The Life That Led Me to Bariatric Surgery — Part 1 -Too Fat to Fit
My maternal side of the family carries the female fat genes and I inherited every single one of them. My mother had 3 brothers and two sisters. Her mother, aunts, and grandmother were………..fat. Today they would be labeled morbidly obese. Her two sisters tended toward chubbiness but dieted themselves out of it most of their lives. Due to the luck of the gene draw, and the extremely unwise decision to smoke instead of eat, my mother was the only skinny woman in the family, barely tipping the scale at 100 lbs. at the age of 21.
No one knew the dangers of smoking when I was conceived, and my mother smoked throughout her entire pregnancy with me. I should have been born skinny and sickly. I was not. As referenced above, I was born with every fat gene the family possessed. Although only 6 pounds at birth, that quickly changed. A lifelong struggle with compulsive eating began as far back as I am able to remember.
I was always hungry. Never satiated. No matter how much I ate or how full I felt, I always wanted more. I craved carbohydrates — bread, cake, cookies, ice cream, pasta, long before the word “carbohydrate” was part of the popular vernacular.
Even as a child, and then as a young teen, I tried every diet available at the time. Nothing worked, because I was unable to stick to any of them. I was always hungry, and when I wasn’t hungry, I was craving carbohydrates.
Finally, at age 17, carrying 170 lbs. on my 5’ frame, I received my college acceptance letter in the mail and decided that I was not going to go to college fat. The letter arrived the first week of February. The next day, I went on a starvation diet, consisting of an Instant Breakfast Drink for breakfast, a hard-boiled egg for lunch, and whatever protein and vegetable my mother served for supper. I was so hungry all of the time that I felt as if holes were being drilled into my stomach. But I persevered and arrived at college in September weighing 126 lbs.
After two weeks of climbing campus hills and stairs, because the University of Rhode Island’s old buildings did not have elevators, and my dorm was at the bottom of a giant hill, my weight dropped to 115 lbs, which I maintained throughout the four years of college. I did so by starving, walking, and climbing.
Two weeks after graduation, I got married, landed a desk job, and stopped walking. Only through sheer determination and more perseverance (as well as constant hunger), was I able to keep my weight around 125 lbs until I became pregnant 4 years later.
Although I managed to lose the 55 lbs of pregnancy weight through more strict dieting, the next 40+ years were spent like my first 17……beset by uncontrollable compulsive overeating interspersed with one failed diet after another. The lure of the food was just as overpowering as the lure of alcohol to an alcoholic. It wasn’t until years later that I found out this struggle was scientifically factual, evidenced by the myriad of articles on eating disorders in Google, rather than a product of weak willpower, as everyone in my life had always insisted.
In the mid-1980s, gastric bypass surgery was introduced, and my new primary doctor strongly “suggested” that I undergo the procedure. I was appalled and insulted. In my mind, I was nowhere near heavy enough (at 190 lbs.) to consider such an option.
More years. More failed diets. More compulsive eating.
Then in 2006, my husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. We were each other’s worlds. We had a very close, loving, secure relationship until Alzheimer’s Disease stole his essence — his judgment, memory, cognition, abilities, everything. In 2013, it became impossible for me to care for him any longer at home by myself. I had to place him in a nursing home. Whereas I had always been a stress eater, our separation hit me so hard that, for the first time in my life, the opposite occurred. I could not eat. I could not get food down. Between his placement in the nursing home in 2013, and his death in 2015, I lost 92 lbs.
Two years after his death, I started to eat again. I do not know if there is a scientific reason behind this, but what happened next scared me towards bariatric surgery. My compulsive overeating became worse than it had ever been. Ever. There was no stopping me. I could eat an entire half-gallon of ice cream in one sitting. I could eat a box of Oreos in one sitting. I once got up in the middle of the night, made a batch of brownies, and ate half of them before I returned to bed. I could eat…………well, you get the idea. By 2018, I had regained 50 lbs, and there was no end in sight. Only more cookies, candy, brownies, and cake.
I was a size 4x, which was beginning to get tight, and with a short, little peek, I could see 5x coming at me from around the corner. The “before” picture of me in the title of this story tells the tale.
One day I was sitting and thinking about the back surgery that I desperately needed. I had found a surgeon who would perform it, regardless of my weight. Suddenly, and it was a sudden idea that just came upon me, I decided that if I was going to have any surgery, it was going to be bariatric surgery. I felt that it was the only way out of my weight struggle. I had recently heard about a new procedure, bariatric sleeve surgery, that was far less complex than the old bypass surgery. I read about it, and it seemed the right option for me.
That was it. It wasn’t a lengthy thought process with months of research. It was just a thought that popped into my mind suddenly. At that moment, I knew it was the only answer for me.
Next Installment- The Road to Bariatric Surgery- Full of Potholes.