Trust Your Gut is a series of stories about real people with weight issues, and complications arising from those issues.  It will explain what the person is facing, what their options are, what they have decided to do to take action, and why they chose the path they are on.  Each person’s story will be based on truth, so it won’t all be happy; but it will be real.  The goal of this series is to get people talking about options that are available for people who have weight issues, on either end of the scale.  If you would like to contribute to this series, there is a contact form linked on my Home page for this blog.  I know there are people out there that want to help people like them; as I do.

The names here may or may not reflect the person’s real name.  If someone wants to remain unknown, we will choose a different name for that person’s story.  The goal is to help people, and anonymity is a valid personal choice for contributors.  I will use a person’s name only if they give permission to do so.

This week I am pleased to share the story of a friend.  It is written in her own words, and she submitted it earlier this week with her permission to share it as a part of the series.

Here is Trust Your Gut: Megan’s Story

My name is Megan, and this is my story.  Buckle in, and grab a coffee, it’s a long one.

For as long as I can remember I have struggled with my weight.  I started gaining weight in grade school.  There wasn’t a traumatic event, and I never went hungry that I can remember, so I am unsure of what triggered my need for food.  But I remember that it started early, and I learned to sneak and hide my extra food early as well.

I can remember coming home on half day Wednesdays at lunch time, and loving it because the babysitter that was at the house all day for my baby brother would serve me a huge plate of fries while I watched Inspector Gadget on the TV.  Most of my allowance was spent on junk food, but I didn’t gain a lot at first because I was really active.  I was running and playing with my friends in the schoolyard at lunchtime, I would ride my bike everywhere in the summer, and weekends were filled with either roller skating, ice skating, or skiing.

Junior High School came, and I started to gain a little more.  I remember being uncomfortable in my body, but I figured that as long as I wasn’t the biggest kid in school that I was still ok.  My parents took note of my continuous gain, and tried their hand at helping me.  Mom would make me go for walks around the neighbourhood with her, and we had workout VHS tapes that we would do.  Most of the time I did the tapes half heartedly, and during the walks I could be heard howling through the neighbourhood, crying because she was pushing me, literally, to go faster.  Bribes were given, for every 10 lbs I lost my parents would buy me $50 worth of new clothing, and back then that would get you a LOT.  Nothing worked though, and I continued to eat, and hide my junk food.  I remember my dad looking for an eraser or something in my desk one day and coming across my stash of empty junk food wrappers.  What a humiliating day that was for me.  But it still wasn’t enough to get me to change.

Fast forward to my adult years.  I was moving out into my first apartment with a friend as my roommate, and I was so excited!  Not for the normal things like being able to have friends over anytime I wanted and the normal run of the mill young adult dreams, but I was excited because for the first time in my life I could eat a piece of cake for supper if I wanted, and no one could tell me no.

My weight continued to creep up.  I think I was around 280 lbs at the age of 23 when I met my daughter’s father.   During my pregnancy I let myself have whatever I liked, and I skyrocketed to about 335 right before my daughter was born.  I stayed around 325 when I met my now husband, but as things go, the relationship got comfortable and I let my weight go up.  It didn’t matter because he thought I was beautiful no matter what.  I was in love, in a secure relationship, and food was used for everything.   Celebrating something?  Eat!  Stressed out?  Eat!  Having company over?  Eat!  Bored?   Eat!  It was my coping mechanism for everything, good and bad.

I got a wake up call one day though when I went to the doctor for my annual check up.  I was told that I was pre diabetic, and my weight was too high to register on his scale.  It scared me.  I was also at the point where I couldn’t walk the length of the mall without breaking into a sweat and being out of breath.  If I had to get from one end to the other, it was easier to get in my car and drive to the other entrance.  All of this scared me.  So I joined a gym.

I remember that first day at the gym, scared out of my mind about my health, scared out of my mind about having the people in the gym judge me, but resolved to make it work for me.  I had a trainer weigh me on the special gym scale… 388 lbs.  I cried in her office.  I did my first workout that day on the treadmill.   I went at a speed of 2.0 km per hour, no incline, and forced myself to stay on it for 20 minutes.  Afterward, I remember dry heaving in the parking lot because I had exerted myself so much.

I continued to go to the gym, and had a couple of friends who would join me on the treadmills.  Eventually it started to get a little easier, and I could go a little bit faster.  I started participating in classes and discovered that they were not only fun, but full of supportive members who became my friends and cheerleaders.  I kept getting stronger and loved the challenge that the classes gave me, and was doing two different, hour long classes back to back.

But it wasn’t enough.  I hadn’t beaten the diabetes diagnosis.  I was, however, keeping it under control strictly through diet and exercise.  The insane gym routines took over my life, everything else was planned around my gym time, and in 6 months I had managed to lose 50 lbs.  Getting back into the workforce proved to be my undoing.

I had to find myself a part time job to help out with rising expenses at home, so I found one working for a local grocery store.  I figured it would be simple enough for me to pick up, and something I would enjoy doing.  Turns out I do enjoy it, but it was much harder on the body than I had anticipated it being.  After hours of checking people out through the registers my shoulders ached, my back was on fire, my knee was tender, and my left ankle (which  had suffered multiple fractures  20 years ago) was screaming and swollen from bearing my weight.   Yes I had lost 50 lbs, but I was still 330lbs.  The ankle was the worst, throbbing and in so much pain that I would be limping horribly after work.  Because of the pain in the joint I was unable to attend gym activities after work, and the weight started to creep up yet again.  I had to make a decision, did I  want to work and help my family out, or did I want  to participate at the gym?  My ankle would only let me do one, so I chose work.  I tried different wraps, bands, and ankle supports, and even had my doctor send me for an x-ray because I was convinced something was terribly wrong.  Had I re fractured the bone?  I thought nothing but a break could be this excruciating or cause this much swelling and intense pain.  It turns out that arthritis can.  Because of my weight, and because of my previous injury my ankle was now full of arthritis, even more so than my doctor would have expected.

So began the daily dose of Tylenol Arthritis medication, backed with a couple of Advil, a nice tight wrap, and off to work I would go.  Some days it helped,  others it did nothing.   I can remember driving home after an 8 hour shift on my feet, and in that 7 minute drive my ankle had swollen so much and got so painful that I had to text my husband from the driveway to please come help me out of the car and into the house.  An 8 hour shift left me completely useless the day after, and my day off would be spent on the couch with my leg up, and a bottle of medication next to me.  Up and up my weight creeped, more and more the pain increased.  I felt trapped.  So I started doing my research on bariatric surgery.

I had thought about it before, 10 years ago when a friend of mine had had the Gastric Bypass surgery, but she had some awful complications with it;  and I dismissed surgery as not being for me at  the time.  I learned that surgery had come a long way in the last 10 years, and not only that, but that there were different types available.  I started researching on a process called the  Gastric Sleeve, and was able to chat online with someone who had had it done.  She patiently answered all of my questions, listened to all of my concerns, and told me every nitty gritty detail of her experience with the surgery.  It was because of her that I finally asked my doctor to put my name on “the list.”  I knew that the list was a long one, and that I would still have time to do all the research I wanted to do, and that if I decided down the road that surgery wasn’t for me I could always remove my name.  But I got the ball rolling.

In the meantime, things with my weight were out of control again.  I had ballooned up to 377 lbs, and was at the point that I was considering buying a cane to help me get around the house.   At age 36 I was considering canes, or possibly even a walker.  I was at my rock bottom.

13 months after my referral was sent in I got “the call” that the surgeon’s office was sending me an information package to be reviewed, with  a portion of it to be filled out and sent back.  This was it!  Things had started and after 13 months of research and speaking to more surgery patients I had decided to jump through whatever hoops I needed to and to go for it.  This was my last chance, and I needed to take control of my life back.  A whirlwind of dietician appointments, blood tests, surgeon appointments, and trial diets passed in the next 5 months, and then I found myself in the hospital wearing that awful gown that leaves your rear end exposed.  This was it.  Today was the day.  I was going to have my sleeve surgery to help me regain control of my life.  I was excited and nervous.  I padded down the hall behind the nurse to the operating room, and got on the table.  They were pleasant and helpful, adjusting my pillows, making sure I was comfortable… but when the IV wouldn’t take for the 5th time, and I felt my arms being strapped down I started to shake and cry.  My nerves were kicking in, and I knew that when I woke up my life would never be the same.

I stayed in hospital for 3 days, and off work for 4 weeks while I recovered.  It was interesting learning again how to eat, and even more interesting to watch the changes already happening in my body and weight.  I celebrated every little milestone and success, but not with food.  Things were changing and food just wasn’t the central focus of my life anymore.  Life now is so different in that when I am full, I am full, and content to put the fork down.   Before I’d have cleaned my plate no matter how I felt.  My relationship with food now is completely different.  Yes I still enjoy it, I will always enjoy it, but in smaller portions, and with better choices.  My new small tummy can only fit so much in at meal time that I have become very picky about what goes into it.  There is no room for the junk I used to eat before, so when choosing my food I try to get the most nutrition and protein that I can.  Constantly sipping my water all day long to battle dehydration has simply become a part of my life now, as has tracking every single morsel that enters my mouth so I can see how much protein, fat, and carbs I’ve had.  It sounds very daunting and like a lot of work, but in the last 9 months of doing it daily, it has just become a part of my daily life now, like brushing my teeth.

9 months.  That is how far out I am from surgery now, and in that 9 months I have gone from 377 lbs to 269 lbs.  That is a loss of 108 lbs.  My clothes have changed drastically as well.  When I first started my sleeve journey I was wearing a TIGHT size 28 jeans, and a 3-4X top.  Now, being 108 lbs lighter I am wearing a comfortable size 18 jeans, and for shirts I can now wear a size L or XL from most regular stores!  Not plus sized stores, regular stores!  But the biggest change has been in my mobility.  I still wear my ankle wrap to work at the store in the winter when the arthritis acts up in the cold temperatures, but now, after an 8 hour shift I can come home, get out of the car, and come help make dinner.  And the next day, I can walk freely and do whatever errands need to be done.  I can walk easily from one end of the mall to the other, and I am incorporating the gym back into my life, alongside my work, not having to choose between them anymore.

For me, surgery was the right choice, and one that saved not only my mobility, but my life.  My quality of life has improved drastically in such a short time.  In discussions with other patients I hear most of the time that their only regret with surgery is not having done it earlier in life.  I can understand that feeling, but I am glad that I did it when I did.  If I had had my surgery earlier in life I don’t believe I would have been as prepared, or as successful as I have been.  I still have a ways to go, and at least 70 more lbs to lose.  But for the first time in my life I feel in control, and rather than anticipating what I can put in my mouth next like I used to, now I am anticipating that cute little summer dress that I am going to buy, and look and feel amazing in this year!

Thank you Megan for your honesty and for sharing your story here.  You are one of the people I thought of when I was starting this series.  I know it can be hard to put it all out there, but it is time that people like us speak out to try to help others.  Keep celebrating every little success, and be proud that your decision is certainly the right one for you.  I have always admired your spunk.  I may not be an obvious cheerleader, but I am very impressed with your success and determination.  Keep going, my friend, you are an inspiration!