Just Getting Started is the Hardest Part

Wow, this first post was a struggle. In true Emily form I’ve been procrastinating from starting and trying to organize all of the thoughts in my head as to what I want to post about. I’ve put together about 10 different Instagram posts – all with an idea for a corresponding blog post- but I haven’t been able to get the writing started.

That leads us here. I figured I’d start at the very beginning. I wanted to chat about why I chose bariatric surgery and the first steps needed to start down this path. There are ideas and themes that I would like to write about in more detail (mental health, dieting, family support etc.) so I’ll just skim the surface as an introduction.

My best friend Dennise and I as toddlers.

For as long as I can remember I’ve loved food. The picture above elicits a lot of feelings for me. On one hand, I’m reminded of my oldest friend in the whole world, my soul mate – Dennise. Then on the other, this picture is like a time capsule of my singular focus on food (especially my love of chips and dip).

It was probably grade 4 when I first realized I looked much different than the rest of the girls my age. I was starting puberty a lot faster than most, I was tall and chubby. I remember doing everything in my power to fit in through middle school and junior high, inculding changing friend groups every semester. This sadly also meant leaving Dennise behind in my prusuit of acceptance.

In high school I was involved in everything! From student council, to rugby, to musical theatre I was always busy. In the last semester of grade 12 I broke my leg skiing and had to drop out of the things that kept me physically active (the school musical CATS and my senior year of rugby). It was during this time I was reunited with Dennise who was by my side everyday. Without her it would’ve been impossible to go to school with such a bad injury.

While recovering I watched a lot of the Food Network and fell in love with cooking. I also gained much more weight than I ever had before. I was inactive and continued to eat and cook rich foods with big portions. A later post will dive into the disordered eating patterns that started in high school.

My First Real Weight Loss Success

During this time my Mom and I were focused on getting fit and healthy. An obsession we shared then and continued to share my whole life. My first significant weight loss was that spring, from 233 lbs to 199 lbs. This was made possible by an extremely restrictive and disordered eating plan that affected my relationship with food and my body image for many years to come.

Since that time I’ve tried just about every diet and exercise regimen out there, hoping something would stick. What I realize now is – none of those programs were realistic to change long term outcomes.

The Stigma of Weight Loss Surgery

When I was 28 my family doctor told me I was morbidly obese and that my BMI was extremely unhealthy. He followed that up with – “but your vitals and blood work are all in the normal range so you’re lucky for now”. What a slap in the face! I’m a nurse practitioner, I know my weight is not healthy but the last comment was equivalent to “but you’re so pretty for a big girl”. When I asked what he could do for me he slid a copy of the Canada’s Food Guide across the table and I could swear there was steam coming out my ears!

When I was 30 years old, after hearing about it from my therapist, I was referred to a weight loss clinic here in Toronto. I know I had a poor attitude and was confrontational going in there. What were these people going to tell me that I didn’t already know? The doctor sat down and handed me a script for Saxenda, then told me “you need surgery, its the only thing that will help you”.

I was totally distraught. I was always of the thought that surgery was the lazy way out. That people who needed surgery didn’t have the will power to exercise and diet. Also, what is this medication he is trying to give me? It’s going to cost how much per month!? (It was 500$/month by the way).

It took 2 years and a 2nd referral to the bariatric clinic for me to accept that weight loss surgery is what I needed to life my best life. These 2 years came with trying Saxenda, and realizing that the way it changed my appetite hormones gave me a sense of control over my appetite and portion sizes. I also realized that like the other diets, Saxenda was not a feasible long term solution [More on Saxenda later]. I also need time to work with a therapist around disordered eating and food addiction. I needed time to have conversations with my family, because their support was so important to me. And let’s just say – the surgery stigma runs deep.

My Advice on Important First Steps

  1. Figure Out Your Why

Even at one of my highest weights (285 lbs) I was very active. I ran my first 10 km race in 2019, that year I also started rock climbing and I got back into playing recreational ultimate frisbee. I remember one time at the climbing gym while my brother was belaying me, I was struggling to hold up my weight. He was so encouraging and told me to not give up – but I had to. When I got to the bottom I looked at him and said “think of how fast I could get up at wall if I was 100 lbs lighter”.

Being active, reaching activity goals easier, less pain in my joints, a long health span, and someday being a healthy and active mom – These are my why’s.

Of course there are a magnitdue of other non-scale victories I’m looking forward to but these are my main drivers.

I realized – I was no longer afraid to die having the surgery – I was afraid to not be able to live my best life without it.

2. Accept Disordered Eating and/or Food Addiction

AND SEEK TREATMENT. Apologies for the caps but I can’t stress this reccomendation engouh. You will hear me, and many others in this community say over and over – Surgery is on your stomach not your brian.

If you don’t address your relationship with food- and some of the hang ups you may have – the restrictions and changes after surgery will be very emotionally and physically distressing.

3. Talk to Your Family and Friends About Your Decision to Have Surgery

This for me was extremely important. I had decided that surgery was the best thing for me and my future, and I would be doing it regardless- but my family supporting me was so so important.

I say this realizing that not everyone has the same relationship that I have with my family. So the point I really want to get across is – whoever your chosen family is – support is crucial.

4. Ask For a Referral

This step is specific to Ontario and the rest of the Canadian Proviences. While there are private practices to have bariatric procedures, it is more common to go through a publicly funded progrma. In Ontario if you meet criteria (I did with a BMI of 47 alone), OHIP completely covers the surgery- food and supplements will be extra.

The main point I wanted to get across was start the process of actually getting the surgery.

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Well – for having a hard time getting started this ended up being a really long post! If you stuck through to the end thank you!

Please stayed tune for more about bariatric surgery and my experiences with it!

TTYL,

Em

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