The Easy Way Out? No Way!

Weight loss surgery is the easy way out.

I am very fortunate to have never had someone say this to me directly, but I have heard it said about weight loss surgery in general, and I have several friends who have sadly been on the receiving end of such a comment. Often people will tell an obese person, “You just need discipline. Exercise more and eat less.” Sure, some obese people have lost weight and maintained that weight loss for an extended period of time, but that is the exception, rather than the rule. Statistics indicate that 95% of people who lose weight without surgical intervention gain it back.

The truth is that obesity is a disease just like cancer, diabetes or heart disease. It just doesn’t go away with discipline or even diet. The medical community (for the most part) has recognized that it requires treatment. In 2013 the American Medical Association officially declared obesity a disease in an of itself.

As one who underwent weight loss surgery just five weeks ago, I agree emphatically that this surgery is NOT the easy way out. Allow me to share some of my experience with you.

  1. Weight loss surgery is surgery … and surgery is never easy. The procedure I had was the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass. Though done laparoscopically with 7 small incisions, the work done internally was significant. The average person’s stomach is about the size of a football. The surgeon reduced my stomach to the size of a large egg and then re-routed my intestines. Healing and recovery from abdominal surgery takes time and it’s painful. When I saw my surgeon for my one-week post-op appointment, I asked about the pain I had around one of my incisions. He said, “Yes, you can expect pain there. That’s where we inserted the stapler.” Yes, weight loss surgery is major surgery!
  2. Weight loss surgery requires commitment – commitment before and after surgery. Prior to surgery, I went through several months of medical and psychological testing as well as nutrition classes. All of these determined my fitness for surgery and commitment to the program. In addition, two weeks before surgery I had to follow a strict 800-calorie per day liquid diet. This not only showed my willingness to adhere to the program, but even more importantly, it helped decrease the size of my liver for a safer surgery. (In these surgeries, the liver must be moved out of the way to access the stomach). In addition, for surgery to be successful, commitment to post-op nutrition is very important. This includes a liquid diet after surgery and then the gradual introduction of pureed and soft foods. Even now, I must cut up my food into very small pieces and chew each piece twenty or more times. At this time I can have only proteins and next month I can add vegetables. I know that for the rest of my life I need to avoid sugars and simple carbohydrates. A few months down the road, I may be able to have a small bite of these things, but anything beyond that could lead to weight gain … and would likely make me physically sick. Commitment to regular follow up care is also important.
  3. Weight loss surgery has financial implications. Most people know that medical care is not cheap. While I am blessed to have insurance and am very grateful for it, my medical appointments, tests, surgery, hospitalization and follow up care cost me several thousand dollars in deductibles and out of pocket expenses. This is not meant as a complaint, it’s just the reality of medical care in general. Weight loss surgery is expensive. In addition, its recovery requires time off from work. I consider myself very blessed in this area, but for many, it is not so easy.

These are just a few responses to the “easy way out” based on my own experience. Others who have had weight loss surgery surely have additional responses. It’s not easy, but I am grateful that surgery was a treatment option for me.

So, here at five weeks post-op, my new favorite number is 61 (27 pounds before surgery, 34 pounds since) and I’m feeling pretty good about that.

Until next time, peace …

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A Tool for the Task

Over five years ago I embarked on a weight loss journey that led to a loss of over 90 pounds. Part of what made it successful was that I was very public about it. As the pounds shed, I posted a new “favorite” number on Facebook each week and I blogged about the joys and challenges of changing one’s eating habits. I received a lot of encouragement from friends and family, and many tracked my progress by following my blog. I soon discovered, though, that my openness was a double-edged sword as the reality of maintaining my weight loss became an insurmountable task. Sadly, I stopped writing and I withdrew. Of course, to those I encountered on a regular basis, it was obvious that I had gained the weight back, but for me, it was just easier to not talk about it. I was ashamed, not only of the weight gain, but I also realized that I had hinged my worth as a person to my weight loss. When I lost weight, I was a success, but when I gained, I was a failure.

In January 2017 I had a health scare that caused me to take stock of my life and revisit my need to live into the health and wholeness that God desired for me, that others desired for me, and that deep down, I desired for myself. God has blessed me abundantly and given me gifts to be used in ministry, and I want to be able to use those gifts for God’s glory for as many years as possible. After some time of prayer and reflection, in June I attended a seminar at the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute at the Cleveland Clinic and I officially entered the program. Their program is quite thorough; I went through several months of medical and psychological testing as well as nutrition classes.

One of the things I learned is that 95% of the people who lose weight through traditional, non-surgical methods gain the weight back. Yes, 95%! Though I knew that I was not alone in my struggle with my weight, this statistic helped me release the shame of my previous failed attempts. Another thing I learned is that weight loss surgery is a tool – it doesn’t do the work for you, but it aids you in accomplishing the task. I like to think of it this way: consider the task of getting a nail in a wall to hang a picture. You could use the heel of your shoe or you could use a hammer. With either tool you must exert energy, and both will eventually get the nail in the wall, but the hammer is certainly more efficient. For me, considering the amount of weight I need to lose, I determined that weight loss surgery was the best tool to help me accomplish this task.

On February 1, I had gastric bypass surgery. In the months leading up to surgery I lost 27 pounds and since surgery I have lost another 27 pounds, totaling 54. So 54 is my new “favorite” number. Now I recognize that I am once again being public with this information, but I have a different mindset than I did five years ago. My worth as a person is not determined by my weight, but by the very fact that I am created in the image of God, and this same God loves me, claims me and calls me by name. I also share this information openly as a way to invite others to journey with me.

I am very excited and hopeful about this new tool I have been given. I certainly have to do the work and remain committed to following the program if I want to be successful, but I am grateful to God and my medical team for this new lease on life and to my family, friends, and community of faith for their love, prayers and support on this journey.


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Shutting Up and Giving Up … Control, that is

While visiting my parents two weeks ago we chatted about a friend who had suffered terribly with cold and flu-like symptoms for several weeks. During that conversation I made a mistake. Not a tiny mistake. No, not this girl. There’s nothing tiny or dainty about me. No, I made a mistake of epic proportions. Huge. Colossal. And downright stupid. I uttered the words, “I haven’t been sick at all this year.” I don’t know what I was thinking. Clearly I wasn’t thinking. That short sentence had barely crossed my lips and I could feel my throat burning. By the next morning I had the beginnings of a nasty cold. I came home, nursed the cold with some over-the-counter meds, took naps in the middle of the day, and by the middle of last week, I had licked that cold. Poof! Be gone, nasty germs! I had a busy weekend ahead with a funeral/luncheon at the church and not just one, but two preaching gigs on Sunday, and I jumped right into it with both feet. By the end of the first service on Sunday morning, the raspiness of my voice rivaled that of a 1-900 telephone operator. By the close of the evening service, my voice was done. By Monday morning I felt pretty rotten … worse than I had the previous week. Though this lesson is a common occurrence for many of us, it is a hard one to learn! L

I went to the doctor on Monday afternoon and was officially diagnosed with bronchitis and laryngitis. Along with prescribing an antibiotic and steroids, the doctor gave me strict orders for voice rest. I laughed, reminding him of my vocation. He was not the least bit humored and suggested that I not preach this coming Sunday. Seriously?!? That’s six days away, I told him. Surely I will be better by then. We finally came to a compromise that I would ONLY preach and not talk during the rest of the service. Ha! So I enlisted the help of several of my wonderful parishioners to lead in worship. It’s been a pretty quiet week for me and I’ve gotten a lot of planning and administrative work done, including initial sermon/theme prep for worship through the end of the church year. Though my voice hasn’t gotten any worse, sadly, it hasn’t gotten any better, either. So I’ve made the decision to adhere to the doctor’s original orders and not preach this Sunday. The good news is that my sermon manuscript is written and it is now in the hands of Oak Chapel’s deaconess.

I’d like to say that my decision about Sunday is borne solely from my very compliant personality, but sadly it stems from previous experience. During my first year of teaching twenty-one years ago (eek! how is that possible!?), I lost my voice. And being a young, invincible educator, I continued to go to work every day, using and abusing my voice with great abandon. After a few weeks I went to the doctor and was prescribed voice rest. Really, I thought? I rested it as much as possible at night and on weekends, but there was no way I could completely rest my voice and still keep my job. As time went on, I developed nodules on my vocal cords and I was given a stern warning from the doctor that if I kept going in this vain, the damage would be irreversible. That was a wake up call for me and I took about a week off to completely rest my voice. The week of complete voice rest helped, but it did not immediately repair the damage to my vocal cords. I could talk, but my singing voice did not return for nine months. Yes, nine months. Music is an integral part of who I am and being unable to sing for nine months was devastating. I was unable to sing for Christmas AND Easter that year and it broke my heart.

If we do not reflect and learn from our experiences, history has a way of repeating itself. I can’t let that happen. So this Sunday, I will be silent. I imagine some folks will be glad for that!

Oh … before I close, here is an update on the weight loss journey. After resetting my weight tracker and starting over on March 10, I lost 7 pounds the first week; 3 pounds the next, and one last week. Yep, my favorite number as of last Friday was 11. And I’m hoping and praying that the steroids I am currently taking don’t wreak havoc with that number this week, but if they do, tomorrow is another day and I’m grateful for that.

Until next time, peace …

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The Motivation I Needed

Earlier this week I wrote about fresh starts and the process of letting go of past failures and other things that hold us back. That post about my new beginnings with Weight Watchers was very healing as writing helps put things into perspective for me.

This week as I lived into my new reality of healthier eating and tracking my food intake again, I considered ways to keep me motivated and to document my progress. One way I am noting my weight loss success this time is a sticker chart I have hung on my refrigerator. A dear friend made me some awesome stickers of scales with tape measures being pulled tightly around them. After my weigh-ins each Friday, I will add a sticker to the chart for each pound lost. See picture below.

Yes, I really put 7 stickers on my chart this morning! My weight loss this week was actually 7.4 pounds, but who’s counting? J In my previous weight loss success, I only recorded whole pounds, but have decided to be more precise this time, primarily as another way to distinguish this fresh start. I recognize that it’s likely those 7 pounds were mostly water, but this was just the motivation I needed to continue on this healthier journey. I don’t expect, nor do I ultimately want, numbers this high each week, but for now I’ll take it.

Until next time, peace …

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Still climbing back up on the wagon and other Lenten reflections

The season of Lent is the 40-day period (excluding Sundays) preceding Easter. Traditionally in the church it was a time when new converts practiced spiritual disciplines in preparation for baptism on Easter. A focus during this season is repentance – turning away from sin and those things that have power over us or stand in the way of our relationship with God. During Lent this year I am doing a sermon series titled “Journey of Stones” and each week members of my congregation are encouraged to place a stone at the foot of the cross. The stones represent our sins and failures and their placement symbolizes a “letting go” of those things. Last week, while I was preparing for the Ash Wednesday service at Oak Chapel (Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent), God and I had a long and serious conversation about many things, but particularly about my weight and my need to let go of my failures and my criticism of myself. I have had additional encounters with the Holy since then, including a very powerful dream (yeah, I know that sounds weird) that I am still processing. God is definitely working on me to let go of the past and move forward.

Over the last few weeks as I have been trying to climb back on the wagon of my weight loss journey, I’ve gotten discouraged when I logged onto the Weight Watcher site to track my weight. Just looking at the charts and visuals was depressing. My mind would race comparing the number of pounds I lost and gained since starting Weight Watchers in June 2012 with the number of pounds I lost and gained since attempting to get back on the wagon. I was spinning my wheels, digging further into a hole and not moving forward.

At the conclusion of my sermon yesterday when I placed my stone at the foot of the cross, I was nearly overcome with emotion at the idea of “letting go” and getting a fresh start. I realized I needed to completely start over with this weight loss journey. So today I logged onto the Weight Watcher site and reset everything. The records of my previous losses and gains are gone. We’re starting with zero and my “favorite number” this Friday will presumably be a low, single-digit number.

In anticipation of today’s actions, I woke up singing this morning. (Yes, once again, I know that sounds weird). I sang “This is a day of new beginnings, time to remember and move on, time to believe what love is bringing, laying to rest the pain that’s gone.”

Until next time, peace …

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Anyone who has seen me lately knows that I’ve gained weight. It’s pretty obvious. It’s not something I can physically hide. Emotionally, you ask? Sure, I can hide that way. I’m good at that. If I don’t talk about an issue or write about it, then it simply doesn’t exist. J Unfortunately, though, one can only hide for so long. So here we are … It’s been four months since I have written about my weight loss journey. At that time I admitted I had gained weight over the summer and I was going to try to rectify the situation. It sounded good. Really, it did. But here we are in that same place again …

I fell off the wagon. Hard.

While chatting with a very dear friend about my weight this week, she asked me, “Have you ever fallen off a real hay wagon? It hurts!” Indeed falling off the wagon – literally and figuratively – hurts! My weight gain over these last several months has bruised me and left me feeling pretty banged up emotionally. Those nasty voices in my head that had been nearly silenced by my weight loss success began to murmur, and the volume of their grumblings has increased steadily and proportionally with my weight gain. I’m embarrassed and at times, when I listen to those voices, I feel like a failure. I’ve wanted to hide and not talk about it or write about it. Ignore it. Pretend it doesn’t exist. But that method of “coping” hasn’t gotten me very far.

When I reflect back on my weight loss last year, I think part of my success was that I made it so public. I had public accountability as I posted my “new favorite number” on facebook each week and blogged about my relationship with food and its challenges. There was certainly a risk in being so public. People were watching – both the successes and the setbacks.

So I’m back to writing about this –not just for accountability purposes, but also as a matter of personal integrity. If I claim to be a transparent leader, then I need to share not only my successes, but my challenges as well. Not necessarily all of the gory details about those challenges, but I need to ADMIT that they’re there. There were times during the height of my weight loss success that some of my facebook friends shared their weight loss struggles with me. To honor their honesty, I need to be honest, too. There were others who said I was an inspiration … and to honor them, I need to admit that I’ve fallen off the wagon. Of course, I’m not doing this for others. If that is my sole reason for doing it, then it won’t work. I’m doing it for me – because I want to be healthy, I need to be healthy, and I need to care for myself as much as I care for other people.

When one has fallen and is hurt, banged up and bruised, standing and climbing onto the wagon can be a challenge. Sometimes one needs a helping hand or a boost to get back up there again. I’m grateful for that boost from friends and family.

So, to keep it honest, here are the numbers. I’ve gained back 49 of the 90 pounds I lost. Ouch! BUT … I’m still 41 pounds healthier than I was when I started this journey. 41. Yep, that’s my new favorite number.

Until next time (soon … NOT four months from now!), peace …

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Second Chances

This is a difficult post to write, but write it I must. It’s a matter of honesty and integrity. It’s a matter of openness and transparency; a coming out of hiding. Over the last few months my weight loss journey has been challenged … or stalled … or stopped. Well, actually, it hasn’t been a weight LOSS journey at all. It’s been a weight GAIN journey. After several months of the weight coming off relatively easily, in the Spring after my hysterectomy I hit a plateau. I struggled, week after week, faithfully tracking my food intake, walking every day, but not seeing the scale budge very much. I finally hit my 90-pound goal in May, but in the few weeks following that, my weight yo-yoed, gaining 2 pounds, losing a pound, gaining a pound and so forth. Frustrated, I decided to take a break. I told myself and everyone around me that this was just a break. I was feeling good and rewarding myself for my hard work by taking some well-deserved time off from the discipline of tracking. I was giving my body a rest; time to adjust to all the changes it had endured in the last year. I creatively crafted and spun that story in a variety of ways, but to be blunt, I simply gave up. I didn’t realize it at the time … or perhaps I just didn’t want to ADMIT it at the time, but I gave up. And it’s had disastrous results. I could lie to myself and the people around me for a time, but the popping buttons on my pants and shirts would eventually spill their guts, quite literally.

Over the summer I knew that I was gaining weight. I was eating poorly. The stress surrounding the closing of one of the churches I serve gave me permission to eat all manner of things that I wouldn’t have dared eat in the preceding months. I told myself that I would get back on track this Fall. Since yesterday was the first full day of Autumn, I knew it was time. Yesterday was also my birthday and I realized that if I want to celebrate many more of these, I simply HAD to get back on track. So this morning I stood on the scale. The moment of truth. The day of reckoning. Name it whatever idiom or cliché you choose. It was time to face reality. I stared at the number for quite some time and then I walked away, attempting to block it from my mind. I did a variety of other tasks, and vacillated between berating myself and trying to spin another story. I even considered trying to determine a more acceptable number to enter on my weight tracker. And then I cried. I cried over the weight I’d gained and I cried over the fact that I am still healthier than when I started this journey. I cried for the ways in which I felt like a failure and a disappointment to the people who have supported me and I cried for the internal critic whose wounds are exposed through harsh language. I cried for the ways I extend love and mercy to others, yet have difficulty accepting it myself and I cried at the realization that even in the midst of this struggle, God is at work within me, still calling me into being and transforming me into my full created potential.

Then I took a deep breath and plunged forward, entering into my weight tracker that number on the scale. It was 21 pounds higher than my last entry in June and 29 pounds higher than that beautiful May day when I celebrated 90. And so I begin again, grateful for second chances, claiming my new favorite number – 61.

Until next time, peace …

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