Do you ever do something you hate, but you do it anyway just because you know that it's what you should do? I absolutely hate running! I've always been a bigger girl (albeit much smaller as of late) and to say it politely, everything jiggles and bounces up and down when running or jumping so I try to avoid it as much as possible. There are other reasons I don't like running such as my bad knees (I have to wear knee supports every time I exercise), it kills my joints and my feet, and that whole gasping for air thing just lacks appeal. The other day I went for a walk and realized that I was running out of time (pun intended) and needed to get back home quicker than I had planned. So, I did what I hated and ran...then I walked...then I ran again...and so it went until I got to my car. And guess what? I felt pretty darn good when I was done. So much so, that when I decided to forego the gym this morning, I went for another walk/run.
I have been dreading writing this blog post. I just don't want to talk about such a personal and vulnerable thing in such a public arena. Yet, here I am, up in Big Bear, praying for snow tomorrow, sitting across the room from another photographer and a florist, typing this out in hopes that the courage will come to actually hit that publish button. I feel like most of my life I have been doing what I don't want to do-but it didn't always turn out like my walk/run adventure. It usually ended up very badly. Ever since I can remember (my mom confirms that she noticed a problem starting at age 4) I have been a heavy girl. OK, heavy is an understatement. I have been considered obese the majority of my life. In fact, I recently found out that there are several classes of obesity and I was up at the top of those charts at my top weight of 375 (that I knew of) and a BMI of 57! I was morbidly (hate that word) obese most of my adult life. I'm actually still considered obese class 1 even though I've lost an entire person from my body, but I digress.
Many people who are new in my life don't recognize me when they see photos of me from 5 years ago. In fact, my Driver's License photo is still very outdated and I often get double takes when someone needs to see my ID. But those friends that I've known for years and my family members definitely noticed a huge difference in me over the past 3 years. I had been on a diet of some sort for most of my life and would often lose some weight (sometimes as much as 50 lbs) and then I would always gain it back (and then some) which led to me feeling like a failure for most of my life. Just over 6 years ago; when I topped out at my heaviest weight, I looked like a ghost in pictures at our family holiday gathering and I had a hard time just being on my feet long enough to host the party. My mom had later told me that she had been very concerned about my health (as I'm sure others were as well). I started watching The Biggest Loser TV show that next January and something inspired me to try and take charge of my health. I bought a used treadmill from a friend for $50 and started walking on it 5 minutes a day. That may not sound like much to you (or even to me now) but it was all I could do. I slowly worked my way up to 10 minutes, then 15, then I'm sure I got to 30 minutes. I set a goal to lose 50 lbs by June for a wedding we were going to in Hawaii. I missed that goal by 10 lbs, but it was good enough for me.
Shortly after returning home from Hawaii, I ended up in the ER because I couldn't breathe. They never really found out what caused it, but that gave me a scare and also made me think I shouldn't exercise as much. So, my weight pretty much stayed the same. A year later, the same thing happened and this time the Dr actually misdiagnosed me with heart failure and I was the most depressed I'd ever been. After another year of trying to control my weight and failing miserably, I was at the point of wanting to give up. My diabetes was completely out of control and I was a complete mess. My Dr had given me an ultimatum in 2015 that if I couldn't get my blood sugars under control within 5 months, that we would need to do something drastic. To me, I had assumed that she meant some sort of weight loss surgery. So the next time I had an appointment with her I was already prepared for the bad news-sure enough, my blood sugars were a disaster. I asked her to refer me to the bariatric program and that is when my real journey towards a healthy me began.
With Kaiser, the bariatric program takes quite a bit of time as it's an entire process you need to go through. I had to take classes that discussed the options (anything from a liquid diet to multiple different types of surgery). Once you decide which route you want to go, they refer you to that program. I met with a supervising Dr in the program who recommended me for surgery. After tests, blood work, a psychological evaluation, and 3 months of classes; I met with my surgeon who approved me for Gastric Bypass surgery. I was terrified but also excited to start my new life. The anticipation of having to wait 3 more months to actually have surgery almost killed me-but it was definitely the right thing for me. When I graduated the classes in January of 2016, I weighed 339 lbs. I had lost a decent amount of weight during the program but lost even more before surgery-weighing in at 326 on surgery day in May, 2016. I was proud to have accomplished that much loss on my own without surgery (49 lbs) but I knew that I had done it before and needed something drastic to happen in order to get me to a healthy body weight.
When I decided to have surgery, I had only told select people that I trusted because I didn't want to hear negative feedback. You wouldn't believe how many people know someone who had surgery and then gained all of the weight back! I also didn't want judgement. For years I fought against having surgery because I thought it was the easy way out. Giiiiirl was I wrong! The months following gastric bypass were the exact opposite of easy! I was in constant, severe pain for exactly one month. For the first 2 weeks I was on a liquid diet but I had to drink 2 protein shakes and 60 ounces of water daily-but get this-I could only drink 1 ounce every 15 minutes. So, you do the math. My life was completely turned upside down! The next 2 weeks I could eat pureed food. Yep-it tasted just as good as it sounds. Actually, I was super excited to be able to actually eat something. The next 2 weeks I could eat soft foods (my first scrambled egg was like Christmas morning). Then I was able to slowly start eating regular foods but still had to keep under 600 calories daily. I was in a constant state of hunger, but you bet I stuck to my strict diet. In fact, I felt like the diet they had me on was a bit too lenient so I cut out whole wheat breads, crackers, etc. I was typically an A student (ok except for freshman year in High School) and I didn't just put my body through so much just to go out and eat french fries and cake!
That October brought a very scary trip to the ER which was the worst pain I'd ever felt in my life. It turned out to be my gallbladder; which they didn't tell me can be affected by rapid weight loss. Emergency surgery to remove it solved my pain but took me out of commission for another month (which was frustrating not to be able to exercise-but I survived). By December of 2016 I had lost over 100 lbs since surgery (the majority of that weight came off the first 3 months) and I was feeling pretty good but also discouraged that I had stopped losing weight. But something else started happening in my brain. I was starting to obsess over things. I remember telling my friend not to send home pecan pie with my husband from Christmas because it would just sit there and tempt me. Well, he promised me he would eat that Costco-sized pie, and of course it sat there-calling my name. I tried one bite. Man, it tasted good. And shocker-I didn't get sick. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that part. This surgery reroutes your intestines which means that you no longer absorb everything the same (which is why I take a handful of supplements daily and also why I can't drink anything while eating or 30 minutes afterwards for the rest of my life ) and if you eat sugar it can make you sick. I had never wanted to test the limits with sugar because if it made me sick, of course I would hate that, but if it didn't make me sick then it would give me permission to eat more. After that first bite of pecan pie, it was impossible to resist eating more. The next day I took 2 bites and that didn't make me sick. Two days later I ate 4 bites and although it didn't make me sick, my stomach wasn't happy so I threw out that dang pie!
After our vacation in early 2017, I realized that my obsession wasn't just about food. I was also obsessing about my Fitbit (how many calories I burned, steps I took, etc). I would go to the gym in the morning then jump on the trampoline while watching TV at night if my steps were low that day. Some people said that was good-just healthy competition; but I knew that something was wrong. I had been a part of a compulsive eating group right before surgery and met with that therapist for a while but they treated behaviors. I couldn't control any behaviors in my life for longer than a few months, so that wasn't going to work for me. I remember telling my therapist that I had chewed up and then spit out a tortilla chip and my jaw dropped when he told me that was bulimic behavior. I couldn't be bulimic; I weighed over 200 lbs. But it doesn't have to do with your weight-it has to do with your mind. Thankfully, I met someone who introduced me to a 12-step program that I have since recovered through and that helps me live my everyday life in the best way that I can. I no longer binge on food or exercise, but I live a fairly balanced life. And when I feel like it gets out of balance, I use tools and go to God for the help that I need. I feel free now and I actually have begun to love myself (extra saggy skin and all).
So, that was all a mouthful, and I appreciate you reading this far, but you may be asking why did I decide to share this with the world-to out myself in this way? Well, there are several reasons. For one, as a person and even as a photographer, I am pretty transparent. My feelings aren't easily hidden and I like for people to know who I am on a deep level-even my clients or potential clients. I feel like this has been somewhat of a secret for the past nearly 3 years and I don't like secrets. Also, in case my story would help anyone else who may be suffering from similar things; I had to share it. I have learned along this journey that several friends were considering surgery so I gave them my honest feedback and would have loved it if someone else had done the same for me. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. Would I change anything about it? Sure-I would've educated myself more on why you stop losing weight within a year or so after surgery. But I am so very thankful for every part of this process. When I went off all of my medication and my blood sugars were that of a normal person, I cried.
So when you notice that I don't eat most foods that others eat, now you know why. I switched from low-carb to keto last year to encourage more weight loss and it makes me feel amazing (carbs don't sit right with my body). But I do keto as a lifestyle. Sure, I'd love to lose another 30 lbs but I look at where I've come from and I thank God that I can take spin class 3 times a week, and even run a little bit when I want. So where I had been doing what I hated all of my life (eating that dozen cookies when I wanted the scale to go down) now I'm loving what I'm doing on a daily basis even if I hate it sometimes.
"For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it." -Romans 7:19-20