Let’s jump in to her story:
✋ At what moment did you realize you HAD to lose weight?
The first time I realized I needed to lose weight was when I hit 250lbs and my hospital held a health screening where they found that I was having high blood pressure readings. What finally made me decide to commit to losing the weight was when I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic. I was bordering on the need to seek treatment for my high blood pressure and was finding it more and more difficult to do things due to being so unfit. I felt pain throughout my body from the weight. I also was diagnosed with sleep apnea and had to start using CPAP. That was when I had finally had enough.
1️⃣ What was the first step you took towards transforming your body?
In October of 2016, I met with my primary MD and discussed what options were out there. My previous attempts at diet and exercise alone always seemed to fail because I could never stick with it. I was considering weight loss surgery and he highly recommended it as one of the best ways for long-term success in keeping the weight off.
I took 6 months of nutrition classes and changed my diet to high protein and low carb in preparation for the surgery. In August of 2017, I had gastric bypass surgery. The surgery helped reduce my portion sizes but after transitioning to solid foods again, the focus was again on high protein and low carbs; protein and veggies were the primary food items. Because of the low volume I could consume at once, this was the first and most important habit I created to be successful.
🤔 Can you talk a little bit more about why you opted for weight loss surgery, and how that decision was made?
I had tried many different weight loss plans prior to the decision to pursue weight loss surgery. I tried Atkins, low carb, and Weight Watchers. I had a lot of success with Weight Watchers but I could never keep the weight off for good. Eventually I would feel like I had done so well that I could afford to indulge. The one indulgence led to 2-3 more, and so on.
Eventually, before I knew it, I’d have gained everything back and then some. I needed more help than just relying solely on me mentally controlling my food because it never worked long-term. The weight loss surgery gave me a tool that helped me truly limit my intake and pushed me to eat healthier foods because if I didn’t, I would be deprived of important vitamins/nutrients and I would not feel well.
Q: What was that experience like? I’m not sure many people know much about weight loss surgery and what the post-surgery experience is like. You mentioned what the transitional period was like in-terms of being sensitive to certain foods, but how was experience for you mentally?
Initially, post-surgery, I wasn’t hungry, which was a great experience. But because of the inability to consume much food or drinks, the focus was on drinking protein-rich foods like shakes. I was not in a lot of pain, thankfully, because the surgery is done laparoscopically.
The food transitions were done in 2-week increments with full liquids (clear ones plus pudding and shakes), then to puréed foods plus scrambled eggs and flaky fish, then to soft foods, which included ground meats, and then finally regular foods, trialing foods one-by-one for tolerance.
The puréed stage was the most difficult for me cause I refused to blend meats so I ate a lot of scrambled eggs with cheese. As each stage came it was easier to eat a little more calories, which helped with the energy to do more. Because post-op patients struggle to absorb B12, we started injections every month and that really helped to boost the energy to do more. Mentally, it was a struggle to cope with being full off so little food.
Now, years after the surgery, I will say that mentally I still struggle with the inability to consume normal meals. When I get full off a small meal or a food upsets my stomach I will often be annoyed that I can’t eat like a regular person and it’s the only time I struggle with the choice I made to have the surgery. What really helped me to stay on track was attending post-op support groups. I was able to chat through the struggles we face and get ideas on how to work through them. Sometimes it was nice to just have other people tell you that they feel the same way or struggle with the same things so you know you aren’t alone. They really helped to keep me on track.
❓ Having gone though it yourself, do you think there are any common misconceptions about weight loss surgery?
I think the biggest misconception is that you’re taking the easy way out when you have weight loss surgery. There is nothing easy about having to live on a restricted intake for the rest of your life or not being able to eat certain foods due to intolerance. After about 6 months, you are very much sick and tired of having to drink protein shakes, but you can’t meat your caloric needs without them.
Even 3+ years out I find myself having to drink them now and then, especially if my stomach is struggling to tolerate foods that day. I also think people don’t realize that over time you can gain all the weight back. The surgery gives us a tool to help us lose weight but it doesn’t fix the mental side that led us to be overweight in the first place. If we don’t change our eating behaviors and increase our physical activity, we can end up right where we started from.
💻 What apps/websites/resources did you use?
I utilized My Fitness Pal to track my food/drinks. It was imperative that I be sure that I was eating enough protein each day as well as getting enough fluids to stay hydrated. As time went on and my diet expanded, I found the use of the SkinnyTaste website to be very helpful in giving me ideas for new meals. They separate the recipes out into various groupings such as keto and low carb which made it easy to select recipes that met my nutrition goals.
🍳 What kind of adjustments did you make to your diet?
Initially the first thing was changing the portion sizes of my meals. Because I couldn’t eat a large volume of food, I found it helpful to put my meals on smaller plates so I mentally felt like I was eating more because the plate was still full of food. The surgery limited my sugar intake because of negative effects like diarrhea or vomiting, so that really helped me to not overeat fruits and to avoid the sweets like cakes/donuts that would typically tempt me in the past.
I focused all my meals and snacks on ensuring I had protein in all of them. Most breakfasts included eggs/turkey bacon and greek yogurt. If I was on the run I’d mix up a protein shake. When I would eat my meals, I would routinely eat my protein items first so that if I became full, I met those goals first, then moved onto veggies. Once or twice a week I would allow myself to enjoy some mashed potatoes or rice in a small portion.
I ate all my meals slowly and focused on chewing food really well. I also stopped drinking with my meals. We were taught that it would cause us to be sick after the surgery but that it was also a good idea to not drink because it would start flushing food out of the stomach and less would be absorbed. This would increase the likelihood of overeating because you wouldn’t stay as full as long. I typically would not drink until about 30 mins after finishing my meals and this helped me to not get hungry too soon after eating.
When I went out to eat, I would order from the appetizer menu most often, as those meals were more my size. If I couldn’t choose from that, I would ensure that I cut my meals in half or smaller and would box that up early on because I knew I couldn’t possibly finish it.
🥕 What were your go-to staple foods that helped you achieve your goals?
I would say I lived a lot on the pre-packaged dry roasted almonds and cashews, low fat cheese sticks, greek yogurts, sugar free jello/pudding, and cuties when they were in season.
I had a lot of lean burgers, tacos without the tortillas/shells—sometimes I put them in romaine lettuce leaves as the tortilla—air fried meats with various veggies, rotisserie chicken from the store without the skin (when I ran short on time for cooking), and I would use carb control wraps and/or flat-out wraps to replace bread to make sandwiches.
💊 Did you take any supplements along the way? If yes, how useful were they for you? If not, why not?
The only supplements I took were vitamins that were necessary to supplement what I was short on from my lack of full food intake. Essentially a multivitamin, Iron, and B12. They were useful in maintaining my body but they did not aid in the weight loss.
💪 Can you talk a little bit about what you found to work the best in terms of physical exercise? What worked best for you and why?
Because the surgery allowed me to start losing weight without any physical activity, I resisted going to the gym and getting into a workout routine for about 6 months. I personally struggle to find self-motivation to work out and I have no knowledge of creating routines for myself. I found myself only successful at sticking to a routine if I had classes to go to. As a nurse, the hospital had a gym we could go to so I started to attend classes—cycling, HIIT classes, strength training.
Eventually traveling to the work gym was too far so I joined a local fitness studio that had classes for cycling and strength training that was low impact. As I made friends with other members, we would jokingly turn parts of cycle classes into mental races to push each other and we would push each other to increase our weights because we knew we could lift more than we were mentally telling ourselves we could.
As the weight kept coming off, I was interested in trying to meet a new goal: to run a 5K without walking. The hospital gym offered an 8-week training program. At the end of the training in December 2019, we all participated in a 5K race. I was so excited to have learned the proper way to run and I ran the whole 5K without stopping—it was invigorating.
It made me want to do it again and with a training partner, we made the plan that in just 2 1/2 months, we would race again—in an 8K. The goal to make it 5 miles without stopping was one that I didn’t reach, but we were just happy that we made it across that finish line. After that, I wanted to work on improving my fitness even more so that someday I could run the full 5 miles.
At the recommendation of a coworker, she had me try out a class at a local Orange Theory Fitness center. The class was great and when I was trying to “power walk” my way through the treadmill portion of the class, the coach caught on and pushed me to jog and so I started jogging at 4.4mph. I was hooked and started going twice/week and trying to work out on my own at least once a week.
Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic wrenched the fitness journey for me after just over a month when everything closed down. I struggled to keep my fitness going. When they reopened up at the end of May, I jumped back in. I changed my 8 classes/month into an unlimited membership and started going 4 times/week.
Over the course of 4 months, I was able to improve my base pace run from the 4.5mph to almost 5mph. I also competed in their version of a Dri-Triathalon—half of it anyway, which was something I never would have dreamed of trying to do, and I even hesitated for a while before finally committing to trying it.
It’s been amazing to see the progress and what I can do and it keeps pushing me to want to do/try more. I use to hate the gym and now I hate when I have to be away from it for more than 2 days.
🧾 What was the best advice you received (or read) along the way?
Joining a support group for weight loss/weight loss surgery was crucial to my success. I needed to have a group of people who knew exactly what I was going through, had been where I was at, and could give me ideas on how to get over the hurdles I faced. They were instrumental in giving food ideas to meet nutritional needs as well as just validating the mental struggles we were all facing in the journey to health and wellness.
Even the healthcare providers who ran the meetings were helpful in reminding us of our nutritional needs, brought us healthy snacks/meals to try out, as well as let us ask our million and one questions to help ensure our success.
🥵 What was the hardest part about your journey? How did you overcome it?
The hardest part of the journey for me is just sticking to it everyday and committing to tracking what I eat so I can stay accountable to it. Mentally, I want to be just like everyone else. I have days where I struggle because the surgery has made my stomach not tolerate some foods that I used to love to eat, like chicken. Everyday that I struggle to eat a meal, I wonder for a moment if it was all worth it. But then I look at how far I have come over the course of these 3 years and realize that the sacrifice has been totally worth it. I wouldn’t change one thing. If I was given the chance again, I would do it again.
💡 Was there an ‘aha’ moment where everything began to click?
I really think that it all started to click when the weight started coming off. When I would hit stalls, I could easily look at my tracker and see if it was because I was eating too much or too little and make the adjustments. When the weight would start dropping again after I adjusted my eating, it really made me happy to know that I finally understood what I needed to do and that I could make the changes on my own and be successful.
😎 How has your life changed since the day you took your before photo?
I feel like a whole new person. I have so much more confidence because I can do so much more than I ever could. Me in my before photo would struggle to do activities that required me to be on my feet for a long time. Sight seeing on vacation required a lot of sitting down because my feet would be killing me from carrying my weight for hours on end. I look back at that person and realize that I only ‘thought’ I was happy because I didn’t know how much happier I would be when I could run miles without pain, fit comfortably on an airplane seat and cross my legs, sit in an auditorium where the folding desk has space between me and it, and that I could truly find a love for physical fitness.
❤ Based on your experience, what advice would you give to our readers who are starting off as the ‘old’ you?
My initial journey to lose weight involved many of the “fad” diets. I did find some success with weight watchers, and for those seeking a non-surgical and more traditional diet/exercise plan with a support group kind of mentality, I think they are an awesome way to learn to change your eating habits away from the processed foods and to more nutritionally dense foods. I was not able to sustain my weight loss with their program but I know many who have, so it’s a great option.
The important things to note is that you have to take it one small step at a time. I don’t think one can be successful if you quit everything cold turkey. Start by changing one thing—swap out one soda a day with a bottle of water, choose a leaner protein, or try air frying instead of frying in oil. Small changes are more often less shocking to the system and once you master one, take on another.
With fitness, I started out with just taking my dogs on longer walks. If you have access to a gym, you can try a treadmill or a bike as an option that are lower impact. Group fitness is always a fun way to get into fitness—I always feel like it’s better to have others “suffering” with you—it doesn’t always feel great while you do it, but you’ll feel amazing when you’re done.
Thanks for the interview, Jessica!