[TW: This post mentions dieting, weight loss, surgical procedures and my state of mind prior to discovering fat acceptance. Please skip reading if you feel this may be triggering for you and I hope the next post will be better.]
This post on WLS has been swimming around in my head for quite a while. I have begun to write it many times before discarding it and walking away from my computer. I have considered never letting it see light, but as a fat activist I feel as though I am keeping a shameful secret.
WLS for those that don’t know stands for Weight Loss Surgery. The two most common types of WLS are:
- Gastric by-pass Surgery (cutting or sectioning off the stomach to create a smaller “pouch” and reattaching the small intestine, bypassing the majority of the stomach)
- Lap Band Surgery (often praised as being the “less invasive” alternative, lap banding creates the smaller stomach pouch by placing a silicone ring around the top of the stomach.)
Both are designed to restrict the amount of food you are able to eat.
I had Lap Band Surgery in October of 2007, at the age of 23.
I have always been fat and have never really let it bother me too much. What did bother me, and what I couldn’t ignore, was the way everybody else felt about my body. I remember being taken to Weight Watchers meetings in the fifth grade (I was 11). I grew up having to count calories and account for every piece of food I put in my mouth. I developed very unhealthy attitudes towards food, I loved food but felt I needed to hide it. I would eat when I got home from school because I was ashamed to eat lunch in front of the other kids. I hid sugary snacks around my room because I wasn’t allowed to have them. I felt judged depending on the food I ate when I was given the choice (say between an apple or a cookie), like I’d been tested and failed. I learned quickly to never speak up for what I wanted, but to accept that other’s knew better.
This learning stays with you as you grow up. In my late teens I was easily manipulated into doing what others wanted because I didn’t want to displease them by saying no. I accepted criticism of my body from people I called family. I dieted not because I wanted necessarily to lose weight, but because I wanted to make people happy. So they could see that I was trying to be acceptable enough to deserve their approval. This is why I agreed to see a doctor about WLS.
Seeing the doctor was a bit of an underwhelming experience. I was weighed and at 172kg (351lbs) I more than met the qualifications to undergo lap band surgery. To add to that, given my young age I was bumped up the waiting list for Medicare funded surgeries. So, rather than having two years to consider my options, I had three months. I was handed a pamphlet briefly outlining the procedure, told to read it and to ask any questions I had, only I didn’t know what to ask. I was focusing on finally making everybody happy and silencing the fat-shaming commentary that had become the background noise of my life. The carrot had been dangled in front of my nose and I wanted it.
Cut to three months later. I’ve been living on three low calorie, dietary supplement shakes a day and a cup of steamed vegetables at dinner for four weeks (minus the day I caved in to starvation and ate that burger and fries) to lose as much weight as possible before the surgery (am now 168kg), and, armed with next to no information about what I’m about to go through, I undergo lap band surgery. It is a success (spoiler alert: I didn’t die), I wake up to excited family and friends telling me how proud they are, that it’s going to make such a difference to my life. The pain in my stomach is mild but I am on some form of pain medication. There are five small incisions across my stomach, the largest of which is about an inch and a half wide (I forgot to mention they weren’t sure whether it could be done via keyhole or not so that scar was going to be a surprise when I woke up!) and all in all, the surgery itself was not so distressing in my personal experience.
They tell you that you almost certainly will lose a great amount of weight in the first few weeks of having WLS. Let me tell you why this is. Week one is a clear fluid diet. After they make sure you are awake, able to walk and swallow a small sip of water, you are free to go home and live on water, low calorie jell-o, boiled water with a stock cube dissolved in it (if you feel like spoiling yourself). Week two you can incorporate milk or yoghurt. Week three is pureed food week, never was I so excited to see baby food in my entire life. Week four you can let loose and slowly start to add soft foods. So it’s a month of having very little to eat, living with being absolutely starving but not able to rush it because you’ll just throw up if you try to eat anything.
I’ll sum up the rest of the time between then and now by saying this. I was 172kg (351lbs) before going through with WLS. I lost a grand total of 10kg in the first month or so, and gained it back within the first year. It is now 2012, and five years later at 28, I am still 172kg (351lbs). I know that is a remarkably unremarkable result, and many have lost far more weight than I. But there is a lot I have learned about WLS.
Five years later I am still unable to eat bread. I cannot eat red meat unless it comes out of a slow cooker and even then, I have to be careful. Pasta is touch and go and I throw up regularly because my body has learned to fear certain textures of food, they get “stuck” and it is completely involuntary when I bring them back up. Whenever I go out to eat, I make sure I know where the bathroom is first in case I have to run. I have to take multivitamins because I do not get enough from the food I am able to digest. I was losing my hair at one point from malnutrition, thankfully it’s growing back now. I have also developed an intolerance to gluten, which is a side effect of many weight loss surgeries that nobody warned me about, or fully understands why it happens.
I am deteriorating slowly, unable to process the nutrients my body needs because I have mutilated my digestive system in the effort to be thin. I have looked into having it removed, but while they were more than willing to put the band in, they will not cover the far riskier procedure to take it out. It will only be removed once it causes “complications” or begins to deteriorate. I have to wait it out while it may potentially kill me. This is why I will never advocate weight loss surgery. I’ve been through it, and there is far too little information given to individuals considering it as an option. I don’t sit here saying DON’T DO IT because I am bitter that it didn’t work and I’m still fat. I have made peace with my fat. I don’t want anybody else to regret their decision.
Truths that nobody will tell you about WLS are:
- That people die during the procedure.
- That your body may slowly starve to death.
- That it doesn’t cure you of your desire to eat, or stop the disordered way you think about food. If anything, it makes you consciously aware of everything you eat 24/7, the second you forget it’s there, you throw up what you’re eating.
- People will congratulate you if you tell them you have it, but nobody can see it and those you don’t tell will still think you are a worthless fatty until you lose weight.
- Your body is amazingly resistant to losing weight and will no longer trust you if you starve it. It will hold onto any fat it finds and store it because it cannot rely on you for nourishment.
- If you DO lose weight, you will be left with excess skin that no amount of exercise will remove and you will not feel any better about yourself when you look in the mirror. Excess skin will rub, sweat, make you believe you are still fat and require painful surgery (at your own cost) to remove.
- You may lose your hair.
- You may have no energy.
People die having this procedure.
People die from complications following this procedure.
YOU MAY DIE! THIS IS REAL!
If the laundry list of complications is worth being thin for you, then I won’t stop you. Your choices are your own to make. But I urge you to look online, read EVERYTHING you can find. Ask every question that pops into your head. Be informed about what you’re about to put your body through. I was healthy at 23, just fat. Now I am still fat and worry constantly that I have made myself sick. Even though I felt pressured to undergo this procedure, and was too scared to speak up, I made the call. I chose to do this to my body and I wish I had asked more questions. I wish I had been brave enough to put my foot down and say NO. I wish I had been able to see that I was enough, exactly as I was.
I’m not outing myself for sympathy. I live with my decision and I make the most of the way it is. I work around my body’s limitations and do as much as possible to limit the negative impacts my choices have upon it. In sharing my story, I am not saying that everybody who has had weight loss surgery (be it “successful” or no) needs to speak up and tell the world. Bodies are intensely personal things and you do not need to defend your body to anyone.
This is my horrible secret. I wasn’t always a fat activist (there’s a lot of hard work that goes into loving your fat and appreciating your body for what it is) but I believe many of us have all gone through a period of hating ourselves, listening to people who told us we deserved to die, believing we were worthless. We work on how we feel about ourselves rather than listening to the voices that tell us we’re second class citizens because we are fat. My hope is to spread awareness. Weight loss surgery is not a miracle cure for fat, it is dangerous and potentially harmful body mutilation disguised as hope for desperately unhappy people. Whether you lose weight or not, it is not the answer to all your body issues. Harming your body to make it thin does not make you any less ashamed of being fat. It doesn’t stop the fear that one day that fat will all come back (and it very likely will). How can you expect to properly care for your body if you hate it? The only thing that will stop you being ashamed of your fat is accepting it, embracing it, and eventually learning to love it.