Why I Changed My Mind About Weight Loss Surgery
As I sat down to read the newest issue of Self Magazine, devoted entirely to tackling how society discusses weight and health, my phone rang. It was an unknown number, but it looked familiar. I let it go to voicemail, and the notification blip popped up.
“Hi Alex, I’m calling from the Houston Weight Loss Clinic in Cypress. You started your weight loss surgery visits and only need one more appointment to start prepping for surgery, but it’s been almost six months since you last came in. Are you still interested in bariatric surgery? Call us back so we can move forward.”
I’ve been trying to lose weight since I was in junior high.
From obsessive calorie counting to keto, CrossFit to Zumba, I’ve tried it all. I’ve lost weight, gained weight, stayed the same weight. The only thing it all successfully taught me to do was focus on how I could change myself because I was never good enough.
When I was diagnosed with PCOS a few years ago, my first doctor told me the only way I would ever lessen my symptoms was to lose weight immediately. He wrote me a prescription for Phentermine and told me not to come back unless I was 50 pounds lighter.
My next doctor was kinder, but her end-game was the same. She told me to just simply switch every carb to a vegetable and buy pre-made zucchini noodles or eat half a cookie anytime I craved something. When the daily injections of extremely high dose diabetic medicine for my non-diabetic self that promised weight loss as a side effect wasn’t showing her fast enough results, she told me my only option was to have weight loss surgery. If I didn’t do that, she said there was no point in me continuously visiting her because she couldn’t fix me anymore.
So I called a surgeon.
I was scared of surgery. I was scared of having a stomach smaller than a glass of water. I was scared of loose skin, losing my hair, liquid diets, and never being to drink anything carbonated, eat most things fried, drink more than one watered down cocktail, or eat the way I used to again.
But being fat is scarier, right?
After my initial meeting with the surgeon, I was assigned a nutritionist who I had to meet with once a month for six months. She would help me prove my dedication to the surgery, losing 15-25 pounds before the main event. She was willowy and classically beautiful, speaking like a Disney Princess as she told me my daily diet should look like this:
Breakfast: Protein Shake
Snack: Hard boiled egg, 12 almonds
Lunch: Turkey sandwich on low calorie bread, no cheese and light mayo, a sliced apple
Snack: String cheese, 12 almonds
Dinner: Salmon, 2 cups of veggies, ¼ cup of rice
Optional Dessert: 1 square of dark chocolate OR sugar free Jello
When I asked her what I should do on the days my office went out for lunch to celebrate a pregnancy or I wanted to grab dinner with my best friend, so told me not to do it or to bring along my own healthy and special meal in a small container and eat while they do. When I told her I loved weight lifting as my form of exercise, she told me it was a waste of time right now because it didn’t burn enough calories, so I should really switch to walking an hour every morning and small walks every couple of hours.
I asked if she had ever had to lose a significant amount of weight, and she told me how she had gained 20 pounds during pregnancy and had been at her highest weight ever, but she lost it within 3 months by diet and only 60 minutes of cardio six days a week. So easy and just like my weight journey, she promised.
I started getting nauseous every time I drove up to see her, regretting every taste of chocolate or how many carbs were in that cup of rice. I would get into the office and bold faced lie, telling her I had been eating those turkey sandwiches and almonds and I had no idea why my weight had only dropped 2 pounds that month.
The nausea consumed me, mentally and physically. I started feeling those old swirls of obsession. Every minute of every day was consumed with what my last meal was, what my next meal would be, and if I should run up and down my stairs a few times since I had that single french fry from my friend’s plate.
Then it clicked.
What the fuck was I doing?
Where was the health in this for me? Yes, my waist would be smaller. Movement would be easier. Existence would be easier in so many circumstances. But the inside would be broken. Spending all of my time thinking about eating would never change; I was basically buying a one way ticket into my own eating disordered hell.
And I would lose the things that bring immense value to my life. I could no longer spend my Sunday at brunch, sharing mimosas with my friends all morning. There would never be another late night spent drinking too many cosmos and making peanut butter desserts with my girlfriends. Evenings spent around my mom’s kitchen counter eating ice cream out of the container with my sisters for hours would be gone. My best adventures have been spent in fellowship around food, and I never want to give that up.
Yes, fellowship can be found in millions of ways. But this is my way, and I don’t want to sacrifice that for more clothing options at Target.
So I stopped going to the bariatric surgeon, and I’m trying to reset my relationship with food and exercise. I’m changing my internal dialogue when it comes to these things. Exercise is no longer about the calories burned, but the joy I get from reaching a new personal record while squatting or memorizing a new routine in dance class. Food is neither good nor bad. Some of it makes me feel better, some worse. I’m learning what fruits and vegetables are in season, wandering farmer’s markets, and trying new fresh ingredients. Cooking is becoming less of a punishment and more of a form of self expression. I’m also beginning the hunt for health professionals who will listen, speak with me, and believe in health at every size.
I’m learning to love my body however it needs to be loved. Which meant that after listening to that voicemail, I pressed delete.