“Don’t feel entitled to anything you didn’t sweat and struggle for.” -Marian Wright Edelman
I am without a doubt that fat unhealthy girl that society wants you to think all plus size women are. While being unhealthy due to weight isn’t the truth of every plus-size woman, it is my truth and I own it. At the age of 10 years old, I began a relationship with food that soothed me emotionally, but over time proved to be damn near deadly. At my highest weight of more than 350 lbs, I was my most confident, but my health was failing in several areas. Every issue and every diagnosis was either connected to or affected by my weight. This led doctors to urge me to act quickly and in a manner that was guaranteed to produce results: weight loss surgery. However, I didn’t want to take the easy way out because I was too strong for that.
As a plus size-woman and influencer in both body positive and plus-size communities, I have had my hand on their pulse for many years. I represent and speak for the women in these communities whenever the opportunity presents itself. I am familiar with most of the communities’ likes and dislikes. I know that most influencers fight for inclusion and representation while frowning upon diet culture and weight loss surgery. Our greatest efforts in the body positive and plus-size communities go towards destroying the stereotypes placed on us by society’s ignorance. However, I have to admit that our efforts to destroy stereotypes have kept us from having important conversations about health. I feel that we steer clear of these conversations because many feel they confirm what society thinks about plus-size women but the truth is avoiding these conversations is harming women like me who need them.
After years of resistance, a cancer diagnosis
, and nearly bleeding to death due to fibroids
, I decided to entertain weight loss surgery. Although I hated the thought of having weight loss surgery because I felt I was taking the easy way out while conforming to society and it’s standards, I wanted to live. There was no struggle or work required to lose weight via weight loss surgery was my thought, until I entered a bariatric program and learned things were not as simple as I believed they would be. Since I know that there are women who (like me) think that weight loss surgery is easy and who need to consider alternative routes to improving their health, I want to share my experience. Please note that all bariatric programs are different and that these are details of the program I am a member of.
My Pre-Op Gastric Bypass Process
As a potential candidate for the bariatric program, you begin by attending a group informational meeting that provides a comprehensive educational session addressing the complete bariatric weight loss process. During this meeting, you will learn whether you meet the basic qualifications required to start the program. Things like previous weight loss surgery, being a smoker and other illnesses could disqualify. Thankfully, my Multiple Myeloma
(blood cancer) status didn’t disqualify me, I simply had to get things cleared by my oncologist.
Following the informational meeting, you will have your first visit with your bariatric team (nurse, doctor, and nutritionist). This will be the second phase of pre-qualifications when you weigh in and learn your BMI
. This is important because your weight and BMI determine how much work is expected of you prior to surgery. In order to have weight loss surgery, your BMI must be less than 60, being above 60 will prompt the nurse to advise you to lose a certain amount of weight. My BMI was 46 and I weighed 376 lbs.
During the next phase of this visit, you will meet your doctor and he will give you a very detailed breakdown of the program and each surgery option. He will also use this time to inform you of what to expect for the next six months leading up to the surgery (monthly appointments, wellness tests, and mental health checks). The doctor will ask your thoughts/concerns and the surgery you are considering. He will then give you his thoughts on your surgery selection. I chose the gastric sleeve but my doctor felt that gastric bypass would be better for me based on the goals I had set. My goal was to lose 120 lbs so that I could have a hysterectomy to stop my excessive bleeding.
The next phase of the visit is when you will meet with the nutritionist at which time you will share your eating and workout habits. The nutritionist will in return share tips on how to improve your eating habits, portions, and what your daily caloric intake should be. This is where I got overwhelmed and begin to realize it wasn’t as easy as I thought. I had no idea how to begin to adjust the bad habits I had nurtured for more than 40 years.
Following my initial visit, I had to see the doctor and nutritionist every month for six months to satisfy insurance requirements, check my progress, prove that I wasn’t gaining weight, and guarantee scheduled appointments were being kept. Of all the appointments that I had, none was more needed than my appointment with the psychiatrist. Mentally, I was struggling to understand who I would be after the surgery. I learned to love myself at over 350 lbs. I was confident in my fat body, I was bold and unapologetic but I was afraid I would lose some of that with the weight. However, the therapist helped me understand that I was dope no matter what size I am because my dopeness inside of me, not out.
In August I had a program-required out-patient procedure called Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) done to examine my esophagus, stomach, and small intestines. During the test, the doctor discovered I had a few small ulcers that he believed came from using too many NSAIDs. The ulcers were treated with meds and we proceeded with the plan of having the surgery on October 9, 2018. Now the only thing standing in the way of my new life was time, pre-op (which I wasn’t really worried about) and my insurance (which was a major concern).
Insurance is very tricky when it comes to weight loss surgery. Unless deemed a medical emergency, weight loss surgery is treated as an elective cosmetic procedure and most insurance will not pay for it. Of course, I was classed as morbidly obese, being that I was only 5’3 and weighed over 350 lbs. While morbid obesity made the surgery a medical emergency, I still had to play the waiting game with Cigna. Waiting bothered me because, although conflicted initially, I had begun to embrace the thought of my new healthier self but the $23,000 cost of surgery was one I couldn’t afford. Thank God (and Cigna) I didn’t have to worry about funding. Since my deductible had been met and due to the urgency expressed by my medical team, the gastric bypass was covered. My only concerns now were post-op meds and food because eating healthy can be expensive.
Now I know I told you earlier that eating right was a challenge but nothing prepared me for the two weeks prior to the surgery. This is when weight loss surgery candidates are placed on the most gangster diet ever, the liver shrinking diet. This diet is designed to shrink your liver because your liver gets fat just like you do. The liver shrinking diet paired with being on an all clear liquid diet two days before the surgery had me ready to get it over with, which is what I did.
My Post-Op Experience
After surgery, the real struggle began for me. I wasn’t allowed any food or drink for 24 hours following the procedure, then I had to take a swallow test and X-ray to ensure I was ready to head home. I had to go back to the liquid diet for two weeks before being promoted to pureed foods. Oh, and did I mention I had to inject myself with blood thinners twice a day for five days? Yep! All this plus much more sis, and we aren’t even talking about the trial and error process of reintroducing “real food,” or the workouts needed to tone up following weight loss.
So yeah, I thought weight loss surgery was the easy way out but I was wrong. However, I don’t regret the sweat or the struggles because my health has improved in every area where there were concerns. My cancer is still in a smoldering stage and my numbers are down. I am no longer bleeding and, most of all, I feel great. With all that was going on with my health, I had lost something that having this surgery helped me regain: hope.