I’d like to begin at the very end of the beginning. On December 28, 2016, I traveled with my husband to Tijuana, Mexico and underwent bariatric surgery. The procedure I chose was the Vertical Gastric Sleeve. It is an endoscopic procedure in which 80% of the stomach is cut away, leaving a long thin sleeve in it’s place. The purpose of the surgery is to cause restriction and limit the amount of food one can consume. There are also other benefits, that are largely unexplained, like a loss of hunger, and a change to tastebuds (which favors nutritious foods and makes sweets less palatable).
We flew into San Diego before noon on the 28th. We were picked up by a driver from the hospital and driven over the border to Tijuana. The hospital was clean, the staff professional, and the surgery a success. I stayed two nights in the hospital and two more in a hotel, with medical supervision, before returning to the States and the weight loss journey I am on now. We came home January 1, 2017. My weight before the pre-op liquid diet was 259lbs. Today, fifteen days post-surgery, my weight is 231.8lbs.
I wanted to begin there, at the surgery, because those are obvious and true facts. It is much more difficult to tell the truth about why I was there in that hospital to begin with. When I first offered to blog about my weight loss surgery, I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I am not ashamed of who I am or what got me to where I am, but I do believe in a certain set of values. At my core, I wanted this to be an affirmative story, a feminist story, an empowering story… But, I’m not sure that I can control the narrative and also make it a true story. That is what makes this difficult, because I’ve always seen myself as someone who cared more about the interior than the exterior. I have explained/justified this decision to others, by saying, “I’m forty years old, I’ve begun to feel the secondary effects of being heavy. I have knee pain and mild sleep apnea, I never seem to get enough rest or have enough energy. I need to right the ship before I develop more serious health concerns.”
Yes, all true, but not true in a vacuum. Not true without the other words that I don’t say, “I hate being the fat one. I rarely feel pretty. I’m tired of shopping for plus sized clothes. I don’t ever like the way I look. I never buy clothes I like, I only buy clothes that minimize my most embarrassing areas. I am ashamed of my body. I want to be attractive. I want to feel sexy. I don’t want to be limited in life by my own weakness.”
So here we talk about narrative again, because all those things I said, are truly things that I feel. That doesn’t make them true things. So let me try to be honest. As women, we have complicated relationships with our bodies. I can look at you and see you objectively. I can see a slight pudge or a small eye, or dry hair, but I don’t. I bet you don’t either. I bet when you look at someone else, you see her positive attributes. You look at others with kind eyes, perhaps noting but not putting weight on imperfections. This is not how we see ourselves.
I did not grow up fat, but I always thought I did. I remember a few years ago seeing a picture of me at fifteen and being shocked at how hot I was. Here’s the thing, I’m short and curvy, I developed large breasts very early. This is going to be the part where I blame my mom. I hate to do it. My mom is loving and gave me a wonderful childhood. She is also very shy and was taught her whole life to minimize any flaws so she could go unnoticed. It doesn’t help that she is tall and thin. She didn’t know what to do with a body like mine. Shopping was always a terrible chore. I have a slight curve in my spine so I couldn’t wear anything tucked in (this was before big butts were in). I have red bumps on my upper arms (since birth) so I couldn’t wear sleeveless. After my breasts developed, I couldn’t wear anything form fitting. I was short, so long skirts made me look stubby. I couldn’t wear pants with back pockets because that make the bottom look huge. She didn’t mean any harm, she wanted to protect me from judgement and being less than perfect. She was wrong, it was foolish. I am angry at how long I wasted thinking I was fat, when the truth was, my body was different and not perfect.
I stopped exercising and participating in sports once my breasts developed. It’s funny how a single comment can affect you for years. In junior high school my ‘best’ friend and I were playing street hockey. She took the opportunity to tell me that I looked like a greasy pepperoni when I exercised. So that was it. I think it was then that I started becoming defiantly fat. I rejected the exterior and demanded that people only like my for who I was on the inside. See, this is where the feminism gets crazy confusing. I wanted to be accepted for who I was, all the while lacking the confidence to attend to a large part of who I was.
Adulthood has been a series of diets, recriminations about lack of discipline and depression regarding my weight. I have not been under 200lbs since before law school. I spent more time planning and thinking about losing weight than dieting and exercising to lose weight. In 2008 I got pregnant, then had a baby every two years until 2014. I had made some progress at my gym in Maryland, but only fitness wise, not weight wise. I had metabolic testing done and was told that my metabolism was so slow that it would be five times as difficult for me to lose weight and keep it off, as it would be for a non-obese person. My therapist recommended that I accept and make peace with the fact that I was a fat person. He thought it would be better to enjoy my shorter unhealthy life, then to spend the rest of my life obsessed with food and portions and being routinely disappointed.
So there I was, last year, having just moved to Indianapolis. I felt alone, I was having trouble finding time to exercise, having considerable marital problems due to moving/new job stress, and trying to make a home for my children. I looked into bariatric surgery but discovered it was not covered under my husband’s new health plan. A friend told me about the Mexico option. The surgery there is 1/5th the cost of surgery here. I joined a Facebook group and started reading posts. I rejected it, I didn’t want to change my eating habits for life, I didn’t want to not be able to celebrate with food. I love a good meal. I love flavors. I love an illicit cheese plate (after the kids are asleep). Also, even though my friend had thoroughly vetted the hospital and surgeon, going to Mexico for surgery seemed risky and unsafe.
There is always a turning point in these stories. There is always a rock bottom. My rock bottom was last May. My husband was given 2 tickets to the Indy 500. I did not want to go. I do not do well at outdoor events, I get dehydrated really easily. But, it was a quintessential Hoosier thing, and the 200th running, and we were new to Indiana. I tried to be careful, I wore sunscreen and a hat. I drank only water, no alcohol at all. I did make several mistakes, however. I wore jeans (with holes) because I was too embarrassed for people my husband works with with to see the fat rolls on my thighs. I also wasn't prepared for the amplified heat of the sun beating down on the track and the amount of people. I felt sick halfway through the race. I made it to the medical tent where I was diagnosed with heat exhaustion (not fun, much vomiting). They cooled me down to avoid heat stroke. I felt lost, scared, nauseous, and completely out of control. I also felt ashamed. I was sick because I was fat. It didn’t matter that the tent was full of skinny people with the same issue. I felt that I had brought it upon myself by being fat.
So I decided on surgery. I decided to exchange a casual relationship with food for one that would require thought and care for the rest of my life. I decided to not hide my choice because I don’t think weight loss surgery is an easy way out. I know this is a lot of personal information, and I don't put it out there for sympathy or to justify my choice. I just wanted to work through it, knowing that life is complicated enough without trying to control the narrative. I know that we as women have stories regarding our relationships with our own bodies that are each unique and each true. No matter what we want those stories to be, we are not always the controlling voice. Our relationships with our bodies are deep rooted and complicated. Our opinions shaped through, hope, fear, childhood and adulthood. I think that is what brought me to the end of the beginning, (sitting in a hospital in Tijuana and preparing for surgery) a reclaiming of my body and a hope that my new journey can empower me and my body can begin to be true to not only who I think I am,but also who I want to be.
Elana is a recent transplant to the Indianapolis area. A former attorney from Washington D.C., she is looking forward to her new adventure as a Midwestern home executive. She lives with her husband and four kids, ages seven to almost two. Hobbies include, being stressed, drinking too much wine, eating too much food, and spending money she doesn’t have