Written May, 2013, two years after weight loss surgery

We’re told weight loss after bariatric surgery usually levels off by 18 months.  For me, the pounds settled by one year.  I lost about 85% of my excess body weight and that’s the average for most gastric bypass patients. That’s not to say that the shape of my body hasn’t changed in the past year. It depends on the kind of exercise I do, how often, and for how long.  I can still change the shape of my body even though my weight is about the same as it was a year ago.

This week I wore a belt that was at the last notch. I didn’t think anything of it when I put it on until my cousin said, “You know there’s nowhere to go on that belt, you’re at the end.”  I looked down and said, “Oh, I guess I am.”

This sums up how I feel at two years after weight loss surgery. People who are preparing for surgery or who had it recently, want to know what it’s like two years out.  They want to know what to expect.  So here’s how it is for me, two years after weight loss surgery.

Weight:
I wanted to be the patient who lost 100% or more of her excess body weight. And although it’s still possible, I’m good with my weight right now.

Clothing size:
Again, I wanted to be the woman who went from an 18 to a 4 because I’ve seen the stories of women dropping from a 24 to a 4, so why not me? A year ago I settled into a 10 and sometimes an 8, depending on the brand or style.  Today I’m wearing a medium dress and sweater.

Social acceptance:
For the first 18 months I was still thinking about how people treated me differently than before surgery. And this goes for strangers AND friends & family.  But now I don’t give it much thought.  I still notice it, but don’t dwell on it.  I’ve moved on.

Food:
Is this the subject I’m asked about most often?  Unequivocally, yes.  We don’t become morbidly obese without food being an issue, so it’s normal to worry about what it’s like after surgery.

Here’s what an average day looks like:
Breakfast: Protein shake with 1% milk, Trader Joe’s Power to the Greens, or frozen mixed berries or even cold coffee if I don’t have time for a protein shake and coffee, and I always add ice.  The point is, I need variety so I don’t get bored with my protein shake.
AM Snack: A light string cheese from Trader Joe’s or a couple big spoonfuls of non-fat Greek yogurt.
Lunch: Usually leftovers from dinner. Yesterday it was chicken soup that I made with low-sodium chicken broth, greens, celery, onions, shredded carrots, and egg noodles. Delicious!
PM Snack: I need my mid-morning snack because I’m usually hungry, but I don’t get as hungry between lunch and dinner. But for the protein, I’ll have a shake at about 4 pm, without any add-ins.
Dinner: A favorite in our family is chicken with turmeric, garlic, onions & lemon, with either broccoli or green beans.
After dinner snack: Last night I had three delicious spoonfuls of Blueberry Greek Frozen Yogurt. I didn’t worry about eating it, I just enjoyed it. With the gastric bypass, by my third spoonful I get a feeling that says, “I’m done.”  It’s just too sweet.  If I were to go for one more I’d be very uncomfortable. VERY UNCOMFORTABLE…also known as dumping. I’ve had it before and I’m not willing to risk it.

I’ve never had a problem drinking water, so I drink a lot.
I also enjoy unsweetened iced tea or Crystal Light.
There’s no food panic.
My friends and family don’t make comments about how little I’m eating.
There’s always something to order on the menu.
I’ve never had dumping in public. 

What else can I say about food?

There’s still things I crave but much less than even six months ago. There isn’t anything I can’t eat. Yes, there are things I only have 1-2 bites of, but I’m not limited. For the first year you’ll be thinking about food, a lot. But when you do it’s not always because you want to eat it. Very often you don’t want to eat, so you’re reminding yourself that you need to.
I wonder how much protein is in this meal?
How can I fit in a few bites of vegetables?
What will happen if I mix these two foods together?
Can I really not have a few sips of soda?
But by two years, you’ll figure most of these things out and you won’t worry about them anymore.

Exercise:
I’ve written about different workouts I’ve done over the past two years.  Here’s where I am now.
Step Aerobics: Yes, it sounds very 80s or 90s, because it is. I started with Jane Fonda in 1990, then Kathy Smith, The Firm & Karen Voight. I learned a lot from these women and Step Aerobics is still my favorite workout. I do it 3-4 times per week for 45 minutes.
Pilates: I started with Windsor Pilates in 2002 after I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid arthritis to help with joint pain. I still use the same DVDs, 2-3 sessions per week.
Weights: 3 sessions per week, dumb-bells in my living room
Walking: 1-2 walks each week, usually with my daughter or granddaughter.

There’s the occasional run with my son, steps at the nearby school, steps at the park near my mom’s house, or power shopping at Costco on a Saturday. I need the exercise. It’s not only critical to maintaining my weight loss, but it’s how I manage stress and how I schedule time for myself. My kids know it’s important to me and I’m going to do it. Sometimes I workout first thing in the morning, but more likely it’s 10 pm. I feel better inside and out after a workout.

Managing Life:
I write about managing life more than anything else. You may spend a couple years considering weight loss surgery then another year working through the process to have it. The first year after surgery is about the rapid weight loss and figuring out how to manage everything you need to do to stay physically healthy. So for about three years your focus was on THE SURGERY. By two years out though, the surgery isn’t the focus anymore. You’re back in the game of life.

I didn’t list taking vitamins and supplements earlier because at two years they don’t get their own category. They’re something I’ve had to incorporate into my daily life without much thought. Recently my primary care physician told me I’m low on Vitamin D. I’ve added the liquid Vitamin D to my daily regimen and moved on. All my supplements are on my dresser. There’s some I take in the morning and some at night. There’s some I keep with me and take throughout the day.

Over the past year, like many of you, my family’s had their share of significant challenges. (The changes I couldn’t write about at the time because it was too difficult for me were my divorce, my mom’s death and my child’s rare medical diagnosis.) I’ve gotten better at focusing on the important things and letting the little things go. Last month my mom broke her hip and I knew I’d be spending more time with her at the hospital. I bought Premier protein shakes to carry with me and at the hospital I opted for the stairs. When someone wanted something from the cafeteria I offered to get it so I could get in some exercise. Instead of worrying that I wasn’t keeping up with my regular workout I accepted it. I reminded myself this too shall pass, and I focused on my mom.

I have my faith, a wonderful family, and great friends.  I read, listen to music and audio books, watch encouraging videos and my home is filled with inspiration and motivation to keep going and enjoy life.

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The final word at 2 years.
I’m grateful everyday that I have Weight Loss Surgery.  Just typing this sentence fills me with so much joy and gratitude. My diabetes is still in remission, I don’t have any pain from rheumatoid arthritis, and all my other conditions are in remission or resolved. It feels good to know I’m in a better place with my health than I was five years ago. I look better than I did ten years ago and have more energy. I’m stronger inside and out. My life is richer and filled with more possibilities that I could have imagined even three years ago.

This is from one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver:

The Journey 

“One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice —

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do —

determined to save

the only life you could save.” 

And that’s what I’ve done. With determination, I’ve saved my life.

Love, light and peace to you, my weight loss surgery sister.