I told you there was another life-changer lurking in the shadows.
Here goes nothing…
I’ve always been a big girl. My mother frequently referred to me as “pleasingly plump” and I remember shopping in the “chubby girls” section of the local kid’s store.
In high school, I was kind of average, my favorite lunch a bag of barbecue chips washed down with a chocolate milkshake. I played tennis and field hockey (yes, I know it’s shocking, but I did participate in informal team sports) and that probably helped keep the fat at arm’s length (but clearly waiting in the wings).
In college, I walked everywhere and when I was a cadet for LAPD, I had the distinction of being the first female in that role – the spotlight and pressure of trying to get into the academy requiring some running and semi-regular workouts. I wore a size 9. That didn’t last long.
When I got married, I remember thinking that I was fatter than I wanted to be, but I was concentrating on being happy. Kids came along and I gained and lost baby weight, losing nearly 50 pounds after my youngest was born because my employer brought Weight Watchers onto the studio lot. But the weight came back.
I hate gyms. I hate the culture, the sweat, the pain, pretty much everything about them. I don’t run, don’t lift, don’t spin or Zumba. (For the record, I tried salsa dancing on a cruise once, which is just like Zumba, right? Damn near killed me.)
I do like singing and dancing and when I was in musicals, I felt pretty good about the dance workouts I was getting with the rest of the cast. Bless those choreographers who overlooked my clumsiness or worked that lack of coordination into a comedic dance break. But I haven’t been in a musical for a few years.
Being a reporter doesn’t require a lot of movement, and meals are eaten either in the car or at your desk, usually on deadline. Twenty years of that and it took me a little longer to sprint to the front desk – who am I kidding, I’d send an intern – than it did when I started as a columnist.
I’m at the age where groans mean more pain than pleasure; I completely understand the concept of ”warming up the engine” before making any drastic moves. I take caution when stepping up a curb. I have rented a scooter – once – to get through a day at Disneyland.
It hurts when I move sometimes and I’ve been brought to tears more than once when I had to walk a long way, gasping for breath, my arthritic knees screaming for mercy.
And there was that time when I got kicked off the carousel on the Santa Monica pier for exceeding the weight limit. I thought I was hiding it well.
My self-image is an old picture and when I look in the mirror, I just don’t see the extra me in the frame. I’m amazingly good at justifying my fluffiness by looking at people around me, noticing their fluffiness and thinking that I just blend in with the herd.
But lately, I’ve decided to come to terms with the situation and what I can do to fix it. I look harder at the 61-year old woman staring back from the mirror, perplexed, but determined. Things have to change and there is no day but today.
And there’s that little Squishy that I want to play with, encourage, inspire, see graduate and get married and welcome her own little Squishy.
My doctor suggested surgical intervention a few years ago, but I rebuffed that idea. I could lose weight and watch what I ate. But I argue with myself and find reasons why things won’t work and sometimes, it just seems like my brain can’t handle working hard on trying to lose weight while I have so many other things going on that need my attention.
There were a lot of other things going on in my life. Kids were getting married, I was going back to college, there were financial challenges, we were trying to establish ourselves as artists. I was trying to learn new skills that would keep me solvent in the job market. It was just overwhelming.
But when I went to the doctor again and again complaining of aching muscles, painful knees and being short of breath, he would make sure my heart was fine and remind me that my weight could be part of the problem. Losing a significant amount of weight might remove stressors on my bones and muscles (which completely makes sense) and if there really was a problem, it would be found much easier without the extra pounds.
So I started asking around. I had friends who had undergone bariatric surgery and were living better lives because of it. I found a mentor who has been an amazing angel of encouragement and support, answering my stupid questions (because they seemed idiotic to me, but she answered them patiently). I found Facebook pages with people who were either pre- or post-surgery and read their suggestions, successes, challenges and advice.
And I started the process. My insurance company required a six-month series of classes that covered nutrition, psychology, movement, life changes and the surgeries we would have to choose from (the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, vertical sleeve gastrectomy and gastric banding). Every month, I would go to class, meet with people facing the same demons as I in a non-judgmental, safe place that offered a real solution.
But the solution, they warned, did not come easy. There was a lot of work and commitment involved. I was ready.
I chose the sleeve gastrectomy (veterans say they’ve been “sleeved”) because it offered fewer side effects and allowed me to retain the traditional absorption of nutrients that a complete bypass would eliminate. In about a week, I will undergo laproscopic surgery that will leave me with six tiny “battle scars” and a smaller receptacle for any food I consume.
One of the questions they asked us repeatedly in class was how we would respond to those who suggest I am taking the “easy way out” of my weight problem. Let me tell you, this is not easy. I have been restricting my portions for the last several months, which has resulted in the loss of about 30 pounds. I am almost through the first week of a two-week liquid diet, which is bringing about more weight loss (the purpose of the two-week liquid regimen is to shrink the liver, which sits on top of the site where the surgery will work). The surgery will be followed by four more weeks of liquids and soft foods, as my smaller stomach and I make our peace.
I have the potential to lose 100 percent of my excess weight, which means my evil twin could indeed disappear. I’ve been carrying her a little too long…
I think I’m going to do well, because my appetite has significantly decreased since I made the decision to have the surgery. I think that’s partly because of my senior status – both my husband and I have smaller appetites since we’ve crossed the sixth decade bridge. It will help me avoid foods that are bad for me anyway – fried foods, while they might taste great, are really everyone’s enemy. After the surgery, my body will not tolerate them, so best for us to say our goodbyes now.
I will miss carbonated water – not soda so much, because I hardly drink any of that, but I do like a Perrier and have had to mothball my Sodastream machine. After the stomach heals, I will be able to eat what I want, but just in tiny portions. I will never be able to finish a restaurant meal again, but that’s OK. I have a card that I can show at restaurants that explains my new stomach status and asks them to allow me to buy smaller portions at a reduced price (aka, kids or senior meals).
Right now, I really miss scrambled eggs. And pickles. Crazy, I know. But I get to have them later.
My hardest change might be my habit of eating at my desk – something that is just convenient since I work at home. I will try my best to take a break, move to the dining room table and make myself concentrate on my meal.
My mentor told me that when she started on her weight-loss quest, she didn’t want to exercise or move because it hurt. Once her weight was gone, she wanted to move because she could.
I’m looking forward to that. I will be back in the pool doing my water exercises and will walk a bit more (and a little bit more and a little bit more as my endurance grows). I will try (but I know age and gravity might be against me on this one) to work on my flying squirrel arms. Saggy skin is something I’ve been warned about, and I’ve got plenty of time to figure out how to deal with it. I’m not going to worry about that now.
At any rate, I plan on sharing this journey so others might know it’s OK to talk about it. Obesity is the biggest health problem in America right now and if this solution would be the best for you, then let’s help each other. Everyone is different, but we can all be healthy. I’ll try and write every few days for the next month or so and let you know how I’m doing. Thanks in advance for your support.