One Year Later

This week is the anniversary of my gastric bypass surgery. It had been my intention to save this post for the actual date of the anniversary, which is the 14th, but I am suffering from what I refer to as a “writer’s dam,” meaning all of my words are bottled up behind whatever it is I really want to say, and until I write that thing down, nothing else is coming forth.

So one year has passed. I haven’t written much about my surgery in the past six months or so, mostly because there is only so much I can say about day to day life post-gastric bypass. Actually, my day-to-day life isn’t all that different from anyone else’s. I eat, I drink, I try to exercise, sometimes I do everything right, but not every day. Just like anyone else.

What is different now are my priorities, my tastes, my tolerance, my appreciation of macro- and micro-nutrients, and my overall physical well-being. There were lots of things I expected the surgery to do for me. I expected to get smaller. I expected eating to be more complicated than it used to be. I expected to be happier. But there were many, MANY things I never expected that have come along with the surgery; many good, but not all.

I never expected my knees, ankles, and feet to feel so dramatically better; almost zero pain most of the time now. One of my most chronic pains was the pain in my feet; it limited my ability to exercise, and was one of the biggest factors in my choice to have surgery. I had reached a point where it was too painful to exercise, and once you cannot exercise, it is very difficult to lose weight.

I never expected my attitudes about food to change so much. My taste buds have opened up in a big way now, and I am far more willing to try a new food, provided it is relatively healthy, and especially if it is high in protein. This has opened up my mind to cooking new and different things, which has expanded my cooking skills, and made me much more flexible in the kitchen than I once was. I can “invent” a meal that is healthy and loaded with nutrients, because I am not wedded to the same 10 meals I always used to fix. I have completely lost my taste and desire for deep fried foods. I have tried a couple of French fries and mostly I taste the oil in them, and feel the consistency of wet potato mush. The idea of fish and chips no longer turns me on the way it once did. Potato chips hold no appeal.

Further, things that used to count as “food” to me, no longer do. Pretty much everything you can get on the typical American fast food menu does not count as food. That doesn’t mean I haven’t resorted to fast food in the past year, but most places are offering salads, which, provided you use care with what they dd to them, these are often pretty good choices. Anything that comes out of a vending machine doesn’t count as food either. It is either entertainment or an emotional crutch. Again, that isn’t to say I haven’t resorted to a vending machine moment, but I am much more conscious about what a foray into the vending machine is really about.

I never expected my attitude about plastic surgery to change so much. I have always been radically opposed to someone changing their physical appearance to suit their vanity, but now that my body has been radically changed, and not all in good ways, I fully admit that if I had the $10K or so to do it, I would see a plastic surgeon about a full lower body lift and, yes, maybe even a little help in my chest. I have gone from an overflowing DD cup (in a minimizing bra) to a heavily padded B (push up), and particularly because they were real working girls (doing the job nature intended them for) for a while, gravity has taken its toll. I am distinctly not attractive when naked; I accept that, I appreciate the efforts of Ms. Victoria and that she wants it to be our secret, but the reality is that my skin looks like wet crepe paper or bread dough that just had all the air punched out of it. For now, it is a money issue to me, but if the money situation ever worked itself out, or if I ever qualified for insurance assistance (which can happen if you have serious skin problems post-op), yes, absolutely, I would look into a little plastic assistance.

One of the downsides I never expected was the negative attention surgery can bring. I this mostly at work where there is a noticeable air of jealousy, condescension, and a bit of schadenfreude from certain parties . I have come upon co-workers gossiping about me and another lady in my office who had Lap-Band surgery, and making very unkind comments about our previous food choices and how we look now. I have had backhanded compliments like “You look positively emaciated!” and “You look amazing. It’s a shame you couldn’t do this on your own.” I have gotten comments to the effect that I took the easy way out. I have had some insensitive comments that are tough to take. One lady at my work was asking me questions about why I made the choice and I explained that I had such an extreme amount to lose that I no longer felt like I could do it on my own. She replied that she also had an extreme amount to lose but she wouldn’t consider surgery to do it; I kid you not, she told me her extreme amount was a whole 10 pounds. All I could do was shake my head and wish her luck with those 10 pounds while inside I was screaming “F*ck your ten pounds!”. I can be a little oversensitive at times. One lady told me “Don’t let your weight loss go to your head. Most people get all snobby when they get thin. Don’t be like that.” What does that even mean?

I also am finding I get a lot more generally positive attention from people who I once believed didn’t even know I existed; and I don’t mean cat calls from boorish men. It felt like as the weight came off, I lost the invisibility cloak that comes with obesity. I appreciate that people are more interested in me or more willing to talk to me, but at the same time, I have come to realize just how isolating morbid obesity can be; and it took shedding the weight to learn that.

I never expected other people to be so generous with their clothing. I have relied upon the kindness of strangers and friends to have clothes on my back for the past 4 or 5 months, and I have received some really nice garments, all for no cost. All I can do is pay it forward.

One amusing benefit I never factored in was laundry. I can do so much more laundry in one load now! I can pack twice as many clothes in the same overnight bag! I love this.

A downside is the complications of eating with others. Here is an anecdotal example. I cannot eat chicken breast very easily. It has to be cooked in a sauce at a minimum and even that can still be too dry and tough. My mother-in-law always makes her beloved fried chicken breasts for Christmas eve dinner, and she asked if I could eat it. I said that I was sorry, but I could not. She suggested I could just pull off the breading, but I said it wasn’t the breading that was the problem. She offered to fry a drumstick, which I declined as well, though I greatly appreciated her desire to make something for me. I promised her I could and would take care of my own dinner (or main protein for dinner, anyway). She was fairly unsettled by this even though it all worked out perfectly in the end. I brought slices of baked ham. I felt terrible that she was going out of her way to please me, and she seemed discomfited that she could not accommodate me. It was uncomfortable and awkward, though I think it worked out in the end.

It can be tough too when planning on dining out in a group of friends. Everyone wants to be conscious of my needs which I greatly appreciate, but I would much rather they all decide what they really want and if it doesn’t work for me, don’t sweat it. I hate feeling like a restaurant burden on my buddies. It is awkward being the one everyone looks at and says “Will that work for you?”

Speaking of dining out, I underwent a short period of conflict and reflection this weekend while dining out, and I will explain why. We ate lunch at Red Robin on Friday, which has phenomenal burgers and used to be one of my favorite restaurants. However, their Banzai Burger, one of my two favorites, has become infamous for being the caloric version of the Daisy Cutter Bomb. I think it has over 1,000 calories, without including the never-ending basket of fries Red Robin provides. Anyway, when we went to Red Robin, I really wanted a burger, but knew a) that I couldn’t eat a whole one; b) a bun is wasted on me; and c) that I was looking at trying to eat something with a whole day’s worth of calories for just lunch. I “settled” for a cup of chili, minus the tortilla strips on top. At first, I was a little irritable that I had to choose between what I wanted (the Daisy Cutter) what I really should eat (the low-carb, high protein option). Then, as I examined my thinking on it (which I do a lot now relating to my eating habits), I realized a smart, healthy weight person who had not had surgery would not have had the same conflict I had just gone through. They would have made the smart choice and not felt deprived or unhappy, and it is exactly that which makes them smart and a healthy weight. I chose to feel good that I had made the smart choice; a small portion, high in protein, high in flavor, probably not very low fat, but certainly lower fat than a 1,000 calorie burger, and at the end of the meal, I was content; not overstuffed or unhappy in the choice I made. Best of all, my cup of chili was $2.99 and a hamburger would have been more like $9.99. All in all, it was for the win.

When they tell you that they operate on your stomach, not your brain, they mean it, but they also mean that you still have to do the work; if you don’t fix your brain, you won’t have achieved anything more than a temporary weight reprieve and a very expensive waste of time.

Something I had not expected was the feelings I get when I look at old pictures of myself. I honestly come close to hating those images, especially ones taken when I thought of myself as healthier, thinner, and in better shape. I hate the feeling of shame that bubbles up in me. I can see the self-loathing, unhappiness, and poor health written right there, across my face, for all the world to see, and I do not like it. I am trying to find it as motivation, but mostly I see those pictures and I just feel deeply depressed.

Okay, the hair thing. Everyone contemplating the surgery wants to know about it, and it didn’t turn out like I expected at all, so let me address hair loss. My surgeon flat out says “Your hair will fall out.” His feeling is that it is not related directly to inadequate protein intake because he has never seen a patient who did not lose some hair, regardless of their protein intake. He feels that if it was JUST related to protein intake, it would begin almost immediately. If it was related to the anesthesia, it would also begin almost immediately. Dr. Bautista is of the mind that the hair loss that begins around the 4 month mark is related primarily to a major hormone shift, as well as to micro-nutrient depletion and yes, to some degree, to protein stores. But because most patients report hair loss beginning between 3-5 months, and ending around the 1 year mark, he believes it is mostly related to hormonal shifts.

The story on my hair is that it started thinning right around the 1st of April, which was about 3.5 months post-op. What I had expected was great clumps of hair letting go, but that was not the case. It was both better and worse than that. It came out in large quantities but not in clumps. It thinned the most around my forehead and the area around my ears. It was unending; hair was constantly coming out, quite a few hairs at a time, but not large clumps, all day long. Because I have great quantities of hair to begin with, and my hair is quite long, this resulted in the single most annoying side effect of my surgery. Hair EVERYWHERE. It was matted into my clothing. It was matted into the carpet. It got all over the car. It was all over the furniture. I was like a cat who sheds; hair congregates wherever I am. It tickled. It itched. It started a couple of fights. It clogged my bathtub. It was awful.

I can also say that it is finally pretty much over. I still lose a little hair when I brush, but it is not like before, so I think I am back to normal hair shedding. My hair never thinned to the point of nearing baldness, though I was getting antsy over the summer about it. What is funny is now I am like a malamute dog with a double coat of hair. I have my long, red dyed hair that has been around forever and survived the post-op onslaught, but the hair I lost is growing back so I have a secondary layer of hair, all between 1-2 inches right now, that is finer, lighter in color (not to mention containing some silver strands), and curlier; it is short enough it tends to stand on end still, and being finer, it is more responsive to static electricity. I look kind of crazy sometimes with short, different colored hair flying all around my face. The re-growth is causing some scalp itchiness too, I think. Being that it is 1-2 inches long and undyed, and the last time I colored was before Columbus day, I can conclude my hair re-growth began sometime around October/November, so after about 10 months post-op.

In short, I expected to lose my hair, but I expected it to more dramatic (I envisioned standing in front of the mirror one morning, holding handfuls of loose hair in my fists, crying my eyes out). Instead, it was a great source of irritation rather than anxiety, and the one thing I keep saying to myself “I cannot wait for this to be over.”

I expected my perception of myself to change more; I mean, I expected my brain to register my physical changes more accurately. I find that when I shop, I still gravitate towards very large sized clothes. When you are really big, you can look at something on a hanger and determine if it is too small based on how much fabric goes beyond the hanger. I still look for pants and skirts many inches wider than the hanger they are held on. When I hold up a pair of size 10 pants fresh out of the laundry, I frequently catch myself wondering who they belong to. “Did someone leave these here last time we had overnight guests?” Or, and I love this one, “When did Grace get this t-shirt?” I got a t-shirt with Rosie the Riveter on it for Christmas that I was sure would be too small, but as it turns out, it is quite loose on me. My brain does not yet see my body the way it actually is. Ann told me the fancy name for that, but I cannot remember it. This is neither good nor bad, just not something I expected, but I hope to get a grasp on my general size eventually so I can save a little time when I do go shopping for clothing.

Finally, and this one is hard to say out loud, because it just is, but the thing I never expected was to discover that I find I am beautiful. I am sure that will come across either as deeply vain or deeply self-conscious, but it is true. I never thought of myself as beautiful before, though I never felt I was troll-ugly either. It just was not a consideration of mine when I ever bothered to add up my positive traits. Now, I do.

So with that, I give you the only decent before and after comparison photos I currently have.

The first was the personnel directory photo taken of me when I started here in 2005, at not my heaviest, but at about my general standard weight; about 20 pounds less than my heaviest. The 2011 photo was taken last Monday to replace the old one. People were having trouble locating me based on my directory photo.

This surgery has proved to be a tremendous blessing; it is not without its negatives and downsides, and certainly not without risk. It is not something I would rush anyone else into, but it is something I would encourage someone to explore if they have reached a point in their life where they feel like there aren’t any other options. I am here and able and willing to discuss the positives and negatives and simple facts of life with anyone who is pondering making this choice – please e-mail me at melisentlaruse at yahoo dot calm if you want to ask something specific or get more details. I will answer whatever I can.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by bdb on January 10, 2011 at 4:58 PM

    You always have, and always will be beautiful to me. I love you.


  2. This was a wonderful, heartfelt post. I love over 100 pounds and while I didn’t do it with surgery, just the feelings one goes through losing all that weight — I could relate to a lot of what you said.

    Also, due to food intolerances, I need to eat strictly corn and gluten free. To get my gut in balance, I’ve had to give up all sugars, too. Right now, I’m whole foods only: meat, fresh fruit and vegetables and a few gluten-free grains now and then.

    As you put it, “Pretty much everything you can get on the typical American fast food menu does not count as food.”

    You said it. I got a kick out of reading about how your taste buds have changed! I’ll be sitting with my family eating steamed chicken and vegetables, the whole time remarking about how absolutely wonderful everything tastes. Years back, I just would have wanted to eat pizza.

    Anyway, I wanted to write to tell you that you are a beautiful person inside and out — always have been, always will be. Congratulations on your improved health, and double contragulations on your weight loss. With surgery or without, it is very challenging either way.

    Stay great!


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