A lot of people think weight loss surgery is a cop-out. I’ve been heavy my entire life, so when I lost 110 pounds, I wasn’t surprised that old friends wanted to know how I’d made such a change. But when I told some of them I’d had weight loss surgery—and then plastic surgery to remove excess skin—I was surprised when some of them just said, “Oh,” like they were disappointed. A few people even said things like, “Well, you still look great,” as though I had cheated my way to better health. I just smiled and thanked them. But what I was thinking was, “If only you knew what it took to get here.”
I’m 28 now and have been dealing with people’s assumptions about my weight for most of my life. By the time I was 10, I was overweight; during my late teens and early 20s, I watched the scale go from 200 to past 250 pounds. Even though I’m tall—5 foot 8—that put my health in danger. Did I eat too much? Absolutely. But that’s because I was hungry all the time. I ate lots of vegetables, lean dairy, and whole grains. No matter what I was eating, though, I ate too much of it. Food also became a source of comfort, and overeating became a habit.
I attended Weight Watchers for the first time when I was just 12. Over the years, I tried all sorts of other diets, too. Each time, I’d drop some weight, only to quickly gain it back, and then some.
I was at the gym five days a week, trying Pilates, weights, the elliptical, and anything else that sounded interesting. And since I live in New York City, I walked everywhere. My blood pressure was great, but all that activity didn’t make a dent in my weight. I also constantly felt achy and tired.
By my early 20s, I had tried just about everything. Deep down, I refused to believe I was simply destined to be fat. So I started seeing a weight loss doctor at New York University. She put me on medication to help me lose weight, but still the scale wouldn’t budge.
Then, during the summer of 2014, I was taken off the medication right before I went on a several-weeks-long trip to Japan. While there, I ate lots of fish and veggies, but I still came back 16 pounds heavier. The medication I’d been taking was effective, but all it had done was help me maintain a weight I didn’t want to maintain. At that point, I decided I had to do something more drastic. That’s when I decided to see a bariatric surgeon.
Weighing the options
I was at an all-time high of 278 pounds when I met Christine Ren-Fielding, MD, chief of bariatric surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center. My other doctor had explained that because I was obese and had already tried to lose weight with diet and exercise, I was a good candidate for surgery. And the fact that I was young and healthy—with no complications like diabetes—meant I would likely have good results.
But no matter how healthy you are, weight loss surgery is major surgery, and Dr. Ren-Fielding didn’t sugarcoat that. One of the things that gave me pause was learning I might need plastic surgery to remove excess skin after losing weight. Sagging skin can not only look unappealing but also cause issues such as infection. Dr. Ren-Fielding told me that the recovery from plastic surgery may be more painful than the recovery from bariatric surgery. Still, my biggest fear was that I would become a different person post-surgery. Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t like being heavy, but I was funny and a people person. I was used to honing my personality rather than my appearance. I was afraid that after such a big change, I’d give off a different energy.