinking water: it felt like a punishment. She continued, “I’m thinner than I ever was and that’s good enough! I’ve lost 50 percent of my excess weight and the bariatric profession considers me a success, so this is where I’m staying! I’ll continue to eat what I want as often as I want, I will not follow a regimen!!” Again, applause filled the room. We were victims when we were obese, now we were victims of the very surgery we fought to have!

And I bought her story – just maybe halfway was good enough for me too. Perhaps I had set my goals too high, I was expecting too much of the Little Fat Girl. Maybe if I just accepted that this was all the weight I would lose I could get on with my life and not constantly fret about following the four rules. Maybe by accepting “good enough” I’d stop torturing myself with over eating and eating the wrong things. Maybe 50 percent was good enough.

The meeting continued after a short recess during which we congratulated one another for our 50 percent successes. The first speaker up was a slim perky woman, her skin was flawless, and her body seemed tight and compact. She was a picture of fitness: could she have ever been obese? She spoke with quiet confidence. She was not a victim.

“There was a time when I, too, felt angry and punished by my weight loss surgery,” she began. “But one day I realized, weight loss surgery is part of a new lifestyle, not a regimen and not a punishment.” She explained that as a morbidly obese person (she had lost 130 pounds) she was a slave to the poor health, poor habits and low self-esteem that perpetuated her obesity. She said the day she realized she was no longer a slave to the shackles of obesity she was able to liberate herself.

She embraced her new lifestyle, not as a regimen or punishment, but as a means to better everyday living. We were skeptical, and we didn’t applaud. But then she made her final pitch. “If we suffered from a life-threatening illness – and morbid obesity is life-threatening – and medical science said I will give you a tool to help you treat your life-threatening disease, but you are responsible to use that tool to achieve total success – would you settle for 50 percent as good enough?”

We sat there in stunned silence. Not one person nodded that 50 percent would be good enough, not even the thigh-thumping rebel.

So here I was at the fork in the road. I could accept that 50 percent was good enough and continue to mistreat my body nutritionally and physically. Or I could adopt and new lifestyle that would encompass the health, nutrition and wellness that goes beyond the four rules. I could push my weight loss to the maximum achievable results and experience health and wellness surpassing my wildest dreams.

It was my choice.

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