Home | Tough Love | 10 things you can (and should) learn from my 10 years as a weight loss surgery post-op!

10 things you can (and should) learn from my 10 years as a weight loss surgery post-op!

This photo is of me and my bariatric surgeon, Dr. Kuldeep Singh. Thank you, Dr. Singh, for setting me on the path to this life!

Man…Foodies. I struggled with this post.

Because…10 years. 10 years??? Like…I have really survived TEN YEARS of post-op life.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t think I’d survive 10 weeks at the outset!

And for a milestone like this, I wanted to write something but nothing felt right. First I tried writing about what I’ve learned in my 10 years. But…booooooring! Then I tried to write about things that surprised me. I find my institutional memory of myself as a new post-op at this point is far too unreliable for such a post. Rather than remembering explicit details about these years, I remember general themes. But I knew I wanted to put something down and I knew that whatever that something was, I wanted it to benefit you. After all, reading this post will be X (however many) minutes of your life you can never get back – and I take that seriously!

Let’s just call this my official “before” photo. I was about 350 lbs. in this photo.

Now I’m no nutrition guru (I just like to eat and cook). I’m not a fitness expert. I’m not even a mindset/mental wellness role model, if we are being honest. (If you’ve followed me since the beginning you’ve seen I have as many mental breakdowns as every other post-op!)

But one place I feel like I have a greater-than-normal market share is on mistakes. Yes, mistakes.

Mistakes are really what Bariatric Foodie is all about, if you think about it. Whether it be with recipes, or life advice, or fitness advice, my mission has been to try things, be honest about my mistakes, and try my best to help you avoid some of those same mistakes.

So it only seemed fitting, as I mark this special occasion, to share what I’ve learned in such a way that you don’t make some of the mistakes that I made. And if that helps even one of you live a calmer, more centered, more sustainable and successful post-op existence, it will have been well worth the effort.

Without further adieu…here are the 10 things you can (and should) learn from my 10 years as a weight loss surgery post-op!

Being skinny and being healthy aren’t automatically the same thing.

This came as a SHOCK to me! I thought once I was “skinny,” all my other issues would be resolved. But, as so many of us find, losing the weight is just the beginning. Let’s put aside physical ailments for a moment. Physical health isn’t the only type of health. And one of my biggest mistakes early on was not giving credence to the ways that I was unhealthy that weren’t physical. I had body image issues. I had self-esteem issues. I had identity issues. I was just a big ball of issues and the more I tried to focus on my body, the more those unresolved issues got in the way. It wasn’t until I started trying to deal with those issues that things started to turn around for me. So being skinny and being healthy are not the same thing, Foodies! A healthy body weight is a part of an overall healthy life, but in order to achieve total wellness, you have to work on making all aspects of your life healthy, not just your weight.

Too much is always too much

Ask most post-ops what’s the #1 rule after weight loss surgery and many would say PROTEIN! And protein is important. It helps you heal after surgery, promotes weight loss and fat burning, and it helps you preserve muscle mass.

But early out when they told me to focus on protein, I took that to the extreme. I’m not kidding! What my dietitian said was, “Your daily intake should be protein heavy.” What I heard was, “The more protein you’ll eat, the more weight you’ll lose!” Bad translation.

At one point in my post-op journey I had, for all intents and purposes, a raging eating disorder whereby I challenged myself to get the most grams of protein from the least number of calories. This involved cutting out food groups that contained essential nutrients that were good for both my health and weight loss process. But I didn’t care because, to me, more protein = more success.

That bubble got burst when I plateau’d at about a year in. And it made me angry because in my mind I was doing everything “right.” But I wasn’t. I’d just misread the tea leaves, Foodies. Too much is, and will forever be, too much. So do what your dietitian tells you to. And be open to feedback!

I’m not you. You’re not me. That’s ok!

There’s a saying that goes, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

It’s so true!

The first few years after my surgery I compared myself to people to the point of nearly driving myself to depression. You see, I have always weighed just a bit more than other post-ops. According to my surgeon, I will always weigh more than I look like I weigh because of my body composition. I had a hard time accepting that.

So you can imagine how hard it was for me back in the day to see folks achieving 150, 140, even 130 lbs. and there I was, bottoming out at 172. But see that pic right above? I was a size six. SIX! And I didn’t enjoy it because the number on the scale didn’t say the right thing – the thing that was on everybody else’s scale.

That? Was dumb. And I regret doing that. If I ever get that body back? I may just never put clothes on! Kidding. But if I ever choose to get back to that point, I will definitely enjoy the fruits of my labor!

The “Russian Roulette” Rule

So follow me on this one. I see lots of post-ops express curiosity about what they can “get away with” eating. I did that. I call it the Russian Roulette. You try something and see if it causes a reaction. Then, if it doesn’t, you try something else and something else until…well, we know where that story goes.

I call it Russian Roulette because if you think about it before putting that first questionable food choice in your mouth, it’s sort of like Russian Roulette. (For those who don’t know what Russian Roulette is, it generally refers to putting one bullet into a gun’s chamber and then firing. The “thrill” is that you may shoot someone. Or the chamber may be empty.) Think about it. The food may make you sick. It may not. The question is: do you really want to know?  Like…what good can come of that information?

My Russian Roulette moment came with a piece of barbecued chicken. Yep. While sugar, in general, makes me sick, one day I ate a piece of barbecued chicken and it did not. I theorized this was because it was sugar paired with protein. Which led me down a rabbit hole of experimentation that ended in me realizing the parameters under which I can successfully eat things I HAVE NO DAMN BUSINESS EATING VERY OFTEN!

So. Sometimes ignorance is bliss, Foodies. That’s all I’m sayin’.

Be like an ant

What the hell does that mean? Right?

I read once that ants follow very specific paths to get places. So much so that if you put an obstruction in an ant’s path, they simply don’t know what to do. Now I don’t want anybody to feel lost.

But I would encourage you to develop healthy routines and guard them with your life. When you do healthy things habitually, they become second nature, such that it feels wrong to skip the healthy thing. I’ve managed to establish some of those kinds of habits, but I don’t have as many as I’d like. Good news is, it’s never too late to form a new habit!

Do you. Be you.

“OMG! You can eat all that???” This is a common thing I get when I post eats on Instagram or Facebook. Yes. Yes I can. Side note: that’s kind of a rude thing to say, no matter how you meant it!

I’ve met a lot of post-ops in my 10 years, through my local support system, WLS conventions, etc.

There’s this really weird thing in WLS group dynamics wherein when we all get together, we go to eat. But then we proceed to lament about how much we cannot eat.

I can eat. A good bit. And I’ve been able to for quite some time.

So getting together with other post-ops stressed me out. Because I’d order something and take two bites, but then everyone else was “OMG! I’m so full! I can’t finish this! This is four more meals for me!” (It was probably 1.5 meals for me.)

Which made me think something was wrong with me, with the way I eat. And in all honestly I am not the perfect post-op eater. I’m really not. But I will say that most of the time I fill my plate with good stuff: lean proteins, nutrient-packed veggies, and sometimes good, whole grains. And, yes, I can eat it all. And when I do, guess what happens? My body is nourished!

So my advice to you? If you feel like you are different than other post-ops, don’t necessarily view that as a bad thing. Figure out your version of healthy – what works for you in terms of losing weight, maintaining health, and peace of mind. Then do you. Be you!

There’s, like, all this other stuff that can happen to your body!

This sort of goes along with the whole “being skinny does not equal being healthy” deal.

You all have heard me speak (ad nauseum) about breast cancer diagnosis in 2016. But one thing I haven’t talked about as much is how weight played into that story.

I had a few symptoms that were pointing to something weird. One of them was the fact that I dropped a lot of weight effortlessly. And when I say effortlessly, I mean I made zero effort. I wasn’t eating my best (or particularly healthfully, at the time). I wasn’t exercising more. I wasn’t drinking more water. There was no scientific reason I should be losing weight at all, and certainly not at the pace I was losing it.

And I recognized that and reported it to my doctor – who congratulated me for shedding pounds! But I knew I didn’t deserve those accolades so I kept pushing for answers. A few months later, my diagnosis came down, I elected to have a double mastectomy and, shortly thereafter, my body “found” all that weight it had lost.

My big point here is to pay attention to your body. Pay attention to your health, your symptoms. Not everything is about weight loss. There’s all this other stuff that can happen to your body! And you should investigate if anything seems off.

Be nice to long-termers. You’ll thank yourself later!

Back in the day, I was the carb police! I remember one episode on ObesityHelp where I reamed someone out for eating strawberries.

Yes, Foodies, strawberries. Because strawberries are CARBS!

And I was a complete and total asshole to long-termers, especially those who struggled to keep the weight off.

To be fair, when you’re new and you’re dropping weight like gangbusters, and complying with every rule in the book, it’s hard to understand how anyone could go off the rails. It’s mystifying how folks can experience regain on any level. Because…how. Like…really…how.

But then life starts to come at you, Foodies. And it comes at you fast! I’m so glad I knocked that obnoxious behavior off. Because it was long-termers who helped me to deal with my struggles. It was them who understood and cheered me on. It was from them that I drew the inspiration I needed to keep trying again and again and again. I still l have folks further out than me who I look up to in that regard. Because even at 10 years post-op, I’m still falling off the damn horse. And I keep getting back on.

Self-esteem: Fake it ’til you make it

This is me and my bestie (also a post-op…just two weeks after me!) at an event I threw in 2015 called “Bariatric Prom” to give post-ops a chance to get gussied up and celebrate their success!

Here’s a secret. Nobody is born with a high sense of self esteem.

Nobody.

If someone says they are, they are LYING.

Self-esteem is something that is developed. And as humans we develop it in much the same way we develop other skills – by trying it out and seeing what happens. The problem is that when you are a person affected by obesity, the overwhelming message is that you should hate yourself. You should hate your body. You should look down on any good traits you have because you are, first and foremost, FAT. And to many in society, that is simply unforgivable.

The process of rebuilding your self-esteem is…well, a process. It is NOT true that you’ll automatically gain self esteem when you are at your goal weight. Sorry to tell you, but you are just as capable of hating yourself with a BMI of 20 as you are at 40. So let’s squash that thinking right now.

Every single human on this earth learns to love themselves. Some of us learn to do so early on in life (and for some of us, that love is reinforced by those around us and “sticks”) and some of us are tasked with learning it a bit later. But you can always learn.

Just recognize that it’s OK if it doesn’t come naturally to you. You may have to fake it ’til you make it. Do things that people who love themselves do. Say things that people who love themselves say. Experience things that people who love themselves experience. Sooner or later, you’ll convince yourself. And you’ll fall in love.

Don’t waste a mother(bleeping) moment of this life you’ve been given!

Yep. I kissed a pig. And I liked it!

This is general life advice. Time is a resource you can never get back. Ever.

Through my 10 years, life has hammered this fact into my head more and more. When my mother died in 2012, that fact was especially pronounced. When I got cancer it was painfully obvious too. Not so much because I thought I was going to die. (Seriously, guys, I had stage 0 breast cancer…the most curable stage) but because it reminded me of my grandmother, who succumbed to cancer at just 49 years old.

Time is something you don’t get back. Spend it WISELY. Fill your life with things that bring you fulfillment. (Notice I said fulfillment and not joy. The two are sometimes the same, sometimes not.) Work on making your relationships with people you love stronger. Have new experiences. Laugh. Love. Be Loved. Take care of your body. It’s your vessel through this thing called life. Make sure it’s healthy – in all the ways that it can be healthy!

Ok, guys! That’s a wrap for my reflective moment. One last word…of gratitude.

Thank you for being here over the past nine years I have been blogging. Thank you for your support, your kind words, your gentle criticism. Thank you for always pushing me and each other to be a little bit better today than we were yesterday. My post-op journey would not be the same without you. <3

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5 comments

  1. Kathleen Roberts

    Thank you for you very heartfelt post!! I’m several yrs further out than you but, everything you said is what I needed to hear ( and know)!! I’ve been struggling this last yr. Thankfully, I am finding my way back to a healthy mindset.

  2. Rhonda M

    I lost 80 lbs the first year. My surgeon-set goal was 100 lbs. I’ve regained 5. I’d still like to lost 20 lbs. That leaves me at a personal goal 5 lbs more than the surgeon’s goal, but I’m ok with that. Thanks for your encouragement!

  3. Sherry Blume

    Nik, you are awesome! Your words and pledge is at perfect timing. I am in! Btw, I can eat that much too!! Hugs!!

  4. Kerri

    Thank you so much. You’re honesty and understanding is exactly what i needed. I have been worried about a silly number on the scale and the size of my jeans, instead of just enjoying a better version of me. Again thank you for the reminder that skinny is not always healthy and fulfillment isn’t always joy.

  5. Timeinie

    Thank you for your honesty, freshness, and encouragement. I’m a newbie. Four months post-op. I’m also living an ex-pat life for the next 2 years, so I’m really happy to have found a “home-away-from-home” in this online community. I just made the 2018 Pledge, and felt so happy watching you in the short video. You are adorable. I look forward to having your guidance in my personal journey.