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!

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.

SarahWalks
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.

SquishyInPink
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.

BreakfastYogurt
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!

 

 

 

 

 

Taking the Not-So-Easy Route

real unicorns have curves

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.

challengeI’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.

easyquoteSo 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.

DMVweightI’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.