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My Body, My Self 

Food issues and a bad self-image led our columnist to undergo weight-loss surgery. She's still a mess, but a better-looking one.

Wednesday, Jan 2 2008

Page 4 of 5

These people made me really, really nervous. I felt like I was in some sort of cult. Was I rushing into something stupid? Would the surgery work for a while and then I would just get fat again after my body had recalibrated its proven-to-be-fucked-up metabolism? Was I one of these lemmings?

As a result of my trepidation, I took more than two years to get a surgery date, stretching my classes out as far as I could, even taking almost an entire year off from my pursuit.

I also think I took forever because I was fucking terrified of losing weight.

Still, it was nice to get together with fat people a few times a week. I realized that alcoholics and other 12-steppers are probably missing that one important factor that goes along with food addiction: Boy howdy, are fat people jolly. We had some real cards in attendance, ever ready with the corny one-liners and zingers.

Teacher: "So, does anyone have ideas about good ways to deal with stress that aren't self-sabotaging?"

Jolly fat person: "I like to go on a date and let my hair down with my special girl. ... Her name is Sara Lee!"

It seems I wasn't the only one who had compensated for her "ugliness" by developing a sense of humor. On some level we were all giddy; I mean, we were there for pretty exciting reasons. We were all going to lose more than 100 pounds each.

Sometimes people who had already been through the program were brought in to talk to us. They entered the room and a sort of hush would pass among us. We revered them. They looked like regular people; it was hard to imagine them as fat. It was harder still to ever imagine that I would maybe be one of them at some point, that I would look "normal." Thin people were aliens, a master race. I realized that my disability of obesity was one of the few that could be reversed. If I had cerebral palsy, or quadriplegia, or dwarfism, there would be next to nothing I could do about it. But being fat, really fat, and then being able to transform myself into a thin person? Wow. I felt blessed.

We asked one young girl to describe something that had changed about her after the surgery that stuck out in her mind. She thought for a minute and then said, "I hate potato chips now. They disgust me."

"Whoaaaaa," we all said in hushed unison, stealing furtive glances at one another. She might as well have said, "I have the power to kill my adversaries using only the force of my mind."

My parents were supportive about my plans. My mother was terrified for a bit, but she did some research and started to feel better. My dad was also okay with it. They had had their share of therapy and growth over the years, too, and I didn't feel as judged. My friends were also incredibly supportive. They had seen me depressed for so long, avoiding parties and social events, and not seeing my own worth. Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, the people who were not into the idea were some of my other fat friends. Perhaps they felt I was rejecting them, or saying that there was something wrong with being fat; I don't know. But they pulled away from me.

I read all I could about the surgery to ensure I wasn't making a colossal mistake. I liked what I learned. While just a small percentage of people who go on a diet maintain their new weight, between 60 and 80 percent of weight-loss-surgery patients kept their weight down after five years. I liked those odds.

Surprisingly, I had no real health concerns. My cholesterol was normal, as was my blood pressure and blood sugar, and I had a very healthy heart. In fact, that's something that pisses me off about the whole weight debate. Just because someone is fat doesn't mean he or she is unhealthy. Many fat people work out and eat well. That said, I couldn't sustain 200 pounds of extra girth for the rest of my life. My knees were starting to ache. I also wanted to have a child someday, and pregnancy isn't safe if you are obese. Finally, I had done a lot of work on my insides, and I was ready to have my outsides match. I needed to become a whole person and meld my two selves.

The first thing I remember after the surgery is waking up in pain and being wheeled into recovery. From there, things just got better and better. I have zero complications from the surgery, and, as expected, the weight begins to fall off. Basically, the surgeon sews off most of your stomach and leaves an itty-bitty part at the top intact. Then your intestines are rerouted to the "new" tummy. The weight loss comes from basically starving yourself with the small amount of food you take in, while parts of your digestive tract that absorb calories are "bypassed." People who undergo gastric bypass surgery do not process the same calories as other people, even if they eat the same things.

The weight falls off rapidly for about a year, then slows a bit for the next half year. I start losing between 15 and 20 pounds a month. Every time I go down a size I am sure that is it — that I won't lose any more — and then, of course, I do. One side effect of the gastric bypass is hair loss, and I experience a substantial amount. This is all part of the sucky mid-weight-loss stage, when you are aren't thin yet, are partially bald, and get full after a few bites of food.

One thing that strikes me is that I don't have that same "high" I would get from losing weight back when I was bulimic-anorexic. Now I truly am melding my mind and body. My form is catching up with my function. I am clearing out the cobwebs, not creating a whole new person. Every day, I feel more comfortable in my skin. A lot of people say this surgery is the easy way out. Then the weight-loss-surgery proponents pipe back up with how hard it actually is, how much work goes into it, how much willpower is actually needed. Well, I'm here to tell you that weight-loss surgery is the easy way out. Thank fucking God!

About The Author

Katy St. Clair


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