Monday, January 26, 2015

Guest Post: The Unexpected Side Effects of Significant Weight Loss

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The other day in my office a patient of mine was telling me about some of the surprises she's faced since losing a great deal of weight. Having known her for some time and familiar with her insight and writing abilities, I asked if she was interested in writing a guest post (anonymously or as she chose, with attribution) about them. Happily she agreed, as I imagine will you when I tell you it's terrific, powerful, happy and sad all at the same time.
Nine months ago, I had a gastric bypass. When I told people what I was going to do, they were shocked. I wasn't that big. Was I really sure I wanted to do something so drastic? Couldn't I try just one more time to lose weight? Shouldn't a gastric bypass be reserved for people who are sick and fat, instead of just sick and tired of being fat?

Here's my response: the decision to have major surgery with very real consequences was not taken lightly. It took an entire year from the time Dr Freedhoff first suggested it until I was ready to be referred to the program. But once I made the decision, I wanted it to be done with. I wanted my new life to begin.

I did everything right - I researched, I read, I went to a psychologist, I made sure that both my head and my heart were ready for the significant change in my life. I followed every instruction that my surgeon gave me to the letter. And my results have been spectacular.

I went from a BMI of 41 to a BMI of 25, or exactly normal. My body fat percentage went from the high 40s to the low 20s. My blood pressure went from an average of 126/85 to 106/55. I lost almost 90 pounds, and went from a size 20 to a size 8/10. In short, I am "normal", though in reality, I think I'm actually smaller than average. I look taller and 5 years younger. And I'm happier than I've ever been before.

Still, there is something about my weight loss that upsets me in a fairly fundamental way - I have moved from being invisible to visible, and it is both uncomfortable and enraging.

When I was fat, I was invisible. I could go into a high end store (like Holt's or Coach) and never have a sales person approach me, never get asked if I need assistance. I could go to the gym and do my thing in total isolation, giving the chin nods to the few other plump ladies working out at the same time as me, commiserating in our matching t-shirts (because Canada is not polite enough to sell more than one style/colour of a plus sized work out shirt).

Now when I go to a store, salespeople fawn over me. I went into a store one day and a sales person brought me every single dress they had in my size, one after another. I went into another and they ran down this list of hidden sales that I would never even have dreamed existed. This enrages me - was I not deserving of fashion, style, taste, good deals, lovely accessories? Was I not deserving of being treated like a human being? This part of my weight loss makes me angry, and reminds me to never, ever ignore someone because they are fat.

Now when I go to the gym, people look at me. Not just my other round sisters, but men. They look me up and down and assess me, they try to engage me in conversation, they offer me tips on my squat form. This makes me so uncomfortable - it's not something I've ever experienced and, although my friends tell me this is modern flirting, it makes me feel dirty, like an object. It makes me feel unsafe for the first time in my life. I went from a sisterhood of the invisibles to being an object of the male gaze. I still give my chin nods to my ladies, and I still tell them that they're doing great. Now though, they look at me like I'm not one of them, like I have no right to applaud their efforts, and this makes me a little bit sad - I lost my gym-going community.

And then there are the well-meaning, the beneficent, the ones who cannot understand what their words mean.
"You look so much younger.. taller... better... prettier... smarter" (that one was tough).

"You're not going to lose more weight, are you? You're done, right? Maybe you should eat more - you don't want to lose too much."

"I wish I could have that surgery - it's such an easy way to lose weight."
These are my friends, my colleagues, the people with whom I casually interact. I don't know what to say to them other than that my body will regulate itself, I'm eating until I'm full, I eat all sorts of foods but some of them randomly make me sick and I'm still learning about my new digestive system and do you really think this is easy, because it isn't.

I take a ton of B12 (injections and pills) and special calcium that I have to order from the US and a whole lot of vitamin D and iron and folic acid and I can't take anti-inflammatories and have you ever tried to use tylenol for back pain because it really doesn't work. I tried to go for brunch last week and had to bail out in the middle of a great conversation because my stomach suddenly rejected what I put in it and yes, that means I vomited it up. I can't eat salted caramel, which should be a crime against humanity. I can't drink too quickly because that traps gas in my system, and I can't eat something that's too sweet because that causes me to feel queasy and start sweating, like I'm having a major panic attack. I have wrinkles of extra skin on my inner thighs and under my chin and my brilliant white stretch marks are like a ECG tracking its way across my abdomen. This isn't easy. I just make it look that way.

Do I regret my gastric bypass? Not for a second. I feel like losing the weight has allowed the real me to be seen by more than just my intimates. It's just going to take a long while to get used to not being invisible anymore.

Kerry Colpitts is an Ottawa resident and proud public servant, a fan of finding the right balance between being active and laying on the sofa, watching Netflix.