Name: Renee D. Jennings, Brooklyn, NY
Procedure: Gastric Sleeve (March 2017)
What prompted you to make the decision to go for WLS?
I had considered weight loss surgery for at least 4 years but never actually went through with the process. Part of the reason I reneged was due to the things I had heard. Even my closest friends and family thought it was best to try to lose weight on my own rather than undergo major surgery. I shared that sentiment and so a few years ago I went on a serious weight loss journey for six months and dropped 50 pounds on my own. I was proud of that accomplishment but of course, I didn’t keep the weight off. I stopped working out and reverted back to old unhealthy habits and reached my highest weight in July 2016 of 400 pounds. I was sitting at my desk at work and my left ankle was swollen to the size of a grapefruit. I drove myself to the emergency room and was told I had pitting edema and needed to see my primary care doctor. My doctor informed me that I tested positive for Type 2 Diabetes. All my life I have been overweight but I had never experienced any major health problems until July 2016. The news hit me like a ton of bricks. My primary care had discussed weight loss surgery with me before but I never paid it any mind. On that day, I decided I needed to the bite the bullet and do it because at 36 years old, I didn’t want to die. My BMI was a 60 and diabetes was the gateway to other health issues that were all too common in my family history.
Did/do you feel any pressure by a doctor to make this decision?
Doctors have repeatedly talked about weight loss surgery with me over the years even before I made the decision to have it. I could go into a doctor’s office with an ear infection and without even being examined my weight would always be the first subject of conversation. I understand that as a medical professional, one should advise patients on things they need to do in order to be healthier but my ear infection had nothing to do with my weight. Despite being overweight, I always had a normal blood pressure. I did not suffer from sleep apnea or have diabetes. Often times the nursing staff would comment on my blood work and say things like, “Wow! You have a better cholesterol than most people we see.” I’d always shake my head at this because people automatically assume because you’re overweight, you must eat 65 cheeseburgers a day, hate exercise, and be near death. This was not my life but the weight loss surgery option was always thrown into the mix at my doctor appointments.
Did you try other methods to lose weight and what happened?
I have tried to lose weight during various periods of my life since I was a teenager. I’d be successful here and there but I never kept the weight off. 50 pounds is the most I have loss in a six-month timeframe but we’re human. You lose the weight and feel great but then a party happens and you drink one too many Amaretto sours (liquor has a TON of calories), or you go to that late night dinner and order the chicken and waffles, and go home and sleep. The problem is I did not eat a lot but it was the choices I made when I did eat that made the difference. Most days I wouldn’t eat breakfast, and I’d grab a snack like candy or cookies midday and then eat dinner later on. There was no structure of three balanced meals coupled with consistent exercise. Then I got a car and the little walking I did do to get back and forth to the train station was cut to a minimum because I drove everywhere.
What has the process been like for you psychologically (before and after)?
I had gastric sleeve surgery at NYU Langone in March 2017, and I was mentally prepared before I even saw the operating room. I did my research and read everything. I stopped listening to the opinions of others and I also stopped reading horror stories in these weight loss groups because everyone’s situation is different. I got informed, professional options from those who are qualified to speak on the subject. I affirmed in my mind that no matter what happened, I was going to do everything by the book and come out of this surgery on top. I was the first surgery of the day and the whole procedure took maybe an hour and a half. I had shrunk my liver by following the diet my surgeon gave me with no cheating so my surgery was a breeze. When the procedure was done, I walked a mile in the hospital that evening because I knew that psychologically and physically, I had to get out of my own way and do what was best for me overall to recover but to also be stronger mind, body, and soul. Positive affirmations to yourself are so important. Now that I am almost 8 months post-op, I feel even better psychologically. Yet, there were a few times when I would go shopping for clothes and find myself looking in the 3X/4X section and realizing that I am not that size anymore. That part takes a lot of getting used to. We gravitate to what we know. So I would try on clothes and be pissed off because they were too big because I didn’t think I could fit into a 1X/2X when I actually could. Now I try on everything smaller. The other part that plays tricks on you is the mirror. Though the scale may move, you often look at yourself and think, “I am not losing weight. I look the same.” The best thing to do is photo comparisons because them photos don’t lie (unless you are using filters and Photoshop which I advise against). Take photos of your neck, legs, butt, all that, prior to surgery. You’ll thank me later.
How do you feel emotionally regarding your decision (before and after)?
I am living my best life right now and not simply because I am smaller in weight but also because I am mentally stronger. This process takes anywhere from 6-9 months before you have the surgery. You got to have your head in the game prior to even playing the game. I am so grateful for the progress I have made and emotionally I feel like I have added years onto my life and set the trajectory for so many more amazing experiences to come. My only regret is that I didn’t do this sooner.
How do you feel when you hear people say “weight loss surgery is the easy way out”?
Most people who say that weight loss surgery is the easy way are ill-informed. There is nothing easy about allowing someone to remove 70% of your stomach and then learning how to function on eating 3-4 ounces of food initially and graduating to more as time goes on. What most of these naysayers don’t realize is that there is a process most of us had to endure prior to going under the knife. Some people have to lose a certain amount of weight before they are even approved for surgery. There are a slew of doctor visits with specialists to administer tests to see if your body can even withstand the impact of such a surgery. You must go through six months of consistent appointments for insurance approval in most cases and if you miss one, you will have to start the process all over. Can we talk about the co-pays one must pay for the specialist visits? Additionally, you have to work out. You don’t just magically become thin after weight loss surgery. You have moments where you are stalled, meaning times when the scale will not move for weeks to even a month, despite your best efforts because your body is adjusting to your weight loss. We aren’t even going to get on the vitamin regiment initially and how you have to ensure that you are getting enough protein. I was lucky not to be a weight loss surgery patient who had hair loss but some people do. Though it does grow back and it doesn’t happen to everyone, the stress of seeing some of your hair come out due to lack of iron and protein can be emotionally draining. Another thing is your hormones are all over the place sometimes after surgery and that is another factor that is not easy to deal with. Weight loss surgery is harder than losing weight on your own in my opinion. If I had to do it all over again, I would do so in a heartbeat.
What has been the hardest part of all of this?
The hardest part of this has been hearing people say stupid things like, “You look so good now.” What does that even mean? I wasn’t unattractive at my heaviest weight. I was still the same dope being I am right now. The way people approach you when you lose a significant amount of weight is disheartening. I think sometimes people mean well but just don’t know what to say and don’t realize how they sound saying certain things. Telling someone they look good “now” or “You look so much better,” indicates they didn’t before. Another thing that many people talk about is the demise of their romantic relationship once they had weight loss surgery due to their partner not agreeing with it or wanting them to stay the weight they were. I am thankful that I didn’t have those issues. My man has been with me every step of the way and even modified his diet when I was on my pre-op diet so there were no temptations in our home. Yet, everyone doesn’t have that kind of support so it’s best to make sure your support system is legit. I’ve had no complications from my surgery at all and even healed quicker than expected; so the hardest thing for me has been just trying to keep smaller clothes on hand and motivating myself to still workout on days when all I want to do is chill.
What advice would you give for anyone facing weight loss surgery or who is trying to decide whether surgery is right for them?
Don’t ask your friends about weight loss surgery or let these Facebook groups freak you out. Go to a medical professional for a consultation and ask questions related to your own health. If I listened to half of what people said would happen, I would not have gone through with my surgery. None of those things I was told happened at all. I had the smoothest surgery ever and I had never had surgery before. Also, do your research on your doctor and don’t cheat on your pre-op diet. The whole purpose of that diet is to shrink your liver to make it easier for the surgeon to get to your stomach and perform the procedure. Don’t jeopardize your surgery for a temporary cheat snack or meal. Also, stay prayed up. You have to go into this with no worries and your mind clear. It’s not easy but it will set you on the path to a successful recovery and the willingness to work hard after surgery with diet and exercise.
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