It has now been 65 days since my vertical sleeve gastrectomy (VSG). I had my second of 3 follow-up visits with my surgeon recently. From the day of my annual physical last May – when I told my primary doctor that I had had enough and wanted weight loss surgery – to today, I have lost 65 pounds. Two of my maintenance medications have been called off, the pressure on my CPAP machine to address my sleep apnea has been lowered, and I’m free of diet restrictions. There is still a ways for me to go, but things really could not have gone any better than they have.
This journey reminds me of an old Yogi Berra quote: “90% of this game is mental. The other half is physical.” We get a laugh out of his fuzzy math, but the underlying point is that some things we deal with are as much mental as physical, or even more mental. Obviously there are lots of physical things to consider with a surgery such as this, but I found very quickly that the mind plays a very critical role.
I fond a fabulous Facebook support group for those that have had, or intend to have, this surgery. The thing I love the most is the before & after pictures people post. There are a lot of people that have lost 100 or even 200 pounds. The photos inspire me and drive me to fight hard to one day achieve similar results. I also love the way people rally around and encourage the people who post that their spouses and families do not support them, and some try to sabotage them or even stop them. One lady even posted that a family member told her the day before surgery, “you’re going to die tomorrow.” Dozens of people post encouraging words, positive testimonies about the effectiveness of the surgery, and if necessary, encourage the poster to stay far away from that spouse or family member. It’s like a second family.
Of course, life in a family isn’t always rosy. Family members fight sometimes. There is a running debate about what constitutes support and what is merely enabling bad behavior. Where I spent 4 weeks before & after surgery consuming nothing but water and protein shakes, some members will post in this FB group asking if it’s OK to eat fast food 2-3 weeks after surgery. Most of us emphatically answer “NO” (all right, some of us are thinking, “Aw, HELLLLLL NO!” but we just say “NO”). There is a physical and mental aspect to how one should handle this question. Physically, your stomach has to heal, and basically go from being a baby’s stomach back to being an adult’s stomach. That’s going to take time. It took 5 weeks for me, some take much longer if they have complications from the surgery. I found it astounding that those who ask this type of question didn’t get better direction from their surgeon or bariatric practice, after I spent 6 months getting loaded down with information from mine. My surgeon told me, “some practices just have a checklist and seek to check the boxes as quickly as possible. Also, there are those who are paying out of pocket and go to Mexico for the lower prices really do get less information. We’re actually quite different the way we do things here.” OK, I understand that. But what about research on your own? I didn’t have to do much, since my practice gave me so much information. But I had been doing some searching on my own before my physical so I could be prepared for my primary doctor, who isn’t much of a weight loss surgery fan, although he will give the referral if you push for it. I just think it’s foolish to go into a surgery blind.
But the mental part of this surgery is just as critical. You have to completely re-shape the way you think about food and your relationship with food. Notice how some heavy, dense, carb- and fat-laden food is called “comfort food.” Many people turn to food for comfort when dealing with stress, grief, anxiety or even success. When things change and you aren’t prepared for the change, food is often the go-to thing. Some take this further and are addicted to food. Most of us who qualify for this surgery have these types of mindsets. I have been dealing with depression and anxiety for a number of years, and food was definitely my first option in dealing with things. Thanks to some effective therapy, I really don’t think I have anxiety issues anymore, and the depression is in check. That helped a lot in preparing for surgery, but I also had to change the way I viewed food. I learned to view food as fuel, not a salve for my problems or an attempt at change management. The people that ask, “I’m 3 weeks out, what can I eat from Hardee’s?” have likely not made that adjustment. Eating at fast food joints is a major reason why many of us qualify for the surgery in the first place. It’s not that we have to swear we will never enter a Burger King again as long as we live, we just have to be smart about things.
Back to my fabulous surgeon… As she was clearing me to eat with no restrictions, she had an admonition for me. “Just be sensible. If you want a steak, cut it into very small pieces, chew it very, very well, eat very slowly, and pay attention when your stomach signals that it’s full. Keep looking for foods that are high in protein, low in fat, and avoid sugar wherever possible. If you want wine, keep it to half a glass so you don’t get intoxicated and load up on sugar. Just be sensible.”
So when someone on the FB group asks those questions, those of us who work with good practices who have lots of info sometimes wonder if the questioner is really looking for new info, or permission to do something they know is unwise. And some of the answers just scream “I’m an enabler.” You will see some people say, “Yeah, you can eat anything you want after 2 weeks” or “I ate that 3 days after surgery with no problem.” Some of the high-info people will call them out. This will bring some rather intense replies. “This is a support group, not a place for HATERS” is a popular one.
Like I said, sometimes families fight. But they come back together. These discussions are quickly replaced at the top of the page by someone posting they are 9 months past surgery, have lost 120 pounds, and here are the before & after pics. Then we all love each other again. 🙂
Do I have cravings for bad food? You’re dadgum right I do. After 7 weeks on liquid or soft foods, I wanted something that crunches so bad I could feel it in my bones. I’ve been getting more emails from Domino’s. It’s been 3 months since I ordered a pizza and I’m wondering if my local store is going to go out of business, I ordered from them so much. I’d hate to be responsible for putting people out of work. Stepping inside a Mexican restaurant could be dangerous – I might just ask for a vat of queso dip and guzzle the whole thing down.
Of course I’m not going to go to any of those extremes; I’m confident in the efforts I’ve made to change my view of food. Plus, now that I’ve lost 65 pounds, I’m more than halfway to my goal weight. I’m looking forward to getting there.