Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Weighing our worth

You know, I'm a bit of a "Pinterest"-a-holic these days. If you haven't requested access yet, and enjoy neat visuals and thought provoking posts about everything from DIY projects to recipes to fashion and social issues, I'd highly recommend it! It's due, in large part, to some of the posts I've been following there that I've been giving weight, obesity and self worth a lot of thought lately. In particular, I've been following the pins of a fat acceptance activist and her views on fat bias and negative self images in society. I thought that I was immune to all of that now, given that I'm considerably lighter, and feeling pretty good about my overall health. Turns out I was wrong. 

It started with my regular digital bathroom scale. I check my weight at least once a week to make sure I'm still on track with maintaining weight loss. That's not to say I haven't experienced mild "rebound" weight gain - in fact, the gastric bypass surgery team had warned me that after the first 2 years, I could expect to regain anywhere from 10-20% of the weight I lost as my body adjusted and settled. They were right, much to my chagrin, and I've been a bit disgruntled with my bathroom scale ever since. Nonetheless, I've come to accept my body's limitations, and the natural set point that I've settled at with the comforting thought that I have the rest of my life to keep moving and caring for my health.

So about a week ago, my bathroom scale started showing a lower weight than what I've been seeing for the past few months. A pound here, a couple there, by the end of the week I was feeling fantastic! I even noticed that I was dressing differently for work - more high heels (instead of ballet flats or sandals), dresses instead of slacks, and red lipstick a few days, because I was feeling frisky. The effect it had on me was pretty remarkable, really, given that I've lost a lot of weight to this point, and by rights, I should feel great EVERY day. I guess I'm not so immune to what that little number says on the scale.

Then, this week, I stepped on the scale and it dropped dramatically...by about 100 lbs, lol. Yeah, I know what you're thinking...Tapeworm? Accidentally misplaced a limb? Nope. Worse. Low battery.*SIGH!* I checked my weight at the pharmacy that evening and confirmed that my hard won "weight loss" was for not.

After my anger and disappointment subsided, I got a chance to really digest how a simple little thing like a number on a scale could influence everything from my mood and wardrobe choices to, really, my self worth. And I was horrified. Really, after everything that I've been through, I'd like to give myself more credit to see myself as a person and not a number, but it looks like I haven't escaped that element of self loathing yet. Oh, so much more to learn!

What's even scarier is that we, as women, pass these unreasonable standards on to girls. It's easy to find evidence of it - how often do you see or read about 10 year old girls on a diet because they think they're "fat"? It's no wonder, they see it everywhere.

I'm not saying I have any answers here. I just want to point it out. We need to stop focusing on the numbers, ladies, and start focusing on our lives - our glorious, healthy, joy-filled and content lives where we are surrounded by loved ones and more than the sum of our parts or the number on a scale. We're exactly what we need to be, when we need to be it. And no number can ever change that.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Of trees and forests...

Ever heard the phrase, “You can’t see the forest for the trees”? I often refer to it when talking about seeing the “big picture” versus little problems that plague us and make us reluctant to tackle big projects. Today I got a taste of the other side of that euphemism. I was chatting with a girlfriend at work about a nice belted jacket I was wearing (as close friends know, I’m a bit of a clothes hound). She was amazed that I bought it at a newly discovered consignment shop a few blocks away, and had only paid $8 for it. Her comment was that she’d pay $8 for the belt alone, let alone the jacket (For the record, it’s a cute jacket! Military style with zippers and pockets, great chocolate brown cotton with intricate seaming…you get the drift.). It made me think about all of the little things that I miss on a day-to-day basis while looking at the big picture. I mean, if I didn’t even notice that the belt was a thing of beauty unto itself, what else have I been missing?

I started thinking about my current goals for my weight, health and life and realized that I was completely short-changing myself. I often write monthly goals to stay on track with my WLS-related health issues, including weight loss, exercise and such. But I tend to get bogged down in the details. Yeah, my stomach is looking good, but my thighs are still lumpy and I need to work on that. My butt may look nice in jeans, but it’s still a size too large for my liking – better hit the treadmill hard this month. And the big one, always, is that I haven’t hit my “goal” weight yet (2.5 years post-op), a thought that completely discounts the fact that I’m still 100 lbs lighter than I was 3 years ago. How in the world do I miss trees like that?

I think the lesson that I’m taking from this realization is to savour the small victories. We are so hard on ourselves most of the time that we don’t pay proper homage to all that we’ve accomplished, or truly appreciate how much we’ve grown over the past months and years. Think about your own life – what have you accomplished in the last 12 months that you’re proud of? Make a list – I do! I write down things I’m grateful for at the end of each day…my gratitude journal keeps me sane. But what I’m saying now is, don’t just write it down and forget about it. Feel pride in your progress, let it raise your feelings of self worth, and recognize that it’s just the beginning. You really can do anything you set your mind to if you believe in yourself. And for heaven’s sake, don’t get lost in the forest if you’re just looking to appreciate the trees.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The real skinny on my plastic surgery

Well, I made it. It’s been almost three months since my surgery date and I’m starting feel like my old-new self again. I say old-new, because I’m still me, but I feel better – improved, if you will. Some days I still can’t believe that I had the nerve to go through with two life-altering surgeries, but I am forever thankful I found enough of it to not back out.

To catch you up to speed, on November 4th I underwent a 6-hour trio of surgeries – a breast reduction, brachioplasty on both arms and an abdominalplasty (otherwise known as a tummy tuck). God, even when I type that now, I feel like a “Real Housewife of Waterloo Region.” Isn’t it sad that such a connotation exists? For those of you unaware, in 2009, I had RNY gastric bypass surgery and lost about 120 lbs. It left me with loosey-goosey skin pretty much everywhere, and breasts that I affectionately referred to as size 38-LONG. After dealing with rashes and backaches and ill-fitting clothes for almost two years, I was ready for a change.

So, the surgery. I was very nervous, I admit. I was a basket case the night before while my fiancĂ© and I drove in to Scarborough to stay overnight at a hotel, since we had to be at the hospital at 6 a.m. Pre-op was harrowing the next morning – registration, IV set up, getting into the one-size-fits-most gown for surgery and sitting in a room with another 25 patients, waiting for my gurney-taxi was almost my undoing. But I made it. Then I met my team of nurses, the anaesthesiologist, and my surgeon again in the operation room. Perhaps the most unnerving thing came next – the surgeon literally used a Sharpie marker and drew all over me! He marked off where he would make incisions, how much skin he would remove, even where my newly located nipples would go! Then, I stretched out on the table, breathed in the glorious gas, and slept.

I woke up feeling like a mummy. My arms, stomach and breasts were taped and bandaged to within an inch of my life and I had trouble moving. In particular, sitting up on my own was impossible, both because of the wrappings and because of the 30-odd internal stitches that were holding my stomach muscles in place just under the skin. It took nearly 3 weeks to be able to sit up on my own, with no assistance. I was also surprisingly swollen, both at the incision sites and all over – IV fluids coupled with anaesthesia and pain killers tend to do that to me.

I only had to stay one night in the hospital, thank heavens. I was sent home the next morning at 10 a.m., with a purse full of Percocet and Tylenol 3.

I have to compliment my talented surgeon, Dr. Michael Kreidstein of Toronto. He’s known as an expert in post-weight loss surgery skin removal and body contouring, and he really delivered. He was very upfront and truthful from my first consultation, warning me that the skin may be gone, but he would be leaving scars in its place. That never mattered to me. I felt very constrained in my old, floppy skin and I would have taken a thousand scars over pounds of excess dermis any day!

Kreidstein was also much attuned to my needs as an out-of-town patient. Kitchener is about an hour and a half from the hospital where I had surgery, and so is his office, so to cut down on frequent trips in to see him during my recovery, the doctor arranged for an at-home health care nurse to visit me and change my bandages. And because he requested the service, it was covered by OHIP. Score. It made me feel much better to know that a professional would be checking in on me.

I also have to shout out to my wonderful sister, who stayed with me throughout my 6-week recovery and acted as my own personal Florence Nightingale. She changed bandages, made meals, kept me in clean towels and nighties, provided a library of must-read books and lectured me on staying in bed when appropriate. In the early weeks, she also acted as my bathroom chaperone – I couldn’t get out of bed by myself for the all-important, middle-of-the-night bathroom visit, and I’d text message her in the other room! The alarm on her phone would wake her, and she’d trudge in to help me. Wow, thank heavens for family.

Props also to my loving fiancĂ©, who did everything in his power to make sure I stayed in bed and rested properly – from cooking and cleaning to making runs to Starbucks, he was a God-send.

Now – down to the nitty-gritty. The surgeries were designed to remove excess skin, and they did. A total of 12 lbs of skin were removed from my stomach, leaving me with a very thin but very long scar that runs from hip to hip. Another pound or so was removed from each breast, reducing my cup size from a G to a D and increasing the perkiness by about, oh, a million percent. Seriously, they point towards the sky like they’ve never done, and it’s fantastic! And finally, about ½ lb of skin was removed from each arm. That may not sound significant, but it sure is nice to wave at someone and have my upper underarm stop waving at the same time as my hand. The scars there were the toughest to heal, and are redder and wider than all the rest. Dr. K says this is typical since we use our arms so much, and the area where the scars are located (from just under my elbow, all the way to my armpit and looping down around the pit from front to back) is hard to bandage.

In total, I dropped an entire dress size just from skin removal. For the first time in my entire life, I have a flat stomach with no fat or skin hanging from it. I can wear a normal sized bra, bought at a normal sized boutique. And this summer, despite the scars, I’ll be excited to wear strapless and halter tops!

In all of my giddy wonderment, I don’t mean to undermine how difficult, painful and long the recovery was (and still is!). I was bed-bound for about a week, had to rest out of work for six weeks, and had to be heavily bandaged for most of them. Even now, I wear adhesive silicone strips on my arm scars to help combat inflammation and redness, in the hopes of limiting some of the scarring. I also took a fair share of pain killers during that time, which really messed up my sleep schedule and appetite, and when I moved too much or too quickly, I managed to rip out internal stitches holding my stomach muscles in place on two occasions (and it didn’t tickle). To be frank, plastic surgery is not for the faint of heart.

All that being said, if I had it to do over again, I would. Just this evening, I did 30 minutes on the treadmill – running! This is a feat I could never do before, thanks to all of the extra skin that would bounce around and damage the tissue under it. It feels so freeing to just RUN! And it finally feels like I have an outward appearance that matches how I feel on the inside. That alone is something I never thought I’d get the opportunity experience.

So there you have it. I’m very happy with the results now that I’ve installed replacement parts! I feel like a part of my journey is ending now – but also that a whole new chapter (one where I’m finally comfortable in my own skin) is just beginning.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The final frontier

I love how experience can make us wiser. About two years ago, when I was contemplating WLS, I had some pretty strong opinions about what I would and wouldn’t do if I went through with it. I also had pre-conceived notions about who should have the surgery and why. For example, I thought if someone were born thin, gained weight later and couldn’t take it off, they shouldn’t be granted the surgery. In my mind, it should have been reserved for people like me, who had been fat for their whole lives – not former thin people who blew it! I also thought that plastic surgery following massive weight loss was a farce. I figured it was reserved for those vain people who wanted to look like supermodels, and by extension, didn’t deserve WLS in the first place, because it should only be used to cure obesity-related ailments. Wow, was I wrong on all counts. If the past two years have taught me anything, it’s that I should never judge other people for their choices and decisions. Nobody has the right to tell anyone how to live or manage their own lives, and it kind of shocks me a little that I was so naive to think that I had all the answers for everyone else back then. My, how I’ve changed.

I think WLS is a wonderful tool that is going to revolutionize our North American society. It has the potential to cure a lot of obesity-related ailments, extend the lives of millions, and save us countless health care dollars in the process. I don’t think anyone who needs help to lose the minimum amount of weight should be denied the opportunity to use this tool, and I hope we’re moving towards greater access for all.

I’m also hoping that we make some gains in subsequent treatments needed after WLS. For the past 6 months, I’ve been researching, asking questions and visiting more doctors than you can shake a stick at to prepare myself for the final frontier – plastic surgery. This is a huge step for me, considering that I swore up and down that I’d never partake! I figured I’d just be happy to have lost the weight, and that my life would be great without all of my extra (literal) baggage. What I’ve discovered is that the human body doesn’t always work the way we’d like it to. After losing more than 100 lbs, I’m left with a lot of excess skin that is bothersome and painful. It causes some health issues with chaffing and rashes, plus it’s almost impossible to do a lot of high-impact activities without serious discomfort. The jiggling and bouncing of excess flesh is not pleasant! Then, there’s the overall self-esteem issue. I mistakenly thought that losing 100+ lbs would make me look better on the outside. The irony of folks telling me how fantastic I look is not lost on me – because the real result is not quite so pretty. Picture a melting candle. That’s how I look without clothes on. Flesh that used to be filled with perky, pert fat cells now droops and sags. Formerly firm body parts are now squishy soft with little definition. I can grab handfuls of skin from just about anywhere, and pull them away from my frame like taffy.

I’m happy to report that I’ve found a surgeon I trust, and together we were able to convince my provincial health insurance to cover some of the costs of surgery. This is where I think we need some improvement. I’d love to see OHIP (or other provincial insurance) cover the entire costs associated with post-WLS plastics, but we’re just not there yet. There’s still quite a stigma attached to “cosmetic surgery” (as they like to call it) in that it’s assumed that it’s an elective, non-essential, purely-for-looks treatment. Clearly, that’s not the case. At this point, I’m scheduled to have a breast reduction & lift, double brachioplasty (removal of skin from my upper arms) and a full abdominalplasty (also known as a “tummy tuck”). In all, the surgeon will remove up to 15 lbs of excess skin from my body. OHIP will cover the cost of the breast reduction, and by virtue of me already being in the OR they are paying for, a bit of the costs of the other surgeries, but I will be covering a large portion myself. Don’t get me wrong – I knew all along that if I opted to have plastics, I would be responsible for a large portion of the costs, and I’m happy to have the means to do so. But given the health benefits that I will enjoy due to these surgeries, I hope this changes soon. I think the WLS community (and especially our provincial insurance providers) need to recognize a “whole patient” approach and see patients through to the end of their whole journey, not just halfway through.

As I approach my surgery date (in a little over 8 weeks), I’m filled with a little bit of fear and a lot of hope. I’m excited at the prospect of finally shedding my physical fat shell, and nervous at the idea of a 5-6 hour surgery to accomplish it! But given the vast numbers of folks out there who have opted for WLS or who know someone who has, I’m happy to share my experiences here. Wish me luck – I’m rounding the curve and heading for finish line!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

No, really - I'm sweet enough!

Ever feel like you’re fighting a losing battle? I do, and it centers on the great sugar debate. As a post-op gastric bypass patient, I’m supposed to limit my sugar intake. Albeit, I’m quite lucky (depending on your perspective) – about half of all RNY gastric bypass patients suffer from “dumping syndrome” (picture a diabetic attack with sweating, heart palpitations, vomiting and diarrhea all at the same time) when they consume too much sugar. I’m part of the 50% who don’t. I occasionally find myself in a dumping situation after (of all things) too much natural sugar from fruit (pineapple is usually the culprit for me!), but complex sugars tend to not affect me (unless in huge quantities, which I can’t fit into my pouch anyway). Ideally, I should consume less than 60 grams a day, but through careful research, my aim after my surgery has been 25 grams a day to stay safe. And wow, is it ever difficult! You’d be so surprised as where those little sugar grams hide – in everything from bread to milk. So it’s not enough to just cut out candy and baked goods (if you hear sobbing, it’s just me) – carefully reading labels, making educated choices and limiting portion size are all keys to success.

Recently, my wonderful garcon-aimee was diagnosed with type-2 diabetes. Scary! In addition to all of the health-risk factors type 2 diabetes leads to, actually getting his sugar levels under control has been a struggle. We haven’t sorted it out yet (sadly, there may be insulin shots in his near future), but our first step has been to cut out as much sugar from his diet as possible. It has me re-examining all of the foods that we eat and all of the cooking methods I’ve been employing over the past year and a half, and I have to say, it’s been eye-opening. I realized that it’s easy to slip back into old habits if you’re not diligent all the time. For example, right after my own surgery, I made the switch to Splenda over real sugar in any baking or cooking I did, and in my coffee too. But I allowed myself to be swayed by all of the bad press Splenda and other sugar substitutes have received (especially aspartame), and though “oh, I only use a little here and there, anyway!” and went back to it. Once that happened, I found myself not being so careful with prepared foods and drinks, often ordering “low sugar” options at my favourite coffee shops instead of “sugar-free” ones. When the diagnosis came, I started checking out the nutritional values on things we both had been consuming, and was shocked to find that the “low sugar” options can sometimes have upwards of 50 grams of sugar per serving!

And of course, I haven’t even delved into the carb / complex carb debate, and how they turn to sugar in your system too…I have a fairly solid background on this issue thanks to my fabulous post-op nutritionist, but I’m happy to be going to the 3-hour education session with the boy at the Diabetic Clint to get a refresher! I think it’s time to go back to the basics – lots of “eat only what comes out of the earth that way” or make it myself with wholesome, real-food ingredients. It’s funny how I am so committed to doing it because it’s for a loved one, but didn’t mind falling off the wagon when it was for me. Oh, I can hear the weight-loss therapist now!

So from here on out, hold the sugar, please! We’re all, apparently, sweet enough ;)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wise words worth sharing

You are faced with challenges so you’ll know none are bigger than you.

Those are strong words that require a bit of thought. As a writer, I tend to be verbose at times. Grasping to explain the unexplainable, attempting to sort out questions and queries with the written word. Finally, I’ve stumbled upon a statement that needs no further explanation. Ironically enough, I think I’ve pondered this statement for almost a month now. Allowed it to roll around in my brain and off my tongue a few times. Whispered it under my breath in times of trial. Now that I’m sure, I wanted to share it. I hope it provides you the same comfort it has me.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

My social experiment - part deux

So when we left off, I had just gone to bed to avoid thinking about my mad lie and false advertising routine on a free dating site. I vowed that I wouldn't look at the inbox until I was able to delete the phony profile the following evening at 8. So off to work I went, trying to put it out of my mind.

Throughout the day, I found my mind wandering...part of me was flattered that men I didn't know found me attractive. The other part of me was angry that looks - and in particular, weight - play such a huge part in acceptance in society. Really, does an extra 120 lbs actually change anything about me besides my outer shell? If I believe in the results of my little social experiment, it apparently does. And if this is true, how unfair is that?! All day, I found myself playing this argument over and over in my mind...I'm the same person, so why am I so much more attractive now? And most importantly, are the successes that I'm enjoying now (mainly, a great personal life, a man I love and who loves me, a great new job, wonderful new friends) only due to the fact that I'm 120 lbs lighter? It really made me think. And then get scared. If I somehow gain back 120 lbs, will it all go away?

Needless to say, Thursday wasn't a very fruitful day at work for me. I teetered between being angry at my findings and scared at the implications of re-gaining weight. Wow, I didn't realize just how much this little experiment would affect me!

At promptly 8 p.m., I logged on and took a gander at the inbox. One hundred and nine emails, total. In 24 hours. Wow. I didn't know if I should be flattered or sad. In the end, I think I leaned more towards disappointed that we still live in a world that is so terribly judgemental towards people of size. I realize that it's probably naive to expect societal norms to change overnight, but I'd sure like to see some improvements. It also made me realize that this isn't a cause that I'm willing to let fall to the wayside just because I'm not labelled "morbidly obese" anymore. I hope this little experiment will make even a few readers notice the fat-biases that exist in our world today. And if you'd like to read some interesting news, legislation battles and stories about this fight to stop the bias, check out the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. Their website regularly inspires me to continue treating people of all shapes and sizes with respect, because if there's anything I've learned over the past 120 lbs, it's that you should never judge someone if you haven't walked a mile in their plus-sized shoes.

As for my phony-baloney profile, it's gone for good. And I have to say that I'm supremely happy that I'm in a wonderful relationship with a man who loved me when I was heavy, and who continues to love me at my current size. I was lucky to find him when I did :) To all my single gal pals, I wish you the best of luck splashing around in the dating pool...I have my fingers crossed that you find your Romeo, too!