The idea behind this website is to provide information about weight loss surgery and to help people make the decision about whether to have surgery themselves. As such, I suppose it makes sense to include the experiences of someone who chose not to have surgery, so I am going to share my own experiences with weight loss.
If I’m perfectly honest, to say I chose not to have weight loss surgery is not entirely accurate, because it was never actually a consideration for me. While ever I am able to get up and move around in some form or another, I wouldn’t consider weight loss surgery. If I am capable of walking, then I’m capable of losing weight. But being overweight is a very personal thing, which makes it even more painful that it is also such a public thing because everyone can see it. Similarly, weight loss is just as personal, and I absolutely believe that they key to weight loss is to find what is right for you. We’re all different, and surgery might be the best option for a lot of people, it’s just not for me. My background might help to explain why this is my personal view on surgery.
My own weight loss problems started when I was around seven. I suddenly put on weight, despite no real change in what I was eating, or the amount of physical activity I was doing. Ever since then, my weight has gone up and down as I’ve searched for the best way for me to manage it.
I’m not deluded. Despite my strong belief that I am somehow physically more prone to weight gain than some people are, I know that there is a direct and undisputable link between what I eat, what I burn and what I weigh. It’s simple maths – if you put in more than you burn then you’re going to be overweight. As simple as that sounds, a lot of people struggle to comprehend that when they’re trying to lose weight, and it’s amazing the number of diets which don’t actually get you to count the number of calories or the grams of fat and carbohydrate you’re eating. I think that this is the key to understanding weight loss, but it took me a while to come to this conclusion.
At my biggest, I had a BMI of about 36, despite repeated efforts to lose weight. I wasn’t morbidly obese, but I was firmly in the obese category. I lost about 42 pounds by doing a silly low-carb diet, which I would not recommend. Of course, as soon as I started eating normally again, the weight crept back on, until eventually my BMI was back to around 34. I did the GI Diet to lose the weight again, started going to the gym, and I was doing OK at maintaining it, but then I tore my knee at an aerobics class. I waited four months for surgery and then I was on crutches for five months. If I ever needed an illustration of the effect of lack of exercise on my health and my weight, this was it. I piled the weight back on due to inactivity, and I felt sluggish and lethargic. The death of my father a year later didn’t help – I am an emotional eater – and I piled even more weight on. My self-esteem was at an all-time low as my BMI again reached 34, and my motivation was nowhere to be seen. It’s a cliché, but it was holiday photos of myself that finally spurred me on to do something, I just didn’t recognise the person in the photographs, amd I certainly didn’t like her.
I have tried almost every diet there is over the years – I’ve been to see a dietician, I’ve tried a low-carb diet, Weight Watchers, the cabbage soup diet, the Special K diet – you name it! The GI Diet was successful, but almost impossible to maintain as so many foods were forbidden. Processed food was not allowed, so everything had to be cooked from scratch, which is difficult if you lead a busy lifestyle, but it taught me some valuable lessons. I still try very hard to limit how much processed food I eat. Ready meals might be convenient, but you have no control over the fat, salt, carb, protein or sugar content, and the more processed something is, the quicker your body burns through it, leaving you hungrier much faster. Now I cook what I can myself from scratch, so that I’m in control of my diet. That one change in the way I eat has really helped me manage my weight.
This time, when I started to lose weight, I decided I wasn’t going to do a fad ‘name’ diet, so instead I started to use a phone app which helped me track my food and exercise. It was so easy. I told it how big I was and how quickly I wanted to lose weight, and it told me what I should eat and how much exercise I should do. I tell it what I’ve eaten, and it keeps track of my calories, fat, protein and carbs. It’s so breathtakingly simple that I was suspicious that it might not work, but 15 months later I’m still doing it. The weight has come off really slowly, but consistently. I’ve lost 28 pounds and my BMI is back down to 28, the lowest it has been in years, and I’m a size 14-16. I’m still classed as overweight, but I’m not obese any more. I feel great – I look better, and buying clothes is much more enjoyable, but more importantly I feel better. I have more energy, I sleep better and my mood has improved. I’m so proud of my achievement. I’m still steadily losing weight, and I’ve already proved that I can maintain it by keeping it up for so long. It just seems to have clicked this time.
Getting back to my views on surgery, I think the key to why it has worked so well for me this time (and been so much easier than when I’ve tried to lose weight previously), is that nothing is forbidden. I can eat anything I want, as long as I don’t go over my calories. If I want crisps, I can have them. Chocolate? No problem, I actually eat a small amount most days. Can I eat out? Sure, I order whatever I want off the menu, enjoy it, and then get back to my diet the next day. Two weeks at an all-inclusive hotel? It’s not even an issue, I just attempt not to make a complete pig of myself, do a few lengths of the pool and then hit the diet and the gym when I get home. The key is balance – everything in moderation. It’s OK to eat a kids’ size bar of Dairy Milk if I’ve eaten lots of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains. And it’s easy to pick the diet up again when I do have a ‘day off’ because nothing is banned outright. I think that this is the main reason I would never consider weight loss surgery.
Food is an enormous part of our lives. We eat it every day and so many social occasions and celebrations revolve around food, from a meal out with friends, to a wedding buffet, to a big slab of birthday cake. I get incredible pleasure from food. I love baking, I like cooking, I like trying new things, and occasionally I like to eat three courses in a nice restaurant and waddle away from the table with a full belly! To do something that would forever alter my relationship with food is just too extreme for me, too absolute. You have the surgery, and then your relationship with food is completely different for the rest of your life. You may never be able to eat certain things again and what you do eat will be in drastically reduced quantities. I couldn’t willingly do something that meant I could never eat certain things ever again – that meant that I could never enjoy a nice meal in a restaurant in the same way, eat a nice filling plate of rice or pasta on a cold winter’s day or drink a glass of fizzy pop, all of which are things which might not be allowed, or even possible, after surgery.
When you know you can’t eat something, it can be torture. It’s like if someone tells you not to think about a pink elephant. What’s the first thing you think of? A pink elephant. The pink elephants of the diet world are cakes, crisps, chocolate, chips, take away – whatever your particular poison is. Tell yourself you can’t have them and you want them even more. To have to tell myself I could never enjoy certain foods ever again would be like some sort of never-ending torture. I’d much prefer to tackle my own physical and emotional relationship with food by myself, even if it means battling my demons for the rest of my life. At least I can eat exactly what I want, when I want and in the quantities that I want (within reason) while I do it.
I’ve accepted that I’m either going to be fat, or I’m going to have to manage my food intake and keep going to the gym for ever. They’re the options that are available to me. I’m going to carry my weight loss issues – my self-esteem, my comfort eating, my willpower (or lack of it!) – for the rest of my life, but that’s OK. It’s part of who I am, and I don’t think changing the physiology of my body with surgery would ever be the right option for me while I am physically able to get off the settee, cook healthy food and shake my booty at the gym. If I fall off the wagon, I don’t sweat it. I let myself enjoy having the occasional slip, then I pick up my healthy regime where I left off. Personally, I feel like it’s more important to master my emotional issues and my mental urge to overeat rather than to just physically prevent myself from doing it.
Weight is a hugely emotive and personal issue, and I wish anyone who is battling the bulge the best of luck. It is about finding out what works for you, whether that’s Weight Watchers, Slimming World, a diet app or weight loss surgery. The key thing to remember is that, whatever you choose, you’re definitely not alone.
Hi! I’m Lindsey. Although I haven’t had WLS, I have struggled with my weight since childhood. I’ll be blogging here from time to time with updates on how I’m trying to keep myself trim, my ups and downs at the gym and lots of other weight-related issues.