Part 4: Weight Loss and Sleeved Life
Thursday, February 04, 2016
*I've decided to write a series of blog posts on my weight loss surgery journey to get my old Spark Friends caught up on what I've been doing over the past year and a half and to help inform people about the weight loss surgery process. So here is Part 3: *
Again, sorry it's been so long since my last installment. It's hard to get a big block of free time to type all this out! Last post was about my recovery and the initial weeks post-op. This post is going to be about my weight loss, my expectations, and adapting to real life with my sleeve.
Right off the bat, I want to warn people that comparing yourself to others is a recipe for frustration and disappointment. When I first researched the sleeve and joined the BariatricPal web site, I saw so many posts of people losing 30 or 40 pounds their first month. 20 pounds their first week! The weight just FALLING off them. And that set some unrealistic expectations in my mind. I didn't *think* I wanted or expected to lose weight that quickly, but let me tell you, once you go through all the pain and suffering and misery of the recovery, it's pretty disappointing to see small losses on the scale and really makes you question whether it was worth it.
I was a "slow loser" right out of the gate. I "only" lost 14.8 pounds my first month. "Only" 8.6 pounds my second month. And I "only" averaged about 6 pounds a month for a long stretch after that. It took me a LONG time to accept and embrace my slow losses. The thing I had to finally realize is that this was not a "diet". I was never going to be "done" with my sleeve. And in the long term, what did it matter whether it took 6 months or 16 months for me to get to goal? Ten years down the road, enjoying my happy, healthy, full life, I wasn't going to be looking back thinking "if only I'd lost the weight two months faster!"
Once I wrapped my head around the permanence of it, I wasn't quite so frustrated by the scale and I was able to focus more on just figuring out how to live the rest of my life!
And the rest of my life really was very different in a lot of ways. The first major thing I struggled with was not being able to emotionally eat anymore. On days when I was frustrated or sad or stressed out, I couldn't binge eat to make myself feel "better". In some ways, that in and of itself made me even sadder! The instinct to turn to food was still there, even if the physical ability was not. I even tried it a few times and was left feeling disappointed. It took me a little bit (about 2 months I'd say) for my brain to catch on that my body couldn't seek comfort in that same way anymore.
Another thing that took some getting used to was really understanding how much food I could actually eat without becoming very uncomfortable. That was a challenge when eating out once I was allowed solid foods. In those early days I would go from "not full" to "omg, I'm going to explode" in the space of a bite or two. So it was very easy to accidentally eat too much and get that about to explode feeling. I never got sick or threw up, but I would get a lot of constriction in my chest and a general feeling of pressure. It was uncomfortable and unpleasant. I had to really work to "eyeball" the amount of food that was safe, portion that out from the rest of the meal at the beginning and then only eat that much.
The amount I could comfortably eat did increase as I healed and my stomach relaxed more and I definitely got much better about pre-judging what was a safe amount, but it was a learning experience for sure.
Another thing I had to learn was to eat on a schedule. I didn't really get physically "hungry" in the same way I did pre-op. Sure, I still had the occasional bouts of head hunger and cravings, but not the physical hunger when I was low on fuel like before. Instead I became "hangry". I wasn't even aware of it, but the people around me certainly were! Turns out that if I went more than 2-3 hours without eating something, I became a real bit**. This became most obvious on our vacations, because I was out of my routine and it was common to be out and about and not have regular access to the foods I could eat. Last spring I was on vacation with my parents in Tennessee and my mom started carrying around turkey sticks in her purse and handing me one at the first sign of hangriness! It was just like those Snickers commercials, but with turkey sticks and peanuts instead of candy bars.
Now I can usually go more like 3-4 hours without the hangry setting in, and I've been pretty mindful of it. If I find myself snapping at people for no real reason, I think back to when the last time I ate was and eat if I need to.
I didn't get back into an exercise routine quite as early as I probably should have. I was cleared for intense cardio and weight lifting two months post-op, which would have been the first week of November, but I didn't really get back into it until after Christmas. I redid the Couch to 5k Program and started doing some strength training. I did manage to run a 5k race every month over the summer, starting in April, which was a goal of mine.
Exercise is really critical for keeping the weight loss going and for preventing muscle loss post-WLS. So if you are thinking about it for yourself, don't slack like I did! Try to get back into it as soon as you are cleared!
Other than that period of adapting in the early months, my life feels pretty normal. I eat out often, just ordering things that I know I can safely eat. Chili is a great option, but I will also order off the appetizer menu a lot, getting chicken tenders (peel off most of the breading), shrimp, or anything else that is mostly protein. I will also often just share something with my husband.
Eating at home is easy. My husband is the cook and I always just have the protein from whatever he is having. So if he makes meatloaf and mashed potatoes, I just eat the meat loaf. If he makes shrimp and veggies, I just have the shrimp. If he makes chicken in some sort of Indian or Chinese sauce and rice, I just have the chicken and sauce. If he makes pulled pork sandwiches, I just have the pork. You get the idea. It's pretty easy! For lunches (I go home for lunch most days) I will either eat leftovers from a previous dinner or have some cheese and turkey pepperoni or peanuts.
I usually have protein bars on hand for breakfast (I eat breakfast at work) and snacks. Other good snacks are cheese sticks, greek yogurt, meat sticks (like beef sticks but with other meats), and peanuts.
It's all about the protein first. That is the main rule to live by to be successful long term with WLS. Protein first and everything else after, only if you have room. Never have a meal or snack that is just carbs. Even if I do have something carby like an apple or a piece of wheat toast, I always add peanut butter or some deli meat. Carbs and special treats only come into play if I will already be meeting my protein goal (100 grams) for the day.
I do occasionally have treats like cookies or candy or something in between my scheduled meals and snacks. But I do try to keep that to a minimum to avoid "grazing" which is the downfall of a lot if WLS patients. Grazing, eating small amounts throughout the day, is one way to get around the restriction of your sleeve or pouch. The restriction only kicks in if you get "full". So if you avoid getting full by sneaking in small amounts of food all day long, you can actually still eat a lot of calories.
Other ways to get around the restriction of your sleeve or pouch are eating and drinking at the same time, drinking your calories, or eating "slider" foods. Drinking WHILE eating helps turn food into a slurry that passes through your stomach more quickly so you don't get full as fast or as long. Drinking your calories is pretty obvious. Drink sugary beverages all day long and you'll never get full, but consume a TON of calories. "Slider" foods are foods that go down more easily and pass through your sleeve or pouch more quickly. These are usually high carb foods. Any kind of food that starts to dissolve in your mouth.. like Cheetos, potato chips, donuts, cake, ice cream.... Those all go down very easily and don't fill you up, so it's easy to eat too much.
So, those are all things I have to always be conscious of and work to avoid. It's usually pretty easy. I've been very good about not eating and drinking at the same time and not drinking my calories. I have occasionally indulged in some slider foods and it is scary how easy they are to eat. Makes it all the more clear why I need to be putting protein first!
Okay, now for the topic I am sure you are all most interested in: weight loss. As I mentioned earlier, I was, by most accounts, a "slow" loser. Here is a history of how much weight I lost each month post-op:
Surgery Weight: 236.0
Month 1: 221.2 (-14.8)
Month 2: 212.6 (-8.6)
Month 3: 207.0 (-5.6)
Month 4: 200.8 (-6.2)
Month 5: 194.8 (-6.0)
Month 6: 189.2 (-5.6)
Month 7: 181.0 (-8.2)
Month 8: 178.6 (-2.5)
Month 9: 175.8 (-2.8)
Month 10: 171.6 (-4.2)
Month 11: 169.4 (-2.2)
Month 12: 164.0 (-5.4)
It took me just under a full year to reach my goal weight of 165. My weight before surgery was 260. I lost 24 pounds prior to surgery. My weight the day of surgery was 236. It took me almost exactly 12 months to lose the 71 pounds to get to goal.
All of that information, which seemed really important to me at the time, seems SO meaningless to me now! What matters now is that I have maintained at or below goal for over 5 months now! It's like I said earlier in the post, once you are at goal and living life, the rate of loss is truly irrelevant!
In my next post I want to talk about some of the non-WLS trials and tribulations I faced since surgery and how my surgery actually helped me get through them. For me that is the true success story, so I can't wait to share it with you!