A Winning Year on the Loser’s Bench

smallermugJust like me, two days late and 96 pounds short.

Still getting used to the last part of that sentence.

Sunday, Jan. 15, was my “surgiversary” – meaning that a year ago, I decided to save my life and had gastric sleeve surgery. Part of my stomach was removed and what was left made into a nice little “sleeve” that doesn’t hold much more than 3 ounces.

Buffets are a waste. “All You Can Eat” is a joke. When I have a drink, it’s one and done.

I have become the cheapest date in town.

I promised I would share my journey with you, the ups and downs, the laughter and the tears. I figure a year out was a good time to bring you up to speed.

Let me get a few things out of the way first.

  1. Yes, it is pretty wonderful to feel good and have energy again.
  2. img_3430No, even though I look like E.T. (see before and after pictures at right), I am not planning on having my loose skin removed. There are a few reasons for this:
    1. Getting “sleeved” is a tiny bit painful, but you get over it quick and I have been told by people who had skin-tightening surgery that it hurts like hell.
    2. The only person who matters (and the only one who sees me naked) is my beloved husband and he loves me no matter how I look.
    3. There is a reason that God invented Spandex.
  3. No, I don’t miss soda or fried food. I do miss rice and pasta just a little. And salad a LOT.
  4. And despite all the ill-informed people out there, weight loss surgery is NOT an easy way out. It requires commitment, sacrifice, holding yourself to a new standard and keeping your promises to yourself. And realizing that there are a lot of stupid people out there. With each pound I released, my (mental) skin got thicker and suffering fools became a lot easier.
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All I really wanted to do was show off my cowboy boots, but the size 14 dress helped The Girls show off too…..

As the weight came off over the last year, I went through a lot of mental changes too. When you’ve always turned right to go to the “women’s plus size” section at Kohl’s, it’s hard to make yourself walk straight or turn left and go to the junior or normal size section. It’s also hard not to scream with sheer joy and amazement when you take a size 14 bathing suit into the dressing room at JCPenney and it actually fits.

If I try on a pair of pants and they don’t quite fit around the hips or middle, my inner bitch still tells me I’m fat. Body image is one of the nastiest demons anyone can deal with and unfortunately, this operation doesn’t touch that. Using the tools gained from pre-surgery classes, I’m trying to stifle that voice, but I have a much better understanding of the struggle as my metamorphosis continues.

I do, however, miss The Girls. I mean the ones that gave me cleavage and the comfort that, even if I had been pudgy in the middle, at least I had a decent balcony to perform with (don’t laugh, I thanked them for an acting award I received because they provided comic relief). I am finally to the point where I’ll be shopping for a smaller sized bra, with padding no longer optional.

I have collarbones and hip bones and ribs and ankles that I haven’t seen in years. I touch them with the wonder given a favorite toy brought out of hiding. I have batwings that I flap proudly. I’m still trying to get used to all this “activewear” that shows off my progress. I have donated more than half of the clothes in my closet to charity and, despite worrying that I’d want to keep and have some sentimental favorites altered to fit my smaller self, I have learned to let go of the baggies. My shoulders are not as broad and I actually have a waist I’d like to show off. New, more flattering clothes are slowly replacing the ones that camouflaged.

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Out watching people eat just before my surgery date with Sadie and my SisterOutlaw and PartnerInGrandmoming
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A year later, we both look better! And that little squishy on my lap is walking and talking and keeping us busy

It’s been a year of big changes. As things get smaller, some things got bigger. Like my hot flashes. I thought menopausal ones were bad, but they were few and far between. These come on in groups and knock me on my ass. I asked my doctor about it and he said it’s because estrogen lives in fat cells and when the fat cells leave, the hormones go batty. And burps? I used to be rather demure and polite, but now they’re three-dimensional, often with an introduction, first and second act and big finish.

I get asked a lot “what can you eat” – and my answer is “food” – but on the healthy side. Protein is a priority and I dine on a lot of steak or chicken strips, ahi tuna, cheese, almonds and Greek yogurt. It’s kind of the opposite of Weight Watchers – where they have an emphasis on filling up on lettuce and vegetables and fruit, we have to be careful about  “filling up” since we have a much smaller space. Having sleeve surgery is like giving the crankiest restaurant customer a seat in the kitchen – if they don’t like it, it gets thrown. Sometimes up. Gone are the days of giant salads, rice bowls (you don’t want to know), bagels (yikes) or heaps of pasta. I can eat a small salad, but I definitely have to prioritize what goes in first – meat, cheese, vitamin-rich veggies or fruits. And drinks are non-carbonated, low-sugar things like water, tea, water, coffee and more water.

morning-collageI’m a big picture person and every time all my kids are home, we have a family portrait session. I’m talking an hour posing in various parks and other rustic locations in the hopes of preserving our brood in a moment in time. We had a terrific session just before my surgery, but I was so unhappy with that, I asked my photographer pal (jokingly, of course) to photoshop out my double chin and all the extra me that was crowding the frames. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy with how I looked, even though the rest of the family looked fabulous. Once the weight started falling off, I felt compelled to have another photo session, but just for me. One morning in downtown Newhall, a few changes of clothing and my spirits soared. The new pictures made my heart sing and gave me inspiration to keep working hard. Pardon my indulgence, but you have to do whatever works for you.

I do spend a lot of time reassuring servers in restaurants that I am happy with my food, especially if I have only eaten a quarter of the food on my plate (restaurant meals usually turn into three or four after-meals for sleevers). I often have have to hide my look of amazement when I see plates go by laden with so much more than we (and I mean all of us, sleeved or not) NEED to eat at each meal – the amount of food just floors me at some places. Not only is it hard for me to believe that I used to consume exactly that same amount of food – and often, dessert – but it’s also hard for me to understand why people don’t eat healthier because I feel so much better now.

My dogs are thrilled with the new me because, not only am I bringing home boxes from restaurants that often mean it’s snack time, but also because I will make a meal and sit down with what I think is a perfect portion that I am unable to finish. They lovingly and conveniently sit at my feet, because they know they will soon be feasting on the excess. We make sure they get plenty of exercise to work off their “treats,” and so the vet stops calling Gracie “the round one.”

Along with the dietary changes came behavioral changes – I actually enjoy getting outside and moving, and try to walk on a regular basis in the mornings with friends. I have a few angels who make the time and keep me company (and keep up with my non-strolling pace) and I find myself doing a lot of things I wouldn’t – and couldn’t – do a year ago. Just yesterday, I went out in the back yard, cleaned up a lot of doggie doo, pulled up some dead vegetation along with some weeds, moved furniture and swept, staying active for a couple of hours. My dogs were in shock, because in the past I never went out, let alone worked, outside.

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Summer, 2015. I was Number 1 all right – Shoes didn’t even fit, and I had a great appreciation for elastic – and lots of fabric
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September 2016. A year after that nightmarish flowered dress shot. Just got a new corset for my Voodoo Queen costume. I’m trying to think of excuses to wear it for more than Halloween!

I still love to cook, I just consider it more performance art than participation sport. I love feeding people and baking (I baked more this Christmas than in the last 10 years) and savoring the best part of the dining experience – enjoying the company and really tasting the food instead of just filling up and pushing away from the table. Believe me when I tell you that three bites of the best part of something is WAY better than 10 bites to clean a plate!

Because my job involves spending a lot of time on social media, I have to give a shout out to members of two Facebook pages dedicated to those considering or who have had gastric sleeve surgery. You have become my friends and supporters and I get so much encouragement and support and answers and camaraderie, I feel it’s an honor to give it back. You made room for me on “The Loser’s Bench” and I am proud to sit at your side.

And the best part of all, I have the energy and better health so I can keep up with my inspiration, Sadie Jane. I plan on seeing her grow up, graduate from school, get married and maybe make me a great-grandmother. She’s holding up her end of the bargain, it’s up to me to stay the course and make this life change work.

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And she’s worth every little bite.

 

Photocollage and head shot at the top by the amazingly talented Sarah Krieg. Please visit her website at www.SarahKriegPhotography.com

Dear readers –

If you have questions about Gastric Sleeve surgery, please feel free to comment or message me – I am all about education! And if you find this blog helpful or funny or inspirational or just a good positive change from some of the nasty dreck on the innerwebs these days, please share it generously. Thank you!

 

Carol Rock is a writer based in the Los Angeles area. She is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience covering all areas of news and features. She works as a freelance public relations and media consultant, with writing remaining her strong suit. Her tattoo, if it were real, would read “Don’t Die Wondering.”

Your comments are welcome and always appreciated. Please share this on social media!

Chew, chew, chew – My life on the (lite) gravy train

It has been a month since I decided to get rid of a small bit of stomach for a bigger portion of good health. All in all, it’s been a really good month – the feedback from my friends and colleagues has been positive and it’s looking like this was the absolute right choice for me.

While some may think this was an easy way out, it’s quite the contrary. They tried to warn us about how much detail there is to eating after the surgery. Portions are small and divided between proteins and vegetables/fruits (the only carbs I’m willing to eat) and have to be consumed three times a day. (Meaning I have to stick to something of a schedule)

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Two iron, two multis, six calcium, two gummies a day, B-12 once a week. Oh, and at all different times in the day. Welcome to my nightmare

Vitamins, once a “leave the bottle next to your toothbrush and take one a day if you remember” ritual, are now essential because I’m not eating as much, and they have to be taken in certain amounts at certain times because of their individual absorption rate. Contrary to what you may have learned on Schoolhouse Rock, all vitamins don’t get along and some are the bullies of the supplement world.

You would think a writer/consultant like me who works out of a home office most of the time would find it easy to remember to take the right pills at the right time, especially those which are taken with meals. Not a chance. Just because they fixed my tummy doesn’t mean they patched together the scattered parts of my brain.

So I have a little note on my office bulletin board – not that it helps. I spend a good amount of time saying “Oh crap, I forgot to take my calcium” or “That feels like too much iron” and swearing about having to chew every pill into powder (digesting pills is something a stomach sleeve has trouble with for the first few months). And chugging water doesn’t happen anymore, either. Sip, sip, sip. Wait a half-hour, then chew, chew, chew, chew – up to 20 times per mouthful. I’m convinced I have jaws of steel now with those workouts, but it’s for a reason. I also realize what meats have gristle in them (had a hamburger pattie and it was a real chore to eat), that make me happy that I’m trying to stick to just poultry and fish from now on.

Screenshot 2016-02-15 12.47.35If I take that “one more bite,” or take in too much liquid at once, it feels like a gremlin living in the center of my chest is kicking and stretching. Members of my support group told me I would know if I’d taken too many bites and they are absolutely right. It’s not like being Thanksgiving full, it’s more like “ow, ow, OW!” and the only thing that will make it better is letting nature take its course. That and sip-sip-sipping water to help things move along.

That said, I have been able to work normal food back into my menu, so long as it doesn’t have skin or casing on it (my grapes must be peeled, which I think is long overdue). It’s something of a challenge when we’re out; last weekend we ventured to two movies and when we arrived at the second theater, we got there just as the previews started to play. Try and find something that’s full of protein at your local cinema. A hot dog – with mustard and relish, but no bun – was the only thing I could find, and yes, the gremlin was busy that night because I didn’t consider the casing….

I even went to Disneyland last week, vowing to find something edible wherever we went in the park. The turkey sandwich at Jolly Holiday – sans bread, lettuce (hard to digest) and mushy tomato – was delicious. Washed that down with an iced tea, but since I can’t drink at the same time as I eat (again, a space issue in the sleeve), it took me about an hour to drink the small cup’s worth. Later on, ice cream sounded good, so I suggested that my ice-cream loving friend stop into the Golden Horseshoe and get a sundae. I was able to eat three bites of ice cream and was completely satisfied. I’ve become the perfect mooch.

Met the kids and my motivation, Sadie, for a visit to the Carthay Circle lounge for an adult beverage – except my beverage was a Two Bill – their name for an alcohol-free iced tea-lemonade combo. A few hours later, for dinner at Café Orleans, I ordered a cup of French Onion soup.

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Cafe Orleans Pomme Frites. One of my former loves, now not so much.

My son-in-love ordered a basket of Pomme Frites for the table, those delicious thin French fries coated with garlic and Parmesan cheese, which I first said I wouldn’t have, but fell victim to temptation and grabbed one – and it tasted awful! They told me my tastes would change and boy, they were right on this one! I guess if I have to lose a craving for something, this one is OK. Now if only the popcorn at the park didn’t smell so delicious.

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C’mon Grammy, let’s go ride Big Thunder Mountain Railway!

One of the best things about Disneyland was that I logged 3.7 miles walking between parks and from ride to ride – a short distance from what I hear from other people, but I’m still proud. I’ve been logging at least a mile a day (with housework activity on the weekend) on trails with my friends – even got to walk 1.37 miles along the beach in Santa Monica with a dear friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. Turns out she had some questions about my surgery, which is why I’m including it in my blog subjects (don’t worry, I’m getting ready to jump into the political/election fray soon enough), and you know I’m more than willing to share my experience. I do have more energy and know that moving is critical to my success. I actually think about getting in a walk or some sort of continual movement each night when I plan the following day’s schedule. That’s something I never did before.

A side effect of the surgery, and maybe the weight loss (I am talking to my regular doctor about it today) is that I have developed my own weather system that flips quicker than the heartbeat of a speed freak. One moment I’m fine, then I’m grabbing a sweatshirt (I never used to layer, but now I’m an expert), then I’m stripping off what I can to accommodate a hot flash. Happens 24/7. Chilled to the bone in the middle of the night, huddling close to the pitties for warmth, then throwing off the covers. I may have suppressed the hormone that causes me to be hungry, but I think I accidentally kicked into high gear the hormones I thought I left behind after my hysterectomy six years ago….

And my wardrobe is changing, little by little. I’m wearing my 2- and 3X T-shirts for walking and housework and digging out the smaller shirts from the bottom of the drawer to wear out. Since I have several sizes of pants in the closet, I’ve moved from the biggest to the comfortable ones a size or two down. It’s strange that some of my favorite items now hang or bag a little, at first I was confused, but then I was thrilled! My husband frequently tells me how much difference he’s seeing and that definitely helps me along.

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One step at a time. I can do this.

So the bottom line is that I feel terrific. I have learned a lot about myself, I’m still learning how to live with limitations and I am flabbergasted at how much food is still in the refrigerator (I have to get my hubby to eat more fresh fruit!) because I’m not eating more than a few bites. I learned how to think about what’s on the plate, now I need to learn how to shop for just one and a half people. Either that or invite friends over for my leftovers….thanks all for your support, in person and online.

Now let’s talk about something else that’s eating at me….this upcoming election and what we’re teaching our children…..coming soon!

Can I stomach this big change? Yup.

So, how did it go?

Not too bad. Big change. But not too bad.

Last Friday, I was a guest at Providence St. Joseph’s Medical Center for my bariatric sleeve surgery. I left about 36 hours after I arrived, bearing five war wounds across my abdomen and a significantly smaller stomach.

So many of you have asked questions about my experience, I will share my recollections and revelations here. I hope this openness has sparked some conversations about this tool in so many people’s struggles with weight loss. It’s not for everybody and yes, I have had my moments where I wondered why I wanted to do this. Now that it’s done, I am focused on making the best of this body revision and what it can help me achieve.

First of all, kudos to the nursing and medical staff at Providence; they were friendly, professional, supportive and made my stay very comfortable, despite the frequent wake-ups Friday evening. It’s good to have people around you that are familiar with your procedure and can gently advise life changes that will make your surgery worthwhile. Got a lot of good information from all my visitors.

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The amazing Bear Paws warm air puffy gown. Whoever invented this deserves an award!

Additional kudos to whoever invented those Bear Paws inflatable gowns with vents where they pipe in warm air. No more freezing on the gurney waiting to go to the OR. I didn’t want to take it off. And now I have a whole slew of silly questions for my friend the surgical nurse (at another hospital) about what else happens after surgery. Somehow, someone got me out of the puffy warm gown and into a cloth gown that wrapped around me comfortably so that I could get out of my bed to do laps around the nurses’ station (required before we could go home) without mooning anyone. That’s definitely a skill!

There’s a huge memory gap that starts when I saw the anesthesiologist, a lovely Irish lass with a beautiful accent, after I shifted to the operating table and ends sometime after I arrived at my room. I remember seeing family and friends waiting there, along with bits and pieces of conversations, peppered with a lot of giggling when I dozed off mid-sentence – over and over again. I seem to remember everyone was happy that I was safe in my room, then they all left to get lunch, leaving me to blissfully snooze.

I think.

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Daughter Sarah took one of the first Friday laps

Later that afternoon, I started my laps, escorted by various friends and family, each making special symbolic marks on my white board to signify completion. I continued the laps after they left, our daughters taking their dad out for dinner and leaving me to rest. Walking past the rooms of fellow bariatric patients (there were four of us that night), we bonded and encouraged each other to continue to walk, because moving more is key to us becoming shadows of our former selves.

It was deja-vu, back to the liquid diet, when they brought me dinner, a tray filled with broth, tea, juice (that had to be diluted) and an orange slushy. Broth, juice and half the slushy went down easily, in little tiny sips and spoonfuls, to accommodate my shrunken stomach. I guess I did pretty good, because they took me off the IV saline that night, saying I was sufficiently hydrated.

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Who wouldn’t be incentivized by this cutie patootie?

Breakfast the next day was more of the same, as was lunch. I dozed off and on Saturday morning, family arrived to chat me up and keep me company as I walked more laps. My daughters sent pictures of my granddaughter playing at our house as incentive to keep walking and late that afternoon, the nurse brought me an armful of paperwork and we were headed home.

 

Other than feeling a little twinge in my middle from the war wounds (surgery was laparoscopic, four of the holes are from where they put in the trocars that accommodated the camera and surgical tools, the last is where the drain was installed), I felt pretty good. Of course, having Sadie at home to cuddle might have influenced that, but I didn’t have any residual aches or pains. I took the pain medicine prescribed because I thought it would help me sleep, but the constant interruptions of the night before assured I would sleep like a hibernating bear.

I did. Clean sheets and a familiar mattress are simply little bits of heaven.

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Protein-enhanced yogurt. Eaten in little, baby-spoon-sized, tiny bites.

In the last couple of days, friends have been generously bringing homemade soups and asking if I need anything. I asked a friend to find some unflavored protein powder (I have to try and take in 70 grams of protein a day to keep up my energy) because most powders I’ve found are either vanilla (gak) or chocolate (doesn’t mix with chicken broth very well). She arrived with a huge container of Isopure, which is flavorless, but doesn’t seem to mix in very well. Maybe it’s my technique – could be like making gravy, takes an expert mixer.

By the time I figure it out, I’ll probably be on to foods that actually have protein in them, like eggs and tuna.

I think most of the people who have come by are amazed that I’m not more tired or sickly. Honestly, I feel great.

I also think that a lot of the credit for that is the positive reinforcement I’ve received from my readers and friends and people on the Facebook page Gastric Sleeve Support Group who unselfishly share their experiences, challenges and offer solutions for whatever anyone asks. I’ve even heard from friends who had the surgery that never talked about it before, reaching out now that we have a common bond.

Now to make a schedule for all of those offers to walk. Gotta get those laps in, before I need another nurses’ station. And figure out how to mix that damn powder.

 

I love to hear from my readers – feel free to comment and of course, to share!