Tomorrow, January 5, 2017, a date which will live in infamy, marks the 7th anniversary since I had a weight loss surgery called the vertical sleeve gastrectomy. Now, I’m not really much of an anniversary person. I keep track of milestones and note them mentally, maybe mention them to a few people on the occasion itself. I’m proud of my marriage anniversary because, quite frankly, I think it’s incredible anyone could live in such close proximity to me for this long. But January 5, 2010 is burned into my brain because it marks the day I succeeded at dealing with the thing that has haunted me since about age 10. My weight.
Every success comes with its own story. So here is mine. I do not know what got me hooked obsessively on overeating. Like so many things of this nature it is certainly a combination of factors. My childhood felt lonely and frightening to me. We didn’t really have any family around us for most of it. I had a single Mom who worked full time, went to school part time and was, I think, very overwhelmed and exhausted to be raising two little girls on her own. We never missed a meal, but money was tight. Food was rationed to some degree to make sure we had enough to get through the next week. My sister and I often recall our Friday night shopping trips with our Mom who had a little red clicker that she would use to add up the cost of the groceries as we shopped so we didn’t go over.
As a kid I spent countless hours trolling the streets of our Detroit neighborhood on foot or bicycle looking for cans and bottles so I could turn them into the store to get the deposit money. Later, I had a Detroit News paper route. I spent every dime I found or earned on candy and sugary treats at the little store up the street (a bodega in NY terms). I guess the good part of this was that I had to exercise a lot to get what I wanted. I was 10 when my Mom took me to Weight Watchers the first time. I know she was just trying to help. To keep me healthy and feeling ok about myself, but I was so humiliated. I felt like when I saw my grandparents there would always be at least one conversation about how much weight I had gained since we last saw them. I could hear them talking about me in hushed, disappointed tones. And I could see them watching how much I ate at every meal. It just made me want to eat more and so I would sneak food when we visited them and go hide to eat it hoping no one noticed the dwindling candy in the candy jar.
Puberty was not kind to me. I was horrified by what was happening to my body. I didn’t want adult woman parts. I didn’t want to dress up or wear makeup or be a girl. I felt deeply ashamed of my body and couldn’t figure out how to explain that to anyone or how to stop it. So puberty brought more weight gain and more shame.
I was able to lose weight pretty successfully a couple times. In high school I spent a summer eating almost nothing and exercising until I felt faint. I lost about 35 pounds and felt a lot better about myself for my senior year at 176 pounds. But it all came back and I started college weighing about 240 pounds. About 2 years into college I lost 45 pounds and felt pretty good at my low weight of 192. But then, it came back. As always.
I spent many years buying and reading books about eating, dieting, eating disorders, nutrition. I dieted on and off. I prayed to whoever might be listening to help me lose weight. I was sure that if I could not lose weight I would be unemployable, unlovable, and a social outcast. I started to deal with my self hatred by forcing myself to do things in spite of the weight. I tried not to let it stop me. I did graduate from college with honors. I did get hired for a job. I did buy a house and date people, though perhaps not the best people. But I still fought with food and dieting and my weight all the time. And by age 34 I weighed 300 pounds.
That is the year I entered a relationship with my dear friend of almost 10 years, Sue. We became a couple. And four weeks after we got together, she was diagnosed with three types of cancer. Two kinds of breast cancer and a sarcoma. And for the next year she had 5 surgeries, six rounds of chemo, and six weeks of radiation. After that cancer year, I weighed 329 pounds. I am only 5’2′ tall. That is a lot of weight to carry around. My back ached, I could hardly walk. We went to Busch Gardens one day when Sue had started to feel better and I had to get a cart to ride around in because I couldn’t walk the park. It terrified and humiliated me.
Shortly after that I found an eating disorder therapist. I went to see her for three years at least once every week. It was very hard. Very, very painful. And at the end of three years I had managed to stabilize my weight. I went from eating every meal of the day at fast food to doing that just a couple times a week. We ate at home more. My meals were more nutritious and I was down to about 310 pounds. And I stayed 310 pounds. For 7 more years. I tried and tried to exercise more and eat less. I continued to work on healthier eating, and did make great progress in eating more nutritious food. Sue recovered from her cancer and we settled into our life together. I got promoted in Florida, and then to our Headquarters in Maryland. I got promoted again at Headquarters too, and still weighed 310 pounds. I was feeling pretty good about myself at this point. I had worked through a lot of stuff. Knew how to cook and eat healthy. Felt valued at work in spite of my weight. But I still couldn’t seem to decrease my portions enough to make a difference and lose a substantial amount of weight.
So I decided to have the surgery. For one thing, I was 42 years old at that point. I wasn’t yet diabetic or hypertensive or suffering from heart disease, but I could see it coming. The health indicators were moving in that direction. I needed to act before things got worse. But I was terrified about the surgery too, because it felt like my last chance to really get a handle on this issue. And what if I failed yet again? All I had ever known was failure around my weight. I figured win or lose I had to take the chance, so on January 5, 2010 I had surgery. I weighed in that day at 310 pounds. And one year later I weighed 194 pounds. I lost about 115 pounds. Now, 194 is still not skinny. But it did align with the weight I got to in college when I had been working out and eating well. And my weight just sort of settled there. I felt good and my health was good there so I switched to maintenance mode.
In these past 7 years I have continued to change a bit around my eating. I cook a lot and work hard to put more vegetables into my diet all the time. I know how to cook vegetarian and vegan options of many foods, but find I feel better when I have some meat in my diet. I can cook a lot more ethnic cuisines and know substitutes like applesauce instead of oil to make baked goods healthier. I have weighed as little as 181 after a difficult emotional period when I didn’t eat much at all for about four months and I have weighed as much as 213. But I basically stay between 195 and 205 at all times and try hard to correct as soon as that starts to change. I am also not a perfect eater. I still love sweets entirely too much and they go down much too easy. There are amazing differences though. I have never re-stretched my stomach out. I easily stop eating when I am full. I don’t feel deprived anymore. And most incredibly, food is no longer the thing that comforts me. I still like it a lot, but a bag of cookies or a container of ice cream can sit in my freezer for weeks and I either eat small amounts of it or even ignore it for days at a time. I go through periods of overeating and periods of eating very well, but I manage to keep it balanced.
I think this is by far my longest blog yet, and the least poetic. Its just that I never thought 7 years would go by and that I would have been able to maintain my weight loss with such minimal regain. I will definitely need to get a few holiday pounds off. Not so different from what everyone else does this time of year. And maybe best of all, it doesn’t feel like a miracle anymore. It just feels normal.